Thursday, December 12, 2013

Honoring the Moment: Poetic Inspiration Found Within An Adult Day Center

I was captivated by two scenes which occurred on the same day and at the same time at The Bridge last week. Two women, independent of each other, decided to sit out from the group activities and simply do what they felt called to in that moment. I walked from one to the other, not imposing myself on them, and simply bore witness to their grace and their insight. I witnessed the poetry of stillness. The poetry of contentment.

Sitting at my desk in the back room, I heard the first woman sit down in a chair placed directly in front of a large window.  The window provides a clear view of Gastineau Channel and of snow covered mountains. Another senior walked up to her and asked if she was alright. Her answer touched me. I rose from my seat to view her profile. She was calm and quiet. She stared out the window. Her breath recalled a softly spoken prayer.

Another senior asked her the same question as the first and her answer was the same:

"I'm just sitting here grieving."


I walked into the next room, still contemplating this woman's ability to carve out of the day a space for her to grieve the loss of loved ones, and came across another scene of serene beauty. A second woman sat alone at a table having declined an invitation from a fellow staff member to join 3 or 4 other seniors playing cards.

There, amongst the movement and the conversation of others, she sat writing out notes on her reading. She is in her 90's and still has beautiful handwriting. I watched her hand move across the page and remembered the hand of so many children writing their first words. I thought of my own diaries at home and how each carries the weight of my history. I thought, too, of how many times I used the phrase "muscular memory" in regards to how the physical body records and learns motions and movements.

Here, now, I witnessed it serving her. She, who's memories have faded and are no longer linear in terms of what we think of as a time line, held her pen and moved it across the lined page with the ease that dragonflies etch still water. This was comfort. This was her present in a way that made my own heart tremble as I thought to myself, "Praise small acts, for these are the acts that will humble you."


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Art with Seniors - Symmetry

The prepared materials:

I choose a range of materials so as to move from very simple art work to challenging. I knew we had a couple of women who really enjoyed doing art in the group today, so I was confident that they would be able to do each of the symmetry activities.

 First activity - very basic introduction to symmetry cutting.

(sorry can't find the link)

Second activity - draw a curved line or shape on a piece of folded construction paper and then cut it out.

Some of the seniors are cable of making a flower cut-out like the above, but most aren't. Therefore, I made a second symmetry demonstration piece that required only the ability to draw a wiggly line.

Third activity - these handouts are much more challenging then the first ones. I modified this particular activity. I had them illustrate the outlined half of a butterfly, cut it out and then free-hand illustrate the other blank wing with their own design. So technically, these were not symmetrical in regards to the illustrations, but were in regards to the shape.

(butterfly illustration)

Fourth activity  - I choose this particular drawing because it is of  a wolf. I try to bring to the art and the creativity writing projects local elements. Wolves are well known in Alaska.


Before I handed out the first symmetry art activity, I defined symmetry for the group and discussed examples of it. As soon as the small sheets of paper with the half images printed on them were distributed by myself and my assistant, the seniors began cutting.

She was so surprised when she open up the cut out paper and saw that it was now a heart.

After everyone had cut-out their first activity, they began the second one. Pencils were being used to draw a variety of shapes and things on the folded piece of construction paper.

Here a senior has cut out a symmetrical, yellow Christmas tree. 

She saw the paper outline from her tree and said, "I like that." Soon she was busy trying to fit it on to a page of paper so as to glue it on.

Next, the butterfly illustration was passed out. Colored pencils were also provided, as well as scissors. 

 The butterflies were beautifully illustrated.

All worked with deep concentration on their art.

Here are two of the finished butterflies for you to view:

I cleaned up the work tables a little and then passed out the wolf sheets. I walked around the table and explained to everyone how to do this work; that they were to draw the other side of the wolf's face. I also handed out a completed image of the wolf's face - one half was a photograph and the other a student's (from a school outside of Alaska) illustration. I was growing concerned that the seniors might be getting tired and that I was putting before them too much work. But, the wolf is a favorite image locally, so all reached for the sheets as they were passed out.

(Note: Most of the women that are photographed below are over 85 years old. )

Above: The artist at work. 
Below: Her finished artwork.


Above: The artist at work.
Below: Her finished artwork.


Above: The artist at work. 
Below: Her finished art work.



Above: The artist at work. 
Below: Her finished art work.


Yet, not everyone participated. One senior stated, "Oh, I'm just not into all of that. I would rather read." That is exactly what she did.

However, every now and then, she walked over to the tables were the art was being made and praised one senior's work or another.


Another senior is very detail oriented. She likes to organize the materials for making the art more than making the art itself. She also likes to be of assistance to those doing the art work. When one of the other seniors wanted help gluing their cut-out onto a piece of construction paper, it was this senior who I invited to do the gluing. She agreed to help immediately.

She then looked at the first symmetrical project papers, specifically the heart. A puzzled look came over her face. "Someone forgot to draw the lines on the other side of this paper," she said. A moment later, she had one in her hand and was using another to draw lines. She was very serious about her work. This was her art activity.

Photos and commentary:

She noted the folded half of a heart and then opened it. This is when she saw one side was blank. She was not interested in or even acknowledged symmetry nor that the lines were to be drawn by each individual after they cut the heart out. Instead, this simply lacked order to her. It did not make sense. It was incomplete, unfinished. She needed to carefully draw the lines on it so that it would be complete and then it would resonate order for her.

Below: She used the edge of one of the symmetry hearts to draw lines on another.

Below: She is almost finished.

Done. What was incomplete is now complete. Order is restored.  And if you noticed, she did do a piece of symmetry art work. She simply did it her way.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Wood Polishing in an Adult Day Program

I prepared a wood polishing tray and placed it on the shelf in the back room a few months ago. I have been waiting for just the right moment to present it to a particular senior. This senior has done silver polishing and flower arranging, so I thought this would be the next work for her. I finally presented it today. But, I did not present it to the senior who I initially thought it would be perfect for, yet that doesn't mean I won't present it to her later. Instead, I invited the male client that recently worked with the Chinese Puzzle (my hybrid version of the constructive triangles) to do some work with me. However, this time I asked him to pick which work he wanted to use from the shelves completely independent of my suggestions. This was a goal my supervisor and I had discussed for this particular client.

We walked to the "Montessori" shelves in the backroom and I reviewed with him what each work was. He was drawn to the singular / plural work that he has done several times before and chose that. He did the work perfectly. He laid out the labels and then matched the objects to the labels. Before we knew it, he had completed the material. I asked him to carefully put away all of the objects/labels and to return the box to the shelf. He did.

Next, I asked if he was interested in doing a new work. I said I had put together a tray that might be appealing to him. He said he wanted to continue working with me and so we did. I invited him to come to the shelves with me to get the tray, the needed supplies and an apron. We brought everything back to the table that we had been working at and I placed a red, paper place mat in front of him to designate a working space.

After I helped him put on the apron, I asked him to remove the items from the tray and place them on the place mat. Next, I asked him to take some polishing cloths, cotton balls and q-tips from the containers holding them and to place them in various objects from the tray. Then, I poured some of the wood polish into a porcelain dish for him to use.

There were two wooden objects that I had recently purchased from the thrift store and made available for him to polish. When he saw the first he said, "I think that is a gazelle. Gazelles are from Africa." This statement immediately brought both vocabulary and geography to this practical life work. It was wonderful to hear his words.

He carefully used a q-tip to apply wood polish to the narrow areas of the wooden gazelle. Next he used a cotton ball to apply polish to the entire figure.

Lastly, he used a cloth to polish the wood.

He commented, "The wood is much darker and it looks more like a real gazelle now." I smiled at him and simply agreed.

I carefully removed the gazelle from the paper place mat and moved it towards the back of the table. I then showed him the small, wooden cat. "I think that is a Siamese cat. I never had a cat. But my friend had a cat that they called JD." He had just distinguished a particular type of cat from just any cat and given the name of that type of cat. Next, he associated the cat to a personal memory. He used the materials in the same order as he had with the gazelle. He was careful with his movements and was very focused on the work that he was doing.

When he finished polishing the cat, he admired his work and then said he was done. He is very direct about when he feels he has completed something and wants to move on. Exercises were going on in the other room and someone had called out his name asking if he were going to come and join them. Exercises are good for him and so off he went. I said I would make sure that all of the materials were returned to the shelf and did so.


I have one last thing to write about today and that is that there is a growing curiosity from other seniors about the Montessori materials on the shelves. Today, for the second time, a senior who has not used any of the practical life materials, asked to look at the boxes and to see what was inside them. She commented on how beautiful all of the objects were. She especially liked the little pitcher I had put on the leaf washing tray. I feel a momentum growing for all of the Montessori materials that is independent of me. The seniors are starting to ask, "What's that and how do you use it? May I use it too?"

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Creative Writing with the Elderly


It's been awhile since we had creative writing as an activity at the Bridge. We have been very busy with so many things and, well, simply having fun. Having fun is a big part of what happens at the Bridge everyday and it is a very important part. I had a new volunteer signed up to help me, and my amazing assistant, so today we went for it.

Placed on a far end table were several trays covered with cut out magazine pictures I had worked on at home the past few weekends. I had chosen this table as it is near where snack is served. Therefore, when the seniors were on the move towards their seats where the popcorn was waiting, I could interrupt each one of them briefly and ask that they pick out a picture that they were drawn to so as to write about later or to let it simply inspire them to write.

While they ate their snack and other staff was in attendance, I glued the chosen pictures onto large sheets of white paper. Too, I penciled the name of the senior at the bottom of the paper that held the image they had selected. I then arranged dozens of words and sentence fragments taken from Alaska Magazine and a variety of others onto pie trays and cookie sheets. The one senior that this use of those cooking trays would have upset had already left for the day.

When snack was cleared away, I handed each of the seniors their paper with its image glued on. Next, my assistant, our new volunteer, a caregiver that showed up unexpectedly and wanted to help and I walked around the table passing the various trays of words and such to one senior and then another. We collectively invited them to move the words around on the paper until they found the positioning that they liked best.

Soon glue sticks and pencils were being used; the pencils were used to write in words that could not be found on the trays. Too, poetry and prose was blossoming on the pages before me. My new volunteer fit in perfectly. He helped one and then another and then still another with the construction of their pieces.

About 30 minutes later, everyone was saying that their work was done. I gathered up all the supplies and removed them from the table. I asked that all the writing sheets be handed to me and told everyone I was now going to read the poems aloud. This is something that I always do after creative writing work as I truly feel that it is significant for each participant to hear their words read aloud and that it is important that each person's piece be heard by the collective group. Here are several of the pieces composed today:


Good morning.
We need you to have 
Ever after love
Peace and the power
To find what you seek.


The joy of life
Made of little things
You must remember this:


In the beginning 
Where the Wild
Dare to be A
Work of Art
Your Story
And Freedom


There are so
Many reasons to love
Compassion & 
A Tale of


My paradise
Wise Woman
Good Living


Somewhere, a place for us
Last words
Next stop
We love
Trying too hard
Why not dream...
Searching for paradise


Never underestimate the creative intelligence of an individual with dementia.