Category Archives: making a difference

THE CRUELEST MONTH

"Only from the heart can you touch the sky." ~ Rumi  (all photos by Marylin Warner)

“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.” ~ Rumi   (all photos by Marylin Warner)

April’s weather is half March, half May, a month of conflicting allergies and confusing mood swings.   In THE WASTE LAND, T.S. Eliot wrote that April was the cruelest month, and according to the National Center For Health Statistics, depression and suicide rates are lowest in the winter months and highest in the springtime.  I never would have suspected that.

On one day, April 14th, there are actually three “special days” devoted to offsetting doldrums and banishing blues. The first is INTERNATIONAL MOMENT OF LAUGHTER DAY. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but laughter is the best medicine, even in small doses. If you have a favorite food or a friend, movie or activity that makes you laugh, enjoy it to the fullest. If the local, national or world news has the opposite effect, this is the day to turn it off.

April 14th is also LOOK UP AT THE SKY DAY. Buddha wrote: “Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine.”    I love this. Before her dementia, my mother’s pure, quiet shine came from equal doses of looking up at the sky and kneeling to dig her fingers in the earth.

REACH AS HIGH AS YOU CAN DAY is the third April 14th special day, and this goal also supports looking up at the sky, stretching for dreams and hopeful plans, and reaching for what you want. Combine it with Buddha’s advice; find your way to come out from behind the clouds and shine, even for one day.

I was in high school when I read “The Grand Essentials of Happiness” at the end of a Dear Abby advice column. It was attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but since then I’ve seen the credit given to Rita Mae Brown, George Washington Burnap, Immanuel Kant and others. Whoever first said it, many authors and philosophers have agreed with it. It was the purest formula for happiness I’d ever read, and I’ve never forgotten it. To be happy, we need “Something to do, Someone to love, and Something to look forward to.”

During this “cruelest month,” on bleak days we can always begin with something to do: sit quietly or find a reason to laugh; look up at the sky and reach as high as we can…or kneel and dig our fingers in the soil, and imagine what might grow.

On April 14th, to laugh like a child, act like a child: jump in with both feet.

On April 14th, to laugh like a child, act like a child: jump in with both feet.

Happiness advice from a 10-year-old boy: Keep Calm and Eat Cookies

Happiness advice from a 10-year-old boy: Keep Calm and Eat Cookies

April 10th is "National Siblings Day" ~ so this is for my brother.

April 10th is “National Siblings Day” ~ so this is for my brother. ( I thanked him for not pushing me off the bench; he said I was trying to push him off… I don’t think so.)

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

LUCK BE A LADY

Crossing your fingers is one way to hope luck finds you.  (picture by Marylin Warner)

Crossing your fingers is one way to hope luck finds you. (picture by Marylin Warner)

This is how the ladies were NOT dancing, but they were still having a great time. (Picture from Classical Baby)

This is how the ladies were NOT dancing, but they were still having a great time. (Picture from Classical Baby)

Snow and ice had already postponed our travels by two days. First, we had to wait an extra day to leave Colorado.  Fortunately our house sitter was flexible.  But when we arrived in Kansas, I had to wait another day to drive the last 200 miles to visit my mother in the southeast part of the state. I was very tired by the time I arrived.

I don’t know what I expected as I got off the elevator to go to Mom’s apartment. I was pulling my suitcase and balancing a bouquet of yellow lilies with a bag of groceries, but instead of the common area being calm and quiet on a dreary afternoon, the room rang with festive singing and laughter. Two nursing aides had loaded a dance DVD on the flat screen TV, and eight or nine older ladies—probably in their late 70s through early 90s—were moving to the music. Dancing in place or stepping around furniture or just tapping feet and waving arms from a wheelchair, they were creating their own indoor sunshine on a gloomy day.

As I watched, amazed, they took a breather between songs. And then one of the aides called out, “Ladies, get ready. The next one is Luck Be A Lady Tonight’!” Everyone giggled and turned to watch the screen with their arms lifted, ready to ‘dance’ again. Regardless of the dreary weather and their ages and possible infirmities, these were ladies who were already making their own luck.

I had grown up hearing the expression “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” As I watched the gyrations to “Luck Be A Lady,” I amended that to “Luck is what happens when enthusiasm makes the most of music and movement.”

March 9 is GET OVER IT DAY. Whatever is bothering us, or if there is something we can’t change or should just let go of, maybe the best thing to do is make a decision to Get Over It, even for one day.   Or there’s an entire week—March 16-22ACT HAPPY WEEK.    A full week to “fake it until you make it,” an opportunity to act the way you would like to feel.

March 16-22 is also WELLDERLY WEEK (aka WELL-ELDERLY), a time to ‘act your age’—or the age you want to feel—and do the things that make you happy. Whatever your age, if you need a suggestion to get started, you might put on Frank Sinatra singing “Luck Be A Lady” and dance to it in your own lucky style.

P.S. My mother is too frail to do much standing, let alone any dancing, but she made her own luck by curling up under her blankets and humming along to some of the poems I read to her!

"Hurry Back"--1st Place Overall painting by Nancy Luttrell, age 67.  (I LOVE the detail on this painting!)

“Hurry Back”–1st Place Overall painting by Nancy Luttrell, age 67. (I LOVE the detail in this painting!)

"Tropical Foliage"--this year's Best of Show  in ART IS AGELESS.  Painter is Paul Johnston, age 81

“Tropical Foliage”–this year’s Best of Show in ART IS AGELESS. Painter is Paul Johnston, age 81

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Filed under celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, making a difference, Special Days in March, special quotations

SURPRISE!

A "K" out of cupcakes.  (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

A “K” out of cupcakes. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Lilies are a bright and happy touch, and they smell so sweet.

Lilies are a bright and happy touch to any celebration, and they smell so sweet.

Each month during the drive from Colorado to visit my mom in southeast Kansas, the first 450 miles are mostly Interstate driving. The next morning, however, when I drive the last 200 miles, by choice I take the back roads. Blue highways are my favorites. I love the open fields, rolling hills, and small Kansas towns with local diners, community centers advertising BINGO, and sometimes only one stop light on the main street.

As I drive, I listen to the radio, switching stations to hear local and national news and talk radio programs. I hear different perspectives during my drive, and last Sunday, January 25th, I learned that on this one day, I also heard a different “fact.”

On one local station, the talk radio host answered a call from a little voice who wanted to sing a song. The caller was only three years old, but she knew all the words to “Happy Birthday.” The ending she sang was “…happy birf-day dear Kan-sass, happy birf-day to you!” The host cheered, thanked her and cut to the weather report.

I switched to a multi-state radio station and heard the warm bass-baritone voice of Bing Crosby singing the last few lines of “Happy Birthday.” The popular singer/actor had died in 1977, and at the end of the song, the radio host said that Bing Crosby had recorded this song in 1961 when Kansas was only 100 years old, so it was worth playing again today, on Kansas’ 154th birthday. What a surprise…it was my home state’s birthday!

By the time I reached Fort Scott, I’d heard Kansas birthday greetings on several radio stations. So when I drove to the grocery store to pick up some of Mom’s favorite foods to tempt her appetite, I also bought her a bouquet of fresh deep-pink lilies and fancy birthday cupcakes with candles. It was Kansas’ birthday, after all, and in our family we’re always up for celebrating birthdays.

The surprise was on me. Kansas’ birthday is not the 25th of January, but the 29th. Three people at Mom’s assisted living informed me as I carried in the flowers and treats.  Later I double and triple checked the date on the internet and in a book of KANSAS HISTORY.  I was four days early in celebrating Kansas’ birthday.

Lesson #1: Don’t trust everything you hear on the radio (or on TV, either, or that you overhear.) As President Ronald Regan said: “Trust, but verify.”

Lesson #2: Never miss an opportunity to celebrate. Anything: birthdays (early or late), anniversaries, a snow day (if you want to go back to sleep), a warm and sunny day (if you want to go for a walk), holding a puppy or a baby or a letter from a friend, hearing good news of any kind…or just celebrating life in general.  Always make the most of an opportunity to celebrate, and if there is no obvious reason, create your own.

“Bleeding Kansas” had a rough start, with battles over being a Free State or a Slave State, and conflicts until the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education ended segregation in schools. The state has also had droughts,tornados, and all kinds of hard times. But look at Kansas now, 154 years old and going strong. The little girl sang it best: “Happy Birf-day, dear Kan-sass.”

Named for the "Kansa" tribe (meaning "people of the wind," Kansas was home to numerous and diverse Native American tribes.

Named for the “Kansa” tribe, meaning “people of the wind,” Kansas has been home to numerous and diverse Native American tribes.

Sign along the road between Topeka and Yates Center.

Sign along the road between Topeka and Yates Center.

Winter Kansas trees just before sunset.

Kansas tree; even in winter, it’s strong and beautiful.

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Filed under birthday celebrations, celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Kansas, kindergarten lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

THE WHEELS GO ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND

This week has been brutal in Colorado...it's not a good time to try to ride a bike.

This week has been brutal in Colorado…it’s not a good time to try to ride a bike.

 

 

bike in snow

 

 

My first “it’s mine and nobody else’s” bike was a blue Western Flyer. No bells and whistles, and definitely no training wheels, just a great bike.   I was seven when my mom taught me to ride it. She pointed me straight ahead on the sidewalk, holding on the to back of the seat, and running along with me as I wobbled and squealed and pedaled, clutching the handle-bar grips for all I was worth. Mark Twain was right when he said, “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it…if you live.” I took a lot of tumbles and was scabs and band-aides from head to toes for a while, but soon I was riding all around the neighborhood.

The amazing thing about Mom teaching me to ride a bike was that she had never learned to ride one. She grew up on a Missouri farm where the roads were dirt and gravel. Her mother taught her to drive a car—and they ended up in a ditch before Mom became proficient—but she never learned to ride a bike.

Almost ten years ago, when my dad was still alive, Mom and I drove down to Chicken Annie’s near Pittsburg, KS to pick up to-go meals to take back for us, Dad, and his caregiver to have for dinner. As we sat outside at the picnic table waiting for our order, two older women—maybe grandmothers—stood one on each side of a young boy trying to learn to ride a bike. It was a familiar comedy of errors, with near falls and close calls for both the women and the little boy, but finally the boy took off. Mom and I cheered and clapped . For the boy, yes, but especially for his teachers. “You did that for me, Mom,” I said, and she nodded, smiled and said, “I remember.” I put my arm around her and kissed her cheek. “Thank you.”

January is National Thank You Month. Take it from one who knows, if there’s anyone in your life—a relative, friend, teacher, neighbor, anyone who’s offered you help or shown you a kindness—thank that person this month. I’m glad I thanked my mother for the bike riding lesson when I did; within a few years she would not have understood what I was saying. I remember that day, the way she smiled and nodded, and I also realized that saying Thank You is a double blessing, once for the person receiving the thanks, and once for the person expressing it.

This is also Universal Letter Writing Week. If you have an older friend, someone in the hospital or a nursing home, please write a card or letter thanking them for one specific thing they did for you. Nurses and caregivers are very responsive to reading aloud the cards and messages, and often the recipients will hold their cards and fall asleep with them.

These two activities are excellent examples of Janus looking backward and forward at the beginning of the new year. When we look back at what others have done for us and reach forward to thank them, we change our lives…and theirs.

It’s a matter of balance. Albert Einstein wrote: “Life is like riding a bicycle—in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” And a good example of that forward movement is gratitude.

Bike ornament on my wall.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Bike ornament on my wall. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

"Fat Tire #3" original sculpture in Salina, KS., by Lance Carlton Washington

“Fat Tire #3″ original sculpture in Salina, KS., by Lance Carlton Washington

Framed bicycle print with message by Flavia: "Somewhere between the earth and sky, there is a secret place we all go to dream."

Framed bicycle print with message by Flavia: “Somewhere between the earth and sky, there is a secret place we all go to dream.”

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, making a difference, special quotations

A TWO-FACED NEW YEAR

Wikipedia's statue of Janus in the Vatican Museum

Wikipedia’s picture of a statue of Janus in the Vatican Museum

A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS & PRAYERS by Joan Walsh Anglund

A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS & PRAYERS by Joan Walsh Anglund

Blackeye Peas:  good luck and 100 cal, 4g fiber and 7g protein.

