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Donated Inspiration

It's no longer a war theme, but a challenge to choose a single word.

It’s no longer a war theme, but a challenge to choose a single word.

Winter can be hard on us all. What can we choose to get us going...and stay focused?

Winter can be cold, barren. What word will get us going…and keep us focused?  (picture by Marylin Warner)

 

 

Television talk shows have been giving attention to the topic of how single word themes are replacing lists of New Year’s Resolutions. Motivational specialists seemed to agree this is a wise move, selecting a single word to give your thoughts and actions focus throughout the year.

One program asked viewers to Tweet their single word themes. By the end of the segment, these were some of the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen: unafraid, release, balance, achieve, persevere, observe, win, play, simplify, learn. The word that came to my mind was very different.

For several years, I volunteered at the local Women’s Thrift House on the third Saturday of each month. I was often amazed—and sometimes saddened—by the handmade items and gifts that were dropped off as donations. Knitted scarves and gloves, pottery bowls and pitchers, crocheted baby blankets and booties. Some were donated in their gift boxes, and a few still had sweet cards written to the recipients by the senders.

One Saturday eight years ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about one of the handmade items, so at the end of the day I purchased it. The one-word hand-stitched message was matted and framed, and it was like a reminder tapping me on the shoulder: YAGOTTAWANNA

I took the 5”x7” framed message with me to show my mom on the next visit, and I remember she studied it a moment to figure it out. Then she laughed and said, “I think this message was made for you, Marylin. No matter what, when you really, really want to do something, you find a way to do it.”

That was then, and now my one word for 2016 is YAGOTTAWANNA, a reminder that if there’s something I need to do, want to do, hope to do…my first step is to grasp the reason WHY I really, really want to do it. The Why will guide me to the HOW…and the commitment to get it done.

I have three supporters in my corner. The first is Confucius: “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Abraham Lincoln is the second: “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than anything else.”

Third, and best of all, is my mom, who believed this message was made for me as a reminder that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do if I really, really wanted to do it.

Yagottawanna

 

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Filed under art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

OCTOBER IS “NAME YOUR CAR” MONTH

If this 1958 Thunderbird was yellow with a white top, it would look like Old Yeller.

Instead of being pink and black, if this 1958 Thunderbird was yellow with a white top and had a smiling teen waving from the driver’s seat, it could be Old Yeller.

This is Sunshine, my amazing FJ Cruiser. I'm crazy about her!

This is Sunshine, my amazing FJ Cruiser. I’m crazy about her, and we’re going to grow old together.

Even Smokey the Bear likes Sunshine when I drive her as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service. (pictures by Jim Warner)

Even Smokey the Bear liked Sunshine when I drove her as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service. (pictures by Jim Warner)

In 2008, when my mother’s dementia was not yet overwhelming, I took her out to see my new FJ Cruiser and said, “This is Sunshine.” I had to help Mom up into the passenger’s seat because real off-road vehicles in Colorado need a lot of clearance. As I strapped her in, Mom looked around, smiled and said, “I know why you chose this color, Marylin. It’s because of Old Yeller.” I hadn’t thought of a reason other than I just loved Sunshine’s color, but Mom was right.

Many decades earlier, Old Yeller was the car my dad trusted me to drive during my senior year in high school after my brother went to college. She was a 1958 Thunderbird, which later was a much sought after classic, but in 1966 she was just a used car. A wonderful used car that was mine to drive and keep filled with gas, to use as practice for changing a flat tie and checking the oil and all fluids. Because of her I worked at the dealership more hours after school and on weekends to pay for her maintenance, but I loved her.

I am the daughter of a car dealer whose work commitment and love of cars built five successful corporations of dealerships and employed generations of mechanics, sales people, and staff. By the time Dad died of Alzheimer’s, he’d been out of the public eye for years, but at the visitation the line to pay respects wound its way outside, and at the funeral the church was standing room only. The stories about his honesty, fair play, kindness and generous help in difficult times were numerous and touching.

My dad had laughed when I named the Thunderbird Old Yeller, but I’m sure it worried him, too, because to name a car is to form an attachment. I had Old Yeller for only a year. We shook hands on that—with my dad, a hand shake was as binding as a contract—and a year later I went away to college, sad to leave Old Yeller behind.   But the new owner, and my dad, knew that a named car also has often received excellent care. TLC.

Old Yeller was not just my first car, but decades later she was also my first memoir writing sale. I had published a good number of short stories and articles by the time I sold “Memories of Old Yeller” to the national FORD TIMES magazine, but the editors actually paid me a dollar a word for my account of naming my first car and learning unusual lessons. This was exceptional pay, teaching me that memories make for excellent writing exercise, and also encouraged me to spread my writing wings into other genres.

This post is a tribute to Ray Shepherd, who smiled when his daughter named her first car Old Yeller. It’s also a tribute to my mom, Mary Shepherd, who worked along side him to build successful businesses that looked out for their employees and cared for them as friends. My parents went out of their way to help people who were having hard times replace bald tires and get the trustworthy service to keep driving safely.

October is “Name Your Car” month. Before their Alzheimer’s and dementia, my parents were happiest when any car they sold was loved enough to be named.

“General Lee” from THE DUKES OF HAZARD” (Grange picture)

“Christine”–star of the Stephen King novel and movie by the same name.

“Herbie” from LOVE BUG.
(R. Cartwright stock photo)

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, writing, writing exercises

WHAT WILL BE YOUR LEGACY?

My mom's favorite book to have read to her at bedtime.

My mom’s favorite book to have read to her at bedtime.  I think it reminds her of poems and prayers from her youth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the mark we leave behind?  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

What is the mark each of us will make to leave behind? (All photos by Marylin Warner)

When I visit my mom, my favorite time is at night when she’s tucked into bed, and I pull up the rocking chair and read to her. Her favorite book—the one I always read several times from start to finish—is Joan Walsh Anglund’s A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS AND PRAYERS. Sometimes Mom naps, sometimes she smiles, and sometimes she hums along with her own rhythm to the words and poems.   All else falls away.

This is the first example on the first page of Anglund’s book. Originally the page displayed only the title, but this handwritten addition was made later:

What you do ~ What you say ~ How you work ~ How you play ~ Day by Day ~  

It all matters ~ When all is done ~ It’s what you leave behind ~ Saying who you were.

Imagine taking a philosophy class and having the professor write this quote by Aristotle on the board: “We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act but a habit.” And then, instead of assigning some deep, intellectual essay to expresses the best way for individuals to live, imagine that the assignment was to write a very brief set of instructions, so simple a child could understand them. If a professor gave you this assignment, what would you write?  I’ve already shown you my simplistic answer. (Obviously, the assignment was not to write good poetry.)

August is WHAT WILL BE YOUR LEGACY? month. It’s intended to be a time for us to reflect on our past and present actions and vow to make positive changes that will affect the future and be the legacy we leave behind.

The suggestions for making the most of this month are numerous. Everything from thanking those who have made a difference in your life to “Playing The Legacy Game” and having everyone in your group tell how they would like to be remembered and what they can do to make this happen.

What you decide to do—if anything—is up to you. I’m fairly certain that if it weren’t for her dementia, my mother would say that since she and Dad were married in August, everything that came out of that union—including their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, plus the business they built and the differences they made—was their legacy.

If thinking about your legacy—or writing a bad poem about what you want to leave behind—isn’t what you want to do, August has numerous other opportunities. It is also Happiness Happens Month, Boomers Making A Difference Month, and Get Ready for Kindergarten Month. You’ve already missed Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night and National Garage Sale Day (both on August 8th) and S’mores Day (August 10th), but you can go ahead and do those things anyway.

That could be your legacy…breaking the rules and doing things on the unexpected days!

P.S.  —   https://www.writingclasses.com/contest/movie-of-your-life-contest-2015  The link I gave for the 50-word Gotham contest had an “invisible space” (according to the very nice Gotham editor who responded to my email cry for help.)  Here is the correct one, which seems the same, but the space has been removed.   I tried it, and it works!  Jump right in and enter by the 17th!!!           black butterfly

grasshopper on leaf

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Filed under celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

There are Doors…and then there are DOORS

Door fence at Molly's

door on side w:bird cage

In architecture, protection, and decoration, doors are getting second looks…and second lives. One new trend combining all three is “door fences.”   My favorite example is pictured above.  These very old doors were given new function and appreciation as a privacy fence entrance to a charming Kansas farmhouse, built in 1881 and then restored after a tornado in 2008. Only one door actually opens and closes. Can you guess which one?  (Answer at the end of the post.)

In moments of confusion and forgetfulness, doors offer an opportunity for clarity. For instance, when you go from one room to another, intent on getting or doing something, if you can’t remember what it was, turn around and go back. Crossing the threshold of the original doorway often triggers the memory.

In life and literature, doors are metaphors for opportunities and choices.  Boris Pasternak, author of DR. ZHIVAGO, advises us to listen closely because    “…when a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it.”  Actor Milton Berle’s advice is to choose our “tools” and take charge: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”  Whatever our approach, Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Be an opener of doors,” and Emily Dickinson reminds us to be open and ready: “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”

Building on the words of Emerson and Dickinson, here is a contest to open the door for a writing opportunity. The contest asks: what would be the title of a book written about your life—and then made into a movie? This is not a time to be serious or profound.  Interesting titles that make the judges smile, or even laugh, will have an advantage.  For instance, here’s a sample idea of a title and tag line from the contest judges: A LITTLE OFF THE TOP ~ One man’s struggle with male pattern baldness.

There’s no entry fee; length is a maximum of 50 words total for title and tag. The online deadline is August 17 (come on, you aren’t actually writing a book or movie script; have some fun with this!). The winner will be posted in early September, and the prize is the online Gotham writing class of your choice. This is open to everyone. https://www.writingclasses.com/contest/movie-of-your-life-contest-2015 

Charles Dickens wrote: “A very little key will open a very heavy door.” Try this contest and see if a very few words will gain you a very good prize.

(Answer to the question in the first paragraph: The door that actually opens and closes is not the door on the side, next to the bird cage. It’s the white door with the glass pane.)

Look closely at doors and keep them in perspective. What do you see in this door picture?

Look closely at doors and keep them in perspective. What do you see in this door picture?

The door on the left is regular size; the door and little window on the right are much shorter and more narrow, almost child size.  (all photos by Marylin Warner)

The door on the left is regular size; the door and little window on the right are actually much shorter and more narrow, almost child size. (all photos by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, special quotations, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

CHOOSING WILBUR

Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch  (Wikipedia photo)

Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch (Wikipedia photo)

CIDAR HOUSE RULES, novel by John Irving.

CIDER HOUSE RULES, novel by John Irving

Many years ago, before my dad’s Alzheimer’s distracted my mom’s writing, and then her own dementia stopped the writing altogether, she had an idea for an adult short story. Prior to that, she’d written children’s stories and poetry.

The idea for the story grew out of an actual event, a hurtful situation caused by a member of the family, and it had nagged at Mom for a long time. She wanted to write it just for herself—to sort it out and get it off her chest, like writers sometimes do—but in case it was ever accidentally found, she wanted to use a fictional location and names for the characters.

Many of the writers in my classes use books of baby names, search telephone books for name ideas, or read headstones at cemeteries.  Another way to study names for characters is read a lot of stories and novels.

Author John Irving’s books contain a variety of fictional characters’ names: Garp, Egg, Owen Meany, Piggy Sneed, etc. One of my favorite Irving novels, CIDER HOUSE RULES, features Dr. Wilbur Larch’s orphanage for children whose mothers did not come to him for abortions, but ended up abandoning their babies after giving birth.

One of the babies who was unsuccessfully adopted several times had been named Homer by Dr. Larch. As an adult, Homer helped choose names for other orphan babies, so the book is full of names. One charming practice at the orphanage is Dr. Larch reading aloud to the orphan boys each night, and closing with this tribute: “Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” I suspected Mom would choose one of the female characters’ names for her story, and if her story had included a male, she might also have considered the name Wilbur.

If I had a son, I would not name him Wilbur. But through good writing and story telling, I have appreciation for the name. In E.B. White’s 1952 classic, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, the barn spider’s friend is Wilbur the pig.  Wm. Joyce’s book, A DAY WITH WILBUR ROBINSON, is about a twelve-year-old searching for a pair of false teeth. And then there’s Wilbur Wright, co-inventor and co-pilot of the first successful airplane.

Even though the dementia has erased the story Mom wrote and the search for alternate names, I close this post with a tribute to her: “Good night, you princess of Kansas, you queen of kind living and gentle lessons.”

On my walk near the Garden of the Gods yesterday, I saw children with their pet pig.  His name?  Wilbur.  Their advice:

On my walk near the Garden of the Gods yesterday, I saw children with their pet pig. His name? Wilbur. Their advice: “Don’t get too close. He’s hungry.”

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Kansas, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

‘Bye, Santa…Hello, PC Writing Contest

Say good-bye to Santa as he loads up his RV to go on vacation. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Say good-bye to Santa as he loads up his RV to go on vacation. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

 

 

 

Say hello to pioneer-style RV travel.  What story would you write about this?

Say hello to pioneer-style RV travel. What story would you write about this? (Is woman’s work ever done?)

After I moved my parents to an assisted living apartment (he had Alzheimer’s, she was showing signs of dementia), I began telling Mom about unusual writing contests. We didn’t have to actually enter the contests; the goal was to use the guidelines as writing prompts, and also to encourage her to talk about ideas and keep writing.

In the spirit of post-holiday writing, here is a real contest opportunity that also makes a great writing prompt. The PC does not stand for Politically Correct (haven’t we had enough of anything to do with politics?) The PC is for POST CARD Story Writing Contest, and writers can use any post card and then write up to a 500-word story about the cover.

The deadline for The Geist Literal Literary Post Card Story Contest is Feb. 1, 2015, and entries can be made online. The cash prizes are $500, $250, and $150, and this Canadian contest is open to ALL writers everywhere. For full guidelines, details and examples of past winners:   http://www.geist.com/contests/postcard-contest/  

Another contest for All writers is the Narrative Travel Writing Contest/2015. There is no entry fee, and the first prize is $500 for a creative narrative entry about a great travel suggestion: http://www.transitionsabroad.com/information/writers/travel_writing_contest.shtml

If I were still using writing contests as prompts for my Mom, I would show her the postcards below and ask her to make up stories.  For the Dust Bowl, maybe she would tell a story about mothers putting wet sheets over the insides of windows and doors to keep children from choking on the blowing dust.  Of if I showed her the post card about cowboys taking a Saturday night bath in a pond, she might make up a funny story.

The post card of another Kansas personality, President Ike Eisenhower, shows him talking to the troops in WWII. What fictional conversation would you write to create a story?  

As we approach the beginning of a new year—with new opportunities for writing, creating, sharing our ideas and talents—remember that sometimes practice writing can blossom into excellent entries in writing contests.  Plus, practice writing keeps us thinking, and when we’re actively thinking, it’s a good way to keep our minds active.

A Saturday night bath in a pond? There's a story somewhere in this card.

A Saturday night bath in a pond? There’s a story somewhere in this card.

 

How will your characters protect themselves against a Dust Bowl?

How will your characters protect themselves against a Dust Bowl?

Could they be talking about something other than war?  Write the story.

Could they be talking about something other than war? Write the story.

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, paying writing opportunities, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

A MAGIC COMBINATION

"Red Hot Jello" (also known by other names.  All pictures by Marylin Warner.)

“Red Hot Jello” (also known by other names. All pictures by Marylin Warner.)

 

Federico Fellini said, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”

Maybe he was right, but this soon after Thanksgiving, I suggest you try a different combination: a Red Hot Coke recipe, and a no-entry-fee-but-cash-prizes mini-writing contest.

First the recipe. This is easy, everyone loves it, and it’s been a favorite in our family for a very long time. We don’t remember who first shared it, and we’re not even sure what the actual name is. My grandchildren call it “Red Hot Coke Salad” and “Cinnamon Bubble Salad,” and the picture is above.

Here’s the ultra-easy recipe:

Pour one cup boiling water over one large pkg. of Cherry Jello mixed with 1 cup of red hot candies

Whisk or stir until mixed completely together

Add 1 cup of very cold water and 1 cup of chilled applesauce (we like chunky) and stir well

Stir in one-half cup of cold Coke (or Pepsi)   Pour into a bowl and refrigerate

You can stop here and it’s VERY good. You can make it AMAZING by adding Cool Whip–use creamy.

When the Jello mixture is starting to set up, stir in ½ of a small container of softened Cool Whip and put the mixture back in the refrigerator. When it’s all set up, smooth the other ½ container of Cool Whip across the top.   Serve to rave reviews.

Now that you’re energized, jump right into a very short, make-yourself-think-and-take-a-challenge writing contest. Remember several months ago when I published a blog that included a 10-word-max. writing contest. (Remember Hemingway’s 6-word story: “For Sale: Baby shoes. Never Used.”)

Well this contest gives you much more room to write. Create a piece of prose between 20 words and 40 words that tells, shows or evokes a complete story idea. Oh, and anywhere in the story–just once and ONLY ONCE–use the word “refrigerator.” 

Oh, wow! This ties in with the refrigerated Jello recipe, too! Is that serendipity or what?

The salad can be served any time. The story deadline (submitted online) is next Friday, December 5, before midnight (Eastern Time). No entry free. Cash prizes. Details at: www.OnThePremises.com

Before her dementia, this is the kind of the thing Mom and I used to do long-distance.  Now she’ll still love the Jello, but she won’t know who I am or that I fixed it. And she’s not writing any more, not even 20 words. But I’m doing both the Red Hot Coke Salad and the mini-writing contest, and I hope you’ll try either one—or both—with me!

One of my mother’s favorite writers, Erma Bombeck, once said, “I am not a glutton ~ I am an explorer of food.”   What a magic combination: exploring both food and writing opportunities!

 

Another thanks to the Brits for the "Keep Calm" philosophy; I say "have a cupcake and WRITE!"

Another thanks to the Brits for the “Keep Calm” philosophy; I say “have a cupcake and WRITE!”

Need something besides Red Hot Jello to buzz you up for writing?  Stay calm and try cherry-Cherry-chocolate-fudeg cupcakes!

Need something besides Red Hot Jello to buzz you up for writing? Stay calm and try Cherry-chocolate-fudge cupcakes!

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, special quotations, writing, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises