Category Archives: making a difference


If money talks, what do you think this ten-dollar bill says about Scout?

If money talks, what does this ten-dollar bill say about Scout?  

This photo essay begins with my parents. Fritz was their shelter dog who was “supposed to be” a small mixed breed, but his body grew to match his personality.   Before his Alzheimer’s, Dad used to say, “Let’s talk, Fritz,” and they


Maggie was our first rescued dog. For 13 years she was Jim’s hiking buddy, my cuddle pal, and a treasured member of our entire family.  She was included in all travels, every hike, holiday and event.  She was also Scout’s “angel” who made our hearts ready for the last puppy in her litter, waiting for us to find her at the Humane Society.



From the first hour, Scout got plenty of hugs, love…and also a lot of patience.  (Chewing has been her favorite sport, as seen in top picture.)





This is Scout with “Squeak,” her first chew toy and still her favorite little friend.  Like a baby with a favorite blanket, Scout can’t go to sleep at night unless she has Squeak.



Dogs bring their own new friends into the family.  Here, Scout rests with her friend Kodi, a chocolate poodle, after a busy play date.  Kodi’s parents Jeff and Karen, have coffee on the deck with us, Scout’s parents.  Kodi is now in training to be a Companion Dog.  We miss her.

On previous posts, I’ve shared our daughter’s family pets: Munchkin, the kitten adopted from a farm family; and Duchess, the gorgeous all-black German Shepherd who was adopted from a soldier being deployed from Ft. Riley.  All of our pets have made our family bigger, better, more patient, and also pet-happy and very fur-friendly.

OCTOBER IS “ADOPT A SHELTER DOG MONTH”   Shelters are always looking for good adoptive “parents” and are also in need of donations to continue providing for homeless animals.




Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, Things to be thankful for


(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.)


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





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?


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


(No Keelhauling on Sept. 19th)

(No Keelhauling on Sept. 19th)








Aye, ‘tis the perfect time for expandin’ your language, it is.  Here are some choices for the coming weeks: Talk Like a Politician, Talk Like a Foul-Mouthed Middle-Schooler…or Talk Like A Pirate and do some good.

September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, a holiday created in 1995.   It remained a low-key event until 2002 when humor columnist Dave Barry covered it in a syndicated article.   As he wrote, “There comes a time in a man’s life when he hears the call of the sea.  If the man has a brain in his head, he will hang up the phone immediately.”    (I’ll add that the same is probably true for a wench, the pirate word for lady, although a man should not risk using this term loosely around a lady who is stronger than he is…)

Next Monday is a good excuse to ignore politicians and foul-mouthed kids.   Instead, have some fun swaggering around, talking like Jack Sparrow and enjoying a free donut at Krispy Kreme. (Google Talk Like a Pirate for vocabulary words, and check to see if your Krispy Kreme is participating.)

Even more important than costumes and fun, Talk Like A Pirate Day has also become a day to raise funds for charity organizations such as Childhood Cancer Support and Marie Curie Cancer Care.

On September 19, “Put On Your Pirate”—in costume or attitude, sprinkle in a few choice pirate words—and drink a toast to Grog on Your Furner.   (FYI—translated, that’s to lift a glass of your favorite pirate drink on your own ship…not a ship you stole or plundered.)

And while the Grog has you in a generous mood, be a good pirate and make a donation to a worthy charity of your choice.  Alzheimer’s Research is a worthy cause, just in case you need one.

Pirate and Skull and crossbone donuts at participating Krispy Kreme

Pirate and Skull and crossbone donuts at participating Krispy Kreme


Disney's Jack Sparrow, (Johnny Depp).

Disney’s Jack Sparrow, (Johnny Depp).



Filed under celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, making a difference, Special Days in March

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


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


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

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


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