A Multi-Day Adrenaline Rush!!

On Tuesday November 2nd I flew to California for the 2021 SAGE Conference by honor to provide a team bonding session for a group of honor’s partners in recognition for all the hard work they had provided throughout the pandemic. It was honor’s first conference since they acquired home health care giant Home Instead in August. I was so excited about this trip for several reasons, one of which was that I was looking forward to sunshine and nice weather! Even though it was very chilly in Redondo Beach and the sun never appeared during the two and a half days I was there, we definitely made our own sunshine with our energy!

I was scheduled to lead my session with the group after lunch on November 3rd. Whenever you’re scheduled for any kind of event after lunch, it better be something interactive or you risk losing the audience in the first five minutes. It goes without saying that the team bonding activity I was scheduled to lead was LEGO Serious Play!

The second reason I was so excited about this trip was because with 65 participants it was going to be the largest group I’d ever worked with for a LEGO event. As lunch began, attendees discovered that there was assigned seating for the 8 tables that they’d be sitting in both for lunch and the team bonding activity. There was initially some grumbling over not being able to choose their own seats, but that quickly passed. Only a few of the participants knew that the activity involved LEGO bricks!! Event Coordinator Extraordinaire Kelly Harrington and I stuffed the SAGE conference bags with 8 LEGO kits for each table and asked participants not to look into the bag until they were instructed to do so.

During the October planning meeting for the event with honor staff members they asked me to start my presentation with the story of me, Mom and the LEGO bricks because that would resonate with the group and they were absolutely right!! I followed that intro with a few facts about the LEGO Corporation and the creation of the LEGO Serious Play methodology!! By then everyone was very excited to get out the LEGO kits and start building! My only expectation was for them to have fun and to get to know some of the other partners better, and to say that they exceeded that expectation ten-fold would be an understatement. The two hours of building began with them building a bridge to familiarize themselves with the bricks and then holding their bridges up for a group photo! The bridges were amazing and I knew right then that the rest of the session was going to be special!! In three rounds they built 1) what steals their joy 2) what brings them joy and 3) how they will maintain their joy throughout 2022 and each person shared what they built with their table mates! I asked a volunteer from each table to summarize what their group members had built. Some of the models were so “deep” that the builder was asked to share the story of their model with the entire group.

I was in awe of what the participants created. In the what steals their joy round most people built something around the pandemic, such as not seeing family or being able to travel. Several built barriers to represent things that at times prevented them from them doing their jobs effectively! In the “what brings you joy” round one husband and wife team (without talking to each other) built a model to represent that joy for them was being with each other!! That got a rousing round of applause from the group!! A woman who had been a gymnastics athlete built her joy of watching her kids also loving sports with a model of her son upside down doing a flip while ski jumping!!! It was one of the best models I’ve ever seen!

The two hour session flew by and we built JOY and then some! Almost everyone was sad to see the session end!! After we took another group photo I was swarmed by the group with thanks and hugs for providing such an amazing activity!! It was the most amazing adrenaline rush ever!

After the LEGO activity there was a musician and a wine tasting event before dinner for the group in the hotel restaurant! I was out with the group until 9pm which was late given that I would be delivering a virtual keynote address for the Wellmed Charitable Foundation’s Caregiver Summit the next morning at 8am Pacific Time.

At almost the exact same time as my keynote the much anticipated episode of the Robin Roberts Thriver Thursday season four series finale with me and Mom was going to be previewed on Good Morning America. I chose not to view the episode prior to my keynote because I needed to totally focus on that presentation. The keynote went really well and after answering a few questions I ran down to the ballroom to grab breakfast and say goodbye to the group. I had the pleasure of riding to the airport with Kelly and each of us was aware that the success of the LEGO event experience had bonded us for life!

Almost immediately after the Thriver Thursday episode aired I began receiving text messages and Facebook post shares from friends and strangers from near and far congratulating me on the episode! It was just a little overwhelming. Though I saw pieces of the preview from the Facebook posts, I decided not to watch the episode until I got back home to Maryland Thursday night because I knew I was likely to cry through the entire thing, which I did!! So much emotion with Tim and my sister missing from the event! But I’m very proud of the episode and they would be too!

On Friday at noon I had a Joy of Caregiving presentation to deliver for a group of Johns Hopkins caregivers before packing up my RV Joy to head to Lancaster PA for the last rally of the season! The presentation went incredibly well and I was THRILLED! I didn’t quite get on the road right after the presentation as I had hoped, so I barely made it to the campground before it got dark! But I made it!!

It was soooo great to see all of my RVing Women sisters for relaxation after a few days of such an adrenaline rush! I quickly got set up and headed over for a group dinner. After dinner there was a short RVW Mid-Atlantic Chapter meeting and during that meeting my RVing Women sisters shocked me by recognizing my Alzheimer’s work and showing the preview clip on the pavilion tv making me cry again!!

I slept in on Saturday and it felt really great to recharge and recover from the total adrenaline rush from the previous four days!! I’m not likely to have another week like this for quite a while, but I’m grateful to have had it, AND that my Wonder Woman Mom got to see and experience the Thriver episode as it aired live on Thursday morning thanks to the awesome staff at Lifesprings Eldercare! This week was in a word, Priceless and I was Blessed by everyone who surrounded me with care, support and much love!

Designing Art and Packing Kits One LEGO Brick at a Time!

October is just flying by, probably because I’ve been very preoccupied with my work with LEGO bricks! I’ve spent hours each day designing LEGO memory activities for those with dementia which my Mom has absolutely loved! I’ve also been sorting, organizing and packaging my LEGO Inspiration Kits that I’ll be using for my LEGO Serious Play sessions in November and posting my Motivation Monday content on social media. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so many design ideas for memory activities and actually made them a reality in the same day! I love the bright colors of the pairs of designs that participants can match up either with a timer or just as a leisurely activity. Even though Mom can’t match the different patterns, the smile on her face as she interacts with the pieces is all that matters. I’ve made 50 pairs of designs so far including some with heart and circular shapes and can’t wait to create more!

I had never made a puzzle out of LEGO bricks before this week, but once I started it was pretty simple…. I created a design onto four separate plates which at first glance looks like one piece. The four pieces of the puzzle fit into a very small bag and can be used anywhere there is a hard surface. Mom loved the puzzle too!! After 20 minutes of work, she sat back and gazed in amazement and satisfaction with her work. She is always so focused when she’s working with the LEGO bricks which in turn inspires me to create more designs for her to try!

I also gave my first in-person LEGO Serious Play session for Sunrise Senior Living Silver Spring, MD on October 6th where residents with dementia and their care partners together Built Memories of favorite vacations, holiday celebrations and what brings them JOY. The models they made were incredible and memories that were uncovered were just amazing! A great time was had by all and it was so awesome to do a live presentation again that was very safe with masks and social distancing.

Most of you know I have been a trained LEGO Serious Play facilitator since 2014 and in my sessions I’ve always used the sealed packages of 48 LEGO bricks sold by the LEGO corporation. Every now and then the Exploration bags that LEGO sells are of stock, especially since COVID so I began thinking about what bricks I’d include in my kits if I made my own. I finally wrote down the bricks I wanted to use and since I work a lot with caregivers and care receivers one of the pieces I wanted to use was a heart!! I took a social media poll of which type of LEGO heart I should use and got some great feedback. I ordered resealable bags from Amazon and ordered hundreds of the LEGO pieces from a website called Bricklink that would make up my 46 piece Inspiration Kits for my sessions. I even ordered Loretta Veney Inspires labels to add to each kit. I didn’t think I’d be able to begin using my kits until January, but the LEGO pieces, some of which came from dealers outside the US, came so quickly that I was able to get 110 Inspiration Kits assembled and packed today! While I certainly need to improve my assembly line process and speed, I’m so proud that I got it all done by myself and just in time for a really cool gig!

I can’t wait to share 85 of my personally packed sealed kits with a company called Honor, which recently acquired Home Instead. They’ve hired me to do a LEGO Serious Play teambuilding exercise in Redondo Beach in CA on Nov 3rd that will honor their partners. In our planning meeting a couple of weeks ago they were so excited about what I plan to have the team build and there may even be prizes!! Because of my love / hate relationship with the US Postal Service, I’m taking the LEGO bricks on the plane with me!! I had originally planned to keep it simple and just use the original LEGO bags, BUT I’m thrilled to know that I can rise to the occasion give my clients a personal touch highlighting my brand.

November is National Family Caregivers Month and I’m getting ready to celebrate caregivers every single day of the month!! I’ve been told that Episode 6 of Robin Roberts Thriver Thursdays series featuring Mom and me will be aired during November because I am a caregiver. I couldn’t be more pleased with that decision. These days I’m excited that because I only have one job now I can totally focus on everything I love! I had always dreamed that LEGO bricks would make up a significant portion of my business one day and that day has arrived. Mom Inspires me to keep creating presentations and LEGO sessions that will inspire other caregivers! The Joy I get from this work wakes me up every morning ready to build my next piece of Inspiration!

Today I even took apart the 62 piece Art Exhibit I created in June for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Longest Day event. Tomorrow I’ll likely start to think about what I will rebuild with the pieces from that exhibit. Whatever it will be, I know it will bring me Joy that I can share with Mom and others! I hope you can find your Inspiration that you can share with others too!! It’s so worth the time you put into it!

The Joy Far Outweighed the Pain!!

What a week this has been!! Some people really struggle with Mondays so I recently began posting a Motivation Monday LEGO build on my social media accounts to get the week started for people in a positive way. But this past Monday I was the one who needed motivation because the day started with some pain! I learned last week I needed to have some dental surgery to replace some bone that had disintegrated. They worked me in on Monday morning to do the surgery and it was a lot more involved than I thought it would be! I ended up with a mouth full of stitches and some pain too, which was concerning because it was also going to be a VERY busy week for me!

After the surgery I rested most of Monday and then on Tuesday afternoon was a guest on a podcast called Will Gather hosted by the amazingly compassionate Nicole Will! It was soooo much fun, and thankfully I took some pain meds before the interview so I could bring my smile and joy to Nicole’s audience!! I could really feel those stitches after the interview!

On Wednesday I gathered with my favorite partners Johns Hopkins and facilitated a session of LEGO Serious Play for Caregivers where we Built Hope! It was another powerful session where people left with renewed Hope! One woman arrived in the session feeling overwhelmed by her never ending caregiving responsibilities and sent me an email after the session to say that I was a gift to everyone and that she would be keeping her LEGO model in her home to cheer her on each day! Her email is the best possible validation for what LEGO Serious Play does for individuals!! It’s not just notes you may take during a support group meeting, the LEGO models we build can serve as inspiration that people can see and touch to keep them going on tough days. They can also change the model whenever they like to reflect how their caregiving role changes over time. I could really feel the stitches during the session but the relief and the JOY of the folks participating outweighed any pain I was in.

I was most concerned about Thursday because I had a Zoom presentation for Olney Senior Living at 12:30pm and then I needed to drive for 50 minutes to a live event that was to start at 4:30. I wasn’t sure how back to back presentations would go with the stitches and talking that much, but I couldn’t have asked for a better day! The online event was so much fun!! People had great questions about some of the tools they could get to lighten their caregiver loads and it was a very lively session!! As soon as I disconnected from that session I jumped in my car and listened to Spa music on the drive down 95 South, which can be very challenging some days! Storms were also forecast for the exact time of the event but I try to never worry about things I can’t control. The storms definitely impacted attendance, BUT everyone who needed to be there was present.

I was giving my Building Joyful Caregiver Experiences with Humility, Hope and Humor presentation and in that session I talk about the Book of Joy by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu that has had a huge impact on my life. In that book the Spiritual Leaders share that the way to make Joy a lasting way of being is to heal our own pain by turning to the pain of others. It’s called the Virtuous Cycle: and works as follows The more we turn to the pain of others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more joy we can bring to others. I created a Really cool animated slide to reflect that cycle and the crowd absolutely embraced it.

The session was amazing and included both Harbor Chase residents (even some with mild cognitive impairment) and families of those living at the gorgeous facility. My mouth was really bothering me as the session came to an end, BUT when it was over I immediately went over to one of the participants who had been very emotional during the entire presentation. She pulled herself up from the chair using her walker and gave me a big hug. She was at Harbor Chase taking a respite from her husband who has dementia, and it is likely she will place him there soon. She was in a lot of emotional pain and told me how much the session had changed her life. Thankfully the chef had made soup and sandwiches with no crust for the event so I was able to carefully eat as I sat with my friend. Quite a few others joined us and also shared their stories of the family members they were caring for. There was no way I was going to leave them until they were ready to leave. I forgot about my pain to listen to theirs. Even before the session started I met the coolest guy named Bob and we too became friends. He is one of 6 people in his family to have been diagnosed with dementia, but he followed my presentation well and even answered questions that I asked of the group during the session!! As I sat chatting with others, he put a note in my hand before he left the room. The note read “I need to control how I respond to others and tonight you gave me hope I can do that”! I simply fell in love with those folks, and thankfully I get to see them again because the presentation was the first in a three part series I’ll be doing there. Even a friend Monica I met 12 years ago as we walked the MS Marathon together came to the event with her husband and took quite a few photos of me during the event, which was always Tim’s favorite thing to do. They started a home health care company during the pandemic and we reconnected in person last month and will be partnering on a few upcoming events! It’s been so Joyful to be reconnected with her after 12 years! I left Harbor Chase exhausted but full of JOY!!!

After resting on Friday, yesterday I had the opportunity yesterday to do something I’ve never done before!! One of my friends / partners from Johns Hopkins LOVED the LEGO Serious Play sessions I’ve done for them so much that she asked me to facilitate a LEGO event for her Birthday party at her home in Baltimore. If you know me well you know I’m always ready for a challenge, and this event was going to be challenging. With Covid in our midst there were going people in the Living Room, the Dining Room and on Zoom and my job as facilitator was to ensure that everyone could fully participate and feel included. I had mailed the LEGO bricks to the five people who would be attending on Zoom several weeks ago. After a delicious dinner and solving an audio issue for those on Zoom the party was by far the most successful LEGO Serious Play event I’ve ever facilitated! We had asked folks to bring their own tablets or phones so they could see the Zoom folks from wherever they were seated and that worked tremendously well. The questions participants built LEGO models about were their favorite memories with the birthday girl and what they loved most about her!! She also wanted a question about her guests so I asked them to build their Superpower! To say that the evening of building and sharing was Powerful just doesn’t do it justice. These folks are all incredibly faithful people and they took me to church with some of their loving builds.

The dining room group included the birthday girl, two couples and two friends.
The four people standing with their LEGO models were the living room group who only came into the dining room to share their models so those on Zoom and in the dining room could see and hear them They include the birthday girl’s spouse, daughter, granddaughter and the granddaughter’s boyfriend.
The Zoom group included the birthday girl’s daughter, son, daughter-in-law and grandson and a friend.

There were some issues with our virtual church this morning, but I was ok with skipping church because I believe that I went to church every day this week as I interacted with people who were in pain, and also with those who were feeling great joy! Church for me isn’t about the place we are in, it’s what we do and how we interact with people no matter where we are! My stitches finally seem to be starting to dissolve and I’m grateful for that. I’m resting today and glad this busy week is over, but without a doubt all the Joy I experienced with others far outweighed my pain!! May we all embrace all the joy in our lives in spite of all of the pain in our world!

Worth!!

On this somber 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our country, I remember all who died, especially my friend Rick Rescorla who as a Security Director died helping all of the employees from the company he worked for escape safely from the burning towers.

As the anniversary approached, I watched quite a few movies and documentaries about the before, during and after of 9/11. For me, one of the most powerful was the Netflix movie Worth, based on the years of work done by the lawyers responsible for putting a dollar value on all of the lives lost in order to pay the families left behind. The emotional journey of the characters throughout the movie was breathtaking, heartbreaking and inspiring.

The movie taught me that determining how much a life is worth would not have been something I could have even contemplated being able to do. YET since watching the movie I have thought about Worth a great deal. I am reminded that people kill each other every day over such trivial material things such as money, cars and even shoes, as if life is Worth absolutely nothing.

For me, the time we have on this earth is PRICELESS as is the time we spend in relationship with others. Both 9/11 and Covid have taught us that we don’t always get to say goodbye to someone we love, so as we spend time with each other we should do our best to make every minute Worth it as if it’s our last time with them. I do that with my Mom every visit because I know our time is limited, but I know I don’t always do that with others!

This last month has been very emotionally difficult for me as people I love have died very suddenly or have fought and recovered from or are currently fighting critical illnesses. I’ve tried to provide peace and comfort to them all (or their relatives) and every moment I got to spend with or am still spending with them is Worth every single minute of my time.

Twenty years ago on this morning 3,000 individuals left their homes and never returned. I pray that on this day we can tell our friends and family that we love them and spend time being kind to others, even if it’s not someone we know or know well. I promise you that your efforts will be more than Worth it for them and for you!

“I Want To Get Out!”

For the last week or so “I want to get out” has become Mom’s new favorite saying and it is breaking my heart! We’d all become used to hearing her say “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” hundreds of times a day over the last couple of years and that phrase always gave me hope that Mom was in a place of peace. Many people with dementia repeat the phrase “I want to go home” over and over and whenever Mom would say that she’d also immediately let you know that “home” for her was in Washington, DC the place where she was born in 1929 and lived until she was 80 when I moved her to Maryland to be closer to me.

But things are changing, and now when she says her new phrase “I want to get out” she means she wants to get out of bed and GO!! BUT SHE CAN’T!! This week is the first time she’s gotten angry about her situation. She’s flung back the bed covers and tries to swing her legs around determined to get out of her bed. If you are new to this now 15 year journey with us you may not know that Mom had escaped several times years ago when she could walk faster than most people half her age. The police had to be called twice to help locate her and once I got her back from a Facebook post! I fear that somewhere in her brain she’s recognizing her limitations and not liking it all!

When she insisted the other day that she wanted to walk, Janet helped her take the few steps from her wheelchair to the bedroom doorway. Every other day when they get her out of bed, they’ve been taking her out into the sitting area right outside her bedroom so she can sit with her roommate and she seems to really like that. I feel so HELPLESS in all this! One of the things I was looking forward to most when I retired from my full time job at the end of June was to spend lots of time with Mom. But with the COVID variant running rampant, my visits are limited to 30 minutes every other day. While I’m grateful for ANY time with her, it’s soooo hard to be outside on the patio with her inside in her wheelchair. Even worse is the fact that I can’t hug her!! I thank God for the photo pillows my sister-friend Kris gave us so we can at least hug those when we are sad. Often when Janet checks on Mom in the middle of the night she’s holding on to that pillow with our photo on it. I pray the pillow will continue to comfort her now that I can’t.

Mom’s been in hospice care since March 23 and at first she was sleeping a lot. She seems to be really alert right now as during our last visit she even sang a few words to the Aretha Franklin song “You’re All I Need To Get By!” that came on the XM channel I playing for her.

That song definitely reminded me that right now I’m definitely NOT all Mom needs to get by, so I am eternally grateful for the awesome Caregivers at Lifesprings Eldercare for taking care of her and keeping her safe. I pray that my 30 minute visits with her gives her some joy even without my touch. Lord know I want EVERYONE with this horrible disease including my Mom to be able to “Get Out” of this nightmare they are living in! I wish they could walk wherever they want to go and be able to find their way back by themselves. And more than anything I wish I could take her hand when she says “I want to get out!” and say “ok, let’s go” and go for a really long walk like we used to. Because none of that is possible, my goal for today’s 30 minute visit with my Wonder Woman Mom will be to smile, play music and to leave her with some joy without showing her how totally helpless I feel right now. We may both be a little down these days but the one thing I can guarantee is that this disease will NEVER steal my HOPE! One of my hopes for all of us is that we will have an opportunity to be ALL someone else “needs to get by” today! Love you Mom, see ya later!

A Lot of Waterfalls and Life Lessons too!

I had really been dreading July 17th this year, the 5th anniversary of Tim’s and the 10th anniversary of my sister’s deaths. The day wasn’t great but I survived it by focusing on the amazing memories and reflecting on my life at this point. I had also been greatly anticipating an RV trip to Ricketts Glen State Park in PA with Mel, one of my sisters from RVing Women. I didn’t know much about the park except that it had a lot of waterfalls and that was exciting enough for me!

So Monday morning I had a quick visit with Mom and then drove the four and a half hours to the park. Only the first two hours were on major roads and highways, the rest of the trip was on two lane backroads that went through dozens of small towns and lots of farmland. It was a wonderful ride. The last six miles were quite intimidating though because it was a steep uphill and winding climb. At the start of the hill that led to the park I knew I was in trouble as both the XM radio cut off and I lost cell phone service. Uh oh… That was a problem because only a couple of people knew I was heading out of town and I quickly learned that there was no Wi-Fi anywhere within the park, not even in the park office! There were phones in the park that allowed people to dial 911 or make a collect call. That made me laugh out loud because I hadn’t seen a public phone in years.

The main objective of our trip was not only to camp in the park, but to also see as many of the 22 waterfalls within the park as possible. We didn’t put too much pressure on ourselves about how much of the 7.2 difficult-rated miles we would hike, we decided to play it by ear depending on how we felt. We optimistically prepared a nutritious lunch that included hard boiled eggs, tuna salad sandwiches and trail mix into an awesome backpack cooler I got from Target. Turns out we would really need that lunch!

We got to the start of the trail at 9:45 am on Tuesday and took a selfie to start our journey. We had to decide it we wanted to start the trail going downhill or uphill (there was really no in between). We chose to go downhill first primarily because the first waterfall was less than a mile from the start of the trail. To do the entire trail we’d have to get to a place call watersmeet where the two trails met and then go uphill to see the other half of the waterfalls.

I’d say within the first half mile the beauty of the trail and just the sound of the falls before we even saw the first one made us decide that barring an injury our goal was to finish the entire 7.2 mile falls system. When we saw the first waterfall we were blown away, and if that would have been the only one it was so gorgeous that it still would have been worth the trip.

But we had no idea what was to come. The path on the trail was almost indescribable – there were tree roots, beautiful (and slick) rocks of all sizes and thickness, and some actual boulder types you had to struggle to get past. It didn’t rain at all but the ground was wet in many sections because mini streams formed from the falls in many places and ran down onto the trail. Mel and I cautioned and encouraged each other all the way depending on who was in front by saying “that rock is slippery” or “let’s go around that mud” or “watch out for that tree branch” and lots of “you’ve got this!” Almost every step was breathtakingly gorgeous, BUT we really had to be careful to pay attention to our safety too because you could slide off the side of the trail and fall right into the falls or a ravine if you weren’t totally focused.

Throughout the trail we’d at times be high above the falls and looking down, or under the falls or they’d be surrounding us. Every step led to a surprise of some sort. In the first two hours we’d probably already taken two hundred photos but none of them captured the experience well enough. The sound of the water brought me peace and comforted me. At times the water roared past us, demonstrating the sheer power of water which represented strength for me. At other times the water was soothing and just flowed along, sometimes for half a mile and we loved that just as much. That calm water kept me calm. Each waterfall had a name of course and each one was very different than the one before. Each waterfall told a little story for me that I could apply to my life.

Each of the rocks and the paths held a story for me too. The uneven rocks that you had to be careful walking on to avoid twisting your ankles for me represented the twists and turns we face in life. The shiny rocks were smooth and looked enticing, but could still represent danger if you slipped on them. The blocks of granite made me feel like I was on a chess board jumping from one square to another. You had to really concentrate on which one to step on next just like the decisions we have to make throughout our lives. There are no fences, handrails or guardrails anywhere on the trail and you could be one step away from falling off the cliff, so you had to have lots of stamina to survive – just like in life.

We made it to the halfway point of watersmeet in two hours and sat on rocks to eat our lunch! We were proud of having made it that far and were so exhilarated by everything we’d already seen and heard. We tried to avoid thinking about the hike up on the other side, though we believed it would be easier than going downhill on slippery rocks. So after our lunch we crossed a wooden bridge over the water to go up the other side. Some of the trees had huge roots like a large family and those roots broke through the ground to show their decades of growth. Other trees with fewer roots and attachments had at some point blown into the water or right onto the trail. Those represented resiliency for me, that we can still carry on even when huge issues invade our lives.

The highest falls in the park was on the uphill trail and was 94 feet high. I don’t have enough words to describe it, primarily because you’re standing right next to it, not taking pics from afar.

The uphill jaunt was a challenge for the knees for sure. At times we to had to take a huge step up to get to the next rock or slate. And just when a thought crossed your mind about how tired you were, you’d hear the rush of water and climbed faster so you could see the next big thing. There were times you had to stop and look up or down to figure out where the trail went next. It reminded me of the pause we take when making important decisions.

At times Mel and I didn’t see another person on the trail with us, but at the big falls sometimes there were 4 or 5 other people taking pics, but not the throngs of people I had expected. We saw families with small kids, dads carrying their kids and lots of older people with walking sticks too! Complete strangers shared strategies about which way to go along the trail, encouraged each other along the way by saying “it’s worth every step, keep going”! People seemed to be kind and genuine and all of us enjoyed God’s nature together – with no account for age, race, sexual orientation or any other thing that tends to divide us. We saw smiles everywhere, mouths wide open in awe, and people having fun even while completing a challenging task.

We knew we not only had to go uphill on the way back, but we also would have to go another 1.4 miles on a flat trail to get back to where we’d parked…. But it was worth every single step and even though there were no more waterfalls there was definitely beauty in small streams and huge boulders that made a crevasse.

I can’t think of a recent time when I was more exhausted when something ended, BUT I was also as energized and full of life as I could be! We took a selfie at the end too just as we had at the beginning. Though we looked liked we had been on a challenging hike for sure, you could also see our pride in what we accomplished on that trail and how our bond that started last year at a RVW rally grew stronger with each step we took together. We got back to our campsites and painted rocks Mel had brought for us and built reflections with LEGO bricks. We also had a wonderful grilled dinner and enjoyed brownies and cookies as we sat by a campfire. It was my first time camping without any hookups (electric, water or sewer) but we’d prepared very well for that. The weather was cool thankfully so we didn’t even miss not having a/c. The solar panels on both our RVs gave us light and the bare minimum we needed for our two night stay. It felt great to be totally unplugged and living right along with nature without damaging it too much. We did leave a day earlier than originally planned since we’d done the entire falls and we both needed to get back home to get some other things done. But we left with more confidence that we can still accomplish anything we want in our early 60’s, and with memories of waterfalls, smiles and enough photos to last a lifetime. I’m thrilled that after a tough anniversary weekend, I was able to experience God’s true force of nature on display in a park that most people have never heard of. Had it not been for Mel I would never have heard of it either. For me, that short trip proved that we should never put off until tomorrow what we can do today! Get out there and find your hidden waterfalls, you’ll be so glad you did!

Transitions!!

In May of 1981 I began my security career with the George Washington University Police Department. Over the next few decades my career included stints in Corporate America, contract security organizations, my own training company and as a contractor for USCIS, a component of DHS. I was also very active for more than 20 years in ASIS International, the largest professional security organization in the world, including serving two terms on the organization’s Board of Directors. One week ago on June 30, 2021 I ended my 40 year career in the security profession.

In 2014, I began giving presentations and keynotes addresses about my book Being My Mom’s Mom that I wrote to help pay for my Mom’s care after she was diagnosed with dementia in 2006. I immediately loved the people I met and the organizations I spoke for and the caregivers I was helping. To date I have given more than 350 presentations, and did all of the work myself to schedule and make travel or virtual meeting arrangements for every event. Because I loved my “regular” job too, I held down two full-time jobs for seven years. I also had the full support of my bosses at work so I felt no pressure to quit my job.

I believe everyone at some point in their lives uses the word their “calling” to refer to what they should be doing with their life. Five years ago I realized that the speaking and sharing I was doing in small and large groups was absolutely my calling. I knew at some point I’d have to slow down and give up my full-time job to focus on my passion for the primary reason that I was helping many people.

In late 2020 I FINALLY began preparing to focus on speaking full-time. I joined an organization called The Speaker Lab where I learned the business side of speaking and it’s one of the best decisions I could have made. It can be really hard to transition from one thing to another but I was READY. I knew the work I was transitioning to is the work that God has called me to do. With the time I have left in my life I pray that I can continue to make a difference for others, to give them hope and spread some joy!

When I turned in my badge and laptop last week I didn’t turn around and look back. I did briefly cry because I wasn’t planning on doing this work and retirement without Tim and I remembered that he’d attend more than 100 of my speeches before his death. I know he’s proud of me. I didn’t look back because I’m sooo looking forward to my new future! In my first week of retirement / transition I have slept in, spent lots of time with Mom, built lots of LEGO models, toured a variety of assisted living and adult day centers, and met some amazing workers in the senior living and memory care fields. The more people I meet and the more places I visit, the more I can share with my audiences who are looking for knowledge, information and hope. I look forward to transitioning to the role of inspiring others on their caregiving journey and becoming the person God intended me to be.

Clouds, Sun, Rain & God!!

I was a little worried as we headed to St. Lucia last Wednesday because the weather report was less than exciting. It was supposed to be cloudy and rainy for the entire 6 days we’d be there. But as me, Kim and Kendal boarded the plane I accepted the fact that I’m not in control of the weather and that we’d have fun no matter what would happen!

We landed on Wednesday afternoon and YEP it was a mix of clouds and very dark skies. Kim had rented a car for us and we set out for the 90 min trip to the hotel in Rodney Bay.

We didn’t immediately have cell service for our GPS so we got lost but still got to the hotel before the 6:30 on sunset. It wasn’t a pretty sunset at all but the clouds and light certainly got my attention. I immediately said a prayer when I got out of our Jeep so grateful that we’d arrived safely. From that moment on I felt God’s presence in a way I hadn’t felt before.

Throughout our entire trip I was focused on family time, the beautiful scenery, the clouds and the incredible glimpses of sun we were given. I had even left my laptop at home (on purpose) for the first time ever! I took more photos of clouds than I ever have. As I walked each morning around sunrise before the kids got up I had some great conversations with God, revealed in the form of a mix of clouds, sun and light – and I likened it to the many faces of God.

We had some amazing adventures, touring a rainforest, horseback riding and enjoying a waterfall and mud bath. We also drove on some of the most treacherous roads we’ve ever been on. We laughed loudly (at times to keep from crying) and honked to alert other drivers when we were coming around a corner! But we faced our fears and kept going (all for the love and pursuit of chocolate!). Through it all I kept watching the clouds and light and sun. Each time I looked up, I saw and felt something different and it was incredible!!

But one of the most amazing moments for me was our trip to an old fort called Pigeon Forest National Landmark. The clouds looked ominous BUT we took rain ponchos and headed to the fort. We got a little more than halfway towards to top of the fort from where you could see almost the entire island when the skies opened up and we got drenched!!!! I can’t remember the last time I was that wet from rain!! YET we laughed and squealed like little kids and huddled together under a tree and then a gazebo while we waited for the rain to end. It was a special moment because I’ve always believed that rain is God’s way of washing away the things we need to get rid of or to let go of. I briefly contemplated how to move forward with getting rid of some of the things weighing me down. .

If you’re lucky, whenever there’s rain around you may even get to see a rainbow! And we saw a couple of gorgeous ones! When I saw this one across the entire resort property, I ran as fast as I could back to our room to get the kids so they could see it too!! Kim was as blown away by it as I was, but Kendal took one photo and jumped back into bed. We stood out on the balcony for what seemed like forever and just reveled in that sight!

This past Sunday, June 20th was The Longest Day, the biggest Alzheimer’s Association fundraiser of the year that occurs on the longest day of the year (12 hours between sunrise and sunset) and I created a LEGO brick Exhibition called Art Against Alz as my theme this year. Even though I was in St. Lucia, I had built and set up the exhibit before my trip but posted the pics of the pieces in the exhibit throughout the day on social media. At the end of the day I stood in the shadows of the sunset because my fundraiser was about finding a cure for the disease and not about me, so I didn’t want to stand in the light.

This was one of the best weeks I’ve had in years where I was able to totally focus on my faith, my family, and fun. It was so cool to simultaneously experience a successful Alz fundraiser, an amazing family vacation and a deeper relationship with God. It doesn’t always have to be sunny for us to see the light!

A Weekend of Lights, Cameras, and Lots of Action!!

I learned on Friday May 7th that I had been selected as a Thriver for the Robin Roberts series Thriver Thursdays! A week after that, I was introduced to her production team and filming was set for May 22nd and 23rd. Initially I didn’t tell a soul because I just didn’t believe it was true! The producers worked with me to determine the hours we’d be able to film with Mom at the group home, and with my family members and friends. That’s when I started to believe it!

I spoke with the owner of Lifesprings Eldercare to get permission to film inside the group home and we set up a game plan to film Mom in the family room area, on the deck and in her bedroom at the end of the shoot. On the morning of the shoot I realized how big a deal this actually was when I arrived in the front of Mom’s group home to find three men unloading a huge truck of camera and sound equipment. The first task I was given was to film my arrival at the home, so Go Pro cameras were attached to my car and I left the area, drove a mile as instructed and drove back into the driveway and parked. I then went to the front door and rang the bell. The camera crew was behind me with huge cameras and a boom microphone and I was wearing a microphone as well. There were additional lights set up inside the house as well.

The World’s Best Caregiver Janet greeted me as always but I was entering the front door for the first time since the start of the pandemic. I usually entered in Mom’s bedroom but for the video shoot I was allowed in. Mom and I then did a variety of activities and she for the most part was oblivious to all of the cameras and mics around her, though several times she did look directly and the camera and the men operating them. The camera guys would zoom in on pages we were reading or activities we were doing! We spent about 30 minutes inside and 30 minutes on the deck. Janet and the other caregiver Sharita also looked out for the other residents inside the home. For the last part of the shoot, Mom was wheeled by Janet and Sharita down the wheelchair ramp on the deck directly to her bedroom. We took a few more pics and said goodbye. We were there for almost three hours and Mom was alert for the entire time!! It was amazing!

Next stop was my house and the crew quickly determined they wanted to film in my front yard. I was interviewed first and it took a little more than an hour. It was an amazing interview and I felt so comfortable, but it was more emotional than I thought it would be, primarily because I had to focus on the loss of Tim and our lives together and how the two of us cared for Mom as Team Veney. At the end of the interview, I was really overwhelmed so as I walked over to my family and friends I was in tears, and so were they. My niece Nia was next and she did a fabulous job talking about Mom, me and Tim. I was so impressed by her entire interview. After her shoot her husband Keith and their kids Krista and Karter got a tour in Joy and we had a ball! Next up were my friends from church Louise Walsh and Jan Lipscomb who were interviewed together about the support group they started for me after Tim’s death. They were sensational as well and shared that I had inspired them in our group meetings as much as they had inspired me.

Next up were Kim and Kendal and it was a very emotional interview for me to watch because the interview was so focused on great loss – of their parents / grandparents and dealing with Mom’s not recognizing or knowing them. The last segment of the day was one cameraman, me and Gabriel, one of the producers shooting the LEGO pieces that are part of my Art Against Alzheimer’s exhibit for The Longest Day Alzheimer’s fundraiser. They were blown away by the LEGO models and the meanings I attached to each of those models. By the time the crew broke all of the cameras, lights and sound equipment down it had been more than 10 hours since the day had started.

I knew I was so emotional during the day because I was so sad Tim wasn’t with us for this really amazing event. Yet, one of the most stunning things about the day for me was the presence of Tim all around the photo shoot. First you could see my RV Joy in most of the shots and the name Joy is on an orange background for Tim. Second, Tim had selected our patio furniture years ago, AND of course the cushions he selected were primarily orange, his favorite color. Those very chairs were the seats that all of us were interviewed on! Everyone involved commented on how we were sitting on Tim’s chairs. Finally while filming the segment with Kim my next door neighbor Michael, who has a disability, walked into the shot and all you could see was this big orange figure! Turns out Michael was wearing the orange t-shirt we’d all worn on the first anniversary of Tim’s death. Tim was absolutely there for the entire day!

The second day of the shoot only involved me, one cameraman and a producer (both named Gabriel). This day was to shoot BRoll, which is primarily action shots with very little talking. I walked through my old neighborhood of Petworth in DC, stopping at the house I was born and raised in . Then it was off to my church home of the last 15 years, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Capitol Hill. I walked through the garden and sat and reflected as instructed all while on camera. It was so cool that my friend Tracy, who was part of my church support group and our Rector Michele Morgan used my phone to take pics of the photo shoot for me!! I was so grateful to them! Our last top was to one of the highest places in the city where you can see almost all of DC. It’s on the grounds of a Catholic Church in SE DC. In addition to taking lots of photos of me with that stunning background, we also took selfies together to remember our weekend together!!

The two Gabriels (GabeSquared) treated me to brunch at Busboys and Poets in SE DC and it was a fabulous time with great food and conversation. I feel as if our weekend photo shoot has connected us as friends. I learned during that meal that there are 6 Thrivers chosen for each season (this will be season 4) all focused on different topics and that the show will be produced over the summer and will air this fall. They will be in contact with me to publicize my segment of the series and I’m so grateful I’ll be working with them in the future. As Gabe put it, “once a Thriver, always a Thriver!”. There is hope that all of the Thrivers can go to NY at some point now that COVID is ending. Previous seasons had Thrivers going to NY to appear with Robin Roberts. Whether I get to meet her or not, being honored as one of the Thrivers is incredible in and of itself! This is a weekend I won’t ever forget and I plan to continue to Thrive and Inspire caregivers who care for those with dementia. One of the coolest things about the entire photo shoot was when I was instructed to look directly at the camera, fold my arms and say “YEAH, I”M A THRIVER!” I hope all caregivers know that they too can Thrive! Love you Mom, this is all for you and the millions of others suffering from Alzheimer’s!

The Power of Connection Part II!

I’d divide the Month of April into three parts. Not by the beginning, middle or the end of the month, but by the power of connections I made during the month.

For the entire month of course I was connected through our deep love to my Mom. Once someone goes into Hospice, there’s no set timeframe for the end of life, so you spend as much time with your loved one as possible and I only missed seeing Mom three days this month. Some days Mom would chat a lot and be very engaged, and other days she was somewhat alert but didn’t say a word. Regardless, I made every possible moment with her filled with as much joy as possible. She’s given pain meds whenever she gives any indication that she’s in pain, but most of the time we laugh a lot as Mom reads her magazines.

I made connections in different areas with people I was already very connected with. I’ve given many presentations to support groups and at conferences for Johns Hopkins Medicine and though my contacts there who have become friends over the years had heard about my LEGO work we never discussed using LEGO bricks in any of the work I’ve done for them. So I met with my three contacts in mid-April and gave them a presentation on LEGO Serious Play. Not only were they very impressed with my presentation, they’ve already booked several sessions for their caregivers and professional staffs. Of course I’m wishing I’d met with them well before now, but so grateful that a new and powerful connection is now underway. That new connection inspired me to continue to share LEGO Serious Play with as many people as possible because I strongly believe in it’s restorative power for professional and family caregivers.

I also made several connections out of sheer necessity. There was a recall on my RV Joy and while she was in the shop getting that work done, I also authorized them to get her ready for this year’s camping season. They fixed quite a few things and kept me apprised every step of the way, even sending me pictures of issues they found. It was some of the best customer service I have ever received and though the repairs were costly at $2,700 I know I will be very safe on the road. I also ran over a nail in my car and needed two new tires, but connected with our local Mr. Tire which was always Tim’s favorite place and they took great care of me as always. Then when I was on my way to see Mom this week, my car battery had died, so my original battery had to be replaced by my Ford dealer where they also take very good care of me. At almost $4,000 it was a very expensive month, but the investments are well worth it given I’m usually always on the road alone.

My other re-connection this month was with my RVing Women sisters as we gathered for our first camping rally of the season. Though we were still keeping our safe distances and wearing masks it was fantastic to be with them again. We also had a special treat of being interviewed by the French press who wanted to talk to RVW Chapter members about being out on the road seeing the country given that Nomadland was up for (and won) the Oscar for Best Picture. It was fun being in the article and then seeing the article first in French until we received the English version.

The most amazing! connections I made came at the end of the month. I had connected with a woman named Melissa more than a year ago who is very well known and respected in the senior living / home health care space who had participated in my Pilot LEGO Serious Play virtual class in January. She had also attended a virtual presentation of mine, BUT we’d never met in person. We not only met for the first time this week, we saw each other three days in a row at events she invited me to! Melissa graciously connected me to some amazing folks in the memory care, assisted living and health care spaces who I will likely be working with in the future for presentations and LEGO fun! It felt strange at first, but was so incredible to network again (even with our masks) after 14 months of being homebound and to meet some amazing young people doing incredible work with seniors! I was absolutely blown away yesterday to visit Brandywine Living at Potomac, an incredibly gorgeous brand new Assisted Living and Memory Care facility where the first few residents have just moved in. I had a great chat about LEGO Serious Play with Brandywine’s activity director.

Today was definitely the best day of the month and the best way to end the month!! With several upcoming LEGO Serious Play sessions scheduled for June I ordered a case (the only way to buy them) of LEGO Serious Play materials. They are individual sealed bags of LEGO bricks to be used with a facilitator. LEGO shipped the materials on April 21st and gave me a tracking number. I tried pulling up the tracking info for the next couple of days but it wasn’t available. I got home from camping on the morning of the 24th and tried the tracking number again. To my surprise it said the package had been delivered on the afternoon of 23rd. There was no package and no one in my neighborhood had seen the box and video cameras didn’t detect a FedEx truck anywhere on our block before, during or after the time the box was supposedly delivered. Very concerned about my $565 worth of materials I filed a claim with FedEx and as of this moment I’ve not heard a word from their investigators. Hoping that LEGO might have some advice for me, I reached out to them on Wednesday night. Late last night they answered my email and announced that they would re-send my entire order at no charge to me. It was the first message I saw this morning and I thought it was a joke, but this afternoon I was notified that new box was shipped and then I jumped for JOY!! I have been a loyal buyer of LEGO products for most of my life and am a VIP customer, YET I didn’t expect them to replace my order, I was simply hoping they’d push FedEx to look for or replace the order since it got all the way to my Zip Code, just not to my house. It’s amazing to me that one of the most important connections throughout my life that I love so much showed me today that they love me back! I give them the Customer Service of the Year Award! Connections really are everything!