Category Archives: making a difference

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

And The Winner Is: ALICE

 

1996 - Molly at her high school graduation with her grandparents.

1996 – Molly at her high school graduation with her grandparents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nominees are:

ALICE IN WONDERLAND ~ by Lewis Carroll

STILL ALICE ~ by Lisa Genova

WHAT ALICE FORGOT ~ by Liane Moriarty

PUTTING ALICE BACK TOGETHER ~ by Carol Marinelli

ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE ~ starring Ellen Burstyn

ALICE WARNER ~ starring in No More Spitting

And the winner is (drum roll please): ALICE WARNER ~ affectionately known as Oma, mother of two, grandmother of four, great-grandmother of ten

For her starring role as mother of Jim Warner, the precocious, adorable 5-year-old boy she caught spitting. How did she respond? She seated him on the sofa, gave him a big bowl and said. “Fill it.”   He spit and spit and spit, until his mouth was dry, and there was only about a tablespoon of spit in the bottom of the bowl.

He had to sit for a while longer and keep trying to spit. Did it break him of spitting? You betcha!

Here’s to my mother-in-law, whose son grew up to be the best husband, father, grandfather, father-in-law, son-in-law, teacher, coach and overall wonderful man who to this day is a confirmed non-spitter.

1993 ~ Oma, her son Jim and granddaughter Molly

1993 ~ Oma, her son Jim and granddaughter Molly

You’ve been gone a dozen years, Oma, but we still miss you. If you were here and my mother wasn’t deep in dementia, the two of you would sit together, have a glass of iced tea, and enjoy all the antics—and the love—of your combined families.

1992, Oma holding great-granddaughter Shelbey

1992, Oma holding great-granddaughter Shelbey

Jim teaching Oma to use a computer, 1988

Jim teaching Oma to use a computer, 1988

 

 

52 Comments

Filed under celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren

FOOD FLIP

MBerry container

 

 

 

All pictures by Marylin Warner

All pictures by Marylin Warner

 

She arranges twelve plates on the table, all kinds of fruits, fresh and dried vegetables, flavored popcorn, and a plate of dark chocolate. There are six writers at the table, and they each take one bite of each food.

Then Mary gives each person a pink tablet, a single MBerry, the “Miracle Fruit Tablet,” that takes a few minutes to dissolve on the tongue. For a man’s perspective, my husband Jim has been invited to participate in this Wednesday’s writing group—or at least the food experiment—and we’re all fascinated with each step.

The tastes of the foods after the MBerry tablets dissolve are staggeringly altered. The tart limes and sour lemons are sweet; the dark chocolate is an entirely new flavor; some of the tastes are deliciously unrecognizable, and so on. Numerous adjectives are applied to each food.

food and tablets

 

 

Mary Zalmanek, one of my Wednesday writers, regular contributor to both RV and MOTOR HOME magazines, and author of THE ART OF THE SPARK, has furnished an amazing experience…and writing prompt.  She says that MBerries are more than just a fun game. They can be great diet foods, giving fresh fruits or veggies the tastes of exotic desserts, and that inspires others come up with more delicious possibilities, too.

For me, this fun experiment that has us all laughing is also a sobering reality check. It gives me a first-hand sample of what my mother, and my dad, before he died of Alzheimer’s—and other dementia and Alzheimer’s patients—struggle with at meals. They can no longer recognize formerly familiar foods; the tastes and smells confuse them, and this often diminishes their appetites. They lose another interest and another memory.

Tomorrow, July 2, is I FORGOT DAY. It’s a day of awareness: what do we want to remember; what would we like to forget? If we have a bad day on Tuesday, or any day, we can choose to either remember it or forget it.

Choose is the key word here. Those who suffer with memory loss, head injuries, dementia or Alzheimer’s, do not get to choose.

For the rest of us, tomorrow–or the day after, or any day–is a good day to do what we can to help them: listen and appreciate their efforts, share stories we know about them and their interests, or take them out for a walk or a ride in their wheelchair—crossing the threshold of their confinement—to see, hear, touch, smell the places they’ve forgotten since their last outing. It’s worth a try.

Art Linkletter was right; old age is not or sissies. And neither is Alzheimer's or dementia.

