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BEST INTENTIONS

Come on...who doesn't smile at the colors of the Red-Footed Boobie featured on Jeopardy?

Come on…who doesn’t smile at the colors of the Red-Footed Boobie featured on Jeopardy?

How can you brighten a gloomy winter day?

How can you brighten a gloomy winter day? Maybe a colorful breakfast?

 

 

 

 

My photo doesn't do justice to this delicious, colorful treat!

My photo doesn’t do justice to this delicious, colorful guacamole dip!

When I was in second grade, we had what felt like an extra long, very cold and dreary winter. My mother, who was an avid reader of magazine articles, created her own version of a helpful hint for brightening winter meals. She decided to cheer up our day by serving a colorful breakfast one morning.

We often had oatmeal to jump start cold mornings, but this time she made a big pan of Cream of Wheat. She added some to the dog’s food, and then she heaped servings in bowls for my brother, our dad and me. As we sat at the table waiting to eat, Mom added drops of green food coloring to my bowl and stirred the concoction, then blue to my brother’s, red to hers, and yellow to my dad’s. (His was actually laughable; it looked like she’d made ice cream from snow where the dog had piddled.) My mother had the best intentions for brightening our day, and it ended up working surprisingly well.

I remember us all sitting there, staring wide-eyed at bowls of food that looked like we’d tried to make science projects but had failed. My dad finally smiled, picked up his spoon, and said, “You always appreciate the cook.” The food tasted pretty much the same, and soon we were all laughing: our lips and teeth had been stained the color of our Cream of Wheat. So on that dreary day, at home and then at work and at school, we all probably made others smile, too.

Mary Zalmanek, my favorite non-fiction magazine writer in my Wednesday morning writing group, and also author of ART OF THE SPARK, often thrills the group by testing recipes on us. She brightened a recent Wednesday by bringing tortilla chips and a big bowl of her amazing homemade Guacamole with Pomegranates. It was colorful, uplifting, amazingly delicious, and she generously agreed to share her recipe here:  http://adventuresoftheheart.com/appetizers-pomegranate-guacamole-_529.html

This winter, and on any dreary day, rise to the occasion and create your own cheer. Spice up your life and the lives of others with a surprising burst of color.     blue pool waterpurple pool water

The hotel pool added water-changing colorful lights, which my grandson loved!

The hotel pool added water-changing colorful lights, which my grandson loved!

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Not One of Our Better Ideas?

These are early 20th Century New Year's Resolutions (now in post cards, via Wickipedia)

Early 20th Century New Year’s Resolutions (now on post cards) via Wickipedia.

 

 

snow on pinecone branch

Two television commentators argued the pros and cons of making New Year’s Resolutions. Finally, one shrugged and said, “The practice of making yearly resolutions wasn’t one of our better ideas.”   Really? Our idea?  We take too much credit.

At the beginning of each year, the Babylonians made promises to their gods to do better, and began by returning borrowed objects and repaying their debts.

The Romans began each year by making promises to the two-faced god Janus. It wasn’t that Janus was fickle; he had the two-faced ability to see the past (the old year) and learn from it to move more clearly into the future (the new year).

And this one—for fans of Camelot—is from the Medieval era. The knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry.

The practice of evaluating our lives at the end of one year as we begin a new year isn’t something modern thinkers can claim. Somewhere along the line, though, the themes of New Year Resolutions have focused more on quitting some habits, creating better ones, and making general plans of things we’ll do day after day…until we forget or decide we need to do something else. Generally speaking, modern lists of resolutions are popular water-cooler topics that have less shelf life than milk.

Many years before her dementia, I asked my mom if she was going to have a New Year’s Resolution. She said it was pretty much the same every year: she resolved to wake up each morning, say a prayer, take a deep breath, and face the day ready to do the best she could do with whatever happened.

As British author and screenwriter David Nicholls said, “This is where it all begins. Everything starts here, today.” I don’t think either my mother or Nicholls was referring to a New Year’s Resolution, but to every day of life.

janus statue

Peacock display, Rolling Hills Zoo, Kansas

Peacock display, Rolling Hills Zoo, Kansas

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Better Red Than…Not Red

Freckleface Strawberry

 

Gorgeous Julianne Moore didn't use her adult picture for the book jacket, but her child picture.  Brava!

Gorgeous Julianne Moore didn’t use her adult picture for the book jacket, but her child picture. Brava!

When my parents married—more than sixty years before he developed Alzheimer’s and she slipped into dementia—they were both vibrant and creative people. They both were also attractive brunettes, and their first child, David, was also an adorable brunette. In fact, in college when my roommate met my brother, she swooned and said, “Wow! He looks like the actor, Tom Selleck.” Then she paused, looked at me and asked the usual question, “So where’d you get red hair?”

Growing up, I got that question a lot. My brother had me convinced I was adopted until my mother put an end to that. Then as we got older, he answered the question with a zinger: “We’re not sure, but our mail man has red hair.” That got him some laughs, but was more than a little awkward for me because my boyfriend was the son of our mailman.  As it turned out, it came from my paternal grandfather and my great-Aunt Addie Lee, who both had wonderful red hair.

Redheads account for 13% of the population in Scotland, 10% in Ireland, but worldwide less than 2% and predicted to eventually disappear. Bees have been proven to be more attracted to redheads; and rumor has it that Hitler banned marriage between redheads to avoid “deviant offspring.” A Russian proverb states, “There was never a saint with red hair.” BUT according to the British Journal of Cancer, men with red hair are 54% less likely to develop prostate cancer than brown- and blonde-haired men.

The beautiful and talented actress Julianne Moore is a red head.  Among her many movie credits and awards, she received the Best Actress Oscar for her role in STILL ALICE, inspired by the true story of a woman’s struggles with early onset Alzheimer’s. Moore also wrote a fun, triumphant children’s book in 2007 titled FRECKLEFACE STRAWBERRY. Boy, do I wish that book had been around when I was a child; I would have used it to smack my brother! Fortunately, I learned to love my red hair, and as it turned out, our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren all have beautiful red hair.

There was never a more beautiful baby than my redheaded daughter...unless it's my redheaded grandchildren!

There was never a more beautiful baby than my redheaded daughter …unless it’s our redheaded grandchildren!

Yesterday, November 5th, was National Love Your Red Hair Day. Actually, I think the entire month should be a Tribute to Red Hair, but here’s a compromise: Nov. 7th is Book Lovers’ Day, and Nov. 10th is Young Readers’ Day ~ in both cases, you might read Julianne Moore’s book for a fun crash-course in freckles. Spoiler Alert: No, you don’t have to cover freckles with a Magic Marker or a body stocking, and it’s true that A face without freckles is like a night without stars!

“Ruadh gu brath!” (Scots gaelic for “Red heads forever!”)

A former high school student painted this portrait of my daughter.

A former high school student painted this 3’x4′ portrait of our daughter.

30 years later, one of Molly's GED students painted this portrait of my grandchildren.

30 years later, one of Molly’s GED students painted this portrait of our grandchildren.

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Rotting Fish and Sweaty Socks

These three pictures were taken at the Denver Botanical Gardens ~ Fox News

All pictures of the Corpse Flower in bloom and the visitor drawing the flower were taken at the Denver Botanical Gardens by Fox News photographers and shown on Fox 21 News.  They did a great job!

corpse flower #2

 

corpse flower #3

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s long “Hamatreya” isn’t his best known poem, but four of the words within it are very well known and often quoted: “Earth laughs in flowers.” It was one of my mother’s favorite phrases. Before her dementia, gardening was her much-loved early morning activity, and flowers were a joy to her.

It wouldn’t be Mom’s dementia, or the long drive between Kansas and Colorado, that would prevent me from taking her to the Denver Botanical Gardens this week. It would be the smell. And the long lines, with waits as long as five hours to get in.

The Amorphophallus titanum was in bloom for less than forty-eight hours, and it will be another 7-10 years before the “corpse flower” blooms again. The plant earned this nickname for a reason, and at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens, barf bags were available for the visitors. To give you a general idea, I’ll share two popular descriptions of the smell of the “corpse flower”: 1) a combination of limburger cheese, rotting fish, sweaty socks, and mothballs; and 2) the carcass of a chicken in a trash bag inside a metal trash can, left outside for a few days.

I think it’s safe to say that the Amorphophallus titanum isn’t on the top ten list of most popular flowers for wedding bouquets and Mother’s Day corsages.

Maybe Edna St. Vincent Millay had “corpse flower” in mind when she wrote these lines: “I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.” Or maybe touching the “corpse flower” wouldn’t be a good idea either.

Flowers—like art, movies, books, politics and religion, etc.—are open to interpretation and valuable for personal reasons. The typical appeal of most flowers is usually the beauty, colors, scents and symbolism. But maybe the infrequency of the bloom of the “corpse flower” and the short life of the blossoms are popular considerations. Or maybe the novelty of the startling, staggering smell is also a draw. Mom always said that every thing God created has a purpose and fits somehow into the scheme of things, even if we don’t quite understand what it is.

I think she’s right. I just don’t know about the purpose of the “corpse flower,” except maybe as the prompt for writing a horror story. It does seem to be a possible flower of choice for zombies, tied with a wire and presented in a barf bag.  But I’m certainly open to other possibilities.                                 corpse flower artist

corpse flower art up close

corpse flower--earth laughs

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SIT A SPELL

Painting by Vincent Van Gogh

Painting by Vincent Van Gogh

 

 

My grandmother's dining room chairs were all hand carved.

My grandmother’s dining room chairs were all hand carved.

In addition to being royal thrones and pieces of architecture and sculptures on display, for the most part chairs are practical, useful, and common pieces of furniture. The basics include potty chairs, high chairs, lawn chairs, folding chairs and rocking chairs.  If you want to make an elite statement, the Chippendale chairs continue to be the popular, collectible and outlandishly expensive choices.

Times change, and tastes in chairs—and thinking—also change. As Jean Kerr wrote, “When the grandmothers of today hear the word ‘Chippendales’, they don’t necessarily think of chairs.”

My mother and I have always loved chairs of all kinds. One of my favorite expressions I heard her say, as well as my grandmother, an aunt, and several older neighbors say, was “Come on in and sit a spell.”   What I loved best about the invitation was the word “spell.” Of course it meant to sit awhile, but to me it also cast a spell and became something magical. Being with friends, sharing conversation, ideas, and cookies with iced tea, hot tea or coffee created a special moment in time.

Which is why, for me, the best spell-casting chairs are created by hand. And to make these four chairs below extra special, they are all from the children’s section at the Chapman, KS library when I was there recently. To my way of thinking, when you combine excited young readers with happy, creative chairs, you create magic.  As author Stephen King said, “You can’t deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.”

giraffe chairTiger chair bird chairZEBRA chair

 

 

 

 

As H.Jackson Brown Jr. wrote: “A true friend encourages us, comforts us and supports us like a big easy chair, offering us a safe refuge from the world.”

This first week of May, I hope we’ll all be aware of the gentle rocking chairs in our lives, the given-new-life hand-painted chairs, and the true friends who encourage, comfort and support us, offering safe refuge from the world.

Our favorite chairs, hand painted for us by our daughter for our anniversary.  "Picasso" chairs with messages on the seats: (left) "It takes a long time to grow young."  And (right) "Everything you can imagine is real."

Our favorite chairs, hand painted for us by our daughter for our anniversary. “Picasso” chairs with messages on the seats: (left) “It takes a long time to grow young.” And (right) “Everything you can imagine is real.”

 

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A THISTLE BY ANY OTHER NAME

Wikipedia picture of Archibald Leach.

Wikipedia picture of Archibald Leach.

 

 

Ben Franklin wrote as Silence Dogood, Polly Baker, Busy Body and other names.

Ben Franklin wrote as Silence Dogood, Polly Baker, Busy Body and other names.

One of Hollywood’s classic leading men from the 1930s-1963 was Cary Grant. An interviewer once told him, “Everyone would like to be Cary Grant,” to which Cary replied, “So would I.” He was actually born Archibald Alexander Leach in Horfield, Bristol, England.

In addition to choosing a writing pseudonym, entering the Witness Protection Program or taking on a more appealing stage name, there are many reasons people change their names. Although Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would be as sweet, I agree with L.M. Montgomery’s character, Anne, who said this in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. “…I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”

My mother grew up being called Mary Ibbeth when other children had trouble pronouncing Elizabeth. My brother called me Mayno until he could say Marylin. Mary Ann Evans wrote under the name George Eliot to be taken more seriously than women writers of her time. And Mark Sinclair changed his acting name to Vin Diesel. I assume it’s for VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and DIESEL (a type of gas used in a diesel engine) which fits with FAST AND FURIOUS.

When I was growing up, almost all my friends hated their names at some time or another, and we’d talk about the names we’d rather have. All of us ended up sticking to our given name, or shortening it to a nickname. One of my favorite examples of choosing a significant name is by Patricia Briggs in RIVER MARKED. “Mercy is not a proper Indian name.”… “Rash Coyote Who Runs with Wolf … We could shorten it to Dinner Woman.”

I once thought that if I had to change my name for some reason, I’d use my first nickname, Mayno, and add my mother’s (and my daughter’s) middle name, Elizabeth.  It just didn’t feel right. You know what they say about a rose—or a thistle—by any other name.

Mom's dementia has her remembering being a child on the farm. During this visit I called her Mary Ibbeth as I read a poem about farms.  She just smiled.

Mom’s dementia has her remembering being a child on the farm. During this visit I called her Mary Ibbeth as I read a poem about farms. She kept her eyes closed, but she smiled.

Child carrying stack of books ~ statue at main library in Colorado Springs.  If you got books by Deanna Dwyer, Leigh Nichols, or David Axton, who wrote them? (Dean Koontz)

Child carrying stack of books ~ statue at main library in downtown Colorado Springs. If you got books by Deanna Dwyer, Leigh Nichols, or David Axton, who wrote them? (Dean Koontz)

The doll of Dorothy from THE WIZARD OF OZ.  The movie role was played by Frances Ethel Gumm (aka Judy Garland)

The doll of Dorothy from THE WIZARD OF OZ. The movie role was played by Frances Ethel Gumm (aka Judy Garland)

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WELCOME, SEPTEMBER!!! Oh, yeah…

My version of Green Eggs and Ham.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

My version of Green Eggs and Ham. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

 

"T's the last rose of summer, Left blooming  alone."  ~ Thomas Moore

“T’s the last rose of summer, Left blooming alone.” ~ Thomas Moore

On September evenings, cats cuddle for warmth.

On September evenings, cats cuddle for warmth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My dad often reminded me to not wish my life away…to never want a day or event to come so quickly that I overlooked the gifts of today.   He was a wise man.

In keeping with his advice, I will celebrate today—National Bacon Lover’s Day, rough work but somebody has to do it—and at the same time applaud Dr. Seuss’ GREEN EGGS AND HAM.

Combining special days and foods is a form of multi-tasking, and if the green in my scrambled eggs comes from spinach, it’s actually kind of healthy. Right?

September is almost here, and oh, how I love September.  The rose bush that had given up for awhile now shines with one last rose of summer; the deer visit our back yard at will; and our neighborhood is alive with the laughter of helmeted school children learning to ride their bikes without training wheels. Three cheers for September!

Still cringing from last week’s  “pre-emptive sympathy card,” I’ve decided do something much more fun and make “pre-emptive preparations” for some of September’s special days. For instance, how much more fun will it be on Sept. 5th “Be Late For Something Day” if we carefully decide in advance what we’ll be late for, and how we’ll make our late entrance.

Or if we give it some advance thought, on Sept. 6th we can Fight Procrastination with a specific plan that must be implemented on that day. And if we struggle with long-held superstitions, we can plan a strategy for Sept. 13, which is Defy Superstition Day, and then reward our efforts on the 14th by enjoying National Cream-filled Donut Day. The really good news is that many bakeries make delicious Maple Bacon Doughnuts, which brings us back to Bacon Lover’s Day…see how it all works together? Amazing, isn’t it?😉 

On a more serious note, September is also the AKC’s Responsible Dog Ownership Month, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Hunger Action Month, Baby Safety Month, and for parents of children hurrying back to school or happily embracing play dates, it is also National Head Lice Prevention Month. (Which you know is nothing to laugh at if your children have ever come home with head lice.)

September is Prosper Where You Are Planted month, Healthy Aging Month, and in memory of my father who told me to never overlook the gifts of today–and also in honor of my mother who still lives that example on a daily basis–I also point out that September is World Alzheimer’s Month. 

As we appreciate and remember the wonderful days of each month , may we also continue to work for a cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Memories are important; we need to do all we can to protect and preserve them.     

Believe it or not, but one effective preventative for head lice is rinsing the hair and scalp with original Listerine.

Believe it or not, but one effective preventative for head lice is rinsing the hair and scalp with original Listerine.

A deer stops by for a visit in our back yard.  He jumps over the fence as if it's not there.  Help yourself to the zucchini, fella...we've got plenty.

A deer stops by for a visit in our back yard. He jumps over the fence as if it’s not there. Help yourself to the zucchini, fella…we’ve got plenty.

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