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

SOLE LESSONS

Mary Elizabeth as a toddler in buckle shoes.  No shoelaces to tie!

Mary Elizabeth as a toddler in buckle shoes. No shoelaces to tie!

 

My mother (in the middle). Look at the buckles on those shoes.  Tying shoes would have been easier!

My mother (in the middle). Look at the buckles on those shoes. Tying shoes would have been easier!

Last week’s story featured Tommy, the boy in my mother’s kindergarten class who needed to rest behind the piano until he could participate without distracting or hurting others.  

In that same class was five-year-old Billy, a sweet boy who had a very different problem. He couldn’t tie his shoes.

This was over seventy years ago, long before Velcro was an essential part of children’s shoes. Being able to tie your shoes was a learned skill back then, one of the eye-hand-coordinations on a child’s check-off sheet. Schools everywhere taught “bunny ears” loop-tying, or other techniques to help kindergartners tie their shoes. Billy struggled with every attempt, but nothing worked.

One day during Story Time, Billy sat in his little chair in the circle the children formed to listen to the story. As the teacher read, Billy leaned over in his chair and began working oh-so-diligently to tie his shoes. My mother watched him try again and again, and she hoped this might be the time it all worked out. Finally, after a painfully long time, Billy looked up and proudly smiled. Success!

It was like a bad dream, Mom told me many years later. In quick succession, several things happened: Billy beamed triumphantly; the fire alarm went off; and as the other children stood and formed a line at the door as they’d practiced, Billy remained seated. His eyes got big, his lower lip trembled, he pointed down at his shoes, and his eyes filled with tears.

Billy had succeeded in tying his shoes all right…together…and around the leg of his chair. Plus, bless his little over-achieving heart, he’d even tied the shoe laces in knots.

That day, when the kindergarteners and first graders marched down the stairs to the main floor, blended with the other students and filed out the front door, the principal and her secretary checked off how long it had taken everyone to leave the building during the fire drill. One teacher and one student took longer than everyone else in the building.

My mother was last out that day, carrying Billy out the door.  He still sat in the chair, his feet still tied to the chair leg. Children giggled, staff members clapped, and Billy buried his face against my mother’s neck.

The “sole” lesson from this story is the reminder that to really understand others we need to walk a mile in their shoes…or at least down the stairs and out the door.   But the other lessons my mother taught by example over and over were these: We’re all pretty much just doing the best we can, so our first response should be helpful instead of critical. It also helps to keep a sense of humor…but never laugh while another person is sobbing against your neck.

Current baby and toddler shoes.  No buckles...but they do have shoe laces!

Current baby and toddler shoes. No buckles…but they do have shoe laces!

Or, just go bare-foot!

Or, just go bare-foot!

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, teaching

(the other) MARY’S MUSIC

St. Augustine: "He who sings prays twice."

St. Augustine: “He who sings prays twice.”

Hummel figurines of young children singing, blowing horns, and beating drums.

Hummel figurines of young children singing, blowing horns, and beating drums.

With only a few weeks until Christmas, I want to make it clear that this story is about my mother, Mary, and not THE well-known Other Mary. This is one of my favorite stories about how my mother used music in a surprising way to teach young children.

See the picture below of my mother in her 20s, weighing 98 pounds, and teaching kindergarten in a Kansas City school. Mom is in the top row, third from the left end. My cousin Beth, now a grandmother herself, was 5 and visiting my mother’s class that day; she is in the first row, left side at the end.

This story is about a young boy in Mom’s class, a very active, non-attentive, uncooperative, rambunctious boy. One day, after he’d pushed a child, punched another, and grabbed crayons from a third, my mother broke away from the expected discipline. She put her hands on his shoulders, looked him in the eyes, and said, “Oh, Tommy, you must be very tired or I’m sure you wouldn’t act this way. So I’m going to help you find a place to rest.”

She took his nap mat and spread it out behind the old upright piano that sat at an angle near the corner of the room. Tommy had plenty of private space to stretch out behind the piano, but he could neither see nor be seen by the others.

Mom seated all the other children on the floor and she sat at the piano. She began playing and singing nursery melodies about little hands that go clap! clap! clap! and eyes that go blink! blink! blink! and so on. One song, then the next, happy children singing loudly and laughing along with their teacher.

When they stopped to catch their breaths, a little voice behind the piano called out. “I’m all rested, Teacher. I know how to act now.” And he did. Tommy was very helpful after that. And any time he began to slip, she asked if he needed another rest. He didn’t.

Many years later, when I was teaching Transcendentalism to my high school English students, one of my favorite quotes by Henry David Thoreau was this: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

It was then that my mother told me the story of Tommy. She laughed, adding, “That works, as long as the individual steps to his own music without stomping on others.” She was very encouraging of individuality, of each person following his own inner beat of a different drum, as long as it didn’t hurt someone else.

This ends (the other) Mary’s lesson, for both children and adults, just in time for the push-and-shove, sugar-high, holiday chaos. And also, if it weren’t for her dementia, my mother would probably remind us to never give young children drums for Christmas. Or any time, actually, unless they live somewhere else and will take the drums with them.

Decades later, Mom's own great-grandchildren; Grace is about the age Mom's kindergarten students were in the big picture.

Decades later, Mom’s own great-grandchildren; Grace is about the age Mom’s kindergarten students were in the big picture.

Mom (top row, third from left) ~ a young kindergarten teacher.

Mom (top row, third from left) ~ a young kindergarten teacher.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Henry David Thoreau, kindergarten lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations

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