Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s and dementia













Twenty years ago, when she was a 17-year-old student, Anna taught everyone in my high school Writing To Publish class two valuable lessons.

I had assigned this warm-up activity: Write about a dark moment in your life that became one of your happiest memories. Most of the students sat and thought, doodled for a while and then begrudgingly began.   Anna (not her real name) went to a corner, sat on the floor, opened her notebook and began writing.

She wrote about the previous Christmas.  Their mother had left, their father’s hours had been cut back, the furnace had gone out and had to be fixed, and money was worse than just tight.   Dad and the three kids had to somehow make the best of what little they had.

They drew names from a jar.  Each person had $2.00 to spend on the best gift they could find, and wrap the present in the funny pages from the newspaper.   On Christmas morning, after eating French toast, sausage and juice—with popcorn for a treat–they made a game of opening the presents.

For Anna’s scavenger hunt, she’d helped her younger siblings get started with this example. Each person would give their gift recipient a clue, like “Go to the place where lint collects.” (The dryer.)   There in the lint trap would be the next clue, and so on, until finally the last clue led to the gift.   The hunt for presents took them all over the house and even outside.

It was the best Christmas ever, Anna wrote,  filled with laughter, adventures, and hugs. With only $2.00 to spend, each one had searched for a thoughtful, special gift: a mystery for Dad at the used book store;  a new spiral notebook for Anna’s writing dreams;  a package of plastic soldiers from the dollar store;  Superhero pencils and an eraser.

The class applauded after Anna read aloud her article, and after class I suggested she submit it for publication.  To make a long story short, Anna worked hard, followed all the requirements, rewrote, and finally submitted “The Best Worst Christmas Ever” to Woman’s World Magazine.  They bought it for $100!

Anna had answered the looming sad holiday with hope and laughter.   She also followed through by fine-tuning her article and taking a risk when she submitted it to a magazine.  And if Woman’s World had rejected it, she was prepared with another magazine address, plus a third one to try. Her darkest moment, she said, had been when she realized her family had only $20 to spend on Christmas:  $8 on gifts for four people, and $12 for a special breakfast. In comparison to that, she said, a rejection slip from a magazine didn’t scare her at all.

Before her dementia, my mother loved this story.   She shared it with friends who felt sad or discouraged about the holidays.  She challenged a writer friend not to quit after a rejection, but to Try, Try Again.   Mom lent her friend the Writer’s Market to search another place to submit her story, but first she had to find the book by following the clues of a scavenger hunt.



Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, writing, writing exercises


My response to the yoga improvement discussed on talk radio.

A more polite version of my response to the yoga improvement discussed on talk radio.

From our house in Colorado to my mom’s assisted living in southeast Kansas is a round trip drive of 1,300 miles.  When Jim is at the wheel we listen to sports or news.   When I’m driving, I search radio stations for interesting topics and call-in reactions.  I’ve mentioned several of the strange topics in previous posts, but the one I listened to on this trip home after Thanksgiving takes the prize.  Last place prize.

Briefly, the program I flipped to responded to an earlier topic argued on another station.  The basic theme was making regular activities more interesting during the holidays and into the New Year.  I tuned in to catch up on the conversation about spicing up Yoga groups and classes by doing naked yoga.   Lots of responses to that one, I tell you.

Now, to reset that December visual, here are some other interesting Christmas details.   For instance, did you know that one common superstition says that animals speak on Christmas Eve?   The elderly neighbor who told me this, spiced it up by adding that it was very bad luck to tease animals and try to make them talk.


The second superstition—shared by the same neighbor—was that when you get new shoes for Christmas, if times are hard for others, you should not wear the shoes until later.   Otherwise it might cause hurt feelings, and would tempt you to feel proud.  And pride goes before the fall, which is, of course, more bad luck.

Old shoes at Christmas work just fine, and they don't hurt any feelings.

Old shoes at Christmas work just fine, and they don’t hurt any feelings.

This last one is not a superstition, but a trivia question. What is still one of the most popular, enduring Christmas movies viewed during the holidays?   If you answered IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, you’re right.  Unless you agree with actor Tom Hanks, who says it’s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, and he watches it every Christmas.   I’ve read Remarque’s sad, bloody war novel, and trust me,  it’s not anywhere on my must-see movie list. But we each have our own opinions.


Which brings me to something my mother used to say before dementia clouded her thoughts.  I had a tendency to jump right in and argue about all kinds of things, and she repeatedly  told me that if someone said something I didn’t like or agree with, I didn’t always have to be rude or argue.  I could just shrug, turn away or go on with other things.

If she’d been riding with me and hearing the radio talk show on naked yoga, I wonder if she would have laughed, been shocked, argued with the topic…or just reached out and turned off the radio.  Probably the last…her version of turning away and going on with other things.


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

Thankful for Makahiki, Sarah Hale, and Roto-Rooter

Look for splashes of color on dreary November days. There's always something to be grateful for if you'll look.

(Look for splashes of color on dreary November days. There’s always something to be grateful for if you’ll look for it.)

If one of your Thanksgiving dinner traditions is for everyone around the table to tell what they’re thankful for, in case your favorites are taken before it’s your turn, here are three more.

MAKAHIKI: Long before the Pilgrims, Native Hawaiians celebrated Makahiki, which lasted from November through February.  During this longest thanksgiving in the world, both work and war were forbidden.

Wikipedia picture of the 4-month thanksgiving Hawaiian Makahiki.

(Wikipedia picture of the 4-month thanksgiving Hawaiian Makahiki.)


Sarah Hale

(Sarah Hale ~ more than just author of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”~ Wikipedia picture.)

SARAH HALE (1788-1879): Author of hundreds of poems, including “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” Hale was considered the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”   She convinced President Lincoln to proclaim a national holiday on the last Thursday in November, when harvests were done and elections were over.  She said it would “awaken Americans’ hearts to love of home and country, thankfulness to God, and peace.”

ROTO-ROOTER: This is one of the “practical essentials” to be grateful for after Thanksgiving.  On the true (Stopped Up) Black Friday after Thanksgiving, Roto-Rooter and other major plumbing services are at their busiest, cleaning up sewer problems.

My family wishes your families a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving.  If you’re eager to welcome in the Christmas season, feel free to begin singing “Jingle Bells”…which was originally written as a Thanksgiving song.

Abilene, KS h.s. marching band practices in the streets, a happy, musical way to welcome Thanksgiving!

Abilene, KS h.s. marching band practices in the streets, a foot-tapping, hand-clapping, musical way to welcome Thanksgiving! (these two pictures and the top one by Marylin Warner)

This Thanksgiving's special donut at the bakery ~ iced donut filled with pumpkin-spice cream.  Yum!

This Thanksgiving’s special donut at the bakery ~ iced donut filled with pumpkin-spice cream. Yum!


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, spending time with kids, Things to be thankful for


"Move the pen, Charlie Brown, or the knitting needles and paint brush. It's good for you! Just do it!"

“Move the pen, Charlie Brown, or the knitting needles or paint brush. It’s good for you! Just do it!”

One of my favorite gifts to give to special friends for Congratulations, Thinking of You, and Get Well Soon is a colorful hand-knitted washcloth wrapped around a bar of fancy bath soap and tied with ribbon.  It’s a relaxing, TV-watching activity for me, but it took awhile to locate the directions.

Years before my mother’s dementia, she learned the pattern for these washcloths, and she delivered the colorful, much appreciated gifts with homemade soap to many friends and hospital patients.   So six years ago when I wanted to knit my own, I expected that Mom would show me how.

“But I never knitted anything,” she said, obviously confused and forgetful of the many scarves and baby blankets she’d made.  She was adamant.  So I sat in the chair next to her recliner, took out my knitting needles and yarns and began making a basic washcloth of horizontal lines of stitches… practical but not unusual or especially attractive.  I put another set of needles and a ball of yarn next to my mother without saying anything.


It didn’t take long before she picked up the needles and—while still watching the TV—she cast on yarn and began knitting.  Soon I recognized the diagonal increase on each row, then decreases that for years she’d used to create lacy borders on all four sides.  I unraveled my straight horizontal rows and started over.  Mom took a nap, and when she awoke she commented on the pretty piece I was knitting, and asked where I’d learned it.


Haptic memory retrieval occurs through smell, sound, and touch, but most especially touch.  Repetitive physical, tactile activities buried by Alzheimer’s, dementia or stroke damage can be nudged alive via Haptic memory retrieval.  Playing musical instruments, braiding hair, tying shoe laces, digging in soil to plant seeds, drawing and painting are among helpful Haptic activites.

There is one Haptic example that is humorous but not recommended.   In 1901, modern toilet paper began when a Green Bay, Wisconsin company marketed “sanitary tissue.” However, during the manufacturing process, wood chips remained embedded in the toilet paper, which was not a good thing. It was years before another process made “splinter-free” toilet paper.  Needless to say, we’re grateful this is not used as Haptic memory retrieval.roll-of-toilet-paper


Filed under art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

For The Young, The Old, and Everyone In Between





Ten years ago, her great-grandchildren enjoyed the music of the words she read aloud to them.

Ten years ago, her great-grandchildren enjoyed the music of the words she read aloud to them.

Reading aloud to a dog is good for both the reader and the pet.

Reading aloud to a dog is good for both the reader and the pet.









From the time I was very young, I remember my mother reading aloud poems, stories and interesting quotes that invited my comments.   There was something strong, warm and sweet in the sound of her voice, and the words set me on a path of loving tall tales and short stories.   She varied the readings she chose, nudging me to evaluate for myself what rang true and what did not.

She also read aloud to her grandchildren, and in the years before her dementia she read aloud to her great-grandchildren, too.  She shared with them  the music of words, the taste, touch, scent and sound of words.   She gave them a wonderful gift.

Now, coming full circle,  I read aloud to my mother.   At 98, dementia has caught and held her  in confusing earlier times, but she still responds to the music of words read aloud with love and enthusiasm.    Our daughter and grandchildren sometimes travel with me to visit my mother, and they read aloud to her with the gentle voices, affection and humor they learned from her.   These visits are our turn to give her the gift of words.

Tuesday, November 8th, is YOUNG READERS DAY.   It encourages reading to those who cannot yet read,   and  listening appreciatively to young readers and beginning readers when they read aloud to us.   Sharing the music of words is a genuine gift for both the readers and the listeners.   I encourage you to make the most of this opportunity.  You’ll be glad you did.

I was thrilled when my story, "First Child, Second Place" was one of the 2016 BLR prize winners and published in this issue of BELLEVUE LITERARY REVIEW, where science and literature meet. (A note: the cover is of children singing and learning; the stories and poems in the journal may be about children, but they are adult stories.)

I was thrilled when my story, “First Child, Second Place” was one of the 2016 BELLEVUE  LITERARY REVIEW prize winners and published in this issue of BLR, where medicine and literature meet. (A note: the cover is of children singing with the nurses and helpers; the stories and poems in the journal may be about children, but they are adult stories.)

from "Somebody" an anonymous poem in this book:  "Somebody loves you deep and true.  If I weren't so bashful, I'd tell you who."   ;)

from “Somebody” an anonymous poem in this book: “Somebody loves you deep and true. If I weren’t so bashful, I’d tell you who.” 😉   Read a children’s poem and smile!



Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference






Before my mother’s dementia, she wrote poetry.   She kept a notebook and pen in her purse so she was always prepared to jot down new lines for poems no matter where she was.

She once told me that when she taught kindergarten, the introduction to poetry curriculum for five-year-olds said the teacher should point to a color and say, “What words rhyme with red?”   (Then blue, green, yellow, brown, black, etc.)   “But never point to the color orange,” the instructions warned. “It will only confuse them because no word rhymes with orange.”

Molly and I went to visit my mom/her grandma last weekend.   We fed her bites of favorite food, told her family stories, sang along to Mom’s favorite children’s songs on Molly’s iPhone, and read poetry to her.   Here, in tribute to Mom’s kindergarten poetry advice many years ago, is a poem by author Mary O’Neill that describes the color orange…without trying to find a word that rhymes with it.

WHAT IS ORANGE?   By Mary O’Neill   ~   Orange is a tiger lily, A carrot,   A feather from a parrot.   A flame,   The wildest color   You can name.   Orange is a happy day, Saying good-bye    In a sunset that   That shocks the sky.   Orange is brave   Orange is bold     It’s bittersweet   And marigold      Orange is zip   Orange is dash   The brightest stripe   In a Roman sash.    Orange is an orange, Also a mango.    Orange is music of the tango.   Orange is the fur   Of the fiery fox,   It’s The brightest crayon   In the box.    And in the fall, When the leaves are turning,   Orange is the smell   Of a bonfire burning…






Filed under art, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, kindergarten lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Mary Shepherd's poetry, teaching







It’s a concept that captured my imagination when I was ten years old and my dad pointed out the imaginary line across the plains of western Kansas.   If you’re driving west on I-70, you see the sign saying you’re entering Sherman County ~ and Mountain Time Zone.   If you’re driving east on the same interstate, at that same point you are entering Thomas County ~ and Central Time Zone.

What if you lived on the east side of the line, I wondered, and you did something bad—or semi-bad, or anything you wish you hadn’t done—could you walk over the line to the west side, where it was an hour earlier, and “undo” what you’d done?   My parents both said that was an interesting idea, but life didn’t work that way. Card laid, card played; no do-overs by stepping into a different time zone.  Unless you’re Ray Bradbury…

The top picture of Bristol, “a good place to live,” is actually one town in two states, Virginia and Tennessee. With thanks to the Geico Insurance commercial, we even have a picture of the marker embedded in the middle of the main street; one side of the street is VA, and the other is TN.   Hmm…can laws, codes and rules change with one step?

Oh, oh.  What if it's hunting season on the other side of the road?

Oh, oh. What if it’s hunting season on the other side of the road?

October is AWARENESS MONTH, which shines a light on diseases and world health concerns.   It also can include the awareness of general knowledge and self-awareness, knowing when something exists, has changed, has several meanings or applications, or needs more study.

In Kansas, Virginia, Tennessee, and life in general–both literally and figuratively speaking–it’s always wise to be aware of the facts before we put one foot over any line.





Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, life questions, October glory, politics