Category Archives: Things to be thankful for

A SPY IN THE HOUSE OF LOVE

 

 

Years ago, Hallmark had a great line of "retro" Valentine's Day cards. This one for mother who made dorky mother-daughter  matching dresses. (Click on pictures to enlarge for reading.)

Years ago, Hallmark had a great line of “retro” Valentine’s Day cards. This one was about a mother who made dorky mother-daughter matching dresses. (Click on pictures to enlarge for reading.)

 

 

 

 

In this card, kids figure out the awful "cafeteria surprise" lunch recipe.

In this card, kids figure out the awful “cafeteria surprise” lunch recipe.

In addition to Valentine’s Day, February 14th is also the date of many other “special” days as well, including these: “Ferris Wheel Day” ~ “Library Lovers Day” ~ “Quirky Alone Day” ~ “National Have A Heart Day” ~ “World Marriage Day” ~ “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” ~ “National Donor Day” ~ and “World Whale Day.”

In her novel A Spy In The House of Love, Anais Nin writes this: “As other girls prayed for handsomeness in a lover, or for wealth, or for power, or for poetry, she had prayed fervently: Let him be kind.”

Before dementia blurred her thinking, one of the qualities my mother valued most in a person was kindness. Because it was one of her many wonderful qualities, and a quality of my father, too, before the Alzheimer’s took over, I grew up looking for—and profoundly appreciating—kind people. My husband Jim is a man with many exceptional qualities, but when we were friends and co-workers, it was his genuine kindness that first drew me to him.

To all of you, on Valentine’s Day and every day, I wish much kindness in your lives.

"A tree is known by its fruit, a man by his deeds.  A good deed is never lost...he who plants kindness gathers love."      ~Saint Basil

“A tree is known by its fruit, a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost…he who plants kindness gathers love.”            ~Saint Basil

BE KIND

"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late."  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, Special days in February, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

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

A TWO-FACED NEW YEAR

Wikipedia's statue of Janus in the Vatican Museum

Wikipedia’s picture of a statue of Janus in the Vatican Museum

A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS & PRAYERS by Joan Walsh Anglund

A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS & PRAYERS by Joan Walsh Anglund

Blackeye Peas:  good luck and 100 cal, 4g fiber and 7g protein.

Blackeye Peas: good luck and 100 cal, 4g fiber and 7g protein.

So far in 2015, Colorado has been snowy and miserably cold, but January’s mythology still makes it a fascinating month.  January is named for Janus, Roman mythology’s god of beginnings and transitions, and statues of Janus are two-faced.  Not in an insincere or deceitful way, but because one face looks back at the past, and the other face looks forward to the future.  For me, looking back at the old year is important preparation for looking forward and making resolutions and plans for the new year.

My breakfast on January 1st included traditional blackeye peas. I don’t focus on the many possible interpretations of this tradition.  I actually like blackeye peas, and the idea that they might welcome a lucky new year is nice, too.

January has many unusual days and observances, and each of the pictures below represents a special day this month.

When I was with my mom in Kansas before Christmas, at night when she was tucked snugly in her bed, I read to her from Joan Walsh Anglund’s book,   A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS AND PRAYERS  She couldn’t see the colorful little illustrations, and the individual poems and prayers received mixed reviews. If Mom didn’t like one, she said “You can quit now,” and that was her response several times. But even more frequently she would say, “Read that again.” I ended up reading the entire book twice, leaving out the rejected poems and prayers the second time.  Two stand out as read-it-again poems/prayers. They seemed to me—as maybe they were to my mother as well—excellent thoughts for the new year.

The first is an American Indian Prayer:O Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life to all the world. ~ Hear me! I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom. ~ Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. ~ Make my hands respect the things you have made, and my ears sharp to hear your voice. ~ Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. ~ Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. ~ I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy…myself.”

The source of the second prayer is Unknown:Dear Father, hear and bless ~ Thy beasts and singing birds, ~ And guard with tenderness ~ Small things that have no words.”

This first week in January, I wish us all appreciation of the past year and hope for this new year.

January is National Hot Tea month and Oatmeal month.

January is National Hot Tea month and Oatmeal month.

Find a way to "Get A Balanced Life" this month.

Find a way to “Get A Balanced Life” this month.

Cousin Glee unplugging toilet at the Girl Cousins' Reunion.  January is also "Someday We'll Laugh About This" month.

Cousin Glee unplugging toilet at the Girl Cousins’ Reunion. January is also “Someday We’ll Laugh About This” month.

January is "Walk Your Dog" month.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

January is “Walk Your Dog” month. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

CELEBRATE THE LINE

My mom, 1918,  the baby before two more siblings followed.

My mom, Mary Elizabeth, 1918, the baby before two more siblings followed.

 

Mom in 1949, holding their baby daughter, while  Dad holds their son.

Mom in 1949, holding their baby daughter, while Dad holds their son.

Last week’s topic was “Secrets of Success.”

This week’s topic is “How To Turn Disappointments Into Celebrations.”

Many years ago, a college acquaintance had a strange solution for any disappointment she faced: she made herself feel better by finding someone who was more disappointed and miserable than she was. For instance, when her boyfriend back home dumped her, she cheered up when she found someone else whose fiancé made a big deal of publicly ending their engagement on campus. She called this strategy “Being Glad You’re Not THAT Miserable,” and it seemed to work for her.

My birthday is at the end of this month…and it’s a BIG milestone birthday. Although I know my husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren will do something special, I also know my mother will not remember my birthday. Because of her dementia, she rarely remembers who I am any more or sometimes even where she is.  But it’s still sad that for the past seven years she’s had no memory of days that used to mean so much to her, including the day I was born.

Using the technique of my college acquaintance, I found these birthday disappointments of others: Paulina Porizkova was fired by “America’s Next Top Model” on her birthday, and actress Evan Rachel Wood said, “I’ll never forget my 24th birthday when my tooth got punched out…”   But the one that made me choke back tears was by actress/model/singer Amy Weber: “I lost twins at 14 weeks, and I had to have a D&C on my birthday.” 

I’ve never been good at feeling better because someone else felt worse.  The college acquaintance’s strategy didn’t work for me then, and it doesn’t work for me now. 

But I have found a way of creating my own happiness as I celebrate my birthday with my mother. When I drive to Kansas to visit her each month, I take along foods she might enjoy, fresh flowers or a plant. When I visit her each September, I take a cake or cupcakes. And candles. Sometimes ice cream, too.   And I sing “Happy Birthday to US” and light the candles (just a few candles…we don’t want a bon fire.)

Mom still enjoys blowing out candles, and she sometimes wants me to light them again so she can blow them out a second time. It’s our shared celebration—I’m the birthday girl; she’s the mother who gave birth to me—and at some point during my visit I tell her a story from when I was a child and she did something sweet, funny, poignant or wonderful. Usually she’ll smile and say something like, “That’s nice. Do I know her?”   She doesn’t know “her,” but I do.

Dementia prevents Mom from remembering when my birthday is or even who I am. Reality confirms that the woman who wanted so much to be a mother, and who suffered four miscarriages before she had her two children, went on to have three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. All of us are here because she didn’t give up or bury her disappointments by finding other women who had even worse pains and more sadness.

So for my birthday again this year, we’ll celebrate the line of life. We’ll eat cake, blow out candles, smile and celebrate all the lives and loves that dementia cannot erase.   Happy Birth Day To Us.

1978 ~ Marylin holds her daughter Molly, Mary's granddaughter.

1978 ~ Marylin and her daughter Molly, Mary’s granddaughter.

 

2005 ~ Molly holds portrait of Dad's mother as a  toddler for her own toddlers, Mary's great-grandchildren.

2005 ~ Molly holds portrait of her grandpa’s mother as a toddler for her own children, Mary and Ray’s great-grandchildren.

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Filed under birthday celebrations, birthdays, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

CHAIRS: True Memory Makers

Colorful "Picasso" chairs by our daughter Molly.  (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Colorful “Picasso” chairs by our daughter Molly. (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Retro-Kitchen step-chair, a perfect reminder of my mother's kitchen.

Retro-Kitchen step-chair, a perfect reminder of my mother’s kitchen.

A print of VanGogh's "Chair" in hallway of my mother's assisted living.

A print of VanGogh’s “Chair” in hallway of my mother’s assisted living.

The first chairs were probably flat rocks large enough for cave men to sit on, and high enough to lean against. As civilization evolved, so did chairs: royalty sat on thrones; polio victims traveled in wheel chairs; babies were lulled to sleep in rocking chairs and rode more safely in car seats: convicted killers were sometimes executed in electric chairs.

My mother’s interior design choices were a combination of practical, functional, comfortable and attractive. The upholstered furniture in our home was purchased from stores. Many of the casual tables, wooden chairs, bookcases and blanket chests were inherited or bought at unfinished wood or consignment furniture shops, and then Mom sanded, stained or painted them. I’d find her in the garage, humming in time to her brush strokes that created a colorful desk chair for her writing desk. When I was thirteen, Mom and I bought an old foot stool that I stained, and then together we wove a new cover across the frame.

Our family tradition of chair creations continued this year. For our anniversary gift, our daughter Molly painted metal lawn chairs bright yellow. Her children, big Picasso fans, drew our “portraits,” and Molly painted them on the chairs. On the seats she painted Picasso quotes: “Everything you can imagine is real” and “It takes a long time to grow young.” Even our porch chairs show how much fun restoring and painting can be.

Years after Mom gave a young mother the high chair my brother and I used, her metal kitchen step-chair doubled as a high chair for her grandchildren and any young visitors who stayed for meals. Mom moved the step-chair close to the table, set the child on the padded seat, and safely tied the little one in place with dish towels. My favorite birthday present last year was a red retro-model of Mom’s black step-chair that Jim found in a quaint hardware store in Abilene, KS. Visiting friends see this chair, laugh, and share stories they remember from their parents’ or grandparents’ kitchens. As author Stephen King wrote: “You can’t deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.”

Mom’s favorite chairs now are her lounger where she spends most of her waking hours, and dad’s old wheelchair that transports her to the flower garden on nice days. She no longer uses the rocking chair where she used to sing to babies, or the chair that was large enough she could sit with both her great-grandchildren and read to them. Because of her dementia she does not remember these times, but the children do. For them, these chairs are memory makers.

Mom in the wheelchair that was Dad's, out to enjoy the flowers.

2012 ~ Mom in the wheelchair that was Dad’s, out to enjoy the flowers.

Mom reading to her great-grandchildren in 2007.

Mom reading to her great-grandchildren in 2007.

 

Mom in her lounge chair, wrapped in a quilt made by her mother.

Mom in her lounge chair, 2013, wrapped in a quilt made by her mother.

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Filed under Abilene Kansas, art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

TEMPUS FUGIT

1919 ~ Mary "Ibbith" holding her baby doll.

1920 ~ Mary “Ibbith” holding her baby doll, getting ready to take it for a ride in the baby buggy.

2012 ~ Mary Elizabeth and her daughter (me) holding the Flat Stanley project of her great-granddaughter, Grace.

2012 ~ Mary Elizabeth and her daughter (me) holding the Flat Stanley project of her great-granddaughter, Grace.

2013 ~ Mom rides in her own "buggy" with Marylin pushing so they can go feed the ducks.

2013 ~ Mom rides in her own “buggy” with me pushing so we can go feed the ducks.

2014 ~ Mom and me celebrating her 96th birthday cake.

2014 ~ Mom with me, celebrating her 96th birthday with candles and Boston Cream Pie.

Several years into her dementia, my mother went through a stage when her most frequent question was, “What day is this?” I would answer, saying the day of the week, the date and even the time. She would nod. Then, over and over, she would repeat the question. I would tell her again, and then again, and sometimes I’d finally conclude by reminding her of one of my favorite questions and responses from A.A. Milne’s book, WINNIE-THE-POOH:

“What day is it?” asked Pooh. ~ “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. ~ “Oh, my favorite day!” said Pooh. I would try to imitate Pooh and Piglet, and we would laugh.  Usually it would break the cycle, and we’d go on to other things.

At 96, Mom’s sense of “today” now often goes back to growing up on the farm, or days working with Dad to build the business, or maybe memories of mothering two growing children. For Mom, Tempus Fugit means Time Flies…but in reverse, going back in time.

Last week I drove to Ft. Scott to celebrate an early 96th birthday with Mom. During my days and nights in the apartment with her, I was reminded again that she is blessed with excellent caregivers who are trained, caring, patient and kind.  When Mom blew out the candles on her Boston Cream birthday “cake” (soft and easy to chew), I was very glad Tammy was on duty to join me in oohing and aahing as we opened presents and read cards that Mom never quite realized were hers.

Dr. Seuss wrote, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”   To celebrate the valuable moments during the previous years that have flown by, this post includes pictures of my mom as a toddler clutching her baby doll, followed by 3 pictures from my many months of visits as we celebrate each day as our favorite day.

Tempus fugit, so Carpe diem.   Time flies, so seize the day.  That’s the lesson.

 

Thank you, Tammy, for all the special care you give to my mom.  You're a good friend to both of us.

Thank you, Tammy, for all the special care you give to my mom. You’re a good friend to both of us.

 

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Filed under birthday celebrations, celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

SERENDIPITY

 

Celtic harpists played in the building on the left while writers worked in the building on the right. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Celtic harpists played in the building on the left while writers worked in the building on the right. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Between the two buildings, a perfect place for morning coffee, thinking and planning.

Between the two buildings, a perfect place for morning coffee, thinking and planning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...and the deer enjoyed grazing in the cool, quiet morning light...

…and the deer enjoyed grazing in the cool, quiet morning light…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serendipity is a “pleasant surprise” or “fortuitous happenstance.” The word was first coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole whose Three Princes of Serendip were always making unintentional, surprising discoveries. More recent examples of serendipity include Alexander Fleming’s 1925 discovery of penicillin, Percy Spencer’s 1945 invention of the microwave oven…and my writing retreat at the Colorado Franciscan Center on May 2-4, 2014.

A good writing retreat is equal parts inspired writing and retreat from distractions. There is no better place to stay than in the calm, private, former convent rooms within a stone lodge in the deer-roaming, bird-chirping foothills of Mt. St. Francis. No televisions or traffic, but spacious, calm areas for writing as well as guided drawing and painting. Plus delicious meals served with great conversation: http://www.franciscanretreatcenter.org/

But what if, on the same weekend and in the same lodge, the Colorado Celtic Harp Society was having its retreat, too, and—here comes true serendipity—on the final night of both retreats, what if the groups were so supportive of each other that the harpists read aloud writers’ poems and children’s stories, accompanied by harp music?

During the weekend, our writing group was given an amazing hour-long experience and additional sessions of “singing bowls” by Ann Martin, MileHighHealingVibe.com   (For basic information and history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singing_bowl ). I had never even heard of this incredibly creative, restorative and centering experience, so this was another gift of serendipity for me.

In future posts I’ll be sharing some of the writing, drawing and painting prompts from the retreat, as well as words of wisdom I gleaned during meals, while walking the trails, and as we laughed and shared healthy doses of a writer’s best medicine: chocolate.

Two days after the retreat ended, Jim and I drove from Colorado to Kansas. For an early Mother’s Day, I took a glass bowl of budding tulips to my mother, along with stories of the retreat, music of the singing bowls, a fresh mango, and a bar of Dove chocolate. Mostly she just wanted bites of the mango, and of course, the writer’s best medicine—chocolate—so I knew she was doing pretty well.

This is my favorite quote about writing, chocolate, and making sweet plans about dying: “Now she and I sit together in her room and eat chocolate, and I tell her that in a very long time when we both go to heaven, we should try to get chairs next to each other, close to the dessert table.” ~ Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

In his 1998 book Armadillo, William Boyd coined an antonym for serendipity. Boyd’s term, zembianity, is “an unpleasant surprise, an unhappy and unlucky discovery.”

As for me—and I think I speak for my mother as well—we don’t need any zembianity. We choose serendipity, especially if it includes a surprising amount of chocolate.

 

Preserved TB house on grounds.  1909-1947, over 12,000 TB patients stayed in Colorado TB houses to breathe in the high altitude's dry air and healing properties.

Preserved TB house on grounds. 1909-1947, over 12,000 TB patients stayed in Colorado TB houses to breathe in the high altitude’s dry air and healing properties.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Harpists practice for their Saturday night recital.

Harpists practice for their Saturday night recital.

 

1945 statue of St. Francis near the entrance to the Franciscan Center.

1945 statue of St. Francis near the entrance to the Franciscan Center.

Trail leading to the cemetery.

Trail leading to the cemetery.

 

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Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for, writing