Monday, July 28, 2008

Expect Delays: No Center Stripe

Jim and I used to go to Branson several times a year. Now, I make the trip with friends, my mom, sister, or my grandchildren. Last weekend, I traveled with my grandchildren.

Along Highway 65 on our trip, we hit road construction. Warning signs were posted: Road Construction, One Lane Ahead, Expect Delays. A flagman held a STOP sign. We waited in a line of vehicles while north bound traffic traversed several miles of a single lane. While we waited our turn, a blue Chevy pickup behind me swerved into the other lane, the driver’s head bobbing like an out-of-control bobble head doll as she contemplated whether the STOP sign applied to her.

The north bound cars dwindled, and we proceeded on our way at a speedy 45 miles per hour. Past the one-lane road, the signs read No Center Stripe. This sign means so much more than it says. It’s obvious that the road has no center stripe. But too many drivers, like the lady in the Chevy truck, have no concept of why the sign is there. Suddenly, you don’t have the Missouri Department of Transportation tell you which areas are unsafe for passing. You actually have to use common sense.

Ms. Bobble Head continued to swerve around, debating on passing me so she could be stuck behind the semi in front of me. Fortunately for her, traffic was heavy enough that on-coming cars prevented her from risking her life, and ours, in a foolish attempt to pass where the road department will surely paint yellow lines.

Of course, the grandchildren and I were not happy about the delay on our trip to Branson and Silver Dollar City, but that’s summer in Missouri. Life is like a highway without a center stripe, and we can expect delays along our journey. Every day we make decisions that can affect the remainder of our lives, and those decisions often affect others. We just need to use common sense, and watch out for the bobble heads.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Out to Lunch

Although I’m a writer and speaker, I continue to work at my day job for those little necessities like food and health insurance. My job as an office manager is fulfilling and challenging enough to hold my interest. We work ten-hour days with an hour lunch break. Sometimes, it seems that my brain is “out to lunch” during that one hour of theoretical down time in the middle of the day.

Friday, just as I was ending the work week, I decided to eat at the office and work on an article and story with looming deadlines. I walked back to the kitchen, removed my Schwan’s Broccoli-Chicken and Rice Bowl and popped it into the microwave. Rather than waste six minutes while I waited for it to cook, I grabbed a glass of ice water and returned to my desk, popped in my flash drive, and began to write.

The problem with healthy food is sometimes it just doesn’t stick with you. At three o’clock I was famished, and just as I reached for my apple, I realized my lunch was still in the microwave. I never thought I would live long enough to forget to eat! HereI am, a master of multi-tasking, and forgot to eat lunch.

Last week, I rushed from my hair appointment through a drive-thru window at Goody’s. I bypassed the “Order Here” menu and drove to the “Pick up Order” window. Just as I was contemplating backing up, the window opened and a grinning man said, “Could I have your order, please?”

“I can’t believe I didn’t stop and place my order.”

“It happens,” he said, “people just have their minds on something else.”

I didn’t tell him this was an improvement over the fiasco at the same restaurant last year. That time, I ordered at the proper window, paid for my food, and drove off with only my drink. I’m sure I was thinking about more important things than lunch.

My friend, Tracy Mobley, diagnosed at 38 with early-onset dementia, has something to say about people like me who have so much on their plates that their brains are out to lunch. She says, “They are quick to say, ‘Oh, I do those things.’ I truly wish this disease were as forgiving and forgetting as they make it seem.”

Well said, Tracy! When Jim developed dementia, I realized how serious and life-changing Alzheimer’s really is. He began a process that could be described as unlearning.

Our lives are so hectic today that we often find ourselves with our brain on one track, and our actions on auto pilot. This mental overload is not Alzheimer’s, but simply a brain trying to process too much information.

The lesson for me is to hang a mental “Out to Lunch” sign during my lunch break and spend my time more wisely. I need to take a deep breath and slow down. If I meet friends for lunch or go to the park and relax for an hour, I bet I wouldn’t forget to eat.


For information on Memory Talk presentations, visit, and click on the Alzheimer's Speaker link. Alzheimer's Anthology of Unconditional Love available at,, and selected Missouri Barnes and Noble stores.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

From Memory Walk to Memory Talk

“I want to go to the Memory Walk because I’m having trouble with my memory,” Jim said. He had spotted a small ad about the upcoming walk in the Sedalia Democrat. I hadn’t mentioned the walk but had already registered and raised $400. I thought Jim wouldn’t want to go because it was for Alzheimer’s.

When the doctor told Jim he had probable Alzheimer’s, Jim’s reaction was, “I guarantee you, I do NOT have THAT!” I didn’t want to believe it either, but what began as memory glitches had developed into gaping deficits. By Memory Walk time, Jim was on Aricept, but it made him sick and he resented taking an Alzheimer’s drug.

We arrived at Liberty Park, expecting a crowd of walkers. We joined Helen and Chuck from Slater, Penny and Joetta from the Mid-Missouri Chapter, and Penny’s German shepherd, Vicky, beneath the small shelter.

Helen, an energetic, vivacious 70ish woman had organized the walk because the Association couldn’t find anyone in Sedalia to do it. She toted a hunter’s horn, and was raring to go.

We received tee-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, cups, and water bottles. I donned my purple tee-shirt, but Jim insisted on wearing his cowboy hat and denim shirt. We waited. Walk time arrived, and no one else showed up.

Our small group headed toward the downtown area. Helen blew her horn, and we collected donations from the few people we met on the street and most of the downtown businesses. It was hot, and Jim began to sweat, but he was a real trouper and wanted to continue the walk. Helen swooped into the VFW Hall on Ohio Street. The veterans asked her to blow her hunter’s horn, and the sound bugled throughout the building.

Jim collected the largest donation of the day from Wilken’s Music Store, where he was a regular customer. He was excited about people giving us contributions and with no concept of the value of money, pocket change was just as exciting to him as ten-dollar bills. In all, the Sedalia Walk earned about $600 that year

The Mid-Missouri Chapter asked me to organize the 1999 walk. I had never been involved in community service, and this was a giant step for me. The Sedalia Memory Walks were successful initially due to family support. Eventually the walk was embraced by our entire community. My passion carried me through five years as coordinator. Our six walkers mushroomed into 444 walkers who contributed $36,000.

The decision to become the Memory Walk Coordinator changed my life. Throughout Jim’s illness, being an Alzheimer’s Association volunteer gave me a sense of purpose and became my lifeline. The Mid-Missouri Chapter staff and Board gave me a Kleenex to dry my eyes and inspired me on my life’s greatest mission. Over the past ten years, I’ve been a primary caregiver, a support group facilitator, an Alzheimer’s Board Member and Assembly Delegate, a spokesperson, and active advocate for people with Alzheimer’s and their families.

I’m not telling you these things so you will think I’m a giving person; I have received so much more than I’ve ever given. Jim developing early onset dementia was my life’s greatest heartbreak, but this tragedy gave birth to my greatest blessings.

Being an Alzheimer’s volunteer, I’ve met amazing people, made life-long friends, and had opportunities I never dreamed could be possible. I share my experiences through Memory Talk presentations and book projects. I see sunshine breaking through the giant shadow of Alzheimer’s.

Every journey begins with one step, so make sure your step is in the right direction. May you walk the Memory Walk and talk the Memory Talk to make the world better for the 5.2 million Americans with Alzheimer’s.

To find a Memory Walk near you, call your local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter or visit and click on your state on the map. You don’t have to be an athlete. Our top fundraiser for years called all her friends and never left her home. If you prefer email, the Alzheimer’s Association’s Kintera makes fundraising easy.

For information on Memory Talk presentations, visit, and click on the Alzheimer's Speaker link. Alzheimer's Anthology of Unconditional Love available at,, and selected Missouri Barnes and Noble stores.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Writing as Therapy: Rocks and Pebbles

Stress is rampant in most of our lives today, and is a primary contributor to premature death. Even when we make an effort to be healthier, we create more stress! I experience health-related stress every time I try the latest count-every-calorie diet and go to bed with a growling stomach.

We manage stress in individual and somewhat mystical ways. Whether you cope with stress though exercise, aromatherapy, meditation, medication, therapy, or a combination, you use a method that blends with your personality.

I’ve always believed in gut feelings, and my gut tells me that writing is the technique that works for me. I will be the first to admit a bubble bath can brighten a bad day, but when I grapple with a dilemma, I need to write. The key word is “need.” It isn’t that I want to write, or writing through the problem might help; writing is necessary. Nothing else works as well as writing to relieve my stress, grief, disappointments, or the myriad of quandaries spawned by daily life.

Through Jim’s downward spiral into the land of dementia, I survived by writing. From the first memory lapses through ten years of gradually losing my best friend and companion, I wrote. Pen and paper, or my laptop, took the brunt of my anger, disappointment, and despair. Had I unloaded all my problems onto other human being, I probably wouldn’t have any friends or relatives without unlisted phone numbers.

I wrote “Writing as Therapy: Rocks and Pebbles” for Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love. One of the purposes of the book was to help others traveling the Alzheimer’s journey. I would have been remiss had I not shared the value of writing.

Imagine my excitement to find research validates the therapeutic benefits of writing for both emotional well-being and physical problems. It is easier for me to understand the emotional benefits of writing than to comprehend that participants of therapeutic writing experiments showed decreased blood pressure, less pain from arthritis, and better breathing in asthmatics.

In this age of self-help, writing is an inexpensive way to use the benefit of self-reflection to increase our joy in living. Researchers warn that writing is not a cure-all and may not work for everyone. But if you are one who believes in gut feelings, you might want to give it a try. Writing as therapy is not about being a “writer” or “published author;” it’s about expressing your emotions through writing.

My current book project, Writing as Therapy: Rocks and Pebbles, explores how writing memories, or even fiction, can be cathartic. Writing allows me to reflect on life, examine my values, and validate my faith that my existence has meaning. Writing is a stress-free health choice that allows me to feast on spiritual food. No calorie counting required.