Turning Twenty

The twenty-first century is maturing.
Time flew through its adolescence.
Will we manage a world hopefully enduring
With love, peace and effervescence?

At its birth we used the word ‘millennial’
And we all survived the Y2 Scare.
But the growing pains seem perennial.
Humanity and AI make quite a pair.

Human connection is digitized.
Lovers’ gazes aren’t face to face;
It’s via devices now romanticized.
The world’s becoming a peculiar place.

Paper is out, screens are in;
Reality is increasingly virtual.
Privacy’s walls are growing thin.
Finding the truth’s a trek unusual.

Will its emerging adulthood provide a break
From time and technology speeding?
Are there lessons for humanity’s sake
We should slow down and start heeding?

We’ll ponder after the countdown and cake –
This century IS turning twenty –
No doubt we’ll have adjustments to make
And wish for more birthdays a’plenty.

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Noise Pollution

Blood pressure up, senses heightened, nerves on edge… not in response to potential danger, or to a deer sighting within shooting range or to too much coffee, but to NOISE, lots of it, ALL THE TIME. Motivation, learning, memory, productivity and problem-solving can also be affected, and not in positive ways, by constant attacks on our brains via our ears. 

Two kinds of noise are the culprits: 1) the heightened non-stop backdrop of sound as in a city, a sawmill or a factory and (2) isolated, distracting sounds as those from a clicking pen (there are marathon pen-clickers among us), a phone conversation in the adjacent booth or cubicle, the popping of an electric heater as it warms up or cools down or the random clunks from an ice maker.

Excessive noise creates stress which then contributes to the release of too much cortisol into our bodies. Don’t forget – a brain is a body part. Guess what some of the symptoms of too much cortisol are? (1) Acne, thinning skin, easy bruising and a flushed appearance are some visible potential issues. (2) Excessive fatigue, weak muscles, headaches, elevated blood pressure readings and slowed healing times can be stress-related. (3) Upper body weight gain is another potential effect of too much cortisol. (4) Out-of-sorts lately or frustrated by foggy thoughts? Irritability and decreased concentration caused by high stress/cortisol levels could be at play. 

Now you are going to think I mixed up two different column topics here, but stay with me.

The below-level reading performance of more than half of Missouri students has been plastered all over the news recently. The Normandy School District has the misfortune of being the one with the lowest scores. Take a look at a map. Interstates and airplane flight paths could be among factors to consider. Students’ brains can learn to tune out constant background sounds, but in doing so the brains could also be muting the tuning necessary for reading, memory and problem-solving. 

I am not a student in a Missouri classroom but I am among a segment of the population that increasingly complains about fragmented focus, words playing hide-and-seek, struggles to learn anything – an all-around diminishing of mental clarity. Could high cortisol levels due to increased stress – of which noise plays a part – be a consideration to address? 

Ambient sound machines and certain kinds of music with no lyrics can help brains manage in noisy circumstances. Silence is the best antidote, though. Turns out our brains NEED it, to relax, to replenish, and even to regenerate new cells that can become active integrated neurons! (If that happens in a mouse brain, I believe it happens in mine, too).

As much as I love my classic rock played loudly, my home radio is not on 24/7 now. At times I take a backroads jaunt with the car radio off. I walk without a playlist tormenting my captive ears. I am striving to give them AND my brain a break from constant sound. They are thanking me in surprising ways. 

(Written for my 10/23/2019 Close to Home column in The Prospect-News)

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Late Harvest Treat

Magic was involved. Had to have been because after one bite I knew I was going to eat the whole heaping plateful right then, with my unwashed fingers, from the driver’s seat, before I told anyone about its power because I was NOT sharing.
That first morsel whisked me back to Momo and Popo’s house on A highway in Ripley County. It was a red house with a white picket fence, a well, an outhouse, a pig pen and a huge garden. Images of the inside popped up as well: a living room with a pot-belly wood stove; a dining room with a bright yellow table set – the style with shiny chrome around the table and lots of silver studs around the bright chairs; two bedrooms – one really cold one with three big beds where all the grandkids slept under piles of quilts without complaints because Momo ‘hid’ her Christmas candy in that room; and the kitchen with the wood cook stove, before it started to look like Mom’s kitchen in the city.