Art Linkletter was right; old age is not for sissies. And neither is Alzheimer’s or dementia.

34 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, recipes, writing

Reaping and Ripping

carrot and glove

 

 

let nature be your teacher

 

In seventh grade sewing class, there was a framed reminder on the wall above the row of sewing machines: Don’t RIP WHAT YOU SEW ~ Pay Attention to What You’re Doing

For twelve year olds making their first projects—and usually in a hurry to get them done—this was a reminder to work carefully or risk ripping out stitches and starting over. The message was, of course, a play on the words, YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW.   Which is synonymous with “What goes around, comes around” and “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

My mother often watched and waited as I learned my lessons. I was eight when we got rid of the old sandbox in the backyard and I was given the space for my own 8’x5’ garden. Mom let me choose any five seed packets. I chose a combination of vegetables and flowers—beets, carrots, corn, zinnias and marigolds—but I lost interest in reading the instructions.  I had no patience for planting in neat rows, but merrily mixed the seeds together and flung them throughout the garden. The result was, well, interesting, but we did get a few veggies AND colorful bouquets. Mom smiled and asked, “What will you plant next year, and how will you plant it?”

Two years ago after we removed a dying Aspen tree, I became the 8-year-old gardener again.  After planting our vegetable garden, I had extra carrot seeds, so I combined them with the soil in the hole…and forgot about them.   Several weeks ago, I noticed feathery green tops mixed with the grass where the tree had been.  The result was the 7” long, tough, bug-nibbled carrot in the picture above, surrounded by many smaller bits of carrots. The harvest was colorful and interesting—but after two seasons it was definitely inedible—it was what I had sown but then ignored.

 

gone with the wind Scarlett O’Hara, in the movie version of GONE WITH THE WIND, knelt in the destroyed field and dug out a withered turnip. She held it up and swore, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” This should make me feel guilty about my forgotten carrots, but Scarlett didn’t survive by planting more turnips; she survived by marrying men with money. Rich reaping.

Both Socrates and Plato have been credited for the lesson that “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and though my forgotten carrots will not cause my family to starve, I am paying attention to the lesson.  I need to work carefully or risk ripping out mistakes and starting over, and be ever mindful of what I sow.

On so many levels, it’s a good lesson for sewing, gardening…and life in general.

When the tornado destroyed their trees, yard, part of their house and much of their town, young Gannon did what he could--he planted grass seed.

When the tornado destroyed their trees, yard, part of their house and much of their town in 2008, young Gannon did what he could–he planted grass seed.

 

37 Comments

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

THE WONDERS OF A #2 PENCIL

December, 1917, Uncle Sam eats Cream of Wheat ~ picture by Grace Shipley

Uncle Sam eats Cream of Wheat ~ picture drawn by Grace Shipley for the contest

 

 

 

Grace, 1917

 

In December of 1917, Grace Shipley opened her art book of 10×12” drawing paper and sharpened her pencil with a pocket knife. She took out a special gum eraser she kept in the pencil box because when she corrected mistakes she didn’t want smudges.

Grace had learned of a Cream of Wheat contest for art entries that would inspire frugal good eating during WWI. According to her sister Myrtle, all their brown paper sacks become practice scraps as Grace sketched one idea after another, smiling and humming as she put pencil to paper before breakfast, in between chores, and until she went to bed at night.

She titled her picture “Preparedness,” and it was one of the winners. The prize was a year’s supply of Cream of Wheat, though no one remembers now exactly how many boxes that was. Grace was featured in the local newspaper, followed by congratulation notes from friends and strangers, and she was a guest at a women’s art luncheon. As the story goes, she used the back of her program to doodle a drawing of the speaker’s fancy hat.

What is it about putting pencil to paper, crayons to coloring books, or chalk to sidewalks that helps us hum, smile, and live outside ourselves? I never knew my grandmother, Grace Shipley Shepherd, who died of meningitis when my father was very young, but I know from others—and I’ve often felt it myself—that putting pencil to paper, to draw or to write, is a gift for and from the heart.

mind's eye & pencil

Canadian artist Robert Genn wrote that “A drawing a day keeps the cobwebs away.”   Just for fun, and to clarify your thinking and sharpen hand-eye coordination, try this exercise in “blind contour drawing.”

