Just right 1st conference for John!

LOUD cheers & wild applause for the Northern Virginia Caregivers Consortium’s annual conference!  We discovered this gem, held annually on the Veteran’s Day federal holiday, by sheer serendipity – John & I already look forward to 2018!

It was after July’s IAGG World Congress, when John once again welcomed me home from an eldercare-related conference,  that he put his foot down, letting me know, “I want to go to one, too!”  The words I’d been longing to hear.

Just not the time I wanted to hear them.  It’s been years since we’ve been this low on funds; the possibility of getting him to a conference THIS year seemed slim to none.  But never count out the power of the Universe to transform the seemingly impossible into the DONE.

The event that showed up went passed do-able to MUST DO.  The Universe continues to astonish!

Having come up with the idea for a Comedy Relief Kit – first aid for the funny bone, I clearly could NOT miss a Creating Moments of Joy Conference.  No how, no way  – if it had been in Fargo, I would have hitchhiked to be there.  This conference seemed a relative hop skip & jump from our suburban Philadelphia home, held in Centreville, VA, west of Alexandria.  And its keynote speaker was Jolene Brackey!  I was IN!  And the cost of the conference was $30.00 (!) a person, so it was just a tad crazier for John to come, too.

The 36 hours surpassed my greatest hopes.

The drive down was relatively sane. Well, until we hit Rt 66.  Cray-zee! Jam packed & not moving.

We high tailed it OFF the big road, looking for a promising dining spot.  We found Amphora, a Fairfax restaurant with the look & prices of a high-end diner but the food choices & service of a white tablecloth establishment.   We wish we lived close enough & had the current funds to have dinner there once a week & work our way through their distinctive menu.  We controlled ourselves & had pancakes for supper – John was happy as a dickey bird with his blueberry flapjacks while I found my Autumn Harvest stack delectable – we dipped them into a puddle of syrup rather than pouring it over them, to not detract from their utter yum.

Returning to Rt 66, we counted ourselves blessed that traffic was high volume but not nuts.  Little did we know!  Around the time we were considering whether or not to have dessert, a train had hit a car on the tracks.  The most direct route to our Airbnb was completely shut down.  We had to take the back roads – discovering that in Centreville, they have a weird habit of changing without warning, from one intersection to the next.

The challenging drive was worth every minute.  Our Airbnb was a beautiful home, tucked well off the small road that led to it, lovely grounds & a great mini-suite that included a terrific bathroom & a 2nd bedroom, had we needed it.  The decor, inside & out, was right up our alley, with twirly swirly things spinning in front of the house, lots of intriguing graphics & lettered pictures inside that screamed about our host., “Laurie’s one of us!”  I still haven’t learned how to use my iPad alarm, but had luckily taken my little Pampered Chef kitchen alarm along & it totally did the job.

It was NOT easy to head out at 7:30 a.m. – the house was so welcoming & the grounds beckoned us to explore.  But (after taking a few moments to watch a squirrel scampering up a tree) we packed up the car & were off to THE CONFERENCE by 7:48 a.m., fingers crossed that the advertised “breakfast reception” before Jolene’s opening would suffice.

About twenty minutes later, we walked into a HUGE field house-sized space which housed the conference & happily spotted coffee, danish, bagels & cream cheese.

Inspired by closing speaker, Ron Culberson, I sported a headband with two pink flamingoes, facing beak to beak.  A great ice breaker!

We checked out the vendors tables lining half the room, two tables deep, getting the chance to meet some truly awesome people I look forward to writing about later.  Then we poured ourselves coffee, loaded up on nibblings & headed to a table at the front of the room.  Suffice it to say the event went WAY past my wildest expectations, a total steal for $30.

As someone involved in putting together speaker events in my Prudential HealthCare days, was impressed with how diverse the speakers were AND how naturally their topics meshed.  Jolene’s presentation on creatively interacting with people touched by dementia & Alzheimers (total WOW!) led into Ann Morrison’s outstanding talk about caregiver’s working through difficult feelings (needs to be discussed more often, whether a professional care partner, a loved one or friend) which segued into Melanie Chadwick addressing the current meds & ongoing research/trials (she thinks none too highly of what’s currently available).  Lunch (catered by Panera!) was followed by Paula Kyle getting us going with her Dancing With Parkinson’s moves, then it was back to Jolene talking out how to make bathing & mealtimes less daunting, then Ron Culberson was up to tie everything together in his inimitable style, with lots of laughter along with bits of insight about aging & life.

As I drove home last night – a glorious drive that embodied playfulness & partnership – John was all smiles with his first conference.  As we discussed what immediately came to mind in thinking about the conference, neither of us was surprised that we shared the same moment as our #1 – Jolene, who gave her presentation walking among the the sea of tables & the hundreds of attendees, asking which, if we were to swap places with our loved ones/clients, would WE prefer:   to be safe ~or~ to feel ALIVE?  To live five more years with dementia/Alzheimers ~or~ to live as we want for a few months?

Which would you?

 

THE FREEBIRD CLUB – website of the week!

At this moment, there are two (2) great reasons why I am crazy in love with The Freebird Club.   (I suspect many more will be added through the years).

FIRST, and most obvious.  This “social travel & home-stay club exclusively for the over 50s” set provides a place for older roamers to be part of a “genuine community of travelers , hosts & guests.  What a wonderful way for mature ramblers to connect with new people, form new friendships, enjoy your hosts as well as your lodgings.

The Freebird Club adds an innovative new wrinkle to the Airbnb “sharing economy” accommodations model.  Founder Pete Mangan – formerly an administrator at the University of Dublin – put the HOME into homestay experience.  Social connection is a key part of the business model!

Background – –  Pete had built a house on property in beautiful Killorglin, Co Kerry,  just sitting there, empty, since he lived in Dublin.  He rented it out through Airbnb, the income helping cover his mortgage while playing host proved a lovely bit of fun for his dad, who handled the meeting & greeting in his absence. 

The son was delighted by the change his saw in his father, a widower of some years who lived alone, semi-retired from his veterinary practice.  He enjoyed his father’s tales of taking older couples off to a pub, to the local sights & events, often over lunch or dinner. 

As Pete, then serving as the University’s Senior Manager/Research & Development, read the reviews, particularly from older guests, it was clear what people remembered & treasured most were the good times & forever memories they made with his dad.  Pete realized that what his dad provided went way past the Airbnb model. Voila!  The Freebird Club was born! 

As Pete explained, “We really want to provide something that’s fun and inspiring for older people. It provides a whole new way of traveling for them. Often, they have the time, but nobody to do it with, and they won’t go alone. That’s why it’s a club and you can stay with other members.  We really want to provide something that’s fun and inspiring for older people. It provides a whole new way of traveling for them.”

Here’s how it works:  Unlike Airbnb, The Freebird Club is “peer-to-peer,” with travelers staying with their fellow members in a spare room.  You MUST be a member to book.  Plunk down a one-time membership fee (under $50), pass the vetting process, & you’re in!  The nominal fee covers the approval process AND helps ensure that only people committed to the Freebird travel philosophy join, nurturing a sense of belonging, trust & security.  Although they have a smattering of offerings in the USA yet, Pete hopes to find a lot of potential welcoming hosts among the Irish diaspora here in America.

The Freebird Club’s digital magazine sets my heart racing – its pieces are well written, beyond simply interesting to truly mind expanding.  It is a visual expression of what Pete Mangan holds dear, which goes way past simply offering older travelers with affordable lodgings with welcoming hosts.  In fact, there is nothing simple at all in what Pete seeks to achieve with The Freebird Club.  Which brings us to the…

SECOND reason I love The Freebird Club…  Yes, it offers value, community & great times.  But it offers more, much more.  And THAT goes straight to my heart, is what I love to pieces about Pete Mangan, why he is one of my heroes.

Because of his close relationship with his father & a professional life that spans a spectrum of interests: finance, the arts, university research and – let’s not forget! – innovation, Pete realized that the homestay experience he envisioned could do far more than provide accommodations.  It could help reduce, even eliminate, some heart-wrenching social problems.

Pete, with the heart of a true social entrepreneur, aims to reduce the growing sense of loneliness & isolation that enshrouds many older people.  He also knows from his family friends community that while many mature adults are asset-rich – their home paid off, no mortgages to pay – most live on some form of fixed income.  By offering a spare bedroom in their home to paying guests, they can monetize that asset!

Thanks to The Freebird Club, mature adults no longer have to feel their wings have been clipped by financial restraints (accommodations are considerably more affordable than traditional lodging) or a lack of traveling companions (all hosts greet their guests & are available for connection), while home owners can enrich their lives as well as their bank account.

Pete Mangan, inspired by his dad, Owen, has infused community into travel, for which I thank him.

Confession:  I am quietly freaking out here.  It was just around this time last Thursday that I met & spoke with Tom Kamber, when I started looking at Cyber Access for the Technically Timid (CATT) as something that could make a serious difference alleviating loneliness & isolation -and- provide a good income to the people spinning socializing into social networking.  Now, tonight am introduced to Pete Mangan, who sounds so much like Tom in his connection to helping people LIVE LIVE LIVE.  Between the two, my plans for CATT have been set on their ear, leaving me a bit breathless with shock, amazement & – I admit it – a twinge of fear.

About to sign up for our Freebird Club membership.  How lovely to know we have a fairly affordable option if we want to plan a late stay at a Radical Age Movement or Senior Planet event.  Let’s see….  In Brooklyn, Harlem or…?

The Freebird Club – an idea whose time has so clearly come!!

 

Gene D. Cohen – forever in my heart

Will never forget the moment at my first (the first) National Center for Creative Aging Leadership Conference & Exchange when it hit me like a lightning bolt that the NCCA is the child of the great Gene D. Cohen, MD – a man I never met & who changed my life for all time.

There is not date inscribed in my copy of Creative Awakenings ~ awakening human potential in the second half of life  to clue me into when I first came across it ~ my guess is it was well after its 2000 publication date, probably several years after Mom’s 2001 death.  I remember buying it, then not reading it for several more years, so my best guess at when I actually settled down for a read would be around 2007 – ten years ago, seven years before that first NCCA Conference, two years before Gene’s death in 2009, at a mere 65 years old.

I have even less memory of what drew me to that first NCCA Conference.  There wasn’t any buzz on it; the group was an enthusiastic circle of creatives who believed what I had come to see over two years, at that point, of working with Anne Davis Hyatt as our client – – that the arts are the key to full-throttle life experience, straight across the age spectrum & health condition.  Through many years with Anne, John & I saw real-time the impact creativity can have on squashing the heartache of dementia.  It was that new -found, present-moment awareness that lead practically penniless me to an auditorium at the Arena Stage in D.C., looking at a program that featured not a single name I knew.

When I heard one of the earliest speakers prepare to introduce Wendy Miller, no bells started ringing, no lights of recognition started flashing.  Was still, incredibly, clueless as she was described her as the wife of the late Gene Cohen.  But then Wendy started talking, opening up the umbrella in her hand with its under-canopy of clouds & sky, started sharing the work she had done with her husband, the amazing strides he’d made in a too short life & it hit me – SHAZAM!  Everything fell into glorious place – literally, it was like little threads  had been brushing past my face & magically coalesced into a beautiful shawl draped across my stunned shoulders.

Gene Cohen, first in Creative Awakenings & then The Mature Mind, expressed what I had observed over a lifetime of casual & intimate connection with the incredible oldsters elders ancients in my little hometown, particularly with my mother & her WOW! circle of friends.  It made NO sense to me that surveys typically used “65+” to cover all the ages from getting-their-first-Social Security check to centenarians, because I could see, right before me, what differences are found in the years between oldster & ancient.

Not kidding – when I realized who Wendy Miller was, that many of the strangers around me were no strangers to the work of Gene Cohen, I started to cry tears of discovery & joy.  After a lifetime of searching, I had found my tribe.

Gene Cohen looked like a larger-than-life pixie & brought a pixie’s joy of play & dusting of magic to his work as a geriatric psychiatrist.  He famously teamed up with George Burns to produce Public Service Announcements on aging!

His outlook on what my mother described as “tripping the old-ometer” upward was upbeat & optimistic – a radical departure from the too-common prognosis of aging as constant decline & deterioration devoid of any up side.   He was an early researcher into brain function in the elderly, a neglected area of study since young whippersnapper scientists assumed there wasn’t anything of interest to know about aging.

Even before baby boomers were old enough to make studies into aging financially viable, Gene was beating the drums that our brains are ravaged by diseases associated with age, not aging itself, and therefore many can be treated; that our brains are more flexible, that they are more attuned to creativity & blossom through the arts in ways few scientists or people who hold the purse strings to funding suspected.  He showed that the neurons that engage us in creative endeavors are not profoundly affected by the ravages of Alzheimer’s – they follow a different track & can be accessed when others are shut down.

How he would have loved the video of the old man who had seriously declined to a virtually non-responsive state who LIT UP on hearing music – even when the headphones were taken off, he remained responsive & connected, talking where he had been mute.  Gene would have grooved out over the story of Edward Hardy, a 93-year old jazz pianist with dementia who seemed to have given up, whose life changed due to a young activities director, also a musician, who reconnected Edward with music – and life.

There is so much I could write about Gene. It’s an honor to feature him in one of my first blog postings, since I am writing this & doing all that’s before me because of all he wrote & did.  You can expect many more blog postings ahead spotlighting this remarkable man who had every grace except that of years.

I do want to recall the most special moment from last year’s 2016 NCCA Leadership Conference & Exchange.  That first year found us in an auditorium-in-the-round at the Arena Stage; by 2015, the number of participants saw us moving to a considerably LARGER auditorium;  last year sent us to the Newseum!  I think it was the second morning of the conference that found me arriving late, having rushed so much I’d skipped breakfast at my delightful Airbnb.  What joy to discover the breakfast buffet spread was still available.  I’d picked up my bagel & fresh fruit, was pouring my cup of coffee, when I was joined by a lovely woman wearing an shawl that looked like it was spun of the sky.  Her ID showcased not her name, but the front cover of a book – Sky Above Clouds.  We talked about Gene, I shared how he was the one who woke me up to life’s calling.  Several minutes went by before it hit me ~ SHAZAM! ~ that she was Wendy Miller!  And she was talking to ME!

The short conversation & that 2nd awakened moment are with me still.  They will be with me when I head to the International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics World Congress in less than two weeks.  They are with me always & forever.