Category Archives: making a difference

A CLUB YOU DO NOT WANT TO JOIN

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

67 Comments

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

POEMS WRITTEN UPON THE SKY

birdhouse pole in trees

 

Our family home, built in 1954 ~ no trees, but lots of space, and opportunity for planning and hard work.

Our family home, built in 1954 ~ no trees, but lots of space, and opportunity for planning and hard work.

 

In my own home now, this is my favorite tree wall art of semi-precious stones.

In my own home now, this is my favorite tree wall art of semi-precious stones.

My brother and I, posed in front of the shell that would be our family home.

My brother and I, posed in front of the shell that would be our family home.

 

 

 

 

 

When our family moved from a wooded rural area in Missouri to southeastern Kansas, my parents built a house on a double lot that had no trees. My mother planted everything herself. Three gardens, two of them raised above ground; grape vines, flowering bushes, spring bulbs and perennials that blossomed until autumn flowers took over; a long border of regular, lemon and chocolate mint plants, and a total of twenty-seven trees. Four were fruit trees, and the rest were an amazing assortment of pines, blue spruce, maples, ash, oak, and elm trees. They provided shade and beauty, plus a sense of deep roots around the house my parents made their home for more than fifty years, until Alzheimer’s and dementia forced them to move.

Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Trees are the poems that the earth writes upon the sky.” The trees around our house were also my mother’s lasting signature on a barren piece of land.

I inherited my mother’s love of planting trees, signing my signature on Colorado soil that has a much shorter growing season. After Molly was born, one of her special birthday gifts each year was an aspen tree, rose bush or evergreen planted in the yard. Then when she became a wife and mother, a tornado ripped through their Kansas town. Insurance rebuilt and repaired their home, but did not replace the trees that had been destroyed, so our special gift to them was six red maple trees. Our family has a long tradition of investing in trees, and it began with my mother.

The stories she told us at home and shared with the children in the church nursery were often about trees, about planting and caring for them, appreciating their shade, thanking them for the branches that held nests for birds. And her lessons of trees always wove their way back to lessons about life. My mother chose her words as carefully as she chose what she planted in her yard. She knew she was investing in long term growth.

Our daughter, Molly, age 3, in front of one of her birthday aspen trees, with her dog Paige.

Our daughter, Molly, age 3, in front of one of her birthday aspen trees, with her dog Paige.

Our granddaughter, Grace, with our dog Maggie.

Our granddaughter, Grace, with our dog Maggie.

 

Grace and Maggie are both older now; how can you read a book to a dog unless you have the shade of a tree?

Grace and Maggie are both older now; how can you read a book to a dog unless you have the shade of a tree?

57 Comments

Filed under birthday traditions, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, gardening, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations

CHOOSING WILBUR

Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch  (Wikipedia photo)

Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch (Wikipedia photo)

CIDAR HOUSE RULES, novel by John Irving.

CIDER HOUSE RULES, novel by John Irving

Many years ago, before my dad’s Alzheimer’s distracted my mom’s writing, and then her own dementia stopped the writing altogether, she had an idea for an adult short story. Prior to that, she’d written children’s stories and poetry.

The idea for the story grew out of an actual event, a hurtful situation caused by a member of the family, and it had nagged at Mom for a long time. She wanted to write it just for herself—to sort it out and get it off her chest, like writers sometimes do—but in case it was ever accidentally found, she wanted to use a fictional location and names for the characters.

Many of the writers in my classes use books of baby names, search telephone books for name ideas, or read headstones at cemeteries.  Another way to study names for characters is read a lot of stories and novels.

Author John Irving’s books contain a variety of fictional characters’ names: Garp, Egg, Owen Meany, Piggy Sneed, etc. One of my favorite Irving novels, CIDER HOUSE RULES, features Dr. Wilbur Larch’s orphanage for children whose mothers did not come to him for abortions, but ended up abandoning their babies after giving birth.

One of the babies who was unsuccessfully adopted several times had been named Homer by Dr. Larch. As an adult, Homer helped choose names for other orphan babies, so the book is full of names. One charming practice at the orphanage is Dr. Larch reading aloud to the orphan boys each night, and closing with this tribute: “Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” I suspected Mom would choose one of the female characters’ names for her story, and if her story had included a male, she might also have considered the name Wilbur.

If I had a son, I would not name him Wilbur. But through good writing and story telling, I have appreciation for the name. In E.B. White’s 1952 classic, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, the barn spider’s friend is Wilbur the pig.  Wm. Joyce’s book, A DAY WITH WILBUR ROBINSON, is about a twelve-year-old searching for a pair of false teeth. And then there’s Wilbur Wright, co-inventor and co-pilot of the first successful airplane.

Even though the dementia has erased the story Mom wrote and the search for alternate names, I close this post with a tribute to her: “Good night, you princess of Kansas, you queen of kind living and gentle lessons.”

