Category Archives: lessons about life

DOUBLE LIVING

seasons-of-my-self-book

 

 

The message I wrote to my mom inside the blank writing book I gave to her.

(The message I wrote to my mom inside the blank writing book I gave to her.)

Christmas of 1976, I gave my mother an Abbey Press writing book titled SEASONS OF MYSELF.  Through the years, she penned several stories on the blank pages of her book, including one story about “Marrying The Right Man.”   In it she changed the names and some details, but the emotional truths stayed the same.   This was long before her dementia, and she had a talent for writing honest, compelling tales.

Mom had told me of her junior year in college, when two very different but equally wonderful young men wanted to marry her.   In the end, she of course chose the man who later became my father, but a great deal of solitary thought and prayer—and wondering What If?—had gone into her decision.   Reading the story and remembering her process taught me to pause with my own writing ideas and spend time considering the many possibilities of “What if?”

In response to her story, I asked myself what if Mom had chosen the “other guy”?   How would her life story have been different?   And what would have been my story, the stories of her grandchildren and great-grand-children…and so on? What if?  Hmm.

( What If?)

       ( What If?)

On the back cover of the “Write your Own Book,” the publisher offers suggestions for uses and also shares quotes of famous writers. My mother put two check marks by Catherine D. Bowen’s quote: “Writing is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living.”   Later in the journal Mom wrote that quote again and defined it this way:  “Double does not mean double dealing or double cross, but in having twice the usual size, strength, consideration and power for understanding.”

September 28th is “Ask A Stupid Question Day.”   Instead, maybe we should ask a smart question—What If?—and then write our own responses so we can experience the best kind of double living.

(The back cover of uses and quotes printed on the writing book, SEASONS of MYSELF)

(The back cover of uses and quotes printed on the writing book, SEASONS of MYSELF)

Top picture: Me holding Molly as a baby. Lower picture: Molly holding her baby, Grace.  What If? my mother had married the other guy?

Top picture: Me holding Molly as a baby.  Lower picture: Molly holding her baby, Grace. What If? my mother had married the other guy?

33 Comments

Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, special quotations, writing exercises

IT HAS TO MAKE SENSE

 

Zen wriing

 

 

mind's eye pencil

 

Many of you know from other posts that before my mother’s dementia, she and I used to make a game of finding and entering writing contests.   We learned these basic writing lessons along the way: 1) writing to the guidelines of a contest keeps you thinking and practicing your skill;   2) even if you don’t win or place in the contest, you’ll have a completed story that you can build on and submit elsewhere; and   3) no writing effort is ever wasted, and you might be surprised where this effort will lead.

This week I’m posting four writing contests that have NO ENTRY FEE but offer Cash Prizes and/or publication. No matter where you reside or what your age or writing experience, there is at least one contest for you!

First, here are two fiction reminders.   Writer, producer and director Joss Whedon says: “You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, and you find out who they really are.”   And sci-fi writer Iain Banks adds, “The trouble with writing fiction is that it has to make sense, whereas real life doesn’t.”

Now the contests:

INTERGENERATION SHORT STORY CONTEST sponsored by Intergeneration Foundation: http://intergenerationmonth.org/enter-the-contest/   No genre restrictions; electronic submissions by 9/30/2016;   400 words maximum, international eligibility. Awards: $500, $300, $200

KEY WEST LITERARY SEMINAR EMERGING WRITER AWARDS sponsored by Key West Literary Seminar for short fiction, novel excerpts, and individual poems. http://www.kwls.org/awards/emerging-writer-awards/ Electronic submission deadline 9/12/2016 Top awards $500   US writers

SUNDAY TIMES EFG SHORT STORY AWARD, sponsored by Society of Authors. Guidelines at http://shortstoryaward.co.uk/   All fiction genres, story length maximum 6,000 words, submit postal and electronic, international eligibility for writers of all levels, age 18 and older with publication experience in UK.   Deadline 9/29/16   Top winner £30,000

REAL SIMPLE: LIFE LESSONS Essay Contest (this could also make a good writing prompt or journal topic) on this theme: “What was the most dramatic change you ever had to make?” 1,500 words max   US writers www.realsimple.com/lifelessonscontest      Prizes: $3,000, $750, $500  Submit electronic submissions by 9/19/2016

Based on previous writing posts, you know you can try writing your rough drafts with your left hand, your right hand, or mirror writing in crayons or chalk.   Just choose a contest or topic and give it a try. And if you know of other contests and writing opportunities, please share them with us.hey you, get busy

Itypewriter MG_3621

41 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, life questions, paying writing opportunities, special quotations, writing, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

Wild Dog Becomes First Friend

The Desiderata of HappinessIMG_5708

 

Scouts's closeup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite descriptions of dogs is from THE JUNGLE BOOK by Rudyard Kipling: “When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’  And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.’”

Many writers in addition to Kipling have written about the wonder of dogs.   Here are three examples.  Agatha Christie wrote, “Dogs are wise. They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more.”   Emily Dickinson said, “Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell.”   And Dean Koontz, who includes dogs in his life and most of his novels, said, “Once  you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one is a life diminished.”

In my July 22 post of Friday Favorites, I included this line from Max Ehrmann’s 1927 book, DESIDERATA: “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” As it turns out, DESIDERATA has a recent edition called DESIDERATA FOR DOG LOVERS: A Guide to Life and Happiness.   If you’re a cat or horse person, there are books for you, too.               The Desiderata for Dog Lovers

Our family has been blessed by rescue dogs. Our beloved Maggie has been gone more than a year, but she continues to touch our minds and hearts, just as she did for 13 years.   Our puppy Scout from the Humane Society has warmed our hearts, made us laugh and sigh, kept us on our toes, and taught us patience.   My parents’ beloved Fritz came from the shelter, and our daughter’s family’s amazing German shepherd was given to them by a soldier who was being deployed and needed a perfect home for Duchess.

