Category Archives: spending time with kids


A tiny carrot found in the garden...where no one planted carrots. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)


(All pictures by Marylin Warner ~ details given below)

(All pictures by Marylin Warner ~ details given below)

christmas cactus house








For several decades, Richard Carlson’s book, DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF, has enjoyed popularity. His lessons and examples for keeping things in perspective have been expanded into editions about not sweating the small stuff in love, at work, for teens, etc.

Years ago, I gave my parents a copy of Carlson’s book. Later I found three cards in my mom’s writing box. Dad had copied three lessons he liked best. The first two are “You are what you practice most,” and “If we would just slow down, happiness would catch up to us.” (Before Alzheimer’s, nothing slowed down my dad.)

My mom had a different take on Carlson’s title. She thought a better book would be this: BE THANKFUL FOR THE SMALL STUFF. In her opinion, moments of gratitude and hopefulness are like dominoes toppling over and creating more good moments in life.

In the spirit of building on my mother’s philosophy, this Thanksgiving I was especially thankful for the small stuff. For the funny little carrot hidden under leaves in the garden (we didn’t plant carrots this year); for the Christmas Cactus plant that bloomed early in the kitchen window; for the shape of a heart on top of a corn muffin at our Thanksgiving dinner where three generations shared food, laughter, love, stories of other Thanksgivings together, and the joy of being together now.   And when Colorado’s previous sunny day turned into a Thanksgiving ice storm, I was especially grateful for the next day’s safe 420 mile drive back to Kansas for our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.

My dad’s third card in my mom’s writing box was this message from Carlson’s book: “When you’re in an ill mood, learn to pass it off as simply that: an unavoidable human condition that will pass with time if you leave it alone. A low mood is not the time to analyze your life.”

This penciled message–I think my mother wrote it–is printed beneath it: “And when you’re in a good mood, smiling and joyful, don’t analyze it or brace yourself for it to change. Instead, be grateful for that mood, and be hopeful.”


Kansas kids--especially our grandchildren--love to hike in the Garden of the Gods, warm and sunny on the day before the ice storm.

Kansas kids–especially our grandchildren–love to hike in the Garden of the Gods; it was warm and sunny on the day before the ice storm.

Almost fifty years ago, my mother painted this snow-storm picture for a story she'd written: "Stubby The Stubborn Missouri Mule"

More than fifty years ago, my mother painted this snow-storm picture for a story she’d written: “Stubby The Stubborn Missouri Mule”   

The ice storm passes, leaving a gorgeous white covering on Pikes Peak.

When the ice storm passes, it leaves gorgeous  snow covering Pikes Peak.


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, Things to be thankful for


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!


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


Mom in her rose-bud flannel pajamas. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Mom in her rose-bud flannel pajamas. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Hummel figurine Mom got in Germany in 1970.

Hummel figurine Mom got in Germany in 1970.

One of the hand-stitched wall hangings Mom made for each of us.

One of the hand-stitched wall hangings Mom made for each of us.

Dear Mom,

A Christmas tradition in our family is to watch the movie IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  There are many memorable lines, but one of my favorites is the blessing Mary Bailey gives to a family as they move into their little house .

The couple stands at the threshold of their new home, and she presents them with three things: “Bread, that this house may never know hunger. Salt, that life may always have flavor. Wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever.”

Three genuine, inexpensive and heartfelt gifts ~ perfect blessings to be incorporated in a Christmas movie.

Bread, salt and wine…and in our family, after a big  Christmas dinner with special dishes we all love, we also have a specific dessert: Birthday cake with white icing and candles. We sing “Happy Birthday” to the Baby Jesus, and the kids make the wishes and blow out the candles.

We don’t have an abundance of commercial decorations or give extravagant gifts. In addition to lights, a tree is decorated with homemade and collectible ornaments, a poinsettia plant or two adorn tables, and maybe a fresh wreath with a red velvet ribbon hangs at the front door. The Hummel figurine of the Christ Child and little animals sits on the mantel. Each family still has a handmade wall hanging you stitched for us almost thirty years ago: “Oh Come Let Us Adore Him.”

The gifts are often practical, personal, and memorable. This year, Mom, your ten-year-old great-granddaughter, Grace, gave you flannel pajamas that match hers, so you can be slumber party buddies even though you live two hundred miles apart. I let you open this one present early. The night was cold and dreary, and you snuggled under the blankets wearing your rose-bud jammies while Grace wore hers and snuggled under the blankets on her own bed.

And–spoiler alert, so we won’t let Grace see this post until after Christmas–she’ll be receiving a pink pillow made from one of her favorite T-shirts. Zoey was the kids’ little pug dog who died several years ago, and Grace’s T-shirt was her favorite because it looked just like Zoey. Now the memories will sweeten Grace’s dreams as this pillow joins the others she’s received as presents. Brother Gannon’s favorite sports sweatshirts will be his new pillows.

Maybe Christmas, the Grench thought, doesn’t come from a store.  ~ Dr. Seuss

In our family, Mom, we would say that the Grench is absolutely right.

Grace's pillow gift of her dog Zoey.

Grace’s pillow gift of her dog Zoey.

Poinsettias are the December flowers of choice.

Poinsettias are the December flowers of choice.


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for great-grandchildren, sewing, special quotations, spending time with kids, Things to be thankful for


Tree-trimming time. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Tree-trimming time. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Lady Bugs IMG_2817


Dear Mom,

When I was growing up, there were many times when I came into the kitchen for a drink of water on a summer day, and you would say, “Oh, you brought along a friend.”  You taught me to gently cup my hand over the Lady Bug on my arm or my neck or my shirt, walk back outside and free it near a rose bush or on the branch of a tree.  “Lady Bug, Lady Bug, fly away home…”

Last week, Jim and I hired a tree service to do some major work around our house in Colorado. They removed infected trees, trimmed others, planted a slow-growing pine in place of a diseased tree they’d removed. The arborist pointed out aphids in our two huge maple trees in front of the house. You would like him, Mom; instead of spraying the trees to treat the problem, he sent us to a nursery for two bags of Lady Bugs.  4,000 hungry little red friends who were starving for aphids.

That night after sunset, Jim and I opened the mesh bags in the cross sections of the maples. They swarmed out and immediately trailed up the branches like soldiers marching into battle. Some fell on us, crawling on our arms, flying around our faces.  I loved it, and just as you taught me, I carefully released each one on the tree branch. It was a magical evening, reminding me of my childhood, and I  decided I could be very happy being a part-time Lady Bug releaser!

In Dostoevsky’s novel, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, the main character says this in the final chapter: “There is nothing nobler, stronger, healthier and more helpful in life than a good remembrance, particularly a remembrance from childhood. A beautiful, holy memory preserved from childhood can be the single most important thing in our development.”

Dostoevsky never knew Lady Bugs in Kansas, never saw you smile as you helped me carefully transport them back outside, and he never knew of the hundreds of good memories I have of growing up with you and Dad as my parents. But I remember, and yes, those memories have made a profound difference in my life.   Thank you, Mom.

Love, Marylin

Young Gannon and Grace, receiving the portrait of their great-great-grandmother Grace, so they'll know about her life.

Young Gannon and Grace, receiving the portrait of their great-great-grandmother Grace, so they’ll know about her life.


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, gardening, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, spending time with kids

100th Post on “Things I Want To Tell My Mother”

1978 ~ Mary reading to two of her grandchildren

1978 ~ Mary reading to two of her grandchildren

2007 ~ Mary reading to her great-grandchildren

2007 ~ Mary reading to her great-grandchildren

Dear Mom,

Wow, May 4th is ONE HUNDRED posts on our blog!  Amazing.

Our first post was on September 1st of  2011. Since then we’ve shared stories about your life growing up on the farm in Missouri, raising your own family in Kansas, helping children through teaching, volunteering with CASA, and stepping in to help anyone who needed help.  We’ve held writing contests with cash prizes in your name—Mother’s Day Greeting Card Writing, Christmas Memories, and Poetry Writing—and we’ve shared some of your poems, essays and illustrated stories.  We’ve reminded readers of many unusual days on the calendar and posted inspiring quotes, favorite recipes and titles of books we’ve enjoyed.  We’ve featured friends and your great-grandchildren as guest bloggers, and we’ve shared information about Alzheimer’s and dementia.

We never missed a week, and some weeks we posted twice!

In the process, we greeted visitors and made new friends from all over the United States, from the UK, Canada, Australia, India, Israel and sixty-four other countries. These are readers who’ve laughed with us, cried at some of our stories, and cheered us on by sharing their stories. We are very grateful for all of them.

Today, for our 100th post we’re going to share some interesting details about May, the month of our celebration.

The Roman poet Ovid wrote that the month of May is named for the maiores, Latin for “elders.”  In 1963, President John F. Kennedy established May as Older Americans Month. This is a month to respect seniors and celebrate longevity, which includes you, Mom, at the respectful age of almost 95!

When I was in elementary school, on the last day of April you and I made little holders of rolled construction paper and braided yarn for the handles. On May 1st we picked crocus, daffodils and tulips, or if spring didn’t cooperate we filled the holders with small cookies and candy. I’d hang the little May Day baskets from the front door knobs of older neighbors’ houses, ring the bell, call out “Happy May Day!” and hurry away.

Next week, May 8th is No Socks Day for all ages.  The idea is to set your toes free and give your feet a breath of fresh air. Go barefoot and smile at the comfort of cool grass, warm sand or swishing water.

The next day, May 9th, follow up with Lost Sock Memorial Day. Search through drawers or behind the dryer, but if you can’t find the missing sock, take its lonely mate and give it a solitary use: as a dust cloth, a holder for buttons or coins, or make a hand puppet for a child or a chew toy for a pet. Or just dispose of it (gently, of course).

Next Sunday is the well known and widely celebrated Mothers Day, May 12.

A lesser known day is Saturday, May 11—Birth Mothers Day—which is more private. This day was originally set up for mothers to spend quiet moments thinking about or praying for the children they gave up for adoption…or for adopted children to do the same for their birth mothers.  It is intended as an anonymous tribute, and some houses of worship have special candles or flower vases set up for Birth Mothers to give prayers and thanks for the love and care given by Adoptive Mothers.

And finally, the last week of May is National Simultaneous Storytime, which we wish American parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians would vote to implement for our nation’s children.  In Australia, children’s libraries hold a special event where all public and school librarians read aloud the same book on the agreed upon day, at 11AM EST, to the children everywhere in Australia!

Well, Mom, this has been our 100th post. Let’s thank our reading friends and give them cyber hugs for sharing in our adventure…and then it’s nap time.  Next week is post #101, and we’ll need our rest.

2010 ~ Mary's great-grandchildren on farmer-type playground toys in Kansas (all photos by Marylin Warner)

2010 ~ Mary’s great-grandchildren on farmer-type playground toys in Kansas (all photos by Marylin Warner)

1983 ~ Alien children on Mary's front porch

1983 ~ Alien grandchildren on Mary’s front porch


Filed under celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, neighbors, spending time with kids, Things to be thankful for, writing


Mary holding first great-grandchild, Grace

SEPTEMBER, you might say. Or, back-to-school month.

If you’re a writer, did you realize that September is–drum roll, please–“Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month”?

I kid you not; I just don’t know who exactly has the power to designate these special days. But for the sake of celebration, and this post, we’ll accept it. The entire month we’ll be kind to editors and writers. Especially one.

Yesterday, Sept. 1, was Emma M. Nutt Day (she was the first woman telephone operator). And today, Sept. 2, is (brace yourself)  National Beheading Day (In this country? Really?–again, who thinks up these things?)

Sept. 6 is Read A Book Day, which fits our theme better.

Today I’m going to offend whoever decided on making this National Beheading Day. This is my blog, after all, so I’m declaring today “Appreciate Writer Mary Elizabeth Hoover Shepherd Day,” and the illustrated story we’re going to appreciate is “Stubby the Missouri Mule.”

In the state of Missouri, where summers can be dreadfully hot and the winters are beastly cold, all the farmers called him Stubby because he was the most stubborn little mule anyone had ever seen. (I’m going to paraphrase the story and include two of my mother’s hand-drawn illustrations. The story was written in 1961 when Mom was 43, and it most recently appeared in 1991 in “The Writers Bloc” of THE FT. SCOTT TRIBUNE.)

One day, a blizzard moved in quickly. Farmer Jim opened the barn and began moving his animals to safety. But not Stubby; he kicked up his heels and ran farther into the pasture. When his momma called, he pretended not to hear, and when the farmer looked for him, Stubby hid. At first he had great fun. Then it got dark, and cold. And scary. No one came looking for him, and he was lost. He startled a skunk and got sprayed; he was hungry–and smelly–but where was the barn? (Lots of misadventures happen.) Then, after Stubby’s dark, lonely night, by morning light he saw the barn in the distance. Instead of being angry, Farmer Jim welcomed the little mule, and Stubby happily jumped in a snowdrift and rolled and rolled to get clean. That night, when the farmer opened the barn to shelter the animals, Stubby didn’t even have to be called. For once, he’d forgotten to be stubborn.

I apologize for my CLIFF’S NOTES summary of a charming story for children, but I also honor the author, Mary Elizabeth Hoover Shepherd, by declaring today, September 2, as her day on this blog.

September is “Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month.” When a writer is 94 and doesn’t remember her story of a darling stubborn Missouri mule, or any of her other stories, articles and poems, a little kindness and appreciation by those of us who do remember for her is the least we can do.


Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, writing

Coffee, tooth paste and apples…








Dear Mom,

When Dad was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you wished we knew what could have been done to prevent it. Now that you have dementia, I wish the same thing. Many of my generation are wondering about their parents’ Alzheimer’s and dementia… and what it suggests about their own futures. One good friend, Helen Armstrong, recently sent me information about some new findings.

Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Center on Aging, says, “The idea that Alzheimer’s is entirely genetic and unpreventable is perhaps the greatest misconception about the disease. He compares Alzheimer’s to heart disease and cancer, which can be developed over decades and influenced by cholesterol, blood pressure, depression, education, nutrition and sleep, etc.

There are simple things we all can do to reduce our chances of Alzheimer’s. The big one that you and Dad did NOT do, Mom, was drink 3-5 cups of coffee each day. You  both loved the smell of coffee brewing, but your stomachs didn’t like the effects of drinking coffee. Even now, when I visit you each month and sneak in my own big mugs of coffee to heat in the microwave early the next morning, you sniff and smile at the smell but don’t want even a sip.

A second preventative suggestion is to floss and brush your teeth daily to discourage the inflammation in a  diseased mouth from traveling to the brain. (Teeth brushing was always big at our house, though I remember arguing about the flossing.)

A third suggestion is to nurture the thousands of new brain cells we have each day with aerobic exercise, brisk walks, eating salmon and other fatty fish, and treating vitamin B deficiency. Oh-oh, in Kansas we didn’t eat much salmon—certainly not fresh—but we did take our vitamins, and you walked Fritz (or rather, he walked you).

This next suggestion you’ll like, Mom: drink apple juice to push production of the “memory chemical” acetylcholine. That’s the way the popular Alzheimer’s drug Aricept works, according to Thomas Shea, Ph.D., University of Massachusetts. A suggested dose for humans is 16 ounces of real juice (not apple-flavored drink) or 2-3 apples per day.

A final example I chose supports your rule when we were growing up: “Cokes and other soft drinks are only for very special occasions.”  Studies now confirm that sodas, especially those sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, make lab animals dumb and aren’t good for humans either. But adult women who drink one glass of red wine each day are helping their brains with the antioxidants.

Hmm. Wish we’d known some of this a decade ago, Mom. But as Dad often said, “Hindsight is always 20/20 vision.” We did the best we could then, and even though you and Dad didn’t drink coffee or wine, our family ate meals together, talking and laughing and serving seconds of garden-grown vegetables and beef  purchased from 4-H carefully-raised cattle. And every Sunday night we watched TV together, eating a meal of fresh-popped pop corn and mounds of sliced apples. You did the best you could with what you knew about good health, and you and Dad stirred in huge quantities of love and common sense. Thanks to you both, Mom.   Love, Marylin


Jean Carper’s book, 100 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S AND AGE-RELATED MEMORY LOSS (Little, Brown), contains helpful and specific suggestions for adults, children, families.



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids