A Beautiful Blur!

Is one of the best ways I can think of to describe the last two weeks of my life. It started with the African-American Authors Expo in Timonium, MD on August 15th. The Friday night banquet honoring all of the authors was awesome as the theme of the night was “You’re Amazing!!”, The highlight of the weekend was the day-long book sale on Saturday and that was Amazing too!. It was also an emotional day for me, as many of the folks who came to my table were greatly impacted by the new banner I was displaying for the first time. Two women actually cried at my table as they thought of their own family struggles with dementia, and for a brief time I was speechless. Hopefully I provided some comfort to them with my presence and understanding and through my book which they both purchased. I needed some reflection time before I could actually write about that day and the many feelings I was left with.

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Next on the list of highlights was the drive to Baltimore on August 20th for another Arden Courts Memory Care facility book tour event!! There were bad storms that night, BUT those of us who made it had a ball, and I made a new friend too! It was simply another great night to honor my Mom!

Last weekend we made our second full camping trip to Hagerstown, MD. The weather wasn’t the best on Saturday as it rained the entire day, but we made the absolute best of it by doing indoor activities. We ventured into Hagerstown to the Farmers Market and what a treasure that was! We enjoyed looking at all of the fruits, veggies and homemade goods and brought several items to add to our weekend meals. They had arts and crafts too, and I was especially proud to purchase a hand-made Christmas ornament from an 85 year-old Hagerstown resident who’s glistening white hair reminded me so much of my Mom. Of course I purchased a purple ornament, the color for Alzheimer’s awareness. Outdoor activities resumed on Sunday as the weather was gorgeous. We even lived a lot of history by visiting Antietam National Battlefield and seeing a re-enactment that included a demonstration with the cannons! Antietam was simply breathtaking and I added three historical stamps in my newly purchased National Parks Passport!! It has always been a dream of ours to visit as many National Parks as possible, and now that we’ve actually begun, we’re very excited!! I brought a kids Passport for Kendal too ans she will she sharing in many of the adventures with us!

The GREAT times continued this week with daily visits from Kendal!! Tim was babysitting for her this week as her school was closed. We even added to our family of vehicles (as if we needed another one) with one just for Kendal. It’s a battery-operated (driveable) Cadillac Escalade that Kim saw in her favorite thrift shop. We simply couldn’t resist as it was more than half off the retail price. The truck is awesome and Pappy taught Kendal how to shift gears to go forward and backwards. At first she wouldn’t drive alone, and Kim HAD to be with her, but Tim convinced her that it was more fun to ride alone and by the end of the week she had it down pat!! I would rush home from work at 2 pm and jump out of my clothes to get down on the floor and play with her. I had to teach a class on a couple of evenings that Kendal was with us, but I’d come home first anyway just to have two hours of fun with her. You can get in a lot of running, jumping, coloring, tea partying, car driving and Lego Building in two hours!! What a blast that was!! She is a hoot and a truly great kid who listens intently, is polite and very grateful for what she is given. I feel as if I’m going to burst with joy when I’m with her!

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On Wednesday,I had lunch with one of the coordinators of the upcoming Women Against Alzheimer’s Out of the Shadows Summit coming up on Sept 16th and 17th her in DC. I turned in the shadow box (large photo frame) I made of photos and memories from Mom’s life that will be on display at a DC museum for a few days before we carry them to Capitol Hill to share our stories with members of Congress as part of the Summit! I’m beyond excited to be participating in this event and to have our voices heard on the Hill to bring more awareness and advocacy for Alzheimer’s Disease! I can’t wait!!! I know it will be emotional telling the stories of our Shadow Boxes (it was emotional putting it together, but I’m thrilled with the opportunity to do so! I believe Mom would be very happy with the objects and photos I selected for her Shadow Box because it’s truly “her”.

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I also spent four nights over the past two weeks (and eight nights in the past five weeks total) teaching my favorite class for aspiring Security Officers at the Prince George’s Community College Safety and Security Institute, a course I helped to develop. The last three nights were the BEST with our students, and ended with graduation on Thursday night. Moderated by the three instructors and the Chief of the College’s Police Academy and Safety and Security Institute, we saluted each of the students as their loved ones beamed in the audience!! When we announced the student with the highest grade point average in the class, his mom yelled “That’s MY BABY!!” It was awesome! We even had jobs to offer them at the end of the course, as all of the students were Excellent. One of the parents shared that she credited me for helping her son to finally find focus in his life, and that he came home every night talking about Instructor Veney and how he wanted to be successful like her. WOW!!

And finally, the Best of the Best came yesterday. I went to see Mom before heading out on our next camping adventure. As usual, I went without expectations and this time was rewarded with moments of clarity for her. She didn’t initially call me by name, but remembered me as we talked, something she hadn’t done for several months. When I asked if she remembered who I was, she exclaimed “You’re Loretta!!” as if I should ALREADY KNOW who I am!!! We then burst into laughter!! I gave her a big hug and she smiled!!! I can’t actually put that feeling into words, but it was powerful!! Though Mom seems to be losing some of her energy, we had a great time just being together, and for several minutes we just sat quietly and held hands.

We were on the road to a campground on the C&O Canal near Harper’s Ferry by noon and had arrived by 3 pm. All of the peace and quiet since we’ve arrived has allowed me the time and space to reflect on all of the Awesomeness that’s occurred over the past couple of weeks. All of the memories have come flooding back in a blur of happiness, achievement and gratitude …… and what a beautiful blur it’s been!! I truly love my Life and all of the Blessings I’ve been given!!

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It’s All In How You Present It!!

Yesterday was all about family! I was sad that it was the first anniversary of my beloved Aunt Frannie’s death, so Kim and Kendal came over for dinner and ice cream.

After ice cream we wanted Kendal to try on her bright orange NASA jumpsuit that Tim purchased for her last week. I put adorable photos and a video of Kendal running, jumping and squealing in delight as an astronaut. BUT that’s not how the story began….

Kendal took one look at the jumpsuit after we asked her to try it on and proclaimed a very loud “NO!!!” “I don’t like it!”

Kim said “let’s just try it on for Pappy”…. “Ok” Kendal said in a very soft voice clearly not wanting to comply. As soon as the jumpsuit was on she burst into tears and once again started to say “NO, I don’t like it!” and began pulling at the zipper to take it off.

Kim then calmly said “Kendal, let’s have a talk”. So Kendal calmly walked over to her mom and listened to everything she had to say. Kim explained that Pappy had purchased the jumpsuit just for her as a special gift and that she needed to thank him for it. “Ok” Kendal agreed. Still not happy, Kendal thanked Tim but then quickly tried to take it off again.

Tim asked “Don’t you want to fly like an astronaut?”… Not knowing what an astronaut was, Kendal responded with a loud “NO” and more tears.

Kim called Kendal over for the next round of talks and began to explain what an astronaut was and how they use rocketships to fly to the moon. “Oh” Kendal said. Kim explained that she could be an astronaut one day, and that right now they could “practice flying to the moon!” “Wanna try?” Kim asked… Kendal looked much more intrigued now… And the tears stopped. “Ok, I wanna try” Kendal replied. It’s a phrase she uses often when she is going to do something for the first time.

So Kim picked Kendal up, told her to put her arms out like she was flying and began running through the living room with her. Kendal’s tears had suddenly turned to squeals of joy. “Again, Mommy!” Kendal implored and they “flew” over and over.

Then more instructions from Kim. She explained the countdown and the blast off of the rocket. Kendal was now out of her Mom’s arms and down on the ground ready to fly by herself!! Kim yelled “off to the moon” and Kendal repeated it. When the countdown reached one, they’d both run like mad through the house on their trip to the moon. At the end of the flight Kendal would jump from the floor and leap into Tim’s arms ….. Making Tim her co-pilot and a Very happy Pappy!!!!

Tim and I were both astounded at how calmly Kim talk with Kendal. She was down on the floor with Kendal, looking into her eyes and giving just the right explanations of astronauts and space. She encouraged her child to “go to the moon” a far off place she wasn’t familiar with, but a place her mom convinced her she could reach. There was no yelling or ordering Kendal to do something “because I said so”, just a calm and confident presentation of how far you can go if you just try.

I felt like we all went to the moon last night thanks to Kim. When Kendal was crying, I even suggested that we take the jumpsuit back and not force her to wear something she seemed to dislike intensely. But Kim said “no, let’s wait, I’ll talk her through it.” And that she did!! I remembered right then how many times I’ve had to “convince” my Mom to do things she had lots of anxiety about just with a few calm
words. But in those cases, it was something Mom HAD to do for appointments or her own safety. In the case of Kendal’s jumpsuit, I didn’t think it was important enough to have Kendal in tears. But Kim did, given that Pappy had purchased it in his favorite color in the hope that Kendal would love it.

Lesson learned for all of us in this story is sometimes it’s all about how you present it!! Being calm, comforting and encouraging sure beats yelling and demanding. I learned that even 2 1/2 year olds can listen well if you just use the right words! Our daughter is one fabulous mother and we are so proud of her! Thanks Kim!!

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It’s called Memory Maker – and the first Memory was all about Family

It’s official! After much consideration, our 36 foot travel trailer has been named “Memory Maker”. It’s the most appropriate name, because we hope to make many traveling memories in it over the next few years! We plan to spend time in the mid-Atlantic region, as well as further up and down the east coast. One of our most important goals is to trek to as many National Parks as we can. 

If this first full weekend in the trailer is any indication, there are Many Memories for us to Make, but it does require that we be OPEN to them!! We spent the weekend with new friends Linda and Dawn. I’d met Dawn three months ago at an Alzheimer’s conference and we joined them at Natural Bridge, VA where they’d already spent a week. Our campsites were across from each other, and we had dinner on Friday night at an awesome seafood buffet at the National Bridge Inn. The main attraction of the buffet is a huge pot of crab legs that’s almost as big as I am! They constantly re-fill the pot throughout the evening! Amazing! 

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Dinner was scrumptious! We all had such a blast getting to know each other. We all felt like family. On Saturday, Tim and I covered the area, taking in the mile walk to Natural Bridge, the waterfall at the end of the trek, then exploring the caverns, and finally taking in the beautiful college town of Lexington. We ended the night playing Scrabble on our campsite deck with Linda and Dawn. 

But the most important Memory of the weekend for me was a trip to Layne’s Country Store. We originally had driven by it, but it looked inviting, so we made a U-turn and went back. As soon as we entered the store, you could tell it was a really historic place. Part history, and a very well-stocked country store. Then I saw them, Confederate Flags in several displays in the store. I was thinking to myself, “ok, we need to get out of here”. Just as I was about to collect Tim who was over at the homemade jelly counter, a woman came from behind the counter and said “hey y’all, how ya doin? Let me know if I can help you find anything.” She and Tim immediately got into a discussion about jelly and they were both laughing as if they were old friends. I paused and held my tongue about wanting to leave, because the store worker seemed genuinely warm, AND happy that we were in the store! 

After we’d been speaking for several minutes with the friendly woman, a gentleman came from behind the counter too and offered us a sample of country ham and hoop cheese (cheese made only in June). We loved our samples and ended up getting free recipes, buying half a ham, some country bacon and the hoop cheese. They asked how we wanted our items cut and wrapped, and treated us like royalty. They recommended the best way to travel with our ham, and for cooking it. But the most impressive thing for us was the history lesson we received. They felt like family to us, and as it turned out, Layne’s country store was indeed all about family. The young woman who was so pleasant as she waited on us was the granddaughter of the founder of the store, and the man who gave us the samples was her dad. While we were finishing up our purchases, the father and grandfather of the employees and the founder of Layne’s Country Store arrived. He too talked with us about recipes and showed his granddaughter where the pamphlets on the store’s history were located so she could give us one to take home. 

We must have been in that store for 45 minutes.and it was one of the best “in-store” experiences we’ve had in years!! What a great time! Turns out, the confederate flags that had temporarily aggravated me, were in a museum section of the store focused on Old Virginia – sold with other medals, and war memorabilia. If I had reacted just to the flags and left the store without interacting with the Layne family, it would definitely have been our loss. 

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The camping was awesome, and even in the rain, we made a lot of memories this weekend that involved scenery, relaxation and fun! But what will stay in my mind most from this weekend is all about Southern Hospitality, Genuineness and Family – learned from a country store called Layne’s!! So our vehicle, Memory Maker has lived up to its name already!!

What memories did you make this weekend?? I hope they were great ones! Big or small, memories are moments that are priceless! 

Experiencing Life on the Road from a Very Different View!

I’ve traveled a lot in my life, mainly as part of my career, and would “add on” as many days as possible after the work was done so Tim and I could take in the sights no matter where we were.

When Tim and I began dating in the early 1980’s, money was tight, so “camping in a tent” was our economical way to see the Mid-Atlantic and places south.

We loved camping so much that after we married and money was not as tight, we looked into buying a pop-up camper. The “looking” never turned into reality, because illness and other life changers occurred, and camping came to a very abrupt end in our lives.

Having been to the Grand Canyon and few other amazing National Parks, a few years ago we began planning a more intentional “return” to our love of the outdoors and camping. The original plan was to start in Utah to see all the amazing National Parks there. The plan included staying in cabins within the parks to be as much a part of the ambiance as possible.

Those “original plans” changed in a BIG way this week when we “stopped talking about our dreams” and began to “live them” instead!! Our old “pop-up camper” dream of more than 25 years ago evolved into a 36 foot travel trailer.

We are beyond excited about the memories we will be making on the road as we spend time with new and old friends, and especially those memories we will be making with family! For the first 30 minutes of the “camper” arriving in the front of our house, Kendal was afraid of it. Then, she embraced it with great enthusiasm, sitting in every seat, laying in every bed and helping us set up our new home on the road. That first experience with Kendal reinforces for us, that we want to experience as many “discoveries” with her as we can, because “life is short”.

I’m writing this blog from our camper, less than a mile from our house, in a park we’ve been to thousands of times! But this time, we are in the park’s campground, a place we hadn’t experienced before.

I know I’m experiencing an “epiphany” of sorts because I’m having a ball right now in our home away from home and I haven’t even had my first cup of coffee yet. As I write from the “den” of the camper (otherwise known as the Seward’s room when they are with us) and am looking out of the window, I’m amazed at how wonderful this view makes me feel.

I look forward to even bringing my Mom on a short trip maybe even to this park that she loves. Having never fulfilled her own travel dreams, maybe we can make at least a few of them come true, even though she won’t remember.

So look out world, here we come!! Ready to experience all that is in store for us, from a very different view.
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