Feeling at Home in Nebraska and at Home Instead!

There were two reasons I had been anticipating my trip to Nebraska last week after booking it a couple of months ago! First, Nebraska was a state I’d never been to, and second it would give me the opportunity to spend some quality time with Home Instead’s Gerontologist and Caregiving Advocate Lakelyn Hogan Eichenberger. Lakelyn also happens to be the daughter of the Founders of the company and though she and I sit on the Care Advisory Board for HFC together we didn’t know each other that well. Lakelyn had explained that they wanted an inspiring presentation to recognize their Care Pros for National Caregivers month. Once I said I’d love to do the event Lakelyn asked if I’d be willing to come to Nebraska in person! I said yes before she even finished the question!

Working with Lakelyn planning the event was amazing! The design team polished up my slides, and working with the logistics and legal folks on the requirements for the events was as easy as could be! They handled every logistical detail for me and the day I arrived on Nov 8th Ginny picked me up at the airport and Lakelyn and Molly had dinner with me!

The next day was rehearsal day for the events we needed to record! While rehearsal may sound tedious it was sooo much fun thanks to the crew!! There was Kindra, the digital content guru and Austin and Andrew – two of the best producers I’ve ever worked with! We rehearsed recording tips for Care Pros, and a live event where we discussed the importance of play in caregiving and laughed a lot as we showed a variety of activities! There was also the main event of Care Pros using Humility Hope & Humor as they provide care which we briefly ran through.

I also got a tour of Home Instead Headquarters that included the best lunch spot ever called The Kitchen Table right inside the building!! Founder Paul Hogan had envisioned a lunch place where employees could sit and chat over great food just like at a family kitchen table!! I absolutely LOVED the chef, the food and the folks I chatted with over lunch! What an amazing experience!

After rehearsal there was still plenty of daylight left so I ventured off to the amazing and innovative Gene Leahy Mall, which is a park for kids, adults and dogs that has slides, things to climb and swing on, lay in, sit in and walk over!! It also had a sculpture garden, water throughout the mall, hammocks and fire pits! An interactive wall also changed graphics as people walked by!

The next day was the real event where the live activity session, and the recorded Humility, Hope and Humor presentation and short video clips were filmed! The sessions were awesome and Lakelyn and I had a blast doing show and tell with the activities! She even built a bridge as part of a very short LEGO Serious Play demo!

Home Instead was a place where I absolutely felt at home! From the receptionists in the lobby to the people we passed in the hallways, I felt as if everyone cared about me and wanted me to enjoy my time at their workplace and their city! I really didn’t want to leave!!

After a long but very invigorating day of filming Lakelyn took me to the house where her parents started Home Instead with her grandma and I was so grateful to see where it all began!!

After three days of travel and work it was time for more fun!! I was lucky enough to meet in person Todd Stubbendieck, the Nebraska State Director for AARP who I had done a virtual LEGO Serious Play event this summer and he came by the hotel to have coffee with me!! What a great guy he is and he even lived in DC for more than 20 years and worked in the Obama Administration!

Even though the temperature had dropped 30 degrees from the time I arrived on Tuesday, I was out and about and enjoyed the train museum called the Durham! I LOVED my time there and spent several hours including having a Diet Coke float at the old soda fountain! There were so many places to sit and relax that I even had two Zoom calls there about upcoming events where I could be alone and hold a professional meeting! That was so cool and I went right back to exploring when the calls were over!

I had the glorious opportunity on Saturday to meet in person Jessica Parrott, one of the other co-moderators of the UsAgainstAlz Facebook Support Group!! She lives about an hour from Omaha and suggested we go to their world famous Zoo, one of the top three in the entire US!! It was easy to see why they were top-rated because they had caves, a desert, a rainforest, an aquarium and of course the traditional zoo animals!! We got there when they opened and we’re almost there until closing!! It was incredible to meet and really get to know this amazing mom of two girls and former caregiver to her mom and grandma over a long lunch overlooking the rainforest! I could spend days with her and never grow tired.

On Sunday I spent the day reflecting on everything I had experienced and accomplished in my first five days in Omaha so I just chilled out in the gorgeous hotel I was staying in that had everything I needed to be perfectly happy!!

My last activity in Nebraska was to cross over the pedestrian bridge that allowed walkers to walk over the Missouri River between Nebraska and Iowa!! It was freezing cold so I walked fast and it was awesome!! I was so sad to leave on Monday and I think I left a little bit of myself in Nebraska!! Everything I saw and did and the people I met in person confirmed for me that even with all the hate going on in the world today there are some amazing people out there who are welcoming and loving and make you feel at home! Thank you Omaha and Home Instead! I can’t wait to visit again!

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Feeling at Home in Nebraska and at Home Instead!

There were two reasons I had been anticipating my trip to Nebraska last week after booking it a couple of months ago! First, Nebraska was a state I’d never been to, and second it would give me the opportunity to spend some quality time with Home Instead’s Gerontologist and Caregiving Advocate Lakelyn Hogan Eichenberger. Lakelyn also happens to be the daughter of the Founders of the company and though she and I sit on the Care Advisory Board for HFC together we didn’t know each other that well. Lakelyn had explained that they wanted an inspiring presentation to recognize their Care Pros for National Caregivers month. Once I said I’d love to do the event Lakelyn asked if I’d be willing to come to Nebraska in person! I said yes before she even finished the question!

Working with Lakelyn planning the event was amazing! The design team polished up my slides, and working with the logistics and legal folks on the requirements for the events was as easy as could be! They handled every logistical detail for me and the day I arrived on Nov 8th Ginny picked me up at the airport and Lakelyn and Molly had dinner with me!

