LEGO Bricks and Kids Together Can Build Quite a Lesson! 

I had been terrified and exhilarated about my first LEGO Art class last night, primarily because I’ve NEVER taught a group of kids by myself before. I was told in advance that there would be five students who were between the ages of 8 and 10. I was excited by my ethnically diverse class that included one female, which I was thrilled about! 

In preparation for last night’s class, I had spent months building LEGO art pieces and lesson plans, (and changing them too). For the first class last night I had planned for the kids to build mosaics, which I thought would be easiest for them to do. BUT as soon as the first kid arrived I knew the night probably wouldn’t go as planned. I’ll call this student Jim. He came in with his mom and as soon as he saw the big box of LEGO bricks on the table he pushed his mom to the side, almost knocking her down and made a dash for the box. After his mom ran after him and told him he’d have to wait til class started, he pushed her again and began rummaging through the box. I asked him his name, then called him by name and got him to sit in a chair with a few bricks to play with while we waited for the other four kids to arrive. That worked!! Whew!! 

The four others arrived, and included another autistic kid, but he was much more verbal than Jim. In the teacher prep orientation I was told that any “instruction” given to the students needed to be less than 10 minutes in the 60 min class period. I had printed out pictures of mosaics and brought samples of some I had made to ensure my instruction was brief! 

But right away I knew we probably wouldn’t be building many mosaics, and even though that turned out to be true, the class was awesome!! They built some amazing things with the kits of 65 pieces I issued to them which they get to keep at the end of the four week class. Jim only speaks a few words, but built some amazing things (more than any of the other kids) and did so at break neck speed. 

What I learned from the class was that kids can be really wonderful to each other. We hear so much about bullying, and I was worried about how the three kids would treat the two others who were “different” than they were. It couldn’t have gone better. Maybe it was the magic of the LEGO bricks or maybe these are just great kids! They all marveled at each other’s projects, even without having to speak words… And I easily redirected Jim if he got too aggressive by pushing and tugging when he wanted LEGO pieces that someone else was using or wanted us to see what he was building. I was overwhelmed with happiness that the three kids were so inclusive of their two classmates. Several times they gave Jim the LEGO piece he wanted from their collections, without even giving it a second thought. When the hour was over, they all said to each other “see you next week” and some of them even hugged. 

Jim wouldn’t say goodbye to me as he left, but when I asked him if he had fun, he loudly said “YES” and gave me a bear hug!! In the five pieces below (one from each kid), I’d say we may not have built the mosaics I had intended, but I think we built something better. We built community!! Can’t wait til next week’s class! 

  

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Eighteen Months for Mom! 

You never know when you meet someone how pivotal that meeting may become in your life. My life changed forever during an Aging seminar and trade show in May of 2013 when I met Julie-Boone Roth, the marketing director for the Silver Spring, Maryland location of the Arden Courts Memory Care Community. Little did I know that Julie would love the free copy I gave her of my book so much that she not only invited me to speak at her facility, she also recommended that the book be placed in the company’s national warehouse. When the book was unanimously approved by the board of reviewers in January of 2014 to be included in the warehouse, it became available to all locations of the chain and invitations to speak at Arden Courts Communities began arriving almost immediately. Their first book order was for 500 of my books and they made two additional purchases as well. 

Eighteen months ago in April of 2014, I began the journey of speaking at more than 40 locations of Arden Courts throughout the U.S. This was no easy feat to accomplish given that I’m a full time contractor for the Dept of Homeland Security, I teach online for two Universities and was just starting to get my LEGO class business up and running. My superiors at DHS couldn’t have been more supportive of my journey around the U.S. to speak about my Mom and our journey with her dementia. They allowed me to alter my schedule in multiple ways, including being gone for days at a time. Upon my return they always wanted to hear about my latest journey and thankfully my work production never suffered. 

My journey took me throughout Maryland,  Virginia and New Jersey and to Chicago, Cincinati, Dallas, Detroit and even Naples, Florida. I’ve given more than 90 presentations at Arden Courts including three different multiple-day trips to the Chicago suburbs and two trips to Dallas. Some of those presentations led to more than 20 additional presentations for other organizations. Last night in Arlington, Texas (right outside of Dallas) I gave my last scheduled presentation for Arden Courts. 

To say it’s been an amazing eighteen months would be an understatement!! I’ve shared my Mom and family with hundreds of people and shared lots of food, tears and laughter with my audiences. I’ve made more friends than I can count and have received hundreds of emails from folks thanking me for sharing my journey and for my energy and positive spirit. Many of the emails brought me to tears! 

As I reflected on my Arden Courts experiences in my hotel room last night, several memories flashed through my mind….. 

Two of the presentations in Cincinati and Naples were done jointly with Arden Courts and the Alzheimer’s Association and both of those were held in beautiful huge churches and added even more of a spiritual nature to the events! 

Though all of the presentations ended on time and were followed by a book signing, I spent countless extra hours hanging out with attendees and Arden Courts staff members because people were “so moved” by all we had shared together that they didn’t want to leave. 

What was all-time favorite event and place and who was my favorite person during the eighteen months? 

Event – May 2014 in South Holland, Illinois that was so well attended that there was standing room only and required valet parking. Some of them returned to hear me again this year! Wow!! 

Person – My favorite person wasn’t an attendee or staff member, it was an Arden Courts resident who threw a huge fit outside of the meeting room because staff wouldn’t let her attend. After the event she and I shared cookies and she confessed that she wanted to come into the room just to see if “I knew what I was talking about”. She was priceless and I think of her often!! In spite of her Alzheimer’s she was quite a special woman. I even wrote a blog just about her!! 

Place – Naples wins for the beach I got to spend time on after the event, but Chicago wins overall because they loved me so much they had me come three different times. On the first trip in May of 2014 Tim went too and we had a marvelous time sightseeing!! 

Last night’s ending in Texas couldn’t have been better!! There was a fabulous pasta dinner,with salad, breadsticks, tiramisu for dessert and even wine!! 

 
Though I couldn’t eat during the event, the staff packed a huge bag of food for me to take back to the hotel, including wine!! 

 
I wanted to call my Mom so badly last night to say “Mom we’ve done a great service for Arden Courts by speaking about this horrible disease, and have touched so many lives. I couldn’t have done it without being the person you raised me to be.” 

I can’t have that conversation with her because she clearly wouldn’t understand, but what I have done is to donate half of my earnings from my Arden Courts speaking events and book sales in my Mom’s name to the Alzheimer’s Association. She’d be so proud! Thank you Julie and Arden Courts!! I move on to my next journey gratified by the fact that I dedicated all of the success of the last Eighteen Months for Mom!! 

It’s Never Too Late to Chase Your Dreams!!!!!

What an inspiring day today!!!! I spent almost my entire day with other women. That may not sound like a big deal, but in the security profession you don’t often get to spend hours at a time with other women. That’s also true outside of my security life with my LEGO hobby, because even most AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO) are men!

My first special event was a ninety minute conversation with a female colleague I’m just getting to know. In helping her with her plans for the future, I shared with her the importance of joining and getting involved with professional organizations, becoming certified in a security discipline and learning something new every day!! She kept thanking me for my help, but I actually felt like she had helped me, because she actually listened and immediately began acting on some of my advice.

In the second conversation, another woman and I shared ideas and best practices about a particular security topic and decided to conduct a training session together. We laughed and chatted easily and said we wished we had connected sooner. I can’t wait for our training session, showcasing the individual talents we both have. She’s not even thirty years old and I’m older than dirt, but our immediate connection confirmed that it doesn’t matter how old you are if you have the skills you need to accomplish your mission and dreams.

But the highlight of my day by far, was the podcast interview I gave tonight to my friend Aimee J, on her show Chasing Dreams! Aimee decided she was going to Chase her Dreams and started this professional podcast a couple of months ago and invited me to be a guest. I’ve been loudly cheering from her from the sidelines and am so proud of her! So HOW did I meet Aimee J. ???? She’s one of my former students at The George Washington University in my graduate level Investigations course. It’s been about 10 years since she took the course, but she still remembers a lot of the fun things we did in class, including an actual surveillance exercise (otherwise known as a stakeout). Each semester I’d bring my daughter Kim and other friends who agreed to be “followed” by my students to see how observant they were. It was an absolute blast and I can guarantee that everyone learned a lot.

Aimee was a truly special student!! She was attentive, questioning, participatory and brilliant, even going on to law school after GWU. She and I had many conversations after class each week, and kept in touch via email and social media in the years that followed. I love following the careers of my former students and I try my best to keep up with as many of them as possible (which is growing more difficult as I’ve now taught for more than 18 years). I’m proud of the fact that Aimee J. has gotten out there to Chase Her Dreams. I was so excited all day about being on her show, to explain how I’m fulfilling and still Chasing My Dreams by combining my passion for my security career, my book and my newest dream of getting paid for doing workshops where everyone plays with LEGO bricks. Aimee’s Chasing Dreams reminds me of what my Mom told me many times as I was growing up, “you can accomplish anything that you put your mind to”.  Thanks Aimee J. for visiting with me live, and for reminding me and your audience that it’s never too late to Chase Your Dreams! Much continued success to all of us out there Chasing Our Dreams!! Go For It, Keep at it and Never Give Up!!

Aimee J!!