August is a special month to help animals in need, and August 26 is National Dog Day.  You can help dogs on this day, but you can also help cats, horses, birds, etc., by donating food, money, supplies or time to your local shelter or Humane Shelter.   When you drop off canned goods to your local mission or food pantry, remember that many homeless and elderly people also have dogs they love and need help to feed and care for them, so include cans of food or supplies for them, too.

The famous advice columnist, Ann Landers, wrote “Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.”   But in my opinion, if you do something that will help an animal in need, you absolutely will be wonderful.

The Desiderata for Cat Lovers

The Desid for Horse Lovers

49 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Different kinds of homes, friends, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, making a difference

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

40 Comments

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

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

What’s Your Title?

books for writing

 

FDR in wheelchair

 

Van Gogh's chair

One of the “thinking activities” I used before my mother’s dementia worsened was to take her out for a ride in the sunshine and play the TITLE GAME.  We’d choose objects or something we saw along the way—as an example here, I’m using pictures of chairs—and we’d take turns creating a title for a poem or story that might be written about it.

For instance, the picture above of FDR in a wheelchair might inspire a title for a children’s story, while the picture of Van Gogh’s chair might end up with a title about the person who had sat there posing for a painting.  If Mom was reluctant, I would ask questions like  “But what if–?” and soon she was laughing and creating all kinds of titles…to earn her the prize of an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen. (Bribery was an honorable technique if it inspired her  to participate.)

I once read a journaling prompt about the importance of “thinking in titles” as an exercise in discovering what you really think or feel about something.   Supposedly, if you keep a diary or a journal, when you write a TITLE  about that day’s entry before you begin writing, it will direct the details and give the entry a focus and insight you might otherwise overlook.

Think about books that began with one title but after revisions and rethinking, the final copy ended up with a very different title.  For instance, Jacqueline Susann’s book THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS began as THEY DON’T BUILD STATUES TO BUSINESSMEN.   John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN was first titled SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED.   1984 by George Orwell was originally titled THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE, and William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY began as TWILIGHT (and it didn’t even have vampires and werewolves).

Imagine you have one minute to create a title for a book or story about your life, or a novel about the year something unusual or life-changing happened. One minute is all it takes, and you’ll win a Dairy Queen ice cream cone…or something you really want. What would your title be?

chair tee-shirt simplify

60 Comments

Filed under art, Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, writing exercises

Friday Favorites…that have nothing to do with politics

"What'cha lookin' at?" ostrich at Rolling Hills Zoo.

“What’cha lookin’ at?” Ostrich at Rolling Hills Zoo.

African Message Pole, Rolling Hills Zoo, Salina, KS.  I think it's a happy message.

African Message Pole, Rolling Hills Zoo, Salina, KS. Interpret your own happy message from the symbols!

Finding this old picture of my dad and Fritz, having their morning "talk."

Finding this old picture of my dad and Fritz having their morning “talk” made me smile.  (Fort Scott, KS)

My dad appreciated old trucks--especially Fords--he said it was "a guy thing."  His granddaughter protested: "girls love trucks, too!"

My dad appreciated old trucks, especially Fords; he said it was “a guy thing.” His granddaughter protested: “trucks are for girls, too!”

Max Ehrmann, author of DESIDERATA: A Poem for a Way of Life, wrote this: “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”     Geese crossing

Today, I want to share some of my favorite things that make me happy when I travel to Kansas. You already know of our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren (at the top of our happiness scale), and my dad, who died of Alzheimer’s, and my mother who is lost deep in dementia. These people are the core of our focus and thoughts when we drive to Kansas each month.

But there are also many cheerful, striving-to-be-happy places and things in Kansas I want to share with you through these pictures. My dad was right: if you take a deep breath, look around, and appreciate things that make you smile, you can also find reasons to be happy and have hope.

Gunn Park "Tiny House" (Fort Scott, KS) Built in 1927 by the park caretaker for his young daughters and visitors. It's 14" high and 12" long, including the front porch.

Gunn Park “Tiny House” (Fort Scott, KS) Built in 1927 by the park caretaker for his young daughters and visitors. It’s 14″ high and 12″ long, including the front porch.

Happy Children bench sculpture, downtown in Abilene, KS

Happy Children bench sculpture, downtown in Abilene, KS

 

Bakery fundraiser: iced cookies:  KS, and Chapman High School --both delicious!

Bakery fundraiser: iced cookies: KS, and Chapman High School –both delicious!

 

Milford Lake Butterfly House (near Junction City, KS)  A colorful, fluttering good time!

Milford Lake Butterfly House (near Junction City, KS) A colorful, fluttering good time!

 

Abilene, KS (where the h.s. sports teams are the Cowboys and Cowgirls). I want a sign for writers: Writer Parking Only: All others will be rejected.  :)

Abilene, KS (where the h.s. sports teams are the Cowboys and Cowgirls). I want a sign for writers in front of the writing section of the library: Writer Parking Only: All others will be rejected.🙂

A summer sunset on a farm outside Fort Scott, KS.  Tomorrow will be a gorgeous day!

Summer sunset on a farm outside Fort Scott, KS. Tomorrow will be a gorgeous day!

32 Comments

Filed under Abilene Kansas, Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, special quotations, Things to be thankful for