Category Archives: making a difference

Button, Button…

Just a few of the choices. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Need a button?  Here are just a few of the choices. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Primitive men and women made “buttons” from bones, thorns and sinew to hold animal skins together. Greeks and Romans added metal, horns and seashells to the mix, and later used button fasteners to identify royalty and military rank. In 1620, the first Duke of Buckingham had a suit and cloak covered in diamond buttons used only as decoration.

When my grandmother finished passing down clothing from her oldest child to the youngest, before she cut the fabric into quilt-sized pieces, she saved all the buttons. My mother had a wooden box filled with hundreds of buttons of all colors and sizes. She could always find a substitute button to quickly sew onto any piece of clothing, and my first sewing lesson was practicing with buttons and scraps of fabric.  Mom used buttons for other purposes, too.

To teach children to count or learn colors, she’d spread out buttons on the table and let them find 5 yellow or 8 blue or 11 green. To keep her daughter and her friends busy on a rainy afternoon, she let them make bracelets by stringing buttons they chose from the box, or decorate plain picture frames by gluing on designs with the buttons.

Button, button, who’s got the button? Cute as a button. Button your lip. In-y or out-y belly button. Right on the button. Push someone’s button. Buttons come in all expressions as well as numerous sizes, shapes, colors…and memories. November 16 is Button Day. Founded in 1938, the National Button Society celebrates collecting, preserving, trading, displaying and honoring all kinds of buttons.

In his poem “Picture Puzzle Pieces,” Shel Silverstein reminds us to look closely, with open eyes and minds, to appreciate the possibilities of small details. He finds a picture puzzle piece on the sidewalk, soaking in the rain. It could be almost anything, including “…it might be a button of blue on the coat of the woman who lived in the shoe…”

Sometimes it’s the little, simple things that nudge our memories and touch our hearts. Never underestimate the power of a button.

1950s collector "accent" buttons: Mother-of-Pearl, pottery, wood, brass, etc.

1950s collector “accent” buttons: Mother-of-Pearl, pottery, wood, brass, etc.


Kids' fun buttons.

Kids’ fun buttons.

5" tall Christmas ornament.

5″ tall Christmas ornament.



Filed under art, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, kindergarten lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, sewing

One Night, One Day, One Month

Photos by Marylin Warner

(Photos by Marylin Warner)








Comedienne Rita Rudner once quipped, “All my life, my parents said, ‘Never take candy from strangers.’ And then they dressed me up and said, ‘Now go beg for it.”

Halloween. When we dress up to be someone else and go trick’o’treating. One night, the last night of October, is about dressing up, playing pranks, and getting goodies.

 church window  All Saint’s Day on November 1st, and All Soul’s Day on November 2nd are for honoring saintly people of the past and praying for the souls of those who’ve gone before us. In churches and cemeteries and homes, these days are for remembering others.

November 2nd is also one day for us to think about our own lives…and how we want to be remembered after we die. Nov. 2nd is PLAN YOUR EPITAPH DAY.

angel marker

During the early stages of my mother’s dementia, we took long drives together when I visited her each month. I’ve written about the ways we created story and poem ideas during those rides, but there’s something else we did. We sometimes visited cemeteries. On nice days we’d walk in the sunshine at one of the local cemeteries, read tombstones and pay our respects. One tombstone was my mother’s favorite, and mine as well.

It’s a wide, marble, double headstone: the wife’s full name and dates of birth and death are on side of the carved heart; the husband’s full name and dates are on the other. The husband outlived his wife by many years. On the back of the marble headstone are two carved hearts intertwined. Below are two girls’ first and middle names, but only one date ~ the same date of death as their mother’s death. Below the girls’ names is this epitaph: “They took their first breaths with God.” At this headstone we paused and prayed for the mother who died with her still-born daughters, and the father who lost them all.

Planning our epitaphs isn’t about deciding what will be set in stone after we die. It’s one day when we think how we want to be remembered, and in doing so, consider how we’re living our lives.

The entire month of November is LIFEWRITING MONTH. This is the month to take notes, to write essays, stories, poems (or paint pictures and organize photographs) of our lives or the lives of those we love, and events, people and places we want to remember.

If these November Days seem heavy-handed, realize that it’s also PICTURE BOOK MONTH, NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH, PEANUT BUTTER LOVERS MONTH, and NATIONAL SLEEP COMFORT MONTH. That’s just to name a few; there are many other choices. Depending where you live, the month of November might be a darker, colder month when trees lose their leaves and it’s more likely to sleet or snow than to rain, but it’s certainly not a month with nothing to do.

