Creating with LEGO Bricks Exercises my Brain!

Many of you know I have a fascination (ok, actually an obsession) with LEGO bricks! I’ve managed to incorporate them into my work, but my favorite activity is to use the bricks for my creative play.  Yesterday Tim and I traveled to the Franklin Institute Museum in Philadelphia to see an exhibit called “The Art of the Brick”, created by artist Nathan Sawaya. I had high expectations for the exhibit and it didn’t disappoint!! The pieces on display had as few as several hundred LEGO bricks all the way up to several hundred thousand bricks. Some of the sculptures were larger than life!! I was mesmerized and inspired!!       

What I hadn’t expected was to have been equally as inspired by another exhibit at the Franklin Institute, one called simply “Your Brain”. To say it was fascinating would be an understatement. There were at least 25 interactive exhibits that helped those engaging with them to better understand the brain and how it works. We loved it!    

As a child of a parent with dementia, I’ve become fascinated with how the brain works since Mom’s diagnosis.Tim and I both interacted with every area of the exhibit!! I focused on the parts of the exhibit that examined the benefits of exercising your brain and the importance of the creative side of your brain. I learned more than I had ever expected. There was a section on Alzheimer’s disease of course, which was actually very emotional for me.   

I definitely knew that the creative projects I’m building with LEGO bricks are helping my brain, but I didn’t know how much! I’m praying that the more I play, the better my chances will be of keeping dementia away!! I may not be building art like Nathan Sawaya, but I’m building pieces I’m proud of, and building hope that I’ll be able to use my brain fully until the last day of my life. I was so inspired by our trip to the Franklin Institute that the first thing I did after working out this morning was to build the 3-D mosaic below that I really love! I give thanks for my Mom’s encouragement to build and create, and one of my favorite things to do in life is to build creations with her! In spite of her dementia, her brain still remembers how to play with LEGO bricks! Love my Mom!  

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The Gift of Lillie Ann! 

I wish I had a picture to share of Lillie Ann, my new friend from Dallas. But since I don’t, just picture a spry 96 year old woman dressed to kill and powering her own wheelchair while serving as Greeter at the huge rehabilitation and care facility where I spoke this past Tuesday. In some respects this was an event to forget from the very start, beginning three weeks ago when I learned I wasn’t going to be reimbursed for my $379 flight to Dallas due to a miscommunication on both the host and my parts. To honor my commitment I said I’d come anyway and eat the cost of my flight. 

The woman who had originally booked me had changed jobs, but forwarded my name and info to her replacement who was to host me. The smartest thing that probably should have occurred would have been for the replacement to cancel the event since I wasn’t a speaker she selected. From the moment we met I felt as if I was interrupting my host’s day simply by arriving. She took me to an open area with tables and chairs in the lobby and announced I would be giving my presentation there. Though the lobby was beautiful, it definitely wasn’t suited for a presentation of any sort as interviews and therapy sessions were going on, and family members were sitting and talking loudly etc. But I believe I can make anything work so I pressed on searching out the best strategy for this situation. 

After pointing to the area where I’d be speaking, my “host” disappeared saying she’d be right back. (she never did return). As I was looking around to locate a water fountain and rest room after my two and a half hour flight, Lillie Ann appeared!!!! “Hi Loretta, I’m Lillie Ann”. And with that we were old friends!! She scrounged up a bottle of water from somewhere and gave me a mini tour of the facility, including the Memory Care area for dementia patients. We had a blast together for the 45 minutes preceding my talk, sharing personal stories about our lives!! I felt honored to be in her presence, as she had been a Professor and Researcher at Stanford and had also taught in the DC area for ten years. After retiring from teaching at age 60, she became a buyer for Bloomingdales!!! No wonder she looked fabulous!!

A few minutes after 2pm, I went searching for my “host” and found her in an office having lunch with a co-worker and clearly gossiping about other workers. She looked up at me seemingly aggravated that I had interrupted. I quickly asked, “should I get started with the presentation?” Without even getting up, she waved me off and said “oh yes, go ahead”… But there again was Lilllie Ann to save the day!! She confidently announced to the small crowd “meet Loretta Veney who came all the way from DC to share her Mom Doris with us, so listen up!!” She had already told me she couldn’t stay for the presentation, so she squeezed my hand and gave me a big smile and said “share your gifts with them” before rolling off down the hall. What a Greeter and Ambassador for the facility she is!! I was in awe of her! 

One of the women in attendance was also an author, and we exchanged books and quickly became friends. It turned out that I didn’t even actually give a presentation, we just sat around a table and all shared our stories. On that day I got paid for doing more listening than talking, but I believe it was a gift for those who needed it. 

I’ve thought of Lillie Ann a great deal since Tuesday. She told me she was going to break my Great Grandmother’s record of living to 106 years old. I told her I’d come back to see her in 10 years to celebrate her 106th birthday with her. She promised me she would still be there! Lillie Ann has every trait my Mom never had. She is confident, assertive and positive, yet I know my pre-dementia Mom would have loved Lillie Ann because of her genuine caring and warmth, two of Mom’s best traits. On a day when I was feeling somewhat rejected, and really could have used a hug from my Mom, I was given the gift of Lillie Ann instead. And on that day, Lillie Ann was more than enough! 

DO NOT Let Go….!

We could use this phrase regarding so many things in our lives! We should NOT let go of ourselves or our ability to love. We should NOT let go of our beliefs, faith, spirit, strengths, dreams, hopes, ambition, creativity, wonder and Joy! On the other hand, we should LET GO of our bias against those different from us, our inability to forgive others, our grudges, fears, and yes at times, even our egos.

This past Monday Tim and I went to the park near our house with Kim and Kendal. Each time we go there, Kendal seems taller and more confident in her ability to conquer every apparatus in the park, even those that seem geared for older kids. 

As we were nearing the end of our play time, Tim asked Kim if Kendal could try a sliding bar that requires kids to hold on to with both hands while it transports them from one place to another. I was skeptical because in my mind, Kendal’s too young for that right now. In spite of her gymnastics classes, I wasn’t sure if she could hold her own weight long enough. But when Kim and Tim asked her if she wanted to try, of course she said “YES”! 

I stood there with my camera ready to record whatever would happen and I prayed that the outcome wouldn’t require a trip to an Urgent Care facility. As Kim hoisted Kendal up and placed her little hands around the bar, her last stern instruction was “DO NOT LET GO!” and with that, Kendal seemed to soar over the playground while we all laughed and cheered! The smile and look of joy and accomplishment that was etched on her little face was life changing!! 

With Kim at one end and Tim on the other with his hands out and ready to catch her if necessary, Kendal did exactly as Kim had instructed.

 

She hung on to that bar as tightly as she could until Tim encouraged her to let go and jump down. We all encouraged her to do it again, but she quickly ran off in search of her next accomplishment, I guess believing that she’d “been there and done that” sliding bar thing.

I learned a lot from that 12 seconds of life that’s since been posted on Facebook. I primarily learned that when you grab on to that bar called Life, know that the journey may not always be what you think it will be, BUT as long as you DON’T LET GO of everything that sustains you in this life, and there are loved ones around to catch you if needed, then the ride can certainly be one filled with smiles, joy and accomplishment.

A Tale of Two Stories 

I made my first trip to Naples, Florida on Monday, and it was as beautiful a place as I had expected! But this trip wasn’t about the gorgeous weather, the pristine beaches or the upscale shopping. It was a tale of two stories.

I was set to speak yesterday morning to a combined group of folks from Arden Courts and the Alzheimer’s Support Network of Naples. I was notified on Monday evening that a second speaker had been scheduled to speak for an hour before my 11am start time. I knew instantly who the other speaker was…. His name is Richard Taylor, PhD, author of the bestselling book “Alzheimer’s from the Inside Out”. He’s a former professor now in his 8th year with Alzheimer’s disease, and I was excited to hear his perspective since so few people can articulate what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s.

Richard’s presentation was amazing and I’m so glad I arrived early enough to hear it. He used NO notes and never seemed to get off topic or confused!! I was stunned by that fact!! He even took questions and answered them well. Again, I was shocked!! Mom can no longer put two complete sentences together much less answer questions. He said he’s done so many presentations and knows the material well, so that even if he gets off-track he just apologizes for losing his train of thought and moves on to something else.

I learned a lot from him, and much of what he shared confirmed for me that I’m doing many of the right things with Mom. For example, Richard said he hates it when his wife or kids tell him how many times he’s repeated a sentence!! He said “I don’t need to be told that!” The audience roared with laughter!! I thought to myself, “I sure am glad I’ve never shared with my Mom how many times she’s repeated a sentence!”

He also said that in spite of his Alzheimer’s he’s still a “whole person”, and that he wishes that people would stop saying he isn’t. I get that too, and I try to always to engage Mom to see “where she is at that moment in time” and I try to meet her where she is. This past Sunday at our Easter egg hunt, Mom and I sat down to rest for a moment while Kendal continued to seek out more eggs. Kendal is clearly aware that something is not quite right with Grandma, but she’s not sure what it is. So while we were resting Kendal ran over with her basket of eggs and put some in Mom’s bucket so they’d have an equal amount. Mom said to me ” she’s so nice” and I agreed. The two of them hugged. It was a special moment and Kendal beamed, so proud of her act of sharing.

When I got up to share my story yesterday in Naples, I added some of the different things that I had learned from Richard Taylor that will help me with Mom. I’m grateful for those lessons. He wasn’t able to stay for my presentation, but I’d hope that he may have learned something from me as well, especially about the amount of patience that I have. As he ended his presentation, Richard encouraged all of us to become advocates in the fight against Alzheimer’s and I’ve certainly tried to do that!! 

As my book tour continues, I hope I will meet other authors from whom I can gain different perspectives. During the luncheon after my presentation, I went around and met everyone in the room. At this particular support group meeting, everyone is encouraged to bring their loved-ones with Alzheimer’s with them, because it’s a safe place where everyone is met “exactly where they are”. I engaged with and hugged each of them. One awesome woman kept repeating “thank you very much for coming” and it just warmed my heart. Her husband said he felt a deep connection to me after my presentation and must have held my hand for about 10 minutes, yet we shared very few words.

Now that I’ve written this post, it occurs to me that yesterday really wasn’t a tale of two stories, it was in fact a tale of many.