Change

“The only constant is change,” said Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived in Turkey about 500 BC. One wonders how he could come to such a revelation in that era. Were we to stroll with him through his existence for a day, we would no doubt think time stood still when measured against our super-sonic pace in this 21st century.

Change is definitely a sure thing in our lives. Need proof? Buy a cell phone. Before one discovers all its features, it is obsolete. Or, teach in a public school. As soon as a curriculum/testing regimen is established, it is whisked away and another is demanded.

Change purely for the sake of change will rev up our engines. Ever move furniture around? Then you know what I mean. Ever shop at Walmart? Supposedly there is research to support the constant rearranging. It’s exhausting searching through the shifting aisles..

“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” (Ellen Glasgow) In matters of the brain, though, maybe change for the sake of change is a good thing, perhaps contributing to growth in the gray matter by creating new connections.. Don’t believe you are stuck in a rut? Next time you reach for your jeans, stick the other leg in first. Bet you will have to sit down, or lean against the wall, or start over. Getting dressed never was so comical. Or brush your teeth with the other hand. How hard can that be? Or site in a different pew in church.

That will stump your usual neighbors for sure. Little will they know you are giving them a push toward brain health, because challenging our minds has short term and long term benefits.

Staying busy with a group of friends or a special pal is a great way to keep those brain cells stirring. Active minds and active bodies seem to help each other out.

That keeps a check on our mental health. Learning to deal with anxiety, and to manage stress in a positive way may not only contribute to the quality of our lives but add to the number of years we live as well.

Sophia Loren said this..“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” Have you seen a recent photo of Sophia? She is 80. I will consider any tips she wants to offer on staying young.

Now you have 3 more suggestions from the Alzheimer’s Association on maintaining brain health.
Stump yourself. Buddy up. Take care of mental health. The other 7 – break a sweat – exercise; butt out – quit smoking; heads up– use helmets/seat beltss; hit the books – keep learning; follow your heart – cardio health; fuel up – eat healthy foods; zzz’s – get enough sleep – complete their focus of brain awareness in the month of June. Don’t let your fun stop with the end of the month. “Shake it up” from here on out to keep that brain changing and growing for the better.

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Life’s Garden

For optimal mental and physical health we are encouraged to practice mindfulness – that state of being in the moment, focused, not letting the mind wander through the what-if’s and if-only’s of life. Tending flowers makes it easier for me to practice this challenging task in a chaotic world.

Recently, sitting on a porch step comically musing how a grownup could get so muddy, I was struck by the parallels between flowers and friendships. (My mind was wandering a bit at that point).

F – Friends and flowers offer anticipated companionship, sharing fun and surprises, comfort
and encouragement, all wrapped up in a variety of colorful packages, no bows necessary.

L – Love is evident and enduring in both. Their presence alone is proof, no words needed.

O – Obstacles abound to destroy both. Too much time between tendings can take a toll but
can’t eliminate the desire to survive.

W – Wildflowers and weeds abound. It is not always a bad thing to be wild and difficult to
tame. spontaneity is exciting. Some weeds can be a negative influence, toxic to growth
and beauty. It takes a keen eye to tell the difference between flowers and weeds in
some cases.

E – Embracing the moment is encouraging, taking full advantage of the sun and rain as it comes, enjoying the ephemeral parade of friends and flowers through the seasons of life

R – Roots run deep, feeding the ties that bind.

S – Springtime offers hope that cold, dreary times are fleeting, celebrating tranquil joy in the cycles of life.

May the gardens of your life be full of both flowers and friendships.

This was written for a May issue of the Prospect-News, the weekly paper in Doniphan, MO.

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In the Eye of the Beholder

Fun is defined as a playful, amusing activity. What do you consider fun? There is an endless checklist of variables. What you call fun might be a source of frustration or boredom or fear for me, like golf or sudoku, hunting for snakes or gigging. What I call fun might not be fun all the time, or with some people, or when I am losing.

Once I tried golf. If I am going to walk all day and pick up stray balls, I might as well walk the track. So far I have yet to complete a sudoku puzzle. Do I care? Nope. It involves numbers. Words are my game. We have some locals who seek out slithering serpents. Makes me cringe just thinking of the latest photo of a snake circulating on facebook. Gigging is still an unknown. Maybe it’s fun to trust a companion to guide a boat on Current River when it’s dark, and cold, enveloped by sounds from unseen beasts. It’s on my bucket list to judge the fun factor afterward.

I said all that to introduce you to some poetry. It is a parallel poem, which means the poet composes it to be be read in three different ways that all make some sense.This wouldn’t be fun for me today, but it was on the rainy spring morning I was sitting on the porch marveling at the fluorescent colors in my yard.

First read down the left-hand column, then read down the right. For the second reading, read the right-hand column first, then the left. For the third reading, read each line all the way across as you read down. Yeah, this can be fun, sometimes, for some of us.

On this blog site, I have not been able to get the stanzas to post side by side, so to get the effect of the parallel poem, you will need to read the first, then the second. For the second reading, read the second one, then the first. For the third reading, I have just typed it again, meshing the lines together so you don’t have to hop back and forth.

Mother Nature is getting dressed
We are the ones who are blessed
Tired of the shades of gray
She’s chasing the blues away
Tired of winter’s buff,
She’s really struttin’ her stuff.

With varied colors and hues
In Missouri, a site to view.
Make time to go see
The Ozarks in spring glory
Now puittin’ on a show
These foothills are all aglow.

Now here it is the third way it can be read, the first line of the first stanza, followed by the first line of the second stanza, etc.

Mother Nature is getting dressed,
With varied colors and hues,
We are the ones who are blessed
In Missouri, a site to view,
Tired of the shades of gray?
Make time to go see
She’s chasing the blues away,
The Ozarks in spring glory
Tired of winter’s buff,
Now puttin’ on a show,
She’s really struttin’ her stuff,
These foothills are all aglow.

There are issues, but revision is part of the fun for me. Maybe I will pull out that sudoku book again.

This was written for my Close to Home column in a May issue of our local weekly, The Prospect-News.

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40’s Freedom Flight for Alzheimer’s Awareness

This column is a revamping of one that appeared in the weekly local newspaper, the Prospect-News, when I shared a story about my first flight. That flight, and my first glamour shots, and a magnificent shopping excursion in the largest mall in America, and the hospitality of a brother -and-sister-in-law gave me so much to talk about with Mom. Except I couldn’t, well, I did, but she didn’t talk back She couldn’t recall my name, or that I was her oldest child, or even a relative, much less share in the joy of the celebration of a birthday.

40’s Freedom Flight

To keep my spirits soaring I launched into my fifth decade with a plan to fly from St. Louis to Minneapolis. I arrived at the airport two hours early to properly prepare myself for this monumental event. It was supposed to be my calming down time, deep breathing time, prayer time.

Instead, it was knotting up time, complete with sweaty palms and shallow breaths. As I stared at the Northwest monstrosity I had paid to ride, I remember hearing, “Pre-boarding for those with special needs, Northwest Flight 504, Gate…” Mothers with babies and all the paraphernalia to comfort those babies started the trek. I wished for someone to hold my hand who carried a bag full of daiquiris and a copy of The Little Engine That Could.

As a mob swelled around the attendant, my mind clutched the meaning of a person with special needs. That included me, surely! I needed to be in that pre-boarding line! I corkscrewed my way through the crowd and admitted to the attendant that I was a jittery first-time flyer. She was youthful and unsympathetic, but she believed me and I began the pre-boarding march.

This pterodactyl I walked into the belly of was not as I imagined it would be. How could something so huge lack so much space on the inside? Getting into my window seat in the back of the plane was like getting into the glove compartment of the family car. – looks pretty good up front but what we want is always crammed any- old – way in the back corner. The miniscule window pane I had envisioned as my picture window to the heavens framed only the wing.

The wing and I hit it off right away, best friends by the time the plane was in the air. I knew every wrinkle, crease, discoloration and habit, and liked her just the way she was – attached – and hoped she never changed.

My birdhouse view of the horizon was hardly breathtaking. Upon liftoff I glimpsed the slick floodwaters of the Mississippi between blinks and then the clouds obscured everything but my new best friend, so I took pictures of her for my album of firsts. The landing 90 minutes later was smooth and routine, but I touched down only momentarily, recharging to soar higher with each new first.

This June – Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month – consider making simple life changes to ensure you can continue to experience your own list of firsts. Think of all that my mother missed in her life, and all I could not share with her from mine. The following three suggestions are taken from a list published by the Awareness group.
BREAK A SWEAT – Turns out what is good for the heart is also good for the brain.
BUTT OUT – If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do, try to stop. It is implicated as having a role in cognitive decline.
HEADS UP – Reduce risk of injury to the head. Wear a seatbelt, and a helmet if riding bikes or playing contact sports.

Mom took her final freedom flight in 2008. I like the idea she knows about all my adventures now.

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A Fish Out of Water

In mid-April I heard a morning radio spot about Toastmasters. I knew of the organization, but not enough to feel like it might be for me until I heard the two gentlemen describing its mission. Conditions were right. I could make one of the two weekly meetings regularly and it was only a twenty-minute drive to the meeting site. No excuses. Time to stretch my wings a fly a bit.