By the second mystical bite I was playing in the yard with my brother while Momo and Popo picked bounty from the garden. Sometimes I ‘helped’ but there were turtles in there, and we didn’t like each other’s looks. I was better ‘help’ snapping peas on the porch.

The frames of childhood antics rolled by quickly, synced with each plate-to-mouth fingerful that seemed to get larger with each bite. I relived catching tadpoles on the banks of the back pond, racing to get the most lightning bugs in my jar, gathering with aunts and uncles and cousins for fish fries and homemade ice cream, yelping at a granddaddy longlegs tiptoeing up my arm, plotting to beat my brother to the washtub sitting out in the sun at bath time, standing watch for the pigs to root away from the outhouse before I pranced toward it in the nick of time, falling asleep to the crescendos of crickets and frogs and sometimes to the serenade of a lone whippoorwill that made me homesick.

Oh, no! The sacred delight was disappearing fast, as if I had hit fast-forward! I altered my tactics so to savor single perfectly-prepared morsels piece-by-piece, to slow down the childhood slide show. There was an end in site. I had to prolong it, to lengthen the stay in the theater of my mind and let my taste buds enjoy the travel back in time in slow motion.

But the end came. The plate was empty, even of the crumbs my index finger could trap. The movie was over though the nostalgic joy lingered.

Camper Jeff had gifted me the psychedelic treat prepared just as Momo did, or so it seemed. He offered his magic potion recipe. Picked young – no bigger around than my thumb, some a smidgen smaller – sliced evenly, dipped in an egg/milk wash, sprinkled with self-rising flour before being fried to perfect crispness. The spiny variety. Fresh okra.

Better than ‘take-me-away Calgon’ any day.

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Looking Ahead

Too many of us buy into the idea that unless we paint, play a musical instrument, write poetry or compose music, we are not creative. I like the definition of ‘creative’ in the Cambridge dictionary. It suggests that creative souls ‘ produce or use original or unusual ideas’ to carry on. We are creative when we make do in a pinch of time and/or resources, when we manage without electric or water in the aftermath of an ice storm or when we successfully balance busy lives to make time for family and friends.

Recently I saw a suggestion that might help us counteract in 2019 those ingrained beliefs that we are not so creative. BE OPTIMISTIC! Why, you ask?

*Optimists tend to give folks the benefit of the doubt when actions and intentions collide. Good intentions can go awry if we act with impatience or shortsightedness. *Optimists get those good intentions back on track.
*Optimists consider failure a temporary state of affairs. Since we are humans, failure is inevitable sometimes, but we can learn from it, regroup and make progress on the way to success.
*Optimists don’t turn tail and run when criticized. We can’t get better or correct errors if we receive ONLY pats on the back and ‘attaboys’ for our endeavors. Of course we all love great feedback, but it is constructive critiquing that leads us to better outcomes.
*Optimists believe everything can be better. That leaves a door open for creative muses to slip improvements or modifications right into our thinking caps. We don’t have to fix something that isn’t broken, but its good to know there are available alternatives if a kink shows up in the works.

Let creativity get comfortable in your brain in 2020. Think optimistically!

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Ice Box Roll Recipe

In my family this is a favorite dessert served only at Christmastime – an ice box roll. My paternal grandmother Della Cecilia (McKinney) Pearson made several a couple of weeks before Christmas so we could enjoy a slice each day we were visiting during our holiday break. My mother had the recipe though she made only one. I am told it was a favorite of mine starting with my second Christmas. It is still a favorite. I crave it as I did as a child and the list of ingredients is short with no baking is involved. A food chopper is required, though, one of those anchored to the table or countertop and powered by turning the crank. It was the only time of year we dragged it out of the bottom of the pantry.

1 pound of graham crackers
1/2 pound pitted dates
1 pound of raisins
1 cup chopped pecans
1 small can of Pet milk
1 bag marshmallows

Nowhere in my cookbooks and notebooks of family recipes is the process written down. The dates and raisins were chopped separately, placed in bowls and lined up with the other ingredients. Preparing this was a family affair, a bit unusual since my dad did not usually get involved with any food preparation except barbecuing; sometimes he helped with dishes till we kids were big enough to do that chore. It was Dad’s job to shell and chop the pecans. I must pre-date miniature marshmallows because as a child I used scissors to cut up the big ones into little chunks. Those chunks had their own bowl in the line-up, too. Once all the ingredients were ready, some of each was dumped into the chopper with the Pet milk added often enough to keep the gooey mess from totally clogging up the works. Dad did take a turn cranking to help Mom out.

Once all the ingredients had been churned together, except a little bit of graham cracker crumbs, Mom did her magic rolling the glob into a pretty loaf on a sheet of waxed paper. Before she completely wrapped the roll she sprinkled the remaining graham cracker crumbs over the top. A new Christmas dish towel was then wrapped around the waxed paper and it was placed in the very back of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. It was served on Christmas Eve after our candlelight dinner. I am looking forward to digging out that food chopper this year.

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A Southern Thang

It was a travesty, I know, to open a can of black-eyed peas for luck, dump it into a saucepan, add slices of bacon for health and simmer that while I mixed up a batch of pre-packaged cornbread mix representing gold coins. While it was baking, I steamed some cabbage to attract paper money as I lit scented candles to camouflage that lovely aroma. When the oven light shined on a golden brown crust, my New Year’s Day meal designed to bring me luck in 2019 was ready.

Fingers crossed the luck won’t be directly related to the effort I put into its preparation. For me, minimal hassle on day one, on any day, is luck. though if there had been company coming I would have bought the dried peas to prepare in a slow cooker, included some hog jowl and boiled a few cabbage quarters. I would still have used a packaged mix for the cornbread. My momma and grandmas could never give me a recipe for their made-from-scratch cornbread, so a mix it always is for me.

Google has not been forthcoming with any traditional lucky New Year’s Day menus for folks living north of the Mason-Dixon line, so this food combo must be strictly a southern custom. Hope you had your lucky meal on January 1. HAPPY 2020!

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Resolve to Read in 2020

You know those folks who don’t like various foods touching on their plates? I am not one of those – unless something is put there I don’t like. It gets covered with bread, which doesn’t like me, and disappears from thought and fork. Some flavors are enhanced by inadvertent mixing of ingredients so I don’t fret when they mingle.

There are readers like those picky eaters, those who read only one book at a time so characters and plots don’t have a chance to get tangled in the gray matter. I am not one of those, either, though I started my reading life that way, zipping through each book in a library section then figuring out how to get to a different library to devour the hopefully new tween-age selections on those shelves. By foot or by bike or by whines for Dad to take me, I got there.

With astronomical reading assignments in vastly different content areas in high school and college, that changed, though sadly back then I didn’t see magical interconnections, secret-spilling patterns or messages intended just for me in my journey. I had to compartmentalize for deadlines and tests.

Without the pressure of finishing chapters, writing papers and taking exams, I do see connections and patterns these days. The inadvertent mixing of subjects and styles enhances my reading adventures. It’s exciting to uncover treasures from vastly different genres – insights that either sit quietly till I notice or kick me in the derrière to get my immediate attention.

How can reading my very first John Grisham novel along with a guide on prayer by St. Ignatius, a neuroscientist’s glimpse into awesome mind/brain research, a scientific look at perfect timing and a weekly blog share anything significant? I don’t understand the how of it, but, wow! Do they ever! To deepen the intrigue, were another to read those exact same books, different connections and meanings would surface. Readers glean based on their individually unique thought processes and experiences.

I like this quote attributed to Will and Ariel Durant. “The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual, and the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints.”

Reading required.

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