Computer, typewriter, pencil and paper, crayons or chalk: look at all the November writing activities.

Computer, typewriter, pencil and paper, crayons or chalk: look at all the November Days to express yourself.





Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Spiritual connections, writing

Eye-Eye, All Aboard!

A front section of the restored railroad station. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

A front section of the restored railroad station. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

no preaching no peddling sign



beware pickpockets



Yesterday was my eye exam with my ophthalmologist. Full exam, including having my eyes dilated. Not my favorite thing to do and then drive home on a sunny afternoon. But if you have to spend an hour and a half getting your eyes checked, there’s no better place to be. My doctor’s office is in a restored brick railroad station. The interior brick walls are covered with authentic depot signs, including those you’ll see scattered throughout this post.

do not flush

My favorite Christmas memory is when I was in second grade, and our family took the train from Kansas City to Vista, California for a family gathering. The train ride was two days each way, and for hours each day I practiced learning to write cursive. My dad and I went up to the viewing car after lunch, sat at a little table and each ordered a Coca-Cola with a cherry. We turned over the paper place mats, Dad took out a ball-point pen for each of us, and during the trip he patiently transformed his 7-year-old daughter’s printing skills into cursive writing skills.

Both of my parents had excellent penmanship, but while my mother knitted and my brother played with baseball cards, I had my dad’s full attention. Away from business, church, hospital and bank board meetings, Dad was relaxed and focused on teaching me cursive letters, words, and sentences. The crowning accomplishment was when I rewrote the printed menu entirely in cursive on a paper placemat.

After Christmas vacation when the teacher asked what we’d learned over the holidays, she was surprised when I said I could write cursive. She gave me chalk and let me write basic sentences on the board.  When I finished, she—and my classmates—cheered and clapped for the result. But after school she gave me a Big Chief notebook to use for writing cursive…at home.  Many of the students in my class still hadn’t perfected even printing all the letters of the alphabet yet, and she didn’t want them to feel discouraged. That was okay because my parents took over, and several times each week I’d come home from school and on my desk would be an envelope with a letter written inside from my dad or my mom. Since cursive requires practice in both reading and writing, after I read the letter then I wrote a response, tucked it in the envelope and “mailed” it to their desk.

Yesterday was a good reminder that even dreaded appointments can also be excellent opportunities. My eye exam was actually an exercise in seeing the past clearly and appreciating those memories. If I’d had more time, and some blank paper, I would have rewritten the depot signs in cursive. Especially the one to beware of pickpockets and loose women. My dad would have loved it.

no spitting -$500 fine a yr inprison



Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, importance of doing good things, Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for


If this 1958 Thunderbird was yellow with a white top, it would look like Old Yeller.

Instead of being pink and black, if this 1958 Thunderbird was yellow with a white top and had a smiling teen waving from the driver’s seat, it could be Old Yeller.

This is Sunshine, my amazing FJ Cruiser. I'm crazy about her!

This is Sunshine, my amazing FJ Cruiser. I’m crazy about her, and we’re going to grow old together.

Even Smokey the Bear likes Sunshine when I drive her as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service. (pictures by Jim Warner)

Even Smokey the Bear liked Sunshine when I drove her as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service. (pictures by Jim Warner)

In 2008, when my mother’s dementia was not yet overwhelming, I took her out to see my new FJ Cruiser and said, “This is Sunshine.” I had to help Mom up into the passenger’s seat because real off-road vehicles in Colorado need a lot of clearance. As I strapped her in, Mom looked around, smiled and said, “I know why you chose this color, Marylin. It’s because of Old Yeller.” I hadn’t thought of a reason other than I just loved Sunshine’s color, but Mom was right.

Many decades earlier, Old Yeller was the car my dad trusted me to drive during my senior year in high school after my brother went to college. She was a 1958 Thunderbird, which later was a much sought after classic, but in 1966 she was just a used car. A wonderful used car that was mine to drive and keep filled with gas, to use as practice for changing a flat tie and checking the oil and all fluids. Because of her I worked at the dealership more hours after school and on weekends to pay for her maintenance, but I loved her.

I am the daughter of a car dealer whose work commitment and love of cars built five successful corporations of dealerships and employed generations of mechanics, sales people, and staff. By the time Dad died of Alzheimer’s, he’d been out of the public eye for years, but at the visitation the line to pay respects wound its way outside, and at the funeral the church was standing room only. The stories about his honesty, fair play, kindness and generous help in difficult times were numerous and touching.

My dad had laughed when I named the Thunderbird Old Yeller, but I’m sure it worried him, too, because to name a car is to form an attachment. I had Old Yeller for only a year. We shook hands on that—with my dad, a hand shake was as binding as a contract—and a year later I went away to college, sad to leave Old Yeller behind.   But the new owner, and my dad, knew that a named car also has often received excellent care. TLC.

Old Yeller was not just my first car, but decades later she was also my first memoir writing sale. I had published a good number of short stories and articles by the time I sold “Memories of Old Yeller” to the national FORD TIMES magazine, but the editors actually paid me a dollar a word for my account of naming my first car and learning unusual lessons. This was exceptional pay, teaching me that memories make for excellent writing exercise, and also encouraged me to spread my writing wings into other genres.

This post is a tribute to Ray Shepherd, who smiled when his daughter named her first car Old Yeller. It’s also a tribute to my mom, Mary Shepherd, who worked along side him to build successful businesses that looked out for their employees and cared for them as friends. My parents went out of their way to help people who were having hard times replace bald tires and get the trustworthy service to keep driving safely.

October is “Name Your Car” month. Before their Alzheimer’s and dementia, my parents were happiest when any car they sold was loved enough to be named.

“General Lee” from THE DUKES OF HAZARD” (Grange picture)

“Christine”–star of the Stephen King novel and movie by the same name.

“Herbie” from LOVE BUG.
(R. Cartwright stock photo)


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, writing, writing exercises


All pictures by KAKE News covering the death of Yogi Berra

All pictures by KAKE TV News covering the death of  Yogi Berra on Sept. 22, 2015

black and white pic of Yogi


Last week’s topic was bullying, featuring the summary of a radio account of one afternoon when adults, children, and students were all involved.   Thanks to all of you for your comments and suggestions, and as promised, I’ve added a few of the radio call-in responses.  They are now posted in the end comment box of last week’s blog. (Brace yourself for the first one; it’s one that none of you came even close to suggesting! It would detract from this week’s tribute and quotes.)


This week I’m sharing very different—and very creative and entertaining—examples of free speech. Yogi-isms.

Laurence Peter Yogi Berra died September 22nd at the age of 90. During his baseball career, Yogi Berra was MVP three times, fifteen times an all star, and won ten World Series.  In eighteen seasons with the NY Yankees, he hit 358 home runs and drove in 1,430 runs. He later managed both the Yankees and the NY Mets, and after retirement he was a welcomed visitor in the Yankee locker room . Yogi Berra was a team player, a family man, a good guy, and one of professional baseball’s most famous figures, known as much for his quips as for his excellence on the field.

His Yogi-isms didn’t bully or hurt anyone else.  They make us smile, even now.  Here are some of my favorites:

“Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” ~ “Even Napoleon had his Watergate.” ~ “He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.” ~ “Never answer an anonymous letter.” ~ “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” ~ “So I’m ugly. (In baseball) I never saw anyone hit with his face.”  ~ And after streakers ran naked across the field, Yogi was asked if the streakers were male or female.  He answered, “I don’t know. They had bags over their heads.”

Yogi’s wife Carmen once cited all the places they’d lived and worked. She asked him, if she outlived Yogi, where he’d like to be buried. His answer: “Surprise me.”   Which fits well with this closing Yogi-ism: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

Thank you for making us smile, Yogi.  My parents loved your Yogi-isms, and so do I.

The future : Yogi Berra

Yogi waving



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, special quotations


Maybe this WWII poster was in the inspiration for Mother A???

Maybe this WWII poster was in the inspiration for Mother A???



A dance...or a fight?  Art illustration from a Musical Baby segment.

A dance…or a fight? Art illustration from a Musical Baby segment.




After visiting my mom this month, I decided not to take the return interstate route, but to drive the blue highways. When you need time to yourself, with the peace of clear skies above open pastures and farm land, nothing beats taking the low-traffic back roads on a clear September day.   It was exactly what I needed…until I turned on the radio.   I skipped the big stations and talk-radio commentaries all revving up for that evening’s Republican debates, and then I  found a small station covering a recent story on bullying. Real life, multi-level bullying. Without revealing names or the location, here’s the story.

Mom A picked up her 3rd-grade daughter after school.  Child A was carrying her books, and when her mother asked where the girl’s backpack was, the answer was a sad whisper: it was stolen out of her locker, probably by Child B,  who had taken Child A’s lunch the day before. The girl had gone to the principal—Child B’s uncle—but didn’t have any real proof.

The mother made a quick U-turn, drove back to the school and parked at an angle in front of the school bus. Child B quickly got onto the bus when she saw Child A’s mother jump out of the car. Mom A grabbed Child B, pulled her off the bus and told her daughter to take charge and teach the bully a lesson. She even held Child B so Child A could hit and slap the girl to make her tell where the backpack was.

Child B’s older brother cursed loudly, got off the bus and jumped in to break it up.  Mother A grabbed the boy and began swinging him around.   He got so upset his asthma flared up and the kids on the bus alternately cheered for angry Mother A and wheezing Boy B.  The bus driver honked the horn but stayed in the bus to control the other students. The school resource officer—a policeman assigned to the school—did not intervene but called for backup because he wasn’t objective. His wife was Mother A.

The talk-show host on the little radio station told this all in a dramatic theatrical voice, and then he paused. Finally he said: “The lines are open, folks. Give us a call and tell us who are the bullies in this scenario, and what should be their punishment?”

If you called in to the station that day, how would you have answered his questions?

I’ll share some of the audiences’ personal, emotional, legal and professional responses in the comment section later this week.   I listened to a surprising assortment of answers until I drove out of the station’s airwaves and everything became staticky.  Gone was my calm, relaxed travel, to say the least.

September is Self-Improvement Month, Superior Relationships Month, and National Pediculosis Month. I couldn’t resist including the last one; Head Lice Prevention and Treatment are important issues, and certainly safer than discussing Bullying Run Amuck.

Some families prefer not to weigh in on this issue unless they can hide behind disguises like these mustaches.

Some of you might prefer not to weigh in on this issue unless you can hide behind disguises like these mustaches and be anonymous.    ;)



Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, Kansas, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, memories for grandchildren


Molly wishes her grandmother a happy birthday.

Molly wishes her grandmother a happy birthday.


Molly made a birthday wall wreath of flip-flops.

Molly brightened the room by making a birthday wall wreath of flip-flops.








At the Friday evening dinner, Maggie and my mom were a great team. sleeping through most of the fun.

At the Friday evening dinner, Maggie and my mom were a great team; Maggie slept through most of the fun beside Mom’s recliner.







We celebrated my mother’s 97th birthday last week. It was almost a month early, but this was the only time when her children and spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren could all get together. Especially her youngest grandchild, who flew all the way from China for the reunion and was swamped with hugs.

It was a wonderful combination of family, food, and fun, but the early-birthday girl slept though almost all of it. She sometimes smiled at the flowers, cards, hugs and kisses, but she didn’t realize who we were or what was happening. That’s how it is with her advanced dementia—and how it was with my dad’s Alzheimer’s–but we still do the best we can to celebrate our parents’ lives and show our love.

June is ALZHEIMER’S & BRAIN AWARENESS MONTH. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and a similar population percentage is found in countries all over the world. Alzheimer’s is a non-exclusive club that is open to everyone, and it charges very high dues.

Here are the latest research suggestions to promote brain health and prevent or postpone Alzheimer’s. Basically, heart healthy and brain healthy guidelines are very compatible:

~ the more you eat of the richer, deeper colors of vegetables and fresh fruits (especially berries), the better; ~ limit the amount of meats and processed meats you eat; ~ do NOT smoke; ~ monitor and control your blood pressure and cholesterol; ~ walk daily and/or exercise for 30 min. 3-4 times a week; ~ participate in games, classes, and activities with others; ~ brush and floss daily, and see a dentist regularly. 1-2 cups of morning coffee each day is still a plus against Alzheimer’s, but isn’t specifically listed for heart health.

My parents lived by everything on the list above—except the coffee; they drank tea—but Dad still died of Alzheimer’s at 89, and Mom’s symptoms began when she was 91. There are certainly other variables to be identified and studied, but for overall health the suggestions above—especially eating healthy foods—are a good start.

I read this advice on a poster with a picture of a huge garden with children picking baskets of vegetables: When it comes to food and labels of ingredients, here’s the plan: If you can’t pronounce it, do not eat it.   And I think Doug Larson was both correct and funny (humor is good medicine, after all) when he wrote, “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”

Here’s to fun, family, friends, and food (especially if it smells like bacon)…and doing our best to stay out of the Alzheimer’s Club.

Her great-grandchildren made a 2'x3' poster board card for her living room.

Her great-grandchildren made a 2’x3′ poster board card for her living room.

Flowers for Mom's early 97th birthday celebration.

Flowers for Mom’s early 97th birthday celebration.

Five million w: Alzheimers


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Special days in June, special quotations, Things to be thankful for