The first presentation a new member is assigned is an ice breaker. Here is a version of what I said. I did write it out, by hand, while sitting in the backseat of my car in a nearby parking lot the hour before the meeting began. That does not mean I procrastinated. In my waking and dreaming minds I had made the presentation scores of times, each time with a different intro and variations in the way I used the props. My presentation was not recorded, so, though I altered my presentation somewhat, I do not know exactly what the words were that differ from the version that follows. The props were a fishbowl in the shape of a fish, and a fishing pole made from a shishkabob stick, a ribbon, and a fish cut from a brightly colored index card. At appropriate times in my talk I would either drop the fish into the bowl, or yank it out.

This fishbowl represents the various families I am part of. Sometimes I am happily swimming with the others in one, but much of my life I have felt like a fish out of water. If I can explain that, then maybe you will have an idea who I really am.

I will tell you I am NOT the one whose profile you might read on a popular singles site. I am NOT the one my best friends say I am, nor am I the one my colleagues might describe. I am not the one my son calls Mom and tells that he loves. I am an amalgamation of all those personalities, and that conglomeration of individuals wonders why she is so nervous at the prospect of speaking on the one subject she should know better than anyone else – HERSELF!

The first fishbowl I was a part of was my family fishbowl belonging to Cal and Evelyn Pearson. I was the first-born of first-born parents which created a unique sort of fishbowl for my first. It was different from the one my siblings would join later. There I was safe free to be exactly who I was and loved unconditionally.

I joined that fishbowl on June 29, 19…the year is not really important…in St. Louis, Missouri. My parents had moved their fishbowl back and forth between Doniphan, Missouri, and St. Louis, several times, but it was decided the fishbowl would be in St. Louis when it was time for me to start school. Mom said she named me Teresa Gale after two celebrities of the fifties – Teresa Brewer, a popular singer, and Gale Storm, a blonde actress of My Little Margie fame, a sit-com on television. She had hopes that I would be peppy and vivacious as they were. Guess I’ve lived up to that most of the time.

Elementary school was the second fishbowl I joined. In kindergarten I was in trouble a lot. Mrs. Engelbritzen didn’t like it that I couldn’t keep my head down for all of the rest period, and she didn’t like it that I interrupted her often. I just wanted to be helpful, but she never seemed to want my help. In grade one, Mrs. Shoemaker did let me help, so I stayed busy. Mrs. Shaw in grade two let me help a bunch. She let me help my classmates who had trouble reading, and she let me write spelling words o the board. She kept me so busy that I finished grade 3 that same year. Mrs. Whitmore in grade four didn’t need my help much, so she put an extra desk for me in the principal’s office so I could help her. I stayed busy running errands, delivering messages and once in a while I was allowed to answer the phone. When I finished my classwork sitting at my own little office desk, I had a buzzer to push. That meant a classmate would bring me new lessons and take my completed ones back to the teacher.

School was such fun, all of it – the lessons, the square dances, lunch time in the gym, visiting the classroom that would be mine in the fifth grade and seeing all the books Mr. Sullivan had that I would get to read.

I may not have been so helpful and happy had I known what was ahead. A strange lady came to visit my teacher after Christmas during my fourth grade year. There was another table set up just for me in the middle of the gym. The strange lady kept me busy there, too, with all sorts of games and puzzles and conversations. It was later that my parents told me that because I did so well playing the games and solving the puzzles, I would be sent to a different school. This new fishbowl was full of unfamiliar faces, and new places, and lots and lots of hard work.

In this new fishbowl it was not okay to be me. Mrs. Morris, the teacher in grade 5, began calling me the absent-minded professor. I didn’t think it was absent-minded of me to want to make sure I had the t page numbers of my assignments, and the right due dates. Everyone was telling me I was smart, so that had to mean I wasn’t supposed to make mistakes.
Peppy and vivacious went out the window.

What if a mistake had been made, and I just got lucky, and I really wasn’t all that smart? So, at the age of nine, I had my first fish-out-of-water feelings. Somehow I still managed to connect with my passions, get back in the fishbowl and swim with the other fish in the fishbowl of high school, EVEN when my folks moved the family’s fishbowl to Doniphan from St. Louis right at the end of my junior year. During my senior year, I was way out of that high school fish bowl way more than I was ever in.

I managed to go with the flow through college, and afterward, married and began teaching in Doniphan.In that district I taught eighth grade language arts, third grade, and high school French and English. The classroom was my fishbowl. I was in charge. All except two years were in that district. One of those two years I taught fourth, fifth and sixth grade English in an elite private school in Memphis, and the second i worked as payroll clerk at Orscheln Brake Lever Factory in Moberly, Missouri. Those two years corresponded to changes in my personal family fishbowl that I shared with my husband and son.

I married that same man THREE times, which is comical NOW. Remember that young girl who had to make sure she got everything right, who couldn’t make a mistake because she was supposed to be so smart? She was still at it, trying to fix things. I finally realized that some things CAN’T be fixed, and moved on.

My brother-in-law had an uncanny ability to see right into my personal fishbowl and come up with some right-on insights. At his urging I took the MENSA test. When the results arrived in the mail, I panicked at the thought of opening that envelope. I was reliving that same old fear. What if I am not really all that smart, and all this time I have been a fraud? Or what if I am, how could I have made such a mess of things and never found solutions?

We know so much more about the brain now than we did when I was growing up. I don’t have to apologize for being smart AND not being perfect. After all, we know now that there is a variety of ways to measure intelligence, that there are all kinds of intelligences. IQ is not the only determiner. We all have our different strengths and our different weaknesses.

Now I have found a fishbowl that will be as exciting and as challenging as my first school experience, one that will allow me to be who I am. I am so glad I have jumped right into the Toastmasters’ fishbowl.

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Schlemiel, Schlemiel, Potato Peel

Schlemiel, Schlemiel, Potato Peel

Predicaments. I get into them often, Why? Don’t know, don’t care. That’s material for indepth psychotherapy. I just want to know how to exit them with NO FRUSTRATION!

To write I use my laptop, since my desktop and I parted ways several weeks ago after a long complicated relationship. The nice lady on the tech help line told me it was going to leave me soon anyway, that I needed to look for a replacement. I’m looking. Too many choices. So I am relying on my old friend dumped by someone else. We were managing fine until now.

I wanted to write about derrieres, a French word needing an accent. My desktop and I had accents all figured out. I am clueless with my laptop, however, and it does not freely share info, so I investigated.. Not a good idea without all the facts. Assumptions get one into…predicaments.

Who knew there is combo of keys to flip the screen upside down? New experience. Keeps the relationship interesting. Good thing I remembered what my left hand was doing so we could return to our comfort zone. Another day I might exercise my brain with an upside down composition, especially now that I am curious why that is even an offered feature. But not today. There is a deadline.

Guess I don’t know everything my left hand was doing. The screen is right side up, thankfully, but it is dark. That’s an easy fix on my smartphone, but I am clueless again on just what it takes to turn my laptop on bright. After a bit of prodding fate intervened. Fate has a grand sense of humor.

The laptop shared a screen boasting a word of the day. The screen would not move, no way, no how. Before going to extremes to get what I wanted, word nerd curiosity made me find the featured term.

Schlemiel – an awkward, unlucky person for whom things never turn out right. One has to chuckle at my laptop sharing that word with me on this day.

I really do have something to say about derrieres. Another time.

This first appeared in my hometown paper, The Prospect-News, in April.

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Well, Duuhh…

Remember those times tables we copied and memorized and reproduced in grade school? I was way into adulthood when I discovered the ‘secret’ of the nines, that the sums of the digits in the answers equal nine. ( 9 x 2 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9) Go through two or three more to prove it to yourself. It is discombobulating that I didn’t know this all those years.

Another later-in-life discovery comes to mind. As the ex-wife of a car salesman, driving who-knows-what from day to day, I would have been spared multiple embarrassing trips around pumps had I known that gas gauge designs indicate which side the tank is on. Why all the secrets?

Recently I learned of another that had somehow escaped me as a classroom teacher – what it really means to be dyslexic.

Read here dyslexic Paul Madaule’s take on those affected as expressed in his clinical study.
“…the dyslexic child lives with his dyslexia all of the time: at recess, at home, with his friends,
alone, asleep and in his dreams. The dyslexic is a dyslexic every second of his life…Dyslexics are
often dyslexified throughout their entire body.” ( From Chapter 8 in The Brain’s Way of
Healing, Norman Doidge)

Because it has been characterized as mainly a reading disorder, affected children have been exposed to a shopping cart of gimmicks intended to help them compensate for the malfunction causing the condition. Some approaches worked, some didn’t. If students managed, it was more likely due to their own tireless efforts than to the trendy tricks applied to classroom instruction.

Without the ease of language, written or oral, gaps develop in social ties to friends and family, leading to withdrawl. Many times negative labels such as lazy and inattentive are applied, adding to the isolation. Fortunately, understanding of this disorder is expanding as the research on the plasticity of the brain continues..Genuine helpful treatments are gradually replacing the mixed bag of tactics as research reveals that the brain is a malleable organ that can be re-wired to create new connections to overcome disorders such as dyslexia.

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