Place the point of your pencil on a blank paper. Look intently at some simple object beyond the paper, and without once lifting your pencil or looking down at your work, re-create the image. This will help you stay focused on the present moment, and while you discipline yourself to ignore your progress, you will also learn to release expectations . Mindfulness groups refer to this as “Zen drawing.”

Enjoy this activity.  Shake your head and loosen the cobwebs. Use a crayon or a marker if it will make you feel more like a playful child. And it’s okay if you smile and hum as you draw.

Grace (right, age 6) with her sisters.

Grace (right, age 6) with her sisters.

 

Grace's great-great-granddaughter at age 6, learning to play softball.  But she loves to draw, too.

Grace’s great-great-granddaughter, Grace Elizabeth, age 6, learning to play softball. But she loves to draw, too.

 

41 Comments

Filed under art, art projects, Contest winners, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

THE ICE INITIATIVE

Play Your Strong Suit

 

typewriter w: 4 hands

 

 

Picture this: the day after school lets out for the summer, a twelve-year-old daughter whines and complains she has nothing to do. The mother takes an envelope out of her purse. It’s filled with clippings from newspapers and magazines, and handwritten notes on scraps of papers. “Here it is,” she says, waving a piece of newsprint. “We’ll do this!”

The “this” is a contest looking for the best original Helpful Hint; the postmarked deadline is that very day, and the first prize is $50. She smoothes the rumpled newsprint on the kitchen table and says, “I’ll enter if you will.” And then as her daughter sits there moaning, the mother pours them glasses of tea and opens a tray of ice from the freezer. As she adds ice to the glasses, one cube falls onto the table.

The daughter looks at the cube and sighs. “I’ll try doing it, but only until that ice cube melts. And then I’ll quit and do something else.”

By the middle of the afternoon the ice cube has long been water on the table, and the girl and her mother are laughing and taking turns at the typewriter. The mother’s entry is about keeping an envelope full of contest opportunities so that whenever she needs something fun or different to try, the envelope holds the answer.

The daughter’s entry is called “Before The Ice Melts,” and it’s a simple timer. Before an ice cube melts, any boring, must-do responsibility or chore must be accomplished. Or if a babysitter wants to keep rowdy kids in line, all they have to do is sit at a table with an ice cube on a napkin in the center and do their homework or read a book or work on something without talking…but only until it melts.

The mother and daughter are both excited and telling jokes as they finish typing their entries (the daughter can only two-finger hunt-and-peck type, so it takes awhile), and then they fold their entries and put them in envelopes. They have twenty minutes to get to the post office, so while the daughter gets the stamps, the mother goes to get the entry information and address.

The rumpled square from the newspaper is gone! They search everywhere—the kitchen counters and drawers, under the table, in the typewriter room and even the bathroom—as the clock ticks.   The post office closes, and they still haven’t found it.

“Thanks, Mom,” the daughter thinks more than fifty years later, “for losing the address and ruining my chance to write the Great Ice Cube Initiative and become famous.”

But she smiles as she thinks this, wishing her wonderful, idea-rich mother had somehow sidestepped dementia and could laugh with her now as they watch ice cubes melt and talk about all the fun ideas they created together.

what deadline

ice cube on plate

44 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for, writing, writing exercises

A Word To Tackle: TOSKA

Even the outside of the Old Colorado City Library inspires you to read.

Even the outside of the Old Colorado City Library inspires you to read.

 

 

Local knitters keep the library trees colorful, creative and warm.

Local knitters keep the library trees colorful, creative and warm.

For Mother’s Day one year, I gave Mom a deck of cards for writers.  52 cards, not for playing poker or bridge or any card game, but for picking a writing prompt.  The idea was to “play your best hand” and write without stopping for fifteen minutes.

Mom laughed at the first prompt card she drew from the deck.  It said to write for fifteen minutes about where a lost child might be found.  “That’s too easy,” she said. “My first place to look for Marylin would be the library.”

I love libraries, especially very old, small libraries that smell of floor wax and have wide, tall windows and comfortable chairs scattered around the stacks of books. One of my favorite quotes about a library comes from Albert Einstein: “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”   I first saw this quote boldly printed on a map of the town of Chautauqua, New York.   The map was posted on the bulletin board of the Smith Memorial Library, and someone had used a marker to make an X where the library was: “You are here. Make the Most of It.”

Library bulletin boards are fascinating sources of information. Last week when I returned some library books, there were coupons for the nearby coffee shop, note cards with job opportunities, and contact numbers for poets looking to start a group. There was also one yellow card thumb-tacked to the board, with the word TOSKA printed in large letters.

Below the word TOSKA, in smaller printing was this message: “Among other things, Toska means melancholy, anguish, boredom, nostalgia, homesickness, sorrow, loneliness. If you know someone who suffers from one or more of these maladies, you can help heal them with a visit, a kind word, the touch of your hand on theirs as you listen to them talk about themselves and something they once treasured.”

I read this message again, almost feeling my mother’s presence.   If it weren’t for her dementia—and even though I doubted she had ever heard the word Toska—I knew she had helped many others by sitting beside them, holding their hands and listening.  Take that, Toska!       

Before the dementia, Grace and Gannon often enjoyed being read to by their great-grandmother.

Before the dementia, Grace and Gannon often enjoyed being read to by their great-grandmother.

Make the Most of itMG_5559

50 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing exercises

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

The first "hut" at the corner of Kellogg and Bluff

The first “hut” at the corner of Kellogg and Bluff

 

Dan and Frank in 1958

Dan and Frank in 1958

I grew up in the southeast corner of Kansas where a rugged swath of the Ozarks createsd a countryside of rolling hills and woods of stunning beauty. The area was also rocky farmland and hard scrabble little towns where generations of Italians worked in the strip mines and built family-meal  restaurants that still thrive today. There were numerous stories of hard-working parents who refused to give up and went on to build better lives for themselves and their children.

When my grandson went with me to visit my mother two months ago, he also introduced me to another Kansas success story. On our drive home, I asked Gannon where he wanted to eat, and he chose Pizza Hut.  The nearest one was in the little town of Burlington, and from the outside it looked like a typical Pizza Hut.  But inside it displayed many pictures and details of Pizza Hut’s humble beginnings.

In 1958, two college-aged brothers, Dan and Frank Carney, borrowed $600 from their mother to purchase second-hand equipment and rent a small building on a busy street in Wichita, KS.  They worked long hours and didn’t give up  (and yes, they also repaid their mother’s loan), and this first Pizza Hut became the foundation of the world’s largest and most successful chain of pizza restaurants.  (For my friends across the ocean, I add this detail:  in 1973 Pizza Hut began in the UK.)

In the Burlington Pizza Hut, important messages were printed on posters and chalk boards:  “From Humble Beginnings Come Great Things”;   “Work hard, Stay humble”;   and “Do Your Best.”   As Gannon and I went to the buffet, we were greeted with smiles from the helpful employees.   The Carney brothers did not grow up in this town, but their philosophy thrives.

A teenage girl ahead of us at the buffet wore a tennis T-shirt.   On the front was a picture of Arthur Ashe, and this was the message:  “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”   This profound reminder is from a superb tennis player and a wonderful man who died in 1993 after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion he received during heart bypass surgery.

I almost protested Gannon’s choice of Pizza Hut for lunch that day, but it turned out to be an excellent choice. You just never know in advance what lessons and reminders you’ll learn while waiting for pizza.

Pizza Hut box

 

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

52 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special days in April, special quotations, spending time with kids

FIVE DAYS TO CLAIM YOUR GIFTS

Before Dad’s Alzheimer’s and Mom’s dementia, they used a tag-team response to childish whining about “There’s nothing to do.” He would say, “Every day is a gift,” and she would say, “If you don’t open the present, you’re wasting it.”    To honor this philosophy, there are five—count ‘em, FIVE!—great gift-day opportunities coming up this week, and every one is better than April Fool’s Day was last week.

Tire Swing  April 10th is NATIONAL SIBLINGS DAY. The picture I’m using here is of my grandchildren. True Irish twins (11 months apart) neither remembers a time when they didn’t have each other, and together they can make even a tire swing a great way to spend the afternoon. I, on the other hand, once stabbed my brother’s hand with a fork…but that was only once, and on numerous occasions he told me I was adopted.   Hmm…maybe I’ll use April 10th to make a list of reasons I’m glad he’s my brother…and actually, there are many.

April 13th is SCRABBLE DAY.   Our favorite version of Scrabble is the kids’ version. You empty all the letters (upside down) each person takes 20 and puts together words, drawing more letters as necessary. The first to use all the letters is the winner. We have a lot of fun, and this is a good mind/thinking exercise, too.   Gannon ~ word scrabble

 

April 14th Is INTERNATIONAL MOMENT OF LAUGHTER DAY. The goal is to get others laughing because, as the saying goes, “Laughter is the best medicine.” I’ve kept my favorite “getting older” card–it still makes me laugh–beneath the dour old lady on the front are these words:  “Age and treachery will triumph over youth and skill.”     I also enjoy the humor in nature. Pictures of the Pygmy Owl and The Red-Footed Boobie work for me, and the antics of our puppy Scout keep us laughing, too. There are all kinds of ways to lighten up on April 14th.    In the U.S. it’s the day before taxes are due, so laughter is really important.

age and treachery                                                 Red-footed Boobie (Jeopardy)

 

pygmy owl

 

 

 

Or, if you’d rather, April 14th offers two other choices: LOOK UP AT THE SKY DAY (and marvel, dream, imagine, appreciate), and NATIONAL REACH AS HIGH AS YOU CAN DAY.   What are your hopes, dreams, goals? What do you really want? Make a plan and go for it.    Remember: “It is never Too Late To Be what You Might have Been.” — George Eliot, (pen name of writer Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880)                       George Eliot

look up at the sky day

60 Comments

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

Ten Minutes A Day…

I wonder if this mother allowed herself 10 minutes to dig AND enjoy her baby.

I wonder if this mother allowed herself 10 minutes to dig AND enjoy her baby, or if that counts as 20 minutes.  And what about the dog?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multitasking--divided into ten minute chores--could be much more effective... right?

Multitasking–divided into ten-minute chores–would be even more effective… right?

I was in elementary school when a magazine article featured a ten-minute plan to organize women’s responsibilities and, therefore, improve their lives. As I recall, this was the basic plan: each day, if a busy woman set a timer for 10 minutes and focused on just one specific room, at the end of each week her home would be pleasantly presentable and organized.

For one week Mom and her neighbor friend tried it: the first day was to clean the bathroom; the second day was the living room, the third and fourth days were for the kitchen; the fifth day was a closet (one closet per week). They decided the last two days—weekends—could be when the parents and children cleaned their own bedrooms and then added ten more minutes to vacuum the carpets. Ten minutes a day, sixty minutes a week, and voila! it would all be done.

To some degree, my mother already quickly straightened rooms before she went to work or after she came home, and I remember that she and her friend laughed at some of the things that wore them out (and the corners they cut) during their experiment. They quit the ten-minute plan after a week, although I do remember my mom continued to sometimes set a timer for us to complete certain chores. This made it a game; the faster we finished the work, the sooner we could go outside and play.

Before Dad’s Alzheimer’s and Mom’s dementia moved them out of their home and into an assisted living apartment, my mother had her own style: clean whatever was dirty, comfort whoever was hurt, fix what was broken, take joy in sunrises, draw strength from quiet times in her garden, laugh with her family and hug them, and sing as she worked. Although this took longer than ten minutes a day, I don’t remember her complaining.

Even after all these years, I still occasionally set a timer for ten minutes and give myself only that time to focus and get something done. It’s often for an undesirable or nagging chore, but when the timer goes off I’m surprised that the chore is finished, and I feel oh-so-much-better.

Wednesday, February 17th, is Random Acts of Kindness Day. If we each mentally set a timer for ten minutes and do just one kind thing for someone else, imagine what a good day that could be.

tulips in vase

This Valentine's Day, I wish you love, tulips, and deli chocolate cupcakes with fancy pink icing.  Enjoy.  (You have ten minutes to eat your cupcakes and get back to work, so get busy!)  ;)

This Valentine’s Day, I wish you love, tulips, and deli chocolate cupcakes with fancy pink icing. Enjoy. (You have ten minutes to eat your cupcakes and get back to work, so focus and get busy!) 😉

54 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, friends, gardening, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, Special days in February, spending time with kids