On my walk near the Garden of the Gods yesterday, I saw children with their pet pig.  His name?  Wilbur.  Their advice:

On my walk near the Garden of the Gods yesterday, I saw children with their pet pig. His name? Wilbur. Their advice: “Don’t get too close. He’s hungry.”

65 Comments

Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Kansas, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

DOUBLE DOG DARE

Excuse me...double dog dare?  Really?  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Excuse me…double dog dare? Really?  I don’t think so.  Sounds like a dare a cat would make.   (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

JUNE: the Ancient Romans named this month after the goddess Juno, the patron of marriage—think “June bride”—and June also comes from the Latin word “juvenio” (referring to young people). Juvenile is an excellent way to see the special day of June 1st: DARE DAY.    Not D.A.R.E., the Drug Abuse Resistance Education for students, and also not the first Saturday in June when Dare County, England celebrates its Dare Day.

June 1st DARE DAY is for daring someone to do something risky.   The dare can be heightened by the “double dog dare,” and the highest degree of challenge is the “triple dog dare.”   Whatever that means. The specific rules and consequences are up for grabs, embellished for effect, but often the outcome is dangerous or out-of-character behavior. Which is a good reason why the goddess Juno was also responsible for looking after the well being of women and girls…who might be “dared” to do things they don’t want to do.

When I was growing up, one of the things that got my mother quickly involved was to hear children “dare” another child to do something.   Mom equated dares with the acts of bullies and cowards who prodded others to do something against their best interests.   I remember one day when she overrode a double dog dare by sending me to my room to sort out WHY I had thought making such a challenge was a helpful thing to do to anyone.

At its personal best, DARE DAY on June 1st can be a day to challenge yourself to take a risk, meet a goal, or make yourself do something you’ve been meaning to do but keep putting off.

Michael Jackson wrote this about taking dares: “In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe.”

On June 1st, if we have no personal challenges or dares to give ourselves, we can choose one from Jackson’s list above. Or we can send ourselves to our rooms to think quietly until we create our own personal and positive dare.

Who would dare a kid to try to push over a huge boulder in the Garden of the Gods?

Who would dare a kid to try to push over a huge boulder in Colorado’s Garden of the Gods?

What if someone triple dog dares you to pierce your eyebrow?

What if someone triple dog dared you to pierce your eyebrow?

63 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, Special days in June, special quotations

Ooops!

It would be a mistake to hire a 4-year-old to be your carpenter.  Cute, maybe, but still a mistake.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

It would be a mistake to hire a 4-year-old to be your carpenter. Cute, maybe, but still a mistake. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

 

Using the wrong fork is  embarrassing, but it's a minor mistake.

Using the wrong fork is embarrassing, but it’s a minor mistake.

 

Texting and speeding and driving the wrong way is a serious mistake.

Texting or speeding and driving the wrong way can be a very serious mistake.

Years ago, before my dad’s Alzheimer’s and my mother’s dementia, they were included in a tour of one of the 3M facilities. When I asked how they’d liked it, my dad told me details from a businessman’s perspective. My mom’s perspective was different.

She remembered ACM—the initials of Acrylate Copolymer Microspheres—from the tour. She nicknamed them “A Creative Mistake,” and they became an inspiration.

In 1968 3M intended to create a super strong adhesive for the aerospace industry. But there was a mistake in the plan, and the end result was an incredibly weak product.  Years later, the reworked mistake became Press’n Peel, a low-tack, reusable pressure-sensitive adhesive.  The final name was of the product was Post-It notes, which became very successful.

Writer Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”  Or as my mother and I would have paraphrased it: Post-It is the name of mistakes that became successes because somebody didn’t give up.”   We agreed Post-Its should be a standard tool for writers, to stick on pages needing better ideas and corrections…and also serve as a reminder not to give up.

Some mistakes have tragic consequences, and I certainly am not making light of  life-changing, heart-breaking mistakes. For this post, however, I salute the discouraging but not serious mistakes we all make that can be redeemed or redefined if we don’t give up.

Mary Pickford, an early motion picture actress and one of the pioneers of Hollywood, became a co-founder of United Artists film studios. Along the way, she faced many problems, and this was her advice. “If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

I can’t resist concluding with a “mistake” made by a man who decided to shoot an armadillo. (Can’t you see “mistake” written all over this already?)   He didn’t realize how tough the hide was, and the bullet bounced off the armadillo and hit his mother-in-law. She wasn’t seriously hurt, but this reminds me of something my mother often said: “Some mistakes require a whole lot more than just saying ‘Ooops’ to fix them.”

armadillo

63 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, special quotations

WHAT CAN’T BE BOUGHT

four bills

 

 

 

 

How would you vote about the face that should replace Andrew Jackson's?  (Money pictures by Marylin Warner)

How would you vote about the face that should replace Andrew Jackson’s? (Money pictures by Marylin Warner)

I was in elementary school when “play money” became popular. Not just because of the game of Monopoly, but also because of the packages of miniature paper money of all denominations and plastic circles painted to look like quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. The packages could be purchased (with real money) at all kinds of stores, and one newspaper reported that Playing House had been replaced by Playing Bank.

