Category Archives: Things to be thankful for

Swiftly Flow The Years

mom's b-day cake


I never thought I would quote Robert Frost and Paris Hilton in the same post, but their combined words aptly summarize my mother’s 98th birthday this past week.

Robert Frost: “A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age.” Paris Hilton: “The way I see it, you should live every day like it’s your birthday.”

My mother does not remember her age, or for the most part where she is, how old she is, or what is happening. Every day could be her birthday, and even with cake, candles, balloons and cards, she still would not realize what day it is.

But we still celebrate her birthday.  She has had a remarkable life, and we are here because of her.   We–her daughter, granddaughter and great-grandchildren–drove to Ft. Scott last weekend so we could sit together with her at night, reading aloud her favorite children’s poems and prayers, and also sing to her.  We took turns telling her short, happy stories we remember about our lives with her, and with her eyes still closed, she amazed us by smiling and nodding in agreement!  We were thrilled to have her respond.

cards on yellow board


The pictures on this week’s post are of the double chocolate cake we brought, the balloons and the yellow poster board with handwritten messages and cards from our family.   I’m not posting any of the pictures of Mom on this birthday; she is on oxygen and sleeping most of the time. So I’ll share three pictures from the past that show how swiftly the years of her beautiful life have flown.

“Sunrise, Sunset” is one of my favorite songs from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and it summarizes how quickly the years pass for all of us. They’re to be cherished every day, but especially on a 98th birthday, even when the birthday girl doesn’t realize what day it is.

Grandma with her first two grandchildren.  Baby Molly is the mother of my mother's two great-grandchildren.

Grandma with her first two grandchildren. Baby Molly is the mother of Grace and Gannon, my mom’s two great-grandchildren.

Mary Elizabeth, age 2 1/2, with her brother Ira on the farm in Missouri.

Mary Elizabeth, age 2 1/2,
with her brother Ira on the farm in Missouri.

My mother's college graduation picture.

My mother’s college graduation picture.


Filed under birthday celebrations, birthday traditions, Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

H. U. G. , not shrug

(...and your dad, too)   Keep Calm posters from Pinterest

(…and your dad, too)
Keep Calm posters from Pinterest



Hug now, while you can.  This 2001 "Group Hug" was before my dad's Alzheimer's and my mom's dementia/

Hug now, while you can. This 2001 “Group Hug” was before my dad’s Alzheimer’s and my mom’s dementia.

I smiled as I read the banner that floated outside the children’s center: hugs Help You Giggle    Below that was this message:  Help Someone Giggle On June 29th ~ Give Hugs, Not Shrugs

This Wednesday is “Hug Holiday: Give Hugs to Those Who Need Them”    The truth is, we all need a little help sometimes.   On June 29th, be generous with your hugs, or if you’re not big on hugging, then reach out with a smile.   Little acts of kindness can make a big difference.

If a picture is really worth a thousand words, then this week’s brief post is actually 4,000 words. The message: Read Less, Hug More.

give a hug

When in doubt at dress-up occasions, give a hug.

When in doubt at dress-up occasions, give a hug.


hug a puppy

Scout is growing up, but she's still our hugging puppy.

Scout is growing up, but she’s still our hugging puppy, and this makes us very happy.


When someone is nervous and really hoping for something, cross your fingers, touch hands, and hope together.

When someone is nervous and really hoping for something, cross your fingers, touch hands, and hope together.




Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, friends, just doing the best we can, kindergarten lessons about life, Special days in June, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

The Practice of Remembering

Shepherd tombston



pot of geraniums

There are so many things we forget: keys, passwords, New Year’s Resolutions, important dates like birthdays and anniversaries. We also forget to take medicine, get things at the store, pay bills, return calls or answer emails.  But there are some things we should always remember.

This Memorial Day, our daughter Molly and our grandchildren, Grace and Gannon, drove with me to Fort Scott for the weekend. We went to visit my mother, to take her fun foods, and to sing songs and read to her, hold her hand and talk to her until she fell asleep at night.  It was our way of making contact and thanking her.   Without her, none of us would be here.

People were scattered throughout the cemetery adorning other tombstones when we took fresh silk flower bouquets to my father’s gravesite. We removed the faded silks and greenery from the marble vases at each end of Dad’s headstone, and we put bright bouquets of spring flowers in their place.  As we paused for a few private words and thoughts, we left pennies lined up along the top as a reminder we’d been there.

Molly divided the extra flowers into four groups, one for each of us. We went our separate ways to find neglected tombstones—no newer than 1899—in need of care, attention, and kind words.  It was a serious, touching time, each of us showing respect for a stranger who had been forgotten.

old headstone

Author Tess Gerritson wrote: “Only the forgotten are truly dead.”

It’s also a lesson for remembering the living. Poet W.H. Auden wrote, “And none will hear the postman’s knock ~ Without the quickening of the heart ~ For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?”

When the four of us returned to my mother’s apartment, she was waking from a nap. We sat around her and told her about the flowers we’d taken to Dad’s grave, and how nice it all looked. She smiled, then asked, “What about my sister Wanda? She deserves flowers, too.” I explained that Wanda was in Tennessee (I didn’t say she was buried there) and I was certain her children visited her with flowers, too. Mom smiled and nodded.

Then we put fresh flowers in a vase and set it next to Mary Elizabeth—nicknamed Mary Ibbeth by her siblings—because she deserves flowers, too.  On Memorial Day special care must also be given to remind the living how much they are still appreciated.

vase of flowers

So her great-grandchildren will remember how much she loved and enjoyed them before the dementia, we show them pictures from years ago.

So her great-grandchildren will remember how much she loved and enjoyed them before the dementia, we show them pictures from years ago.


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

Back To The Future

Mom as a junior in hs


Mom at hs grad

dad at hs grad








In the movie BACK TO THE FUTURE, time travel transports the main character back to his parents’ teen lives, so of course they don’t recognize him as the son they will some day have.

I’ve seen many pictures of my parents—as infants, toddlers, young children going to school—and then there’s a gap followed by their pictures as a couple, then as parents of their own children as infants, toddlers, young children, teens and adults.

Recently I found several old photos in a folder stuck at the back of a drawer in my mother’s apartment. I’d never seen these pictures of my parents as teens, and based on the serious, hard working stories I’d heard about them, these pictures were a surprise. In these official class pictures, they have a cocky kind of rebelliousness. For instance, in the picture of Mom as a high school sophomore, she and her front-row classmates (except for one grinning, mischievous boy who looks like he’s going to set off firecrackers) are all posed with crossed arms. And look at the frown she gives the camera. THAT was my sweet, happy mom?

And then in the formal group portrait of both Mom and Dad as part of the Plattsburg (MO) High School Graduating Class of 1936—formally wearing caps and gowns and posed in front of the school—look at the jaunty, defiant angle of their caps!  I noticed this immediately because on the morning of my own high school graduation, my dad very seriously straightened the cap and told me to wear it properly.

I look at these pictures not just as the daughter of these two teens, but also as a high school teacher who for thirty years watched many of my students resort to the same antics just as the photographer clicked the group picture for each graduating class.

And actually, I’m not complaining. During this month of graduation ceremonies, I’m thrilled to finally have pictures of my parents’ graduation. I miss the stories that go with these pictures, the snippets of their lives that I could pass on to my grandchildren. But it’s enough to say, “These were your great-grandparents when they were only six or seven years older than you are now.  And you’re here because these two very real people fell in love, married and had a daughter who grew up and had her own baby, and that child grew up and had her own babies…the two of you.  It’s a long story, but it’s all part of who you are, and that makes it quite wonderful.”

My daughter, holding the portrait of Baby Grace, given to her daughter Grace and her son Gannon when they are 2 and 1.

My daughter, holding the portrait of Baby Grace, given to her daughter Grace (named for her great-great-grandmother Grace) on her 2nd birthday.

Baby Grace Shipley, my dad's mother. She died when my dad was not much older than she is in this picture.

Baby Grace Shipley, my dad’s mother. She died when my dad was not much older than she is in this picture.

My granddaughter Grace, age 2 1/2, posing with a lawn figure.

My granddaughter Grace, age 2 1/2, posing with a lawn figure.  There’s something so sweet about the two little girls named Grace, and how they pose for the camera.


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, Things to be thankful for


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


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


Anne Lamott's book IMG_5408



Thank You cookie








When I visited my mother recently, I delivered two gifts from her great-granddaughter.   One was a package of Lemonades, and these shortbread cookies with lemon icing were for Grace’s Mor-Mor-Mor (my mom).   The other was a package of Thanks-a-Lot, chocolate-iced cookies with the message of Thank You (in five languages) baked into the shortbread side. These were for my mother’s caregivers, and Grace had made a sign thanking them for taking good care of her great-grandmother.

This tradition of expressing gratitude by giving Thanks-a-lot cookies began long before Grace was old enough to be a Girl Scout. When she was just a toddler, Molly and the kids bought packages of Thanks-a-lot cookies.  They  took them to the police station to give to the Dispatchers, thanking them for keeping their daddy safe while he was on duty.

Girl Scouts have been selling cookies as their fundraiser since 1933.   In WWII they also sold calendars because of the shortage of flour, butter and sugar.   Tomorrow is Girl Scouts Day.   For the next week, if you know of a Daisy, Brownie or Girl Scout who is selling cookies to offset troop expenses and fund camp and other activities, buying a box or two is a good way to show your support.

In addition to Thanks-a-lot cookies in five languages, here are some of my favorite quotes in English about feeling—and expressing—gratitude.

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ~Meister Eckhart (German theologian and mystic in the 1300s)

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” ~A.A. Milne, WINNIE THE POOH

“Among the things you can give and still keep are your word, a smile, and a grateful heart.” ~Zig Ziglar, author and motivational speaker

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” ~William Arthur Ward, FOUNTAINS OF FAITH

And for those of you who are fans of Anne Lamott’s book BIRD BY BIRD, she has another book also destined to become a classic: HELP, THANKS, WOW—The Three Essential Prayers.

two pkgs of cookies

Asante Thank You cookies

Gracias cookies


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, Special Days in March, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

Scout: The Girl And The Dog

Nelle Harper Lee

Nelle Harper Lee








Lee's two books

Nelle Harper Lee died today. Better known as just Harper Lee, she was author of one of my favorite novels, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and also the novel I liked much less, GO SET A WATCHMAN. In fact, I agree with the critics who argue that Harper Lee possibly did not intend for it to be published, at least not as it was.

In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, the character of Dill was based on author Truman Capote, Harper Lee’s close friend and author of IN COLD BLOOD.   The character of Scout was based on Harper Lee.   The character of Atticus Finch, Scout’s widowed father, the attorney who defended a black man in a controversial case, is one of my most-loved characters of all time, but only in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The Finch character in  GO SET A WATCHMAN doesn’t appear on my list of favorites.

When we adopted our puppy from the Humane Society in December, I named her Scout. That’s how much I loved the book character, the young girl with moxie, courage, curiosity and loyalty…and very little understanding of how the real world worked.   Which was pretty much a spot-on description of our puppy…then and now.

Charles Schultz, creator of PEANUTS, wrote that “Happiness is a warm puppy.” I would add that real happiness is a warm, potty-trained puppy, and we’re almost to that happiness goal. American radio and television writer Andy Rooney said, “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person,” and I can say with confidence that our puppy Scout is definitely going to be a nice person. Funny, too, plus very affectionate.

In appreciation to Harper Lee and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I sincerely thank her for the character Scout.  In the book, she says that Atticus “…told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”     This is good advice in general, but also especially for writers.

Today, February 20, is LOVE YOUR PET DAY.   Dog or cat, bird or iguana, whatever your pet, this is a good day to show extra affection, share a few special treats, or make a contribution to your local animal shelter.    February 22 is WALKING THE DOG DAY.  Our Scout is still at the puppy stage, walking us, tugging the leash toward every sound, exploring everything in her path, and carrying sticks like trophies.  But sometimes, if we pause and try to see and hear the world as she does, it really is quite amazing.

So here I will close with another line by Harper Lee in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD:    “People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.”

Our daughter Molly posing with Scout for the camera.

Our daughter Molly poses with Scout for the camera.


Our granddaughter Grace is a warm and helpful training partner for Scout.

Our granddaughter Grace is a warm and helpful training partner for Scout


Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Special days in February, special quotations, Things to be thankful for