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?

 

Two conversations – TED talk

Interesting experience yesterday down at Miss Philly Grill.  Unintentionally eavesdropped on a man sitting at the counter talking about the aunt of a friend of his, a woman in an advanced state of Alzheimer’s, unable to recognize any of her loved ones.

The man had internalized the situation to the point where he clearly SAW himself, years from now, in a similar situation.  He knew one person, not even his own relative, with Alzheimer’s, yet in his mind the one turned into one hundred.  Now THAT’s demented!

Being as bold as brass, I went over & mentioned overhearing the discussion, letting him know that while it can feel like every older person we know has some form of dementia, they actually don’t.  It hit me that he was talking about the aunt of a friend – not his – & was forgetting all the older people he knows who DON’T have dementia.  Or the ones who do & he doesn’t know about because they aren’t presenting themselves as anything other than somewhat forgetful.   Alas, could not convince him that the majority of the elderly do NOT have a form of dementia;  facts didn’t matter because his emotions were fully engaged.

People of all ages are terrified developing dementia, seem to have the fear etched into their brains, worrying about something, giving it a form of BEING even when it is considerably more likely they will be just fine.  What a waste of energies.  And if people who are diagnosed & live with the many forms of dementia weren’t TOLD it was a fate worse than death, things would be so much better for them & for their loved ones.

Tamara Taggart , a Vancouver television personality, shares two conversations ~ the first almost broke her heart;  the second broke it open.

When you listen to the first conversation, ponder how dementia’s depiction as depressing, dark, dire – and about Tamara’s actual experience; hearing the second, reflect on her experience with what has followed.  Which will you think of if someone you love is faced with neurological challenges?  

May these two conversations change your life!

Goosebumps – NCCA

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NCCA – the National Center for Creative Aging.  I have no memory of how the NCCA first came into my life, how I came up with the cockamamie idea that it made sense for me – at that time virtually penniless – to go to the first NCCA Conference & Leadership Exchange in D.C., but the monies were raised for the conference & transportation costs, lodgings (with friends, outside D.C., in what turned out to be challenging to access Herndon VA) was arranged, and down I went.

Will never forget sitting in the intimate, circle-in-the-round auditorium in  the Arena Stage performance space, of having it hit me for the first time that the NCCA was based 4-square on the work of Gene Cohen, a man whose book, The Creative Age, drop kicked me into seeing the WHY for the vibrant oldsters elders ancients all around me in our little hometown.

Had I researched the conference at all online, it would have been OBVIOUS,  but I apparently went down, flying blind.

So, why did I go, if I didn’t even take a moment to check out the conference schedule? I arrived with a vague idea of where the main event would take place, virtually no understanding of where the pre-conference workshop I’d signed up for was happening, basically no knowledge of what was happening.  Mind you, I got my first smart phone (yes, in 2014) immediately before it so I’d have Internet access;  alas, I hadn’t a clue how to use it, had to keep asking smartly dressed young people bustling along the sidewalks for their aid with Mapquest.

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Long walks – those I remember.  Not having a clue of the shortest route from one spot to the next.  Hadn’t thought to get familiar with the area, to actually map out where event locations, to look over the schedule.

Had never been to a conference before.  The first time I saw the program was looking at the registration materials, the day AFTER the wonderful pre-conference workshop.

My most vivid memory of the entire conference was hearing Wendy Miller introduced, realizing she was Gene’s widow, having it HIT me right between the eyes – – DUH!  ‘Creative Aging: Exploring Potential in the Second Half of Life’ screamed Gene Cohen & yet I’d missed it!!

What made me think about goosebumps I’ll forever remember?  Dipping back into the wondrous book given to all conference attendees – Creativity Matters: The Arts & Aging Toolkit.

Confession time –  Gene’s book, The Creative Age, no longer sits next to The Mature Mind on my bookshelf – lent it to someone who never returned it.  That fate will NEVER happen to Creativity Matters,  because it will NEVER leave my possession!

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Talk about goosebumps – that priceless book continues to astound me.  It is packed with priceless information & inspiration ~  looking at how creativity nurtures an abundant older age, at the value of incorporating the arts into our  life, of the profound advantage of senior centers & residences, adult-day care programs & long-term care facilities, of families & friends in seeking, offering participatory arts programs that go beyond the “arts & crafts” that so often seem the norm.  To REACH &, in reaching, to satisfy.

It was in 2014 – at the pre-conference workshop? – that I first heard “Like” (Elizabeth) Lokon, director & founder of Opening Minds Through Art, explain that with older people, especially ones facing the challenges of cognitive impairment, “simple is complex, complex is simple” – trying to to duplicate an actual image was a struggle, frustrating, but to create a beautiful abstract painting looked difficult but was simple.

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Which brings us to last month’s IAGG World Congress & the wondrous talk by Marilyn Raichle, who spoke about the enjoyment that her mother – who has Alzheimer’s – drew from painting.  Although the subjects were defined, the delightful images her mother created were deliciously abstract, showcasing the processing from the delineated start to what showed up on the page.

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Which takes me to feeling sad.  Sad that I never asked for one of of the beautiful paintings that Anne Davis Hyatt created over her closing eight years.  Like Marilyn’s mother, from one moment to the next Anne could not remember the day or the date, but she did paint evocative hillsides & rivers & skies capturing her wonder & love of the sense of it all.

That’s what I learned from the NCCA, why I continue to get goosebumps remembering that I haven’t the vaguest recollection of how we first connected – – it shouts from the rooftops the importance of helping people of all ages stay anchored in the glorious sense of living, that the arts, from painting to poetry & performance & beyond, open the way & present a path to doing what I aim to provide for all my own clients friends family – living as expansively, as fully themselves, as possible in any given moment, feeling the thrill of goosebumps at the joy of it all.