About that same time, I was given a $3.00 bill.   Funny money.   There were two different versions: Lucille Ball of “I Love Lucy” was pictured on one; the version I was given had W.C. Fields’ picture, and beneath it were the words “A Sucker is Born Every Minute.” The adults thought it was funny; I didn’t get the joke. There wasn’t even a denomination printed on the funny money, so what was it worth?

My mother  just smiled said that money was only as good as the good it could do and the necessary things it could purchase.  I asked her who she thought should be pictured on real paper money. We talked about it and decided on Helen Keller, because she knew first hand that many things were much, much more important than the things money could buy.

Since 1928, the face of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States, has appeared on the $20 bill. Currently there’s a big push to change that. Women on 20s would replace Jackson with a woman by 2020, 100 years after women were given the right to vote.

Online responses have so far listed these four historical women as favorites: Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, and Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller. If these are the final choices, I’d vote for Wilma Mankiller because Andrew Jackson signed and enforced the Indian Removal Act which relocated Native Tribes to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). It was a horrible “removal” of tribes and families, so I’d like to see Jackson “removed” from the $20 bill and replaced by a Cherokee Nation Chief.   But that’s just my opinion.

This is one of the many times when I wish my mother’s dementia would fade away and she could tell me what she thinks.  I can guess, but not be certain, that she would wonder why no one is voting for Helen Keller.   I think she’d say that many things are much more important than money, and we need to remember that.

Two of the finalists from the responses so far.

Two of the finalists from the responses so far.

Some of the numerous women proposed to replace Jackson on the $20 bill.  (These pictures from NBC news)

Some of the numerous women proposed to replace Jackson on the $20 bill. (These pictures from NBC news)

55 Comments

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

BUTTERFLY McQUEEN KNEW THE TRUTH

One of the posters for GONE WITH THE WIND (Wikipedia)

One of the posters for GONE WITH THE WIND (Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Playing the part of Prissy, the talent Butterfly McQueen admits the truth. (Wikipedia picture)

Playing the part of Prissy, the talented Butterfly McQueen admits the truth. (Wikipedia picture)

My favorite story about my mom at a movie happened months before my older brother was born. Mom was five months pregnant with David, and miserably uncomfortable after eating a salad that included onions, radishes, cucumbers and beets (she said she’d been craving fresh vegetables).  Afterward, she went to an afternoon matinee of the reissued GONE WITH THE WIND.

Twice during the movie Mom offended the people sitting in front of her. The first time was during the powerful scene at the Civil War-ruined plantation, Tara, when a starving Scarlett O’Hara is on her knees in the garden, digging for something to eat. She holds up a turnip and swears: “…If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill—as God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”

It’s a dramatic turning point in the movie, but as Mom told me many years later, the timing was horrible. Scarlett’s turnip wasn’t as gaseous as Mom’s lunch, and her stomach chose that moment to groan and produce a very loud, smelly belch. Mom said, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and the couple waved their hands in front of their faces.

But then later, it was the actress Butterfly McQueen, playing the show-stealing part of the slave Prissy, who admitted the truth when Scarlett told her to help Miss Melanie with labor and delivery. In her emotionally distraught scene, Prissy cries out, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies!” At this point, my mother couldn’t help laughing, and she said out loud, “Amen to that!” The couple in front of her got up and moved.

And the truth of the matter, according to my mother, is that very few of us know about “birthin’ babies” ~ and we know even less about raising them. But love saves us, so we do the best we can and figure it out as we go along. But when she said that, she smiled and added with absolute certainty that it was also very much worth the effort, and she wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

This post is a Thank You to my mom, for her humor, her faith, her kindness, love and steadfast goodness, and her openness to making mistakes and sharing embarrassing stories. The dementia has made her forget the wonderful differences she’s made in the lives of so many people, especially children, but I remember.

Happy Mother’s Day, dear Mom, as well as Grandmother’s Day, Great-Grandmother’s Day, and all-round Great Woman’s day!

Helen Allingham's 1872 "Hanging the Washing, a Beautiful Spring Morning"

Helen Allingham’s 1872 “Hanging the Washing, a Beautiful Spring Morning”

 

Jan Zotelief Tromp's "In the Fields with Katia" (1892) shows a true working mother.

Jan Zotelief Tromp’s “In the Fields with Katia” (1892) shows a true working mother.

57 Comments

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