The next day was rehearsal day for the events we needed to record! While rehearsal may sound tedious it was sooo much fun thanks to the crew!! There was Kindra, the digital content guru and Austin and Andrew – two of the best producers I’ve ever worked with! We rehearsed recording tips for Care Pros, and a live event where we discussed the importance of play in caregiving and laughed a lot as we showed a variety of activities! There was also the main event of Care Pros using Humility Hope & Humor as they provide care which we briefly ran through.

I also got a tour of Home Instead Headquarters that included the best lunch spot ever called The Kitchen Table right inside the building!! Founder Paul Hogan had envisioned a lunch place where employees could sit and chat over great food just like at a family kitchen table!! I absolutely LOVED the chef, the food and the folks I chatted with over lunch! What an amazing experience!

After rehearsal there was still plenty of daylight left so I ventured off to the amazing and innovative Gene Leahy Mall, which is a park for kids, adults and dogs that has slides, things to climb and swing on, lay in, sit in and walk over!! It also had a sculpture garden, water throughout the mall, hammocks and fire pits! An interactive wall also changed graphics as people walked by!

The next day was the real event where the live activity session, and the recorded Humility, Hope and Humor presentation and short video clips were filmed! The sessions were awesome and Lakelyn and I had a blast doing show and tell with the activities! She even built a bridge as part of a very short LEGO Serious Play demo!

Home Instead was a place where I absolutely felt at home! From the receptionists in the lobby to the people we passed in the hallways, I felt as if everyone cared about me and wanted me to enjoy my time at their workplace and their city! I really didn’t want to leave!!

After a long but very invigorating day of filming Lakelyn took me to the house where her parents started Home Instead with her grandma and I was so grateful to see where it all began!!

After three days of travel and work it was time for more fun!! I was lucky enough to meet in person Todd Stubbendieck, the Nebraska State Director for AARP who I had done a virtual LEGO Serious Play event this summer and he came by the hotel to have coffee with me!! What a great guy he is and he even lived in DC for more than 20 years and worked in the Obama Administration!

Even though the temperature had dropped 30 degrees from the time I arrived on Tuesday, I was out and about and enjoyed the train museum called the Durham! I LOVED my time there and spent several hours including having a Diet Coke float at the old soda fountain! There were so many places to sit and relax that I even had two Zoom calls there about upcoming events where I could be alone and hold a professional meeting! That was so cool and I went right back to exploring when the calls were over!

I had the glorious opportunity on Saturday to meet in person Jessica Parrott, one of the other co-moderators of the UsAgainstAlz Facebook Support Group!! She lives about an hour from Omaha and suggested we go to their world famous Zoo, one of the top three in the entire US!! It was easy to see why they were top-rated because they had caves, a desert, a rainforest, an aquarium and of course the traditional zoo animals!! We got there when they opened and we’re almost there until closing!! It was incredible to meet and really get to know this amazing mom of two girls and former caregiver to her mom and grandma over a long lunch overlooking the rainforest! I could spend days with her and never grow tired.

On Sunday I spent the day reflecting on everything I had experienced and accomplished in my first five days in Omaha so I just chilled out in the gorgeous hotel I was staying in that had everything I needed to be perfectly happy!!

My last activity in Nebraska was to cross over the pedestrian bridge that allowed walkers to walk over the Missouri River between Nebraska and Iowa!! It was freezing cold so I walked fast and it was awesome!! I was so sad to leave on Monday and I think I left a little bit of myself in Nebraska!! Everything I saw and did and the people I met in person confirmed for me that even with all the hate going on in the world today there are some amazing people out there who are welcoming and loving and make you feel at home! Thank you Omaha and Home Instead! I can’t wait to visit again!

You Don’t Always Need a Plan, Just Go See It!!

After 20 days on the road in my RV for most of September. I didn’t think that there’d be much excitement in October but I was totally wrong. I had been looking forward to spending a couple of days in NYC with Anat Shabi, another LEGO Serious Play facilitator from London who I was thrilled to be meeting in person. Throughout Covid Anat had hosted Zoom Happy Hour calls on Fridays to help us to improve our facilitation skills while everything was shut down. Those sessions helped me to become the facilitator I am today. I’m so grateful for Anat and would never have missed this chance to meet and spend time with her! We didn’t have many plans for our time together, though I had snagged us tickets to MJ the Musical thanks to a connection with a young woman I’ve known since she was a kid who has a starring role in the show. I had thought that we would also get minifigures from the 5th Avenue LEGO store, but it’s the one thing we DIDN’T do!

I knew it was going to be a great weekend when on Thursday I reached out to my friend Kristen who had recently relocated to NY from DC where we went to church together, and asked if she had time to meet me on Friday for coffee or lunch. We opted for lunch and went on a long walk through Central Park, AND had a salad at Tavern on the Green!! How does THAT just happen that we walk in without reservations and got to sit in the garden??? That was sooooo much fun!!

Anat arrived late in the afternoon and we met for a walk and dinner as she allowed the jet lag to wear off! The next morning right before 6am I got a text from Anat that asked, “are you up for going to Roosevelt Island for the sunrise?” YES let’s go see it, I replied and off we went. I knew the city had a Tram but I’d certainly hadn’t been on it. We walked to the subway, got on the tram and saw the city from an incredible vantage point! Roosevelt Island was incredible! We walked to a lighthouse, a sanctuary, and then learned about Theodore Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms in a gorgeous park. We took incredible photos of the sun and clouds that could be posted in a museum!

As we left the park to head back to the hotel to get ready for Anat’s first Broadway show ever, we saw a ferry station. “Let’s go see how the ferry works” we decided. Just as we were reading the information, we saw the ferry coming and decided to grab tickets and jump on!! The ferry was as awesome as the Tram!! We couldn’t believe our luck! Our luck got even better with MJ the Musical because it was almost beyond words!! Anat said it was like being at a concert, and it absolutely was!! After it was over we waited outside for the stars to come out and took pics with my friend Kamille!! What a JOY it was watching this Julliard grad live into her dreams!

We then walked more in the evening, just to see stuff neither of us had ever seen before! We had a fabulous Mexican dinner and the walked some more!! Who KNEW that we’d walk more that night that I had ever walked since getting my Fitbit years ago – we walked 35,000 steps!!! But it was so much more than the steps, it was what we saw along the steps that was so amazing! After all that I thought on Sunday we’d sleep in a little later, but NOPE thankfully this time we went to the Highline to see the sunrise!

It’s a series of connected parks and walkways that were on old railroad tracks. I had no previous idea what the Highline was but was THRILLED that we went!! It did NOT disappoint!! WOW!! We LOVED it and walked and walked in the beautiful weather! As we got near Chelsea, I looked across the city and saw what looked to me like a dozen or so champagne glasses. I said “let’s go see” and we did!! It was MINDBLOWING!! It was a brand new park that opened in June! There were gorgeous outdoor seating for concerts, meditation areas, a musical type of playground, and views of the city that were indescribable! It was one of the greatest unplanned discoveries of my life!

I had to catch the train at 1pm on Sunday to Philadelphia but even so we still walked 20,000 steps that morning and saw things in nature that day that many people might miss, just because they weren’t sure what it was! When I got to Philadelphia, I met up with Mary, another speaker on dementia and caregiving who I had met in person once before. We were both speaking on Monday at a Caregiving Conference and were able to go see the Liberty Bell together and have a bite to eat before the festivities began! Still more unplanned greatness just because we decided to “go see something”. I was feeling so great because I walked or Ubered to everywhere I needed to be so I was stress-less.

I made some amazing connections during the conference and loved my time with two speakers Mary and Heather from The Speaker Lab! We all got new photos done from a professional photographer which were awesome!

I left the conference right after my session because I needed to be at a reception in DC by 7pm that was connected to Women and Alzheimer’s: The Empowerment Forum! I thoroughly enjoyed being at the rooftop reception and meeting people from pharmaceutical organizations who were sponsors of the Forum that I would never have met otherwise! The Forum itself was amazing and I had stayed in a hotel downtown instead of going home so I could totally enjoy myself! Letting other people drive you around, or walking to where you need to be is the best thing ever!

At the end of the Forum on Tuesday I finally went home and quickly got set up to give my presentation on Engaging Activities for Every Alzheimer’s Stage for Health Care Aides with SEIU Maryland! I’ve really love my connection with them because they are so eager to learn and it’s my first time providing training for Union personnel.

When I went to bed last night, I thought to myself, I am usually a very organized and planned person, YET for five days in a row I saw things I likely never would have seen even if we had planned some of it simply because we walked to see stuff even if we had no idea what we were in for!! What an exhilarating feeling it was and gave new meaning to the phrase “go with the flow”!!!

LEGO Bricks and Many Blessings Converge at a Clergy Conference!

I’ve often been asked HOW I became such great friends with quite a few Episcopal priests over the last couple of decades. My answer has always been that these are relationships that were meant to be and this week I added a few more of them to my list of friends! Spending two and a half days this week with a room full of clergy turned out to be one of the greatest Blessings of my life. When my dear friend / sister / retired priest Gayle Fisher Stewart told me several months ago that we’d been contracted to lead the Bishop and Clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri for their clergy conference using LEGO Serious Play, I was simultaneously terrified and thrilled! I was Terrified because it would be the first time I’d ever worked with a Bishop and group of Clergy and I needed to make some immediate changes to my schedule, and I was Thrilled because we’d be using LEGO bricks and it would be the first time I’d be officially working with Gayle! The theme of the conference was Building the Answers – Rest, Relationships and Renewal and we immediately got to work planning the event. I rearranged my schedule and made arrangements to drive my RV to St. Louis in order to attend my first RVing Women Convention being held in Iowa right after the clergy conference ended.

I met Gayle in St. Louis on September 12th and we were able to take an awesome trip to the St. Louis Arch National Park! Riding in the tram to the top of the Arch was the perfect journey for us before we headed to the Pallottine Retreat and Conference Center. We arrived at the site and learned from the staff that all three boxes of LEGO bricks that we shipped in advance to St. Louis had been damaged in transit and upon closer examination revealed that some pieces of LEGO had actually fallen out of the boxes! As if God personally intervened in this situation, when we counted everything we had just enough packets of LEGO bricks, connectors and plates for the event! Amen!!

I knew how great an event this was going to be as soon as it was announced that we’d be starting the first session a few minutes late because Bishop Deon Johnson was taking his Mom home from an appointment! I thought to myself, “he’s a Caregiver”, and immediately loved him before I even met him!!

Gayle got the conference started in a truly lively way by having the entire group stand and dance the Cha Cha Slide! One Rector arrived a few minutes late to see the entire room of his colleagues dancing and after initially looking startled he put his things down and danced the last minute of the song with everyone else! This was a group of really special people who were engaged from the word Go!

In her presentations Gayle shared with the group 1) the different types of REST and that we need to ensure that we make time for all of them, 2) the importance of determining if RELATIONSHIPS in our lives need to be formed, renewed, strengthened or even discontinued AND 3) the value and importance of truth-telling.

The lessons that Gayle shared were intertwined with 6 LEGO building sessions. After I explained what LEGO Serious Play is and how it works, the entire group was given sealed packets containing the same 6 LEGO brick pieces and instructed to make a DUCK with those pieces without conferring with their colleagues. One of the most powerful lessons of the conference occurred when everyone saw how different all of the ducks were!! We took a group photo with the ducks and left them on display for the entire conference.

The duck exercise demonstrates how we may all understand the assignment but how we process and execute it can be vastly different because we are all different!

For the majority of the builds, the group was divided into “years” 1, 2 and 3 as outlined in their strategic plan and the building questions were created from the nine mission areas outlined in the plan. Each Year’s group were given three mission areas to build.

The last morning’s assignment was to create a LANDSCAPE of the Diocese. It was incredible to watch as the groups were tasked with reviewing all the builds they had created the previous day and to put the most important builds on two new tables and make “connections and relationships” that will help make those mission area builds a reality for the Diocese of Missouri. Watching the entire group of more than 40 clergy discuss, move, add and takeaway pieces and parts from the Diocese Landscape was truly exciting and energizing!! The group was fully engaged and there was teamwork, laughter, discussion, lots of truth telling and pure JOY!! Throughout the conference Gayle helped to photograph the incredible LEGO builds and added much insight from her clergy experiences to the reflections that occurred after each round of building!

The only sad part for me was that the conference had to end! There was a JOYFUL Eucharist full of love and music to send everyone home and lots of LEGO models and pieces went home with some very happy clergy too!! I gave Bishop Deon extra ducks and a box of LEGO bricks for his son and he plans to do lots of building with him!

We received many accolades about the sessions and how powerful the builds were. This conference made me realize that though this group was vastly different from the family and professional caregivers or those with dementia that I usually work with, all of these clergy are caring for entire congregations and that makes them very important caregivers too!! And just like everyone else I have used my kits with, the favorite piece in the kit during this conference was the LEGO heart!! When I got to my RV JOY to head to Iowa, someone had even left one of the pink LEGO hearts stuck in my door! What a wonderful way to affirm what I already felt, that Gayle and I had successfully delivered a very thought-provoking conference that was full of laughter, listening and love!

August Made All of My Wishes Come True!

I keep pinching myself to see if all the things that happened this month really happened!! I started the month in San Diego as part of a panel at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference where we discussed a LEGO Serious Play session I facilitated where we built our ideas on how a multidisciplinary team can eliminate barriers to Alzheimer’s care. That panel was a once in a lifetime experience for me! Then in the middle of the month I facilitated another LEGO Serious Play session for a different panel on the same Alzheimer’s Care topic, this time for an event that will be held in Washington, D.C in mid-September!

I was thrilled to do an in-person event for Arden Courts in Delaware, to hang out with Babbie who I hadn’t seen since a year before Covid arrived! We had a great time as I presented Engaging Activities for Every Alzheimer’s Stage, which was very well received by all the folks in attendance!

Then it was FINALLY time to head to Florida with the kids for the four-time Covid-cancelled Disney Cruise on their newest ship The Wish!! The almost three years of waiting for this cruise was more than worth it and the ship was simply spectacular in every way!! The photos of the ship, the excursions, the food and entertainment simply don’t do it justice! Me and the kids had a blast, even though I started the cruise in tears because I was missing Tim on this trip which he would have loved more than any of us since he was such a big kid at heart! We laughed so much on this trip as we watched shows on the ship, basked in the sun, floated on the water, pet dolphins and ate a LOT!! I totally understand now why some adults go on Disney cruises without any kids, because the adults-only areas are simply unbelievable both in decor and ambiance. I’m already planning for the next Disney Cruise because it was simply the most fun event on the planet! As a way to “relax” after the cruise, we spent a night at a Disney Resort and a day at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom!! Such a Fantastic time full of incredible memories!

After a very short 16 hours at home, I boarded a flight to St. Croix where I spent four awesome days with members of the Virgin Islands Family Caregiver Support Program! I was the speaker on Friday night and Saturday morning, BUT the true highlights for me were just hanging out with the awesome caregivers, some of whom I first met in 2016 just six weeks after Tim died. I wrote a blog about that experience called The Caregivers Cared for Me! This weekend too, though no one had died, I also felt cared for by these caregivers, because they listened intently and participated in both my presentations, AND they allowed themselves to be vulnerable enough with me to share their deeply personal stories about their caregiver roles! I had one on one time with many of them as we walked together, played in the water, and sat together before or after sessions or shared a meal. We laughed, we cried, we worked out, we played games, we danced, we hugged, we shared and we ate like there was no tomorrow. The weekend was all about taking a respite from caregiving – YET we certainly cared for each other. On Sunday morning, people shared what they loved about the weekend, and where they were on their caregiving journey. Some sang, some read poems, almost all thanked God for the caregiver’s group and it’s wonderful staff!! As people spoke, if they shed a few tears someone quickly went up to the podium with them to lend support. These are some of the most caring and grateful individuals I’ve ever met and my time with them is always Glorious! I took video of the testimonies of many of those who spoke on Sunday, which I’ll be watching on any days I’m feeling down!

I’ve been so busy today planning for a September that will be even more busy than August was but I couldn’t let the last day go by without writing about all my wishes coming true this month! You’ll have to wait until my September post to read all about everything that will be happening next month but I know it will be fun and will cover even more of my wishes coming true!! Doing a Disney cruise with my granddaughter was a huge Wish of mine, and I have always Wished for additional opportunities to see the Virgin Island Caregivers again – getting both those things at almost the same time was Incredible! My advice to us all is – Keep Wishing, you never know what will happen!

The Perfect Match and a Perfect Team for Overcoming Alzheimer’s Care Barriers!

Six months ago prior to February 14th, 2022 the only thing I was familiar with about the pharmaceutical company Genentech was their tv commercials for various medicines. I had no idea that a connection made on that day would change the lives of everyone involved in an absolutely perfect way. The first email I received from Jenee Williams, the Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Advocacy Relations team for Genentech appeared in my inbox at 11am on Valentine’s Day. She introduced herself, expressed interest in my book and my work with LEGO bricks and requested an introductory Zoom meeting! There was something so warm about her email that I responded right away and we immediately set our first meeting for February 22nd. Before our initial meeting Jenee attended the LEGOs YES LEGOs workshop I delivered for Hilarity for Charity’s (HFC) CareCon on February 18th which would have been Mom’s 93rd birthday. Jenee didn’t have LEGO bricks that day but she LOVED it, enjoying my energy during my presentation on how LEGO Serious Play (LSP) sessions bring joy and hope to those with dementia and their care partners!

Our first meeting felt like Jenee and I had known each other for years! We talked about how LSP inspires teams and we began discussing dates for me to present LSP for her team! By then Jenee was soooo excited about me and LSP that she was sharing our story with other groups within Genentech! She was becoming a walking Loretta Veney Inspires Advertising Agent and I was thrilled!

My Genentech connections expanded on April 22nd when Jenee introduced me via Zoom to Ruchir Shah, the Principal Medical Science Director for Alzheimer’s Disease and Simon Eldred, the Marketing Director for Alzheimer’s Disease, who proposed a really cool idea for a Genentech Symposium session that was going to be held in San Diego in August at the Alzheimer’s Disease International Conference (AAIC), the largest Alzheimer’s Conference in the world. The plan was to bring together a multidisciplinary team made up of a neurologist, a nurse practitioner, an advocacy partner, a person with dementia, and me – the care partner to be part of a panel to discuss overcoming barriers to Alzheimer’s care through multidisciplinary teams. That title and subject matter may not sound very exciting, BUT the plan also included showing LEGO models representing ways to overcome barriers to Alzheimer’s care built by the team in an LEGO Serious Play event facilitated by me prior to the conference. During that introductory meeting, you could feel the excitement about how innovative this session could be with the inclusion of the LEGO models.

On May 5th I held the first LSP session for Jenee and the Alzheimer’s Disease team, which Simon and Ruchir also attended to get a feel for how the AAIC pre-event session would work! Everyone was so excited after the May 5th LSP session that they couldn’t wait until the AAIC conference pre-event Kickoff meeting scheduled for the next day.

As the Symposium Kickoff meeting began we could all truly feel the energy through the Zoom screen!! After three more planning meetings, the pre-event building session occurred on May 27th and it was a BLAST! All five participants had received a Lightbox (a box with a light to photograph the LEGO models we made), an IPhone to record our stories of what our LEGO models meant, and a huge ring light to ensure all participants had excellent lighting so all models looked the same in the photos and videos for the Symposium event. Once all of our equipment was confirmed to be set up correctly, I facilitated a regular LSP session using the questions about multidisciplinary teams that Genentech provided. It was such an inspiring and emotional session and we all felt the August live panel in San Diego would be a tremendous success!!

In July I also had the privilege of facilitating two additional LSP sessions, for Genentech’s Alzheimer’s Disease Marketing group and Jenee’s Patient Advocacy Group (PAR)! Prior to the PAR event I met Jenee in person for the first time and we spent almost 6 hours together in a LEGO store in Maryland building 20 individual LEGO minifigures for each of her team members with their names on them! What an incredible bonding time that was for us and to say that her team loved their minifigures is an understatement!!!

The PAR team with their personalized minifigures!

As July neared its end, I was getting more excited and nervous about the Symposium event and it was soooo hard to keep the secret that LEGO bricks were going to be featured in our panel event! I flew to San Diego on Saturday the 30th and spent the afternoon with my friends Bryan and Becca, a former coworker and his awesome wife who always come to meet me whenever I’m in California! On Sunday the 31st, I spent the day walking and enjoying San Diego, AND visiting the exhibit hall of AAIC!! I learned more than I can write from the different exhibits and research posters and I connected with social media connections I’d never met in person! The Genentech booth was incredibly popular, not only because of the great information they were sharing, but also because of the coffee they were serving that had a PHOTO of YOUR CHOOSING in the coffee! Does it get any better than that??? I was so proud to be part of their team! Jenee and I had a fabulous dinner and dessert in the Gaslamp Quarter and it was the perfect end to an amazing day!

On the day of the Symposium, Jenee and I walked more than 4 miles around the San Diego bay which really got our energy flowing! BUT when our panel rehearsal began I was really feeling the magnitude of being at a scientific conference and was drawing a blank on what I needed to say in spite of the fact that there was a script on large screens below the stage. After stumbling my way through my words for about 15 minutes, I left the stage to grab my handwritten notes and it was smooth sailing after that. In the 90 minutes between rehearsal and the start of the luncheon we made some quick changes to the script and the slides and I then felt ready to go! The ballroom was full of attendees and our panel was incredible – we were authentic, factual, fun, and had lots of energy as we talked about our individual perspectives of the barriers through our LEGO models! The audience enjoyed their lunches and were engaged in our presentation from beginning to end! At the end, we received a rousing applause and quite a few audience members gave us a standing ovation! Later in the evening we received information on the session evaluations that were submitted. The common themes were that the session was “inspiring”, “incredible”, “amazing”, “creative and unique”, “multidisciplinary” and “inclusive”. Genentech’s leadership thanked the panel members for taking the “creative leap of faith” to bring the LEGO model idea to fruition and for “inspiring the entire AAIC conference”. I wrote in my social media posts that it was a day I will never forget and I’m writing this blog post to ensure that I don’t forget! I could never in my wildest dreams imagine that my LEGO bricks would ever end up on any stage at AAIC, but it just goes to show you that anything is possible if you believe in it!

The Power of Re-Assuring, Re-Building and Re-Linking!

This last eight days has been a whirlwind of emotional highs and lows. And on this one year anniversary of my official retirement from my 40 year security career I am amazed by the incredible opportunities I’ve been given in my post retirement career of bringing joy and hope to caregivers!

Over the last four years I’ve worked with the Baltimore Faith-Based Commission for Behavioral Health and I’ve loved it because it focuses on preserving the physical and mental health of its clients. On June 23rd I covered an interesting topic to reassure participants that diseases that can mimic Alzheimer’s disease may actually be something else! I sure do wish Mom had one of those other diseases instead of dementia, but unfortunately that was not our journey! I’m glad that I could reassure others that forgetting where they left their keys doesn’t mean that they have Alzheimer’s disease!

The very next day on the 24th I offered part II of my Life After Caregiving Exploration! Part II allowed us to “rebuild” ourselves with LEGO bricks now that our caregiver journeys have ended. It was one of the most profound things I’ve done in a long time. In the first build a woman said she was only taking “baby steps” since her Mom died a few months ago, BUT by the third build she was ready “climb a mountain”! The head of Hopkins Geriatrics emailed me on Sat morning to say how impactful the session was even 24 hours later. Having all of us build who we are today after caregiving was life changing for us! It was so successful that we’ve decided to offer my two-part Life After Caregiving class each quarter for former Johns Hopkins caregivers!

The 27th was “Re-linking” day! Charles De Vilmorin the CEO of the awesome company called Linked Senior reached out to me to ask if as a “surprise” for his team I would do a fun teambuilding session of LEGO Serious Play! Of course I said YES and it was incredible!! I had them build what they loved most about working for Linked Senior and their builds were so amazing the CEO was at a loss for words!! It was a powerful testimony on his leadership and their mission! Because of the company name I named the session ReLinking because I was so proud to be part of the group coming back together after 2.5 years apart due to Covid! Several of them had not met in person until our session!

I had been missing Mom so much since the 21st which was my first The Longest Day Alzheimer’s Association fundraiser without her! I built 50 LEGO models during the almost 16 hours of daylight but it felt different and lonely this year without Mom! But I kept going! Yesterday on the 29th I delivered a LEGO Serious Play session for Dementia Friendly America Baltimore County and it was called Living Creatively with Dementia! There were caregivers along with their care partners participating! The session had a very interesting start as the person who introduced me started by showing the news video clip of me and Mom for a May LEGO Serious Play event which I had actually never seen!

Loretta Veney and LEGO Play – in the news: https://www.wmar2news.com/goodtoknow/lego-serious-play-workshops-provides-cognitive-emotional-stimulation-for-people-with-dementia

Seeing the video shocked me and I immediately became emotional! Thankfully I was able to take a deep breath, stop my tears and recover! I could hear Mom’s voice saying “get it together and honor the commitments you make!” I received an apology that the video was shown without giving me a heads up first. I led the session with my usual joy and was proud that I didn’t let my emotions get the best of me!! The participants loved the session and I was so happy to see participants building with their partners!! It was glorious

I took most of today off and spent it with a friend at the Smithsonian exhibit on Futures!! It was insightful and inspiring and gave me lots of ideas for my Future of Re-Assuring, Re-Building and Re-Linking others for years to come!!

May 2022’s Life-Changing Connections!

May is typically known for flowers after lots of April Showers, but for me May of 2022 has been filled with Connections that already have or will in the future change my life! It started from the very first day of the month when I laced up my shoes once again for an MS Walk in Washington, DC, which I hadn’t been able to do for 10 years given my work for my Mom and her Alzheimer’s Disease! But now that Mom is no longer with us, it was very important this year for me to also return to and reconnect with the disease that took my sister Renee in 2011. I connected with Christina Taranto from the MS Society on LinkedIn and the rest was history! Even though the walk has changed over the years it sure felt great to be back! The walk was more emotional for me than I thought it would be, but it got the month off to an incredible start!

On May 2nd, I had dinner with Louise Walsh a dear friend from St. Mark’s who was on a team of people who selected guest preachers to fill in on the Sundays that our Rector Michele is on Sabbatical, and I was one of the lucky people invited to preach. Louise and I not only had a fabulous dinner, we also discussed the theme of my upcoming sermon and she encouraged me to be as honest and forthright as I wanted to be. I opened the sermon series on May 8th, my first Mother’s Day without Mom and people said it was a powerful sermon! Louise came to all three of the services that day to hear me preach and I formed a connection with people I’d seen at church for years but had never actually had a long conversation with prior to that day.

May 5th was by far the most life-changing event of the month. I had met Jenee Williams, Genentech’s Director of Patient Advocacy Relations for Alzheimer’s Disease on Mom’s birthday Feb 18th at HFC’s CareCon event where I’d done a short LEGO Serious Play (LSP) session. She loved the “taster session” so much she told everyone she worked with at Genentech about it and on May 5th I did a 90 minute LSP session with Jenee and her team. Two other Genentech employees, Simon and Ruchir, also attended that session and their attendance was the beginning of what we all believe will be an incredibly powerful relationship that could bring LSP to the world of Alzheimer’s Disease in a huge way. Several other groups at Genentech are also looking at dates for LSP events for their respective groups.

The very next day on May 6th I offered the first session of my newest presentation “Who Am I Now – Life After Caregiving”, for my beloved partners at Johns Hopkins Medicine! I loved how the session went, and with some minor additions I hope it will help many current and former caregivers as they prepare for life after caregiving. Part 2 of the session will be held at the end of June to follow-up on where people are after the first session!

On May 10th I delivered the LSP kits for the Greater Maryland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to their new offices in Towson, Maryland. I met briefly with Program Manager Kristi Mroz, to discuss their upcoming LSP event on May 31st and got a tour of the office! I was interviewed by two Baltimore TV stations for the Alzheimer’s Association event and the newscasts aired during the week of May 18th and helped generate additional interest for the session!

I had known Nicole Schmid for several years when she worked for Artis Senior Living, and her current employer Memorial White Rose Home Health and Hospice in York PA was a sponsor of the Making a Difference in Dementia Conference where I spoke on May 13th. I had spoken virtually for the event last year, but they wanted me to come back in-person this year. I drove up the night before, but instead of staying in a hotel as we had previously discussed, Nicole offered me the use a basement apartment in her home and I accepted!! Meeting Nicole’s husband and two kids was one of the highlights of the month for sure and they treated me like royalty, including a taking me out for a delicious dinner and leaving chocolates on my bed pillow! The special treatment had me full of energy and ready to go for my presentation which went amazingly well! I also met some really talented people representing organizations throughout York during the event and also had a very successful book signing event!

The middle of the month was all about connecting with new people and places and relaxation and restoration! I flew for the first time ever to Portland, Oregon on May 15th to meet in person with a LinkedIn connection who has also worked with seniors and those with dementia with LEGO bricks! People were shocked, not only that I would agree to meet and hang out with someone I’d never met in person, but that I also agreed to spend the night with her. We had met several times on Zoom and it felt like we had known each other forever. So not only did Patty Sherin drive more than 2 hours to pick me up from the airport, she took me to more than a dozen places in ten hours where we walked, hiked, ate and drank through rain, clouds, sun, and snow! The adventure was Absolutely Sensational!!

The next day after we hiked to the Big Tree in La Pine, Patty drove me two hours to Eugene to have lunch with and hand me off to my cousin Willette before we would drive two hours to her house and I’d spend the next week with my family! During our family time together, our first since 2017, we hiked to waterfalls, spent time in downtown Portland and smaller towns, ate at food truck parks, and stayed two nights on the Oregon Coast which is indescribably beautiful!

We explored several beaches and towns, walked to lighthouses, and stopped at many breathtaking viewpoints that were each dazzling from their vantage points! The trip ended with a walk through a gorgeous Japanese Garden and dinner and wine tasting at an African-American owned Winery. I returned to Maryland on May 23rd renewed, restored and ready for more great connections!

The end of the month did not disappoint! Thanks to an introduction from the one and only Steve Gurney, founder of the Positive Aging Sourcebook I met on May 26th with Charles De Vilmorin, founder of Linked Senior, which supports person-centered care through life enrichment and dementia engagement without drug therapy! To say that Charles and I hit if off in our first Zoom meeting would be an understatement. We will be meeting again in the first week of June to make some plans for the future!! My awesome friend the Networking Queen Melissa Koppal, also introduced me to two new people I’ll be meeting with in the coming weeks who work in senior living / memory care! I swear I think Melissa and Steve know everyone on the planet!!

The Business Highlight of the month occurred on May 27th as I facilitated a recorded 2 hour LEGO Serious Play session as part 1 for an event that will conclude at a Live session in CA in early August. Stay tuned for more details for this event that will likely be one of the most memorable of my LEGO Serious Play facilitation career thus far!

There was also lots of LEGO Building this month as we are in the last few weeks before The Longest Day event on June 21st where I’ll be displaying and building LEGO models for the Alzheimer’s Association largest fundraiser of the year. I can’t close without thanking my sisters from other Mothers – Kris Lopez and Gayle Fisher Stewart who have helped me tremendously by preparing Inspiration Kits for LSP sessions and completing proposals for what we hope will be a variety of new LSP work!

Now that we’ve come to the last day of the month of May, I look back in total AWE at the dozens of people I met or reconnected with who have helped to inspire me and push me to new heights for this work I was born to do!! I give thanks for all that I accomplished this month that has laid the groundwork for what I will be able to do in the future!

This morning’s LEGO Serious Play Building Hope and Health event for the Greater Maryland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association was excellent!! The models built and shared by participants were full of love, care, hope and plans for achieving great health for the remainder of 2022. As soon as that session was over, I headed to Lancaster, PA for six nights with my RVing Women sisters!! Having dinner with them this evening and sitting by the fire afterwards was the best possible way to say goodbye to a fabulous month!

Thank you May of 2022 for restoring and renewing me and for allowing me to recharge and even reinvent the legacy that Mom and I started! The future is extremely bright and with help from all the amazing people who love and support me, as it says on my website – I’ve Got This!

Jumping for JOY and Holding Each Other Up!

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely read many of my blogs about my adventures with the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of RVing Women – but this one was even more special than usual. This weekend was our first rally of the season and we were all so excited to be there and reconnect! I’ve LOVED all of the rallies I’ve been to with these women but there was a richness and an even deeper love and support to this one which I didn’t even know was possible. Maybe it was finally being unmasked and actually being able to hug again!! People seemed to smile more and hold on to each other longer too! For the first time I was able to arrive on a Thursday instead of Friday and that was more uplifting and joyful for me than I can actually explain.

Unfortunately two members who had planned to attend had medical emergencies arise and another had a family member death and all had to cancel. Our awesome leader had sympathy and get-well cards for them which we all added notes to and signed. We really missed their presence and carried them with us in spirit throughout the weekend.

In March a woman reached out to me via Facebook Messenger to say she had joined the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of RVing Women after being inspired by a video of me sharing my JOY about being an RVing Women member and my gratitude for how the group had helped me through the loss of my husband. She lost her husband in 2020 and was encouraged that she could still travel and camp even without her husband. We exchanged a few messages prior to the rally and we were so looking forward to meeting in person. Around 5pm Friday night she and her 18 year old daughter arrived at the campground and received the exact welcome I had described to her. Everyone showed up to help her put up something many of us had never seen, a tent attached to an SUV. You just need to trust me that it was one of the most amazing evenings ever!! There are hysterical video clips and photos of everyone working together to get her set up!! We laughed the entire time and we all cheered when the mission was finally accomplished!! Our brand new RVing Sister was overwhelmed by how welcomed she was and we all shared in that joy!

On Saturday morning the real fun began!! There were lots of games of corn hole, shuffleboard AND a brand new RVing Women sport – Pillow Jumping (imagine a huge trampoline)!! Those of us who participated in the pillow jumping laughed, cried, hugged and fell down A LOT (also while laughing)! I think all of us who were jumping felt energized and inspired by the act of jumping up and down like kids (without any injuries)!! Suddenly the rest of our RVing sisters stopped watching the shuffleboard games and turned their chairs around to watch us crazy folks who were jumping. Everyone took photos and videos and even the campground manager came out to announce that a large group of female adults jumping together was a FIRST!!!

One of my favorite traditions of rally weekends is the Blessing of the new RVs (Rigs). Each new owner gets a certificate commemorating the event and a toast wishing them well on their adventures. During this really cool event on Saturday, one of our sisters learned that she had lost a dear friend who was in hospice. The Blessing event came to a halt and we did a huge group hug. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that much support for a person in the midst a loss. After a few minutes we continued on…. while continuing to support our sister.

Throughout the weekend we learned that several other members also are facing life-changing health issues, and life circumstances – but there we all were, hugging and laughing, offering our support and even crying with our sisters. Sharing JOY while supporting each other’s pain. I felt as if I was on a resilience retreat, which in a sense we were given all of our cancellations and restrictions because of COVID over the last two years. We enjoyed hot dogs and dinners with friends, Bingo and other games while we just got reacquainted with all of our sisters. We even had visits from our sisters who aren’t able to participate in RVing right now but are still part of our family and we were thrilled to see and spend time with them!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t recount an issue that could have ended badly, but worked out to our extreme satisfaction. During my first full day at the campground, I noticed a Confederate flag flying from an RV parked right near the entrance to the campground. That flag was flying close to the campground flag and Maryland state flag which could have led some to believe that all of those flags were property of the campground. Seeing that flag was a problem for me. By the time many of our members noticed the Confederate flag there were five African-American RVing sisters present in the campground. When it was brought to the attention of the campground’s new manager, he immediately spoke to the camper flying the flag and without any complaint that camper removed that flag and replaced it with another. The entire issue was resolved in 15 minutes and our camping shenanigans carried on. I give the campground management, our chapter leadership and all of our members much credit for how they handled the issue with both a sense of calm and professionalism.

I was able to stay at the campground until this morning (Monday) and today I replayed the weekend over and over in my head. Having folks in my rig for coffee, wine and conversation, hanging out in my next door neighbor’s Airstream and getting to know her better, and just giving and receiving so much love that we were all missing since last November. Though some of us are really going through a lot right now – during the weekend we showed that we can jump for JOY right along with Holding each other up!! I hope everyone left feeling as Loved, Supported and Joyful as I did!

Be The Lifeline Someone Needs Today!

Sleep was not my friend last night but I didn’t really understand what the issue was until I got to the airport at 4:30am this morning. Mrs Adams, Mom’s lifelong friend is being buried today and because I’m in Chicago I’m not going to be there. I know she’d be ok that I’m not there because I’m in Chicago to chill, to write, to meet new friends and to visit a LEGO exhibit and I made all these arrangements before she died.…I’m also doing one presentation while I’m here which I hope will be uplifting for those who will be present!!! I give thanks for all the wisdom and joy Mrs Adams brought to my life as my 2nd Mom.

At 5:45 I was all set for a calm boarding experience after sitting in the AA airline lounge having a great cup of coffee but that’s not exactly how it played out. They announced that the flight was overbooked and asked for 2 volunteers to give up their seats. In attempt to help someone else given I had no immediate plans in Chicago I got in line to volunteer. As the gate attendants were attempting to rebook the first two volunteers a young woman who had clearly previously worked for American Airlines ran up to the gate in tears yelling that her dad was in the hospital in Chicago and she HAD TO BE on this flight!! They called her by name and tried to calm her down and shared that the flight was oversold and she’d have to wait til later this morning, but she screamed and cried louder and kept saying they HAD TO let her on!!

I could see that this was quickly escalating to a potential security issue so I slowly walked up behind her and whispered to her that I was also in line to give up my seat and if she waited a second while the agent waited on me she likely could get my seat. She literally cried louder and fell on the floor at my feet. Several people in the boarding line were also crying. I held her hand as she called someone to say she’d be on the flight….Turns out one couple didn’t show up so both me and the distraught young woman were able to get on the flight. It was so awesome to see other passengers of all ethnicities hug the woman as she and I became the last two people on the plane. Almost everyone said they were praying for her and her dad and hoped that she would get there “in time”. I hugged her before she slid into her seat.

These type of emotional situations really shake you up so though I was able to sleep for much of the flight I felt like I really needed “some church” when we landed! I went to the Chicago AA lounge to chill and write as it was rush hour and too early to check into the hotel. I got on the Facebook pages of two of my favorite mentors & preachers Paul Roberts Abernathy and Gayle Fisher-Stewart and watched a one-hour lecture Gayle gave on Wednesday and a 30 minute podcast Paul was interviewed on yesterday. By the time I had watched both of them I felt like I was ready for whatever else is going to happen today!! I talk about using your “lifelines” all the time in my presentations and I absolutely know who mine are and what I need from them. I didn’t even have to call or email Gayle or Paul I just listened to their voices! Does it get any better than that?

Earlier this week I spent time with Kris, also known as lifeline #1, and shared my sadness about a 28 year old young man I’d known since he was 6 who had taken his own life last weekend. Today I’m just praying for all the pain and hurt in our world AND giving thanks for all the people in our lives who can lift us up even when they don’t know they are doing it!

Sometimes all it takes it a small gesture or kind word to change the course of someone else’s day! May we all be that change today!