Blackeye Peas: good luck and 100 cal, 4g fiber and 7g protein.

So far in 2015, Colorado has been snowy and miserably cold, but January’s mythology still makes it a fascinating month.  January is named for Janus, Roman mythology’s god of beginnings and transitions, and statues of Janus are two-faced.  Not in an insincere or deceitful way, but because one face looks back at the past, and the other face looks forward to the future.  For me, looking back at the old year is important preparation for looking forward and making resolutions and plans for the new year.

My breakfast on January 1st included traditional blackeye peas. I don’t focus on the many possible interpretations of this tradition.  I actually like blackeye peas, and the idea that they might welcome a lucky new year is nice, too.

January has many unusual days and observances, and each of the pictures below represents a special day this month.

When I was with my mom in Kansas before Christmas, at night when she was tucked snugly in her bed, I read to her from Joan Walsh Anglund’s book,   A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS AND PRAYERS  She couldn’t see the colorful little illustrations, and the individual poems and prayers received mixed reviews. If Mom didn’t like one, she said “You can quit now,” and that was her response several times. But even more frequently she would say, “Read that again.” I ended up reading the entire book twice, leaving out the rejected poems and prayers the second time.  Two stand out as read-it-again poems/prayers. They seemed to me—as maybe they were to my mother as well—excellent thoughts for the new year.

The first is an American Indian Prayer:O Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life to all the world. ~ Hear me! I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom. ~ Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. ~ Make my hands respect the things you have made, and my ears sharp to hear your voice. ~ Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. ~ Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. ~ I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy…myself.”

The source of the second prayer is Unknown:Dear Father, hear and bless ~ Thy beasts and singing birds, ~ And guard with tenderness ~ Small things that have no words.”

This first week in January, I wish us all appreciation of the past year and hope for this new year.

January is National Hot Tea month and Oatmeal month.

January is National Hot Tea month and Oatmeal month.

Find a way to "Get A Balanced Life" this month.

Find a way to “Get A Balanced Life” this month.

Cousin Glee unplugging toilet at the Girl Cousins' Reunion.  January is also "Someday We'll Laugh About This" month.

Cousin Glee unplugging toilet at the Girl Cousins’ Reunion. January is also “Someday We’ll Laugh About This” month.

January is "Walk Your Dog" month.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

January is “Walk Your Dog” month. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

WANT A HEARTBEAT AT YOUR FEET?

Before Alzheimer's took over, my dad loved to have talks with Fritz, who ran to meet him at the back door.  Fritz was from the Humane Society.

Before Alzheimer’s took over, my dad loved to have talks with Fritz, who ran to meet him at the back door. Fritz was from the Humane Society.

 

Our dog Maggie, a special member of our family for the past 12 years. Our police officer son-in-law found her in an abandoned yard. (Photo by Jim Warner)

Our dog Maggie, a special member of our family for the past 12 years. Our police officer son-in-law found her in an abandoned yard. (Photo by Jim Warner)

When we were growing up, my brother and I had numerous pets: rabbits, seahorses, an alligator for a short time, white mice, a parakeet, and eight dogs (one at a time). We never had kittens or a cat, but that was because my brother was allergic to them (I thought we should give up my brother so I could have a kitten, but my parents outvoted me.)

Five of our dogs were from the Humane Society, and our first dog when we moved to Fort Scott, when I was 3 and my brother was almost 5, was a dog that had been left behind by the people who rented the house before we did. Rather than shoo her off, of course Mom fed and took care of her. A month later Smokey had a litter of puppies, and when they were old enough, my mother put a sign on the gate of our fence: “Puppies, 5 cents each. To good homes only”  

We came home from church the next Sunday, and the gate was open.  A note on the back porch was weighed down with a rock and a dime. “We have a good home. We took the last puppy. You can keep the extra nickel. Thank you.”

October is “Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.”   This post is not a Public Service Announcement, but I can honestly attest to the joy of having dogs as members of our family. We also love cats; as soon as I had my own home, we began adding wonderful cats to our clan as well, but that’s another post.

October is also “National Popcorn Popping Month,” but a previous post was about microwave popcorn setting off fire alarms in my mother’s assisted living facility, so we’ve already covered that topic. It is also “Cookie Month,” so to play fair, I’ve included a picture of some October-themed cookies. But for the rest of you who might need a nudge for dog adoptions, here are some personal testimonies:

By writer Edith Wharton: “My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.”

 “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ~ Will Rogers

 “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” ~ Andy Rooney

And Rita Rudner said, “I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.” 

If you want to meet new people and have a heated discussion, you can get a bumper sticker like the one we saw on a truck in the parking lot of the dog park: “MY MIXED BREED DOG IS SMARTER THAN YOUR HONOR STUDENT”

October is also SARCASTIC MONTH, but you might want to use sarcasm carefully…

To be fair, October is also "Cookie Month" ~ so here are some samples.

To be fair, October is also “Cookie Month” ~ so here are some samples.

Our daughter's family adopted Duchess, a wonderful German Shepherd, from a soldier leaving Ft. Riley.

Our daughter’s family adopted Duchess, a wonderful German Shepherd, from a soldier leaving Ft. Riley.

Our granddaughter Grace reading to Maggie.

Our granddaughter Grace reading to Maggie.

 

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

SOUND THE ALARMS!

We take fires very seriously in Colorado after the devastating Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, and the 2013 Black Forest Fire (in picture)

We take fires very seriously in Colorado after the devastating Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, and the 2013 Black Forest Fire (in picture)

 

The closing lines of last week’s blog will begin this week’s post: ~ Sing a song of seasons! ~ Something bright in All! ~ Flowers in the summer, ~ Fires in the fall!

Last week’s post focused on poetry, the book of children’s poems I read aloud to Mom as she snuggled under her covers one night. Despite her dementia, Mom responded to the poems, making comments and asking to hear more. It was a surprising, happy time.

This week the focus in on the four words—Fires in the fall!—because of something that happened in Mom’s assisted living that same night…before I read her the poems.

The alarms went off. Everywhere, blaring throughout the entire assisted living facility, both floors, all four hallways. Steel safety doors automatically slammed shut, closing off all the hallways, and the alarms kept screeching. Caregivers ran to evaluate the situation. I stayed with Mom in her apartment, putting on her shoes, helping her into the wheelchair and tucking her afghan around her, waiting to learn which exit I should use to take her to safety. In the hallway outside her apartment, other more mobile and self-reliant seniors peeked out their doors and waited anxiously in the hall to learn what to do next.

Finally the alarms stopped. The steel doors opened, and caregivers hurried back to the apartments. The halls were thick with whiffs of smoke and the pungent smell of burned …popcorn? Really, burned popcorn.   Bags of microwave popcorn had been accidentally set on fire in a 90-year-old resident’s apartment microwave when he pushed the wrong numbers. Supposedly, the numbers were way off; the bags caught fire and blew the door open on the microwave.

Mom sat in the wheelchair, watching caregivers hurrying around, running back and forth past our open door. She looked up at me and asked, “Well, are we going to go now?” She was ready for us to take a walk.

The Roman philosopher Seneca said this: “There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality.”   My mom’s personal philosophy has always been to not suffer or worry in advance, but to stay calmly busy with other things until there was an actual danger that demanded a specific response. She could have been a poster girl for the 1939 British motivational poster in preparation for WWII: “Keep Calm & Carry On.”

Life can be very difficult. Losing the love of your life to Alzheimer’s; losing your own clarity of time and place to dementia; giving up your home and independence; outliving most of your family and friends; thinking you’re getting ready to go for a wheelchair ride, only to have that ended by fire alarms…and you don’t even get any popcorn.

October 9 is Fire Prevention Day. I’m informing you early, so you can prepare in advance to prevent fires…and to make the most of whatever difficulties and disappointments you might face. Keep Calm and Read Poetry. Popcorn is optional, especially if you’re not sure how to use a microwave.

calm duck on water

moon between trees

Based on the 1939 British motivational poster in preparation for WWII.

Based on the 1939 British motivational poster in preparation for WWII.

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations