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

TRUTH, TANGLED WEBS, AND TOAD HOLLOW

Painted sky at sunset. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Painted sky at sunset. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

 

 

 

 

Rural Kansas cemetery.

Rural Kansas cemetery.

Sir Walter Scott wrote: O WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE, WHEN FIRST WE PRACTICE TO DECEIVE.

I’m starting with Scott’s quote because it ties in with my feelings about “Therapeutic Lying,” one of the suggested responses to answering the difficult questions asked by people who suffer with Alzheimer’s and dementia. For instance, if a man with Alzheimer’s asks where his wife is, to reduce his stress and confusion, his caregiver could say the wife has gone to the store…instead of saying she died two years earlier.

five mil

As the daughter of a father who died after seven long years of horrible Alzheimer’s—and whose mother is now deep in the confusions of dementia—here’s my take on Therapeutic Lying: it may be easier on the caregiver, but it’s not necessarily better for the patient. The truth is better—and kinder, more helpful and compassionate—when it’s combined with an honest, real “memory story.” For example, if my mother asks where my dad is and if they’ll be going home soon, I serve the answer honestly…with a sweet memory for dessert. “Mom, Daddy died several years ago.” I point to a picture of them together. “Mom, I love this picture of you two. You’re both smiling, and I remember how you always straightened his tie . Daddy would wink and said, ‘Mary takes such good care of me.’ And he was right, Mom. You took very good care of all of us.”

Mom gets honest answers, followed by a true anecdote, and if she asks another question, I’ll give her another truthful answer.   The overall theme here is truth served with kindness.

January 26th is Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement, a little-known day celebrating connection with others through gestures of the heart. To me, Toad Hollow Day fits much better with gentle, honest memory sharing instead of therapeutic fiblets. (For the pictures of 1806 Toad Hollow school and pupils, Google Toad Hollow.)

January 31st is “Inspire Your Heart With Art Day.” In the spirit of the two-faced Janus looking backward, I’m including examples of my favorite art from the past. To be truthful, I know none of it belongs in a gallery, but it all holds special places in my heart. After January 31st, the Janus of Roman mythology will look forward to the year of opportunities and challenges ahead…and so will I.

 

Twenty-nine years ago, when our daughter Molly was in 3rd grade, she made this "Indian Art" project of clay and yarn.  It's our favorite wall art.

Twenty-nine years ago, when our daughter Molly was in 3rd grade, she made this “Indian Art” project of clay and yarn. It’s our favorite wall art.

Picasso-type portraits of me, painted 3 years ago by my 7 and 10-year old grandchildren. These are definitely "heart art."

Picasso-type portraits of me, drawn and painted 3 years ago by our grandchildren when they were  7 and 8 years old. These are definitely “heart art” that make me smile.

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Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, life questions, special quotations

LOOK AGAIN

Gorgeous ice and snow-covered trees last week.  From a distance, this is what you see. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Gorgeous ice and snow-covered trees last week. From a distance, this is what you see. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

 

Move in, look closer to see more details, the depth of snow and ice on the branches.

Move in, look closer to see more details, the depth of snow and ice on the branches.

 

 

Nearly hidden beneath snow, clinging to bark, the last leaves hang on.

Nearly hidden beneath snow, clinging to bark, the last leaves hang on.

This month is absolutely jam-packed with special monthly observances, days and weeks dedicated to fresh starts, do-overs, do-betters, and reminders. In addition to being the month for making resolutions, January also includes Financial Awareness, Cervical Health Awareness, Cuckoo Dancing Week, No Name Calling Week, Thomas Crapper Day, National Kazoo Day, and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day. Those are just a few of a long list of choices.

For personal goal setting, January is both RISING STAR MONTH and WAYFINDING MONTH. There are many interpretations and approaches to charting your path and finding your own way: using a telescope or GPS, taking the advice of others or reading how-to books; following stars, reading maps, joining groups, asking directions, comparing markers and signs. One thing these all have in common, though, is taking a closer look—looking very carefully to be sure you have an accurate picture—before making big plans and charting goals.

Before my dad’s Alzheimer’s and my mom’s dementia, they were good role models for goal-setting and careful planning for their business and their lives. They sat at the table together with papers and lists and facts and figures spread out. They studied possibilities and problems from all angles, looking past the obvious in order to study subtle details and see the big picture.

The photos I’ve posted this week are to remind us to look beyond the obvious and study the big picture before setting our goals. Otherwise, we might as well give up on charting our path and finding our own way to reach our dreams…and opt instead for Cuckoo Dancing, playing the Kazoo, and rolling ourselves in Bubble Wrap.

A cute gift, a handmade Elephant pin.  A poo pin, made of elephant dung from Sri Lanka.

A cute gift, a handmade Elephant pin. A poo pin, made of elephant dung from Sri Lanka.

 

This isn't just pioneer biceps building.  For the woman who doesn't want an elephant pin, she's gathering fire wood.  Well, not wood ~ bison dung. A use for everything...

This isn’t just pioneer biceps building. For the woman who doesn’t want an elephant pin, she’s gathering fire wood. Well, not wood ~ bison dung. A use for everything…

 

Details matter; are you looking at the snack to buy...or at the fleeing mouse?

Details matter; are you looking at the snack to buy…or at the fleeing mouse?

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions

THE WHEELS GO ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND

This week has been brutal in Colorado...it's not a good time to try to ride a bike.

This week has been brutal in Colorado…it’s not a good time to try to ride a bike.

 

 

bike in snow

 

 

My first “it’s mine and nobody else’s” bike was a blue Western Flyer. No bells and whistles, and definitely no training wheels, just a great bike.   I was seven when my mom taught me to ride it. She pointed me straight ahead on the sidewalk, holding on the to back of the seat, and running along with me as I wobbled and squealed and pedaled, clutching the handle-bar grips for all I was worth. Mark Twain was right when he said, “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it…if you live.” I took a lot of tumbles and was scabs and band-aides from head to toes for a while, but soon I was riding all around the neighborhood.

The amazing thing about Mom teaching me to ride a bike was that she had never learned to ride one. She grew up on a Missouri farm where the roads were dirt and gravel. Her mother taught her to drive a car—and they ended up in a ditch before Mom became proficient—but she never learned to ride a bike.

Almost ten years ago, when my dad was still alive, Mom and I drove down to Chicken Annie’s near Pittsburg, KS to pick up to-go meals to take back for us, Dad, and his caregiver to have for dinner. As we sat outside at the picnic table waiting for our order, two older women—maybe grandmothers—stood one on each side of a young boy trying to learn to ride a bike. It was a familiar comedy of errors, with near falls and close calls for both the women and the little boy, but finally the boy took off. Mom and I cheered and clapped . For the boy, yes, but especially for his teachers. “You did that for me, Mom,” I said, and she nodded, smiled and said, “I remember.” I put my arm around her and kissed her cheek. “Thank you.”

January is National Thank You Month. Take it from one who knows, if there’s anyone in your life—a relative, friend, teacher, neighbor, anyone who’s offered you help or shown you a kindness—thank that person this month. I’m glad I thanked my mother for the bike riding lesson when I did; within a few years she would not have understood what I was saying. I remember that day, the way she smiled and nodded, and I also realized that saying Thank You is a double blessing, once for the person receiving the thanks, and once for the person expressing it.

This is also Universal Letter Writing Week. If you have an older friend, someone in the hospital or a nursing home, please write a card or letter thanking them for one specific thing they did for you. Nurses and caregivers are very responsive to reading aloud the cards and messages, and often the recipients will hold their cards and fall asleep with them.

These two activities are excellent examples of Janus looking backward and forward at the beginning of the new year. When we look back at what others have done for us and reach forward to thank them, we change our lives…and theirs.

It’s a matter of balance. Albert Einstein wrote: “Life is like riding a bicycle—in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” And a good example of that forward movement is gratitude.

Bike ornament on my wall.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Bike ornament on my wall. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

"Fat Tire #3" original sculpture in Salina, KS., by Lance Carlton Washington

“Fat Tire #3″ original sculpture in Salina, KS., by Lance Carlton Washington

Framed bicycle print with message by Flavia: "Somewhere between the earth and sky, there is a secret place we all go to dream."

Framed bicycle print with message by Flavia: “Somewhere between the earth and sky, there is a secret place we all go to dream.”

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, making a difference, special quotations

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

‘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

BY ANY OTHER NAME

 

Aunt Mary? Mrs. Shepherd?

Aunt Mary? Mrs. Shepherd?

 

 

Beth knew the answer.

Beth knew the answer.

 

"...a rose by any other name..."

“…a rose by any other name…”

My mother’s two years as a kindergarten teacher in Kansas City were rich with stories that took place long before I was born. This is the third story from that time period.

Remember the large group picture of my mother in the back row, posed with the other staff and the kindergarten students? My cousin Beth was visiting that day, so she was included in the picture, too. What the picture doesn’t show is the intense argument she had with one of the little boys in the class. “That’s my Aunt Mary,” Beth told him proudly. “No, it’s not,” he replied indignantly. “That’s Mrs. Shepherd.”

“No, sir.”   “Is too.”   “Uh-uh.”   “Uh-huh.”   Back and forth it went.

My mother made it a teaching moment for the whole class: names can show our relationship to other people ~ Mom, Grandma, Aunt Mary, Mrs. Shepherd, or a nickname like Mary Ibbeth or Mary E.   Names can also make it clear what we do or who we are to others ~ teacher, writer, friend, neighbor. We can have many names, and if someone tells you, “Don’t call me that,” then be polite and don’t use that name.

Writers—including my mother, before the dementia—know that literature has many examples of the importance of a character’s name. “Call me Ishmael,” the opening line of MOBY-DICK, is a classic example. In Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, much importance is attached to the character learning his name and who he is: “Kiss a lover ~ Dance a measure ~ Find your name ~ and buried treasure.”

Jarod Kintz, author of   99 CENTS FOR SOME NONSENSE, had a different perspective. “Male or female, if my name were either Don or Dawn, I’d be up at sunrise to celebrate the glory that is me.”

W.C. Fields said this about the name issue: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”   Which he might have taken more seriously if he’d been bullied on the play ground. Or he might have shrugged and said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”   Oh, sure; children aren’t ever hurt by name calling.

My mother never saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS, but she enjoyed T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was the core of the musical. “…Before a Cat will condescend…To treat you as a trusted friend…A cat’s entitled to expect…These evidences of respect…And so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name.”

The story of my cousin Beth arguing about whether my mother’s name was Aunt Mary or Mrs. Shepherd makes me smile. This Christmas Mom’s dementia is so advanced that I doubt either name—or any of the others—will mean much to her. She fades in and out of life as a child on the farm, and sometimes scenes from working with my dad or raising children.

For those of you who have a loved one in a similar situation, I wish you the simple joys of being together: gentle humor, genuine acceptance, delicious foods and holiday music. In difficult situations, feeling love and hugs are more important than remembering names.

"...and so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name..."

“…and so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name…”

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, kindergarten lessons about life, life questions, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, teaching, writing