Category Archives: memories for great-grandchildren

FRIED DANDELIONS

Excellent dandelions to fry, without the

Excellent dandelions to fry, without the “violet” weeds.

More good dandelions for frying, but not with the bee.

More good dandelions for frying, but not with the bee.

When I was growing up and looked forward to something in the future, my dad would remind me not to wish my life away, but enjoy today and make the most of it.

He was right, bless his heart, but today I can’t resist telling you to look forward to—and also prepare for—three special days. Stay with me here; there will also be a recipe for you gourmets with a hankering for an unusual yellow delicacy.

Here are the special days at the beginning of May that you might want to circle on your calendars: May 1st and 2nd are Dandelion Days; May 3rd is Garden Meditation Day; and (drum roll, please) the first Saturday in May is World Naked Gardening Day.  If you want to combine celebrations and spend May 2nd and 3rd meditating in your garden while also contemplating your navel, go for it. I’ll focus on Dandelion Days. Classis cover: Dandelion Wine

Many years ago, Ray Bradbury wrote a novel titled DANDELION WINE. In this story about the simple joys of small town life, the main character, Douglas Spaulding, has a grandfather who makes dandelion wine. He packs the joys of summer into every bottle. (There’s more to the plot, but I don’t want to have to give a Spoiler Alert.)

My mother has never been much of a wine drinker…and never a wine maker. But she knew that, for me, dandelions were the happiest sign of spring. I was the child who picked lots of dandelions, arranged them in jelly glasses, and left them on window ledges and tables around the house. I was also known to rub the blossoms on my hands and face to make “beautiful” yellow circles. (I was just a child, okay?)

She and I didn’t make Dandelion Wine, but we did concoct a recipe for Fried Dandelions.

~ Gather a lot of fresh (never sprayed for weeds) dandelions with firm yellow blossoms.

~ Remove stems, wash blossoms and set aside in cold water.

~ In a saucepan, combine chopped scallions (or leeks), and a handful of chopped walnuts or pecans with enough olive oil or melted butter to coat the bottom of the pan. Saute on medium-high heat while you shake the excess cold water off the dandelion flowers and then roll them in flour or corn meal.

~ Toss them into the pan. Add pinches of sea salt,  shakes of pepper and dill weed, and sprinkles of sugar and paprika. My mom added a little garlic to almost everything, but it’s optional if you’re not big on garlic. Add other spices you like. Stir the concoction in the olive oil or butter on higher heat until the blossoms look crispy and/or your mouth is watering.

~ Serve hot. Preferably with cold iced tea. If someone won’t try your fried dandelions, even if you offer Ranch Dressing on the side, say, “Yea! More for me,” or ignore them. They probably will also stick up their noses at other spring delights, including Garden Meditation Day and Naked Gardening Day. You can’t please everyone.

This delightful recipe is a springtime gift to you from Mary Ibbeth and her daughter Mayno. We both wish you a very happy, gourmet May Day…and entire month.

Stars of Bethlehem, another underappreciated

Stars of Bethlehem, another underappreciated “weed” ~ the flowers are supposedly medicinal, but the bulb bases are poisonous. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, gardening, memories for great-grandchildren

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

ROYGBIV, FYI

ROYGBIV X 2 = a double rainbow.  (picture by Jim Warner)

ROYGBIV x 2 = a double rainbow. (picture by Jim Warner)

M & Ms are acronyms for Mars and Murrie's, the last names of the candy's founders.

M & Ms are acronyms for Mars and Murrie’s, the last names of the candy’s founders.

A golf cart For Sale.  It's a BMW, meaning "Bavarian Motor Works."

A golf cart For Sale. It’s a BMW, the acronym for “Bavarian Motor Works.”

I was in fourth grade when the teacher taught us a tool for remembering the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Thank you, Roy G Biv.

Today we’ve moved beyond teaching tools and abbreviations. Acronyms are used in every industry, in all walks of life. Texting and instant messaging make up a whole new series of acronyms. AFK says we’re away from keyboard; BRB assures we’ll be right back; and if you’re guarding what you’re sharing, POS tells the other person Parents Over Shoulder. BF is Best Friend, BFF is Best Friends Forever; BFFL is Best Friends For Life. It’s touching to know that even the act of identifying and ranking levels of our most important friendships can now be accomplished in acronyms of 2-4 letters.

Some acronyms we know “in general” what they mean. For instance, we know SOS is a call for help, but technically it means “Save Our Souls.” The Latin meanings of the acronyms for i.e. and e.g. are long, complicated, and well…in Latin. The useful meanings are “in other words” for i.e., and “for example” for e.g.   And most of us probably know what a TASER is, but do you know that TASER is the acronym for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle”?

If we’re going to use acronyms, we really should know what they mean. LOL means “laugh out loud,” and therefore shouldn’t be used as part of the message on a sympathy card because you think it means “lots of love.” Sometimes it’s better to write out what we feel instead of taking chances that the acronym might be misinterpreted.

While my parents were still living at home—before my father’s Alzheimer’s and long before my mother’s dementia—I was visiting them when a young girl dropped off some writing materials for my mom. As the teen put them on the coffee table, Mom noticed her colorful bracelet and asked what the letters stood for. The girl smiled and held out her arm to show off the WWJD. “It’s a reminder,” she said. “A question to ask myself…’What Would Jesus Do?’”

Ever helpful and pleasant, my mother smiled and patted the girl’s hand. “Oh, sweetheart, you know there’s a book that actually tells you what Jesus did do.”

The world is changing with acronyms providing faster ways of communicating. It is not TEOTWAWKI—“The End of The World As We Know It”—just another new thing we can choose to embrace or not.

To all of you I say BBS (Be Back Soon) and TTYL (Talk To you Later).  To my mom I don’t say HAGN or TYVM, because she wouldn’t know what those mean. So I say “Have a good night” and “Thank you very much” for being a wonderful mom.

One of the most popular acronym message bracelets of the 1990s.

One of the most popular acronym message bracelets of the 1990s.

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Filed under Different kinds of homes, friends, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, writing

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

BY ANY OTHER NAME

 

Aunt Mary? Mrs. Shepherd?

Aunt Mary? Mrs. Shepherd?

 

 

Beth knew the answer.

Beth knew the answer.

 

"...a rose by any other name..."

“…a rose by any other name…”

My mother’s two years as a kindergarten teacher in Kansas City were rich with stories that took place long before I was born. This is the third story from that time period.

Remember the large group picture of my mother in the back row, posed with the other staff and the kindergarten students? My cousin Beth was visiting that day, so she was included in the picture, too. What the picture doesn’t show is the intense argument she had with one of the little boys in the class. “That’s my Aunt Mary,” Beth told him proudly. “No, it’s not,” he replied indignantly. “That’s Mrs. Shepherd.”

“No, sir.”   “Is too.”   “Uh-uh.”   “Uh-huh.”   Back and forth it went.

My mother made it a teaching moment for the whole class: names can show our relationship to other people ~ Mom, Grandma, Aunt Mary, Mrs. Shepherd, or a nickname like Mary Ibbeth or Mary E.   Names can also make it clear what we do or who we are to others ~ teacher, writer, friend, neighbor. We can have many names, and if someone tells you, “Don’t call me that,” then be polite and don’t use that name.

Writers—including my mother, before the dementia—know that literature has many examples of the importance of a character’s name. “Call me Ishmael,” the opening line of MOBY-DICK, is a classic example. In Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, much importance is attached to the character learning his name and who he is: “Kiss a lover ~ Dance a measure ~ Find your name ~ and buried treasure.”

Jarod Kintz, author of   99 CENTS FOR SOME NONSENSE, had a different perspective. “Male or female, if my name were either Don or Dawn, I’d be up at sunrise to celebrate the glory that is me.”

W.C. Fields said this about the name issue: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”   Which he might have taken more seriously if he’d been bullied on the play ground. Or he might have shrugged and said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”   Oh, sure; children aren’t ever hurt by name calling.

My mother never saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS, but she enjoyed T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was the core of the musical. “…Before a Cat will condescend…To treat you as a trusted friend…A cat’s entitled to expect…These evidences of respect…And so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name.”

The story of my cousin Beth arguing about whether my mother’s name was Aunt Mary or Mrs. Shepherd makes me smile. This Christmas Mom’s dementia is so advanced that I doubt either name—or any of the others—will mean much to her. She fades in and out of life as a child on the farm, and sometimes scenes from working with my dad or raising children.

For those of you who have a loved one in a similar situation, I wish you the simple joys of being together: gentle humor, genuine acceptance, delicious foods and holiday music. In difficult situations, feeling love and hugs are more important than remembering names.

"...and so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name..."

“…and so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name…”

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, kindergarten lessons about life, life questions, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, teaching, writing

SOLE LESSONS

Mary Elizabeth as a toddler in buckle shoes.  No shoelaces to tie!

Mary Elizabeth as a toddler in buckle shoes. No shoelaces to tie!

 

My mother (in the middle). Look at the buckles on those shoes.  Tying shoes would have been easier!

My mother (in the middle). Look at the buckles on those shoes. Tying shoes would have been easier!

Last week’s story featured Tommy, the boy in my mother’s kindergarten class who needed to rest behind the piano until he could participate without distracting or hurting others.  

In that same class was five-year-old Billy, a sweet boy who had a very different problem. He couldn’t tie his shoes.

This was over seventy years ago, long before Velcro was an essential part of children’s shoes. Being able to tie your shoes was a learned skill back then, one of the eye-hand-coordinations on a child’s check-off sheet. Schools everywhere taught “bunny ears” loop-tying, or other techniques to help kindergartners tie their shoes. Billy struggled with every attempt, but nothing worked.

One day during Story Time, Billy sat in his little chair in the circle the children formed to listen to the story. As the teacher read, Billy leaned over in his chair and began working oh-so-diligently to tie his shoes. My mother watched him try again and again, and she hoped this might be the time it all worked out. Finally, after a painfully long time, Billy looked up and proudly smiled. Success!

It was like a bad dream, Mom told me many years later. In quick succession, several things happened: Billy beamed triumphantly; the fire alarm went off; and as the other children stood and formed a line at the door as they’d practiced, Billy remained seated. His eyes got big, his lower lip trembled, he pointed down at his shoes, and his eyes filled with tears.

Billy had succeeded in tying his shoes all right…together…and around the leg of his chair. Plus, bless his little over-achieving heart, he’d even tied the shoe laces in knots.

That day, when the kindergarteners and first graders marched down the stairs to the main floor, blended with the other students and filed out the front door, the principal and her secretary checked off how long it had taken everyone to leave the building during the fire drill. One teacher and one student took longer than everyone else in the building.

My mother was last out that day, carrying Billy out the door.  He still sat in the chair, his feet still tied to the chair leg. Children giggled, staff members clapped, and Billy buried his face against my mother’s neck.

The “sole” lesson from this story is the reminder that to really understand others we need to walk a mile in their shoes…or at least down the stairs and out the door.   But the other lessons my mother taught by example over and over were these: We’re all pretty much just doing the best we can, so our first response should be helpful instead of critical. It also helps to keep a sense of humor…but never laugh while another person is sobbing against your neck.

Current baby and toddler shoes.  No buckles...but they do have shoe laces!

Current baby and toddler shoes. No buckles…but they do have shoe laces!

Or, just go bare-foot!

Or, just go bare-foot!

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, teaching

THE NORWAY OF THE YEAR

The national flag of Norway, adopted July, 1821

The national flag of Norway, adopted July, 1821

 

 

 

Red November leaves clinging to tree.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Red leaves clinging to tree. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Have you ever noticed the grim way some writers describe the month of November?  

Joseph Addison wrote this: “The gloomy months of November, when people of England hang and drown themselves.” (I double checked, and the word “months” is indeed plural, as if November seems to go on and on, which might explain the hanging and drowning, or maybe it refers to Addison’s interpretation over many years. Whichever it is, I apologize to the people of England; remember, I am only the messenger.)

Emily Dickinson describes November this way: “November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”  (I used to teach Dickinson in my English classes, and I don’t recall her writing that July is the Sahara of the year, or making any other month/place comparisons…only November.)

My mother’s writing is not well known–and at this point in her dementia, even she doesn’t recognize her own words when I read them aloud to her–but I’d like to share with you a few of her descriptions of November.  I found these typed and handwritten examples stored in her writing box. 

The windblown sleet darts ~ Like tiny ice bullets ~ Against my window pane. 

Wee button noses ~ Beneath eyes of wide wonder   ~ Smudge frosty windows.

And these last two, titled 1 and 2, were followed by a question: which one is better?  If you have a preference or comment, I’ll read them to Mom during my next trip to Kansas…and remind her again that these are her words and Haikus.

#1: Spruce draped in snow-fall ~ Stand silent cold sentinels ~ Against threat’ning skies.

#2: Trees clothed in snow-fall ~ Are strong sentinels guarding ~ Against steel grey skies.

Both of my parents thought that each day had its own beauty, and each month had its own importance and possibility. For my mother, summer months were for planting and gardening; fall and winter months were for knitting and baking; spring months were for hoping and watching new growth. She believed every season was a gift, and all the seasons deserved heartfelt anticipation…and at least a few words of notice and appreciation penned in her notebooks.

 

Fall clouds on the Kansas horizon

Fall clouds on the Kansas horizon

Maggie on fall hike in Brown's Park, Abilene, KS

Maggie on fall hike in Brown’s Park, Abilene, KS

November picture of Colorado's Pikes Peak

November picture of Colorado’s Pikes Peak

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing