Saturday, January 26, 2008

My Marbles and My Life

First, I recently received this e-mail. Can Math be considered another language? :-)

Brain Booster 1: Your Heart
The reason you misplace keys or can't remember what you ate 9 minutes ago? Normal aging shrinks neurons (brain cells) and drains neurotransmitters (the messengers that communicate between and among cells). But getting your heart rate up can reverse this process by increasing blood flow to the brain to improve memory and overall brain function, says Arthur Kramer, Ph.D., a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Illinois. "We examined brain structure before and after fitness training and we found increases of brain volume in a number of areas," says Dr. Kramer, whose patients improved 10 to 15 percent on a variety of memory and attention tasks after exercise. The minimum: You can reap benefits from as little as walking 30 minutes three times a week.

Brain Booster 2: Your Back
Hauling your everyday (80-pound) shoulder bag can leave you tired. Carrying whiny kids can leave you frazzled. And both may injure your back — and your brain — in the process. A recent Northwestern University study found that people who suffered from chronic back pain lost up to 1.5 cubic centimeters (equivalent to 1 teaspoon) of gray matter per year. That's because the area of the brain that copes with the stress of the pain (the lateral prefrontal cortex, for those scoring at home) becomes depleted and dysfunctional enough to affect emotional decision-making, says A. Vania Apkarian, Ph.D., whose previous work found that patients with chronic back pain were slower decision-makers. Best way to beat back pain: build muscle in your lower back and abdominals to support the spine. Try the reverse trunk curl. Lie flat on your stomach and fold your hands under your chin. Lift your chin and chest off the floor about 3 to 6 inches. Aim for three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions three times a week.

Brain Booster 3: Your Waist
A body mass index below 25 not only means you'll look great in a bikini but that you'll be more likely to remember that you do. A recent Swedish study found that women who had a BMI of 27 (25-30 is considered overweight) were more likely to experience loss of brain tissue in the temporal lobe (that's your brain's main hub for memory function and one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer's). That's because extra fat generates more chemicals that can be toxic to your brain, says Deborah Gustafson, Ph.D., the lead study author and assistant professor at the Institute of Clinical Neuroscience in Sweden. One class of these chemicals — called free radicals — latches on to cells, disrupts the way they function, and can kill them. Aging naturally chews away at your memory, but excess fat may speed up the process. For each point your BMI increases, your risk increases 12 to 16 percent. "If you decrease your body weight, you're going to slow potential atrophy," says Dr. Gustafson, who recommends a BMI below 25.

Brain Booster 4: Apples
Eat one a day and keep your neurologist away. Researchers from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, recently discovered that animal brain cells treated with the antioxidant quercetin were able to resist damage from those brain-frying free radical cells (above). "We know that quercetin, commonly found in apples, has a great potential to protect against chronic diseases, including Alzheimer's," says Chang Lee, Ph.D., the principal study author and chair of the department of food science and technology at Cornell. Since fresh apples contain high levels of quercetin, Dr. Lee suggests that one a day may help combat neurodegenerative diseases. Other foods high in quercetin include onions, plums, and berries.

Brain Booster 5: Your Desktop Wallpaper
Set up a Kandinsky painting as your desktop wallpaper, and it's like 10 pushups for your brain every time you look at it. Researchers from the University of California at Davis found that the brain first detects recognizable patterns, such as shapes and lines, and then starts to break down new and different elements. Taking in an eyeful of complex images may ultimately help slow natural brain deterioration, says study author Scott Murray, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Minnesota. Looking at a painting that actively engages your thoughts is far more challenging — and better — for your brain than staring out a window, which likely offers familiar views and much easier interpretation, Dr. Murray says.

Brain Booster 6: EspaƱol
Knowing how to say "Yo quiero Taco Bell" versus knowing how to order your whole meal in Spanish may mean the difference of a few brain cells. A recent study from the University College London found that bilinguals have more gray matter than monolinguals. "It appears that gray matter, which is critical for performing simple as well as complex tasks, is shaped by what we learn and by our experiences in general," says Andrea Mechelli, Ph.D., the lead study author. Even people who picked up a second language at age 35 saw an increase in gray-matter density, says Dr. Mechelli. Where to start? The easiest second language to learn is the one you're most likely to encounter; for most, that's Spanish. "Find a way to immerse yourself in situations where people are actually using that language," says Dennis Baron, a professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For other ways, try community college classes, or go online to look at foreign newspapers that have illustrations to help you understand.

Brain Booster 7: The Mall
In a recent study of 1,000 participants, researchers set out to find why 75-year-old women tend to maintain better brain function than 75-year-old men. The result: they shop. That's because shopping requires more physical and mental activity than sitting around and watching golf, says Guy McKhan, M.D., study author and professor at the Mind/Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins University. "They're being physically active, mentally active, and tend to see themselves as having a role to play in life," says Dr. McKhan. Deciding what to buy, for whom, and how much to spend is one way to keep your brain — and your eye for a bargain — active on weekends.

Then I read another e-mail:

People with four healthy lifestyle behaviors — not smoking, physical activity, moderate alcohol consumption, and eating five servings of fruit or vegetables a day — live an average of 14 years longer than people with none of those behaviors, shows a new study.
Learn more.

What good would living long be without a sound mind? The realization for me is that either could go at any time.

Spell Check

The technique of fine writing for me has always been a two step process. The first draft is the emotion, spirit and intellect of who I am and what I believe being expressed. Writing in the morning is the time of my day when ideas flow freely. I am usually fresh from rest and the day is still full of promise. My ideas are generally clear and focused. BUT, I have to do my editing later. I do not catch errors. Later in the day I am more critical, not of my ideas themselves, nor of their credibility. I simply find technical and grammatical errors that somehow evade me in the early a.m. hours. I am often amazed at what errata escape me in the a.m., but never the less stand out stark and clearly wrong in the late afternoon

If I do my first draft writing later in the day, I find it to be more critical of my life and position and choices. I guess that is okay sometimes, but I find those writings harder to come back to later in agreement. It is harder for me as the day unfolds to get unique ideas. The writing seems more cliche. Stale. I want to hash it up later and make it something else entirely. There will be few publishings of first drafts or afternoon drafts from me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why I Love Fridays

Top Ten Reasons I Love Fridays
10.Doughnuts sold in front of the school library in the morning
9. Lesson plans often include tests, quizzes or videos (not for me, for the kids LOL)
8. New episodes of Monk, reruns work too-I love that show
7. I can wear jeans to work
6. I get to veg out in the evening if I want
5. I get to have dinner out if I want
4. I get to have a late night if I want
3. I eat lunch with my friends at a mexican resturant near work
2. Its the beginning of my weekend once I leave work
1. Everybody at my house has the night off-Family time

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Clearing off Space

My dining room table is the hub of my family home. It is where we come together daily to enjoy a meal or two. Whoever is here can be expected to our family sit down meal. When it is time for the meal, sometimes everyone is there rather quickly, eager, and hungry. Sometimes we wait for a member to finish up an activity or get into the house and the beginning of the meal is delayed. The television is off (or at least paused). Conversation stops as someone leads a prayer. We talk about the food, we talk about anything, we talk about nothing, but most meals can bring us closer as we come from our respective places of our modestly large home.

Then comes a project, one of mine usually, and the sanctity of the dining room table is lost. It is covered with something that needs attention. Something is there that no one but the person working on the project can deal with. Meals are shifted to the kitchen. Much more cramped, but we are still together. It happened just this week. My dining room table had been covered since Sunday afternoon with empty boxes and craft supplies. There were also two boxes that need to go out of the house altogether. Why was all of that still sitting there today...interrupting the family meals? I did a fifteen minute rescue this morning before work and it is mostly cleared. Just 15 minutes; and why didn't I deal with that Sunday? I needed to reclaim the space for my family. Fifteen minutes and it was nearly all cleared (except the boxes that needed to be loaded in my van). Why did I let that little job junk up the family dining tradition for so many days? Come six o'clock the dining room table will be the center of a meal again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Later, gator... Out of sight out of mind.... Why do I put things off? Most of what I do, I do at the last minute.

I think it is because I have so many things on my to-do list. They say that those who have a lot to do put themselves through stress and their memory goes. A big part of that is the fact that you can't multi-task with attention. Some things you can do. Habits that do not require thought. Loading a dishwasher while talking on the phone. I don't have to think about it much, and after the phone call, or during a pause in the conversation I will ask myself if I put the soap in or started it up. I won't remember because it didn't have my attention.

So I make to do lists. I do the things that are every day routines and I do what has to be done, but often times things that need attention just don't get it because I can only do so much. The less desirable jobs are often the ones that are put off. Sometimes too long. When I get around to them I often discover that they really were not as bad as I had set them up to be or that they have become monsters since I have put them off so long that it will take a great deal of time and effort to get it done. And I really believe that it would have been less time and anguish involved if it had been dealt with the first day it appeared on my list. Now to find the time....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Down and Dark

It's the time of year that I just get through. I am not fond of winter. Yes, I can handle a beautiful snowy day from time to time. I can even appreciate a fire blazing in the fireplace on a cold winter evening. But I really don't like the early darkness that comes with it all. If I had time during the day to enjoy outside, I might feel differently. In the winter, daylight is most certainly burned before I can even arrive home from work, before I can even think to enjoy moments of time with my boys, with Joe or time for myself. I long for Spring. I yearn for the daylight hours to grow each day. I am in hopes that Summer and its long lit evenings will be here soon afterwards, and my spirits will be high as well. God bless the winter, and its ability to make me appreciate when the Earth is awake and alive with an abundance.

Monday, January 21, 2008


When this day falls each year, my thoughts turn to my dreams, as well as to the dreams of others. I can remember imagining as a kid being able to see a movie any time I wanted, or pausing a tv show while I left the room when my mom called me. Some things I imagine just seemed to happen. Without my personal input, some thirty plus years have passed and these and many other imaginings have become my current reality. I think of these sometimes as realized dreams. But the dreams I really need to focus on are dreams that I can make happen.

Some things that I really want I have to work hard to get. I set my mind to it and devote my energy to making it real. This is why I have an education. There was no one in my family that I could follow the footsteps of, although I found my own mentors along the way. There was no one who would do the work for me. Looking back I feel so extremely blessed to have people in my life at just the right time to challenge me to give my best and to do what I needed to do to get what I wanted. I was also blessed with a mind that made learning easy for most things. I was blessed to be born in a land where education was compulsory to some extent, and then available to anyone who was willing to work and pay for it.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered by many today as a man with a dream of peace. I know that many today wonder how much of his dream has been realized. I know many young people today, my own children included, don't seem to get why King's dream is such a big deal. That, I think is progress. God created us all to give glory to Him. He also expects us to treat others well as that is a way that we show our love to God himself. I pray that King's dream is realized, but in reality it starts with me...and then you..and then...the world. People in general don't have a good track record for being good to each other. Especially not to others that are considered different or outsiders.

For something to happen, you first have to dream it. It has to be a picture in your mind or else you are living without purpose. I was posed a question a couple of weeks ago. The question was, what would I dream if I knew that it would be one that would come true? Followed by the question, what is stopping me? For me, the answer I know is that at the end of my days, when I stand in front of my creator, the love of my life, that He will tell me, "Well done, my lovely child." What is stopping me from realizing my dream? That is my life journey.

"The time is always right to do what is right."
Martin Luther King Jr.,Nobel Peace Prize recipient and civil rights activist

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Clean Sweep

It seems that organization of stuff is a never ending battle for me. Don't get me wrong. The amount of clutter I am dealing with today is still much less than what I was dealing with five and ten years ago, but I still have "things" that have to be dealt with. Much of the clutter comes from postponing dealing with things. I tell myself that I am too busy to deal with things or that other things are more pressing at the time. In the end the reality is that if I don't deal with things as they come into the house, or as I finish using them in the house, that those are what become the source of clutter.

Over Christmas break, I did do a lot of getting rid of stuff and managed to declutter and organize the walk in closet in the bedroom now used by my 7 year old. I limited my storage area to one side of the closet so that Raymond would have room for his clothes that hang up, his shoes, his travel bag and a two drawer file cabinet for his projects and materials (he puts me in the mind of da Vinci's notebooks, as he writes on any and every scrap of paper he finds. He loves spirals, planners, notepads, scratch paper and blank sheets of copy paper; and fills them with writings and sketches on a daily basis). The storage side of the closet has about a four by four foot square floor space and there is a shelf about five feet up that has another three feet of space above it that covers two walls meeting at the back corner. This is the area where I am storing a few pieces of baby furniture until we have someone small in the family again. I have also packed large plastic storage tubs with each holiday's decorations, labeled the tubs and recorded their contents in my planner. I have also added to my to do list finding a pressure rod and curtain to cover that side of the closet so that Raymond is not even looking at the floor to ceiling storage on that side of his closet.

My walk-in closet in my bedroom is realtively clutter free. I have my hanging clothes in there. A long shelf with my folded clothes and another shelf that has my iron and photography and video equipment and supplies. The ironing board, my shoes, one medium sized box of summer clothes and a very large gift bag full of gift wrapping supplies are all that are on the floor. I still need to go through my clothes this Spring, but the closet is relatively clutter free. The closet off the utility room in my pantry has been decluttered several times in the past year, and basically has very little clutter since it is difficult to even open the door as the dog crates are stacked right next to the closet.

So I have one storage area left in my house; the very large linen closet in the master bathroom. The bathroom closet has been the catchall of late for paper clutter, office supplies, scrapbook supplies and various computer components and software from the past decade or two. Today I was working on the linen closet "clean sweep" style. I pulled each item or container out one at a time, trashed the items that were obviously trash, had an area to round up donations (as I will not ever be doing a yard sale), a tub for items that will need stored in the new craft area, and a tub for items that need to be filed or put away in a specific place somewhere else in my home. The object of the first round of decluttering was to get rid of trash and items I don't use, as well as to group together like items that are staying in my home. I set my timer for 30 minute sessions and then took a 15 minute break between to deal with kids, have a cup of tea or take care of other things going on in the house.

I focused on decluttering the items on the floor first and then worked on the shelves from the top down. There are items on the shelves that needed to stay on the shelf, so they were dusted and straightened. There was no sense in moving something away that actually belonged on the shelf.

These are before pictures of the linen closet. The gold colored tubs to the far left are empty and were used to sort and eventually store items from the closet.

After five 30 minute sessions, the closet looks good, items that are stored are in marked tubs and their contents are recorded in my planner. The main purpose of this closet is to house the linens on one side and my library on the other. I do most of my reading in the bedroom in my reading area, so the library area is close by and I can rotate books in and out of my bedroom book shelf when I feel the need.

Here is the closet after the declutter. The craft and scrapbook supplies have found a new home in my new craft area. I also found a couple of boxes of books that will go to school. I didn't realize that they were even in there.
After the declutter, I had to take care of the items that were not going back into the closet. I had to set the timer for two more 30 minute sessions to get this completed.