Raindrops on Roses and Music from Elders

Is it possible to discuss “favorite things” without having visions of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens?

It’s a challenge but I’m going to try to branch out from those whiskers on kittens, thanks to a Mama’s Losin’ It writing prompt: list your five most recent favorite things.

Favorite Things

Here are mine:

Music Therapy

Specifically, the music therapist from Big Bend Hospice who has visited my father-in-law twice. Although I am grateful for the many services provided by Big Bend Hospice, I have jokingly referred to this process as “the revolving door of people who are ‘here to help you,'” inferring that it is an additional chore for me to coordinate them all.

I had put the music therapist pretty far down the “necessary” list, under the nurse (definitely, for health reasons), shower aide (definitely, because Wayne and I can’t do it at this point), social worker ( sanity, please), and incredible volunteer Jim who told him, “yeah, I have a DNR (do not resuscitate) form too,” a perfect response to divert my FIL’s attention from the always-present reminder that this is a very final process.

I had definitely put our music therapist, Marisa (sp?) into the “nice but not necessary” bucket …….. until I heard my FIL, always a man of few words and subdued emotions, SINGING ALONG WITH HER. It really is true about music … it can unlock a person’s heart in a way nothing else can. (Music therapy is especially effective because it doesn’t demand cognitive functioning to succeed. More here via the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.)

Side note: the music therapist uses a little tripod stool like hunters use in the woods (sample here) … and says she can only find ones with camo designs. Anyone know someone who makes little stool covers with music notes (or other non-camo designs)? There has to be a way.

My New Part-Time Job

When I wrote about trying to sharpen my memory recently by using Lumosity, I didn’t know that something else was going to come along that would challenge my brain and shape up my life in other ways.

While I love my contractor work for Weaving Influence, I am also happy to have taken on additional work that adds to our family bottom line, provides needed structure to my days, and challenges me every single time (even though I have had to part ways with my beloved Oxford comma in the process).

In my independent contractor work for a digital B2B company, my duties so far include searching for news items related to certain terms, summarizing news stories into concise (yet informative!) two-sentence summaries, and contributing to the curation of industry-specific newsletters.

Observations along the way:

  • It’s humbling for an editor to be edited
  • Having to be “on duty” at a specific time (7 am) is the best thing in the world to keep me from a slow, easily-distracted slide into the work of the day. Having to report in to someone, and knowing others down the line are waiting on me, is BIG
  • I should have gone to AP Style boot camp at some point in the past; I definitely feel l like I’m doing catch-up on that front
  • It’s humbling to be at square one with a job again. ALL THE QUESTIONS
  • This arrangement was the kick in the butt I needed to file for my LLC
  • It’s so funny to me to be full-circle back at supporting myself by summarizing the news (one of the ways I supported myself during my New York years was by working at a place where we typed summaries of the news FROM VHS TAPES (yes, I’m that old))
  • I’ve been sufficiently a part of the gig economy long enough now that this doesn’t surprise me anymore, but it’s still so interesting to be working for and with people who you aren’t going to run into at the water cooler or trade funny quips with (yet)

All that said, I’m so fortunate to have the challenge of being an independent contractor for Smartbrief. Check out their website and choose a newsletter that fits for you — here has to be something among all the options, ranging from leadership (my fave!) to supply chain. For career opportunities, click here (but leave your oxford comma at the door.)

Writing

Maybe writing isn’t a “thing” like a smartphone, key chain, or cronut, but it’s a perennial favorite with me. Since I’m not running (for now), it has taken on even more of a role as my outlet.

When I write for myself, I process my thoughts. When I write to try to convey a message to others, I am forced to see multiple sides of the issue, and that is not a bad thing.

People Who Give Me Tools to Advocate Effectively

When I wrote my #One20Today-inspired post in advance of Inauguration Day, I committed to various acts of advocacy in the face of an administration headed by someone who did not receive my vote, and whose administration’s choices threaten the rights and peace of mind of many of my fellow Americans (and me).

The challenge is: the craziness, threats, and insults to the integrity of our democracy are coming so fast and furious, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and get paralyzed by indecision (and, frankly, fear of speaking out).

One incredibly bright and insightful friend I met via Shot at Life has created a periodic (at least weekly, sometimes more) list of 4 action items (something to read, a concept to understand, an action to do, a donation to consider) that can help us break out of the paralysis and do something.

As she said, “We don’t get to reimagine history to make ourselves better. We get to be loud right now or we’re not better.”

Here are four of my favorite examples, taken from the action emails:

Read every executive order President Trump has signed so far

Understand why the United States’ signature on the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Refugee Protocol impacted (prior to the stay of the Executive Order) choices by government entities to try to revoke peoples’ ability to board planes and to keep them from setting foot in the US

Do pick something you care deeply about and write a letter to the editor (LTE) of your local newspaper. Here’s a guide and here’s an example. Side note: it’s always a good idea to be aware of your newspaper’s guidelines for an LTE. Increase your chances of getting published by adhering to those rules to the extent possible (i.e., if the limit is 200 words, don’t send 325 and make it harder for them to use your piece). Also, it is a good idea to have civil and friendly relationships with your local journalists. No one likes always being asked for something — it’s totally acceptable to chat with them about the weather or praise their cute puppy pictures if you happen to be involved in their social media streams. AND — not everything you submit will get accepted. Don’t take it personally. (Sometimes if I don’t get something accepted, I run it on my blog. Medium is another choice. Your thoughts/opinions still matter.)

Donate to the International Refugee Assistance Project

If you would like to be on the list, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with my friend!

Naps

When our incredible hospice volunteer, Jim, arrived recently,  I said, “I’ll be working on something in the bedroom.” Do you think every hospice volunteer knows “working on something in the bedroom” means “napping”?

One of the huge benefits of working from home is that it is so much easier to customize my life around my energy needs and fit in a 15-minute power nap around 3 pm. As this article states, power naps are beneficial for alertness and motor learning skills. I am not sure if “and making Paula a lot less irritable” is documented anywhere but I tell you, it’s a thing.

If/when I ever return to the traditional office-based workforce, I can only hope I find someplace with nap pods.Google says “no workplace is complete without a nap pod.” That’s what I’m talking about! Maybe Google will open a Tallahassee branch in the future!

FOR FUN

I asked my Facebook friends what they thought I would say. Although they didn’t hit on the five things I listed above, they were all spot-on (good job, friends!). Here are their answers:

  • Green pens (yes!)
  • Audiobooks (oh yes yes yes)
  • Hidden Figures (yes!)
  • Global vaccinations (for sure)
  • Exchanging pleasant conversation over a good meal (the best thing ever)
  • Disney
  • Wine (for sure)

Good job, friends — you get me, you really get me.

Several people also shared THEIR favorite things, which was fun to see! Also a great segue to the end of this post.

What are your current faves?

Favorite Things

10 Lessons From Lumosity

In July 2014, when Tenley and I were in NYC, we were discussing how to get to Dylan’s Candy Bar, which is located at 3rd Avenue and 60th Street in NYC. Because we had to figure out where to get off of the bus, we had already discussed the cross street once while we were planning our day, within an hour of when we were discussing it again. I said “which cross street again?” She looked at me incredulously and said “sometimes I worry about you.” I said “I do too.”

Memory is a Muscle

As I wrote in a recent post for Weaving Influence, when I read the book Deep Work, I was reminded that the mind is like a muscle. There are things I can try to do to keep it in shape. (I mean …. I want to be able to find the candy stores in this world after all!). I signed up for a year’s worth of Lumosity and got started.

Brain health

Improving Memory

Lumosity is an online tool that helps people train their core cognitive abilities (great explanation of core cognitive abilities here).

The five core cognitive abilities Lumosity focuses on are speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving.

  • Speed – according to Cognifit, speed is “the time it takes a person to do a mental task” and is related to “the speed in which a person can understand and react to the information they receive.”
  • Memory – according to The Human Memory, memory is “our ability to encode, store, retain and subsequently recall information and past experiences in the human brain.”
  • Attention – Cognifit defines attention as “the cognitive process that allows us to concentrate on a stimuli or activity in order to process it more thoroughly later.”
  • Flexibility – flexibility, an executive function, is “the capacity for quickly switching to the appropriate mental mode,” explains Cognifit.
  • Problem Solving – another executive function, problem solving is “defining the problem in the right way to then generate solutions and pick the right one” according to Cognifit.

Lessons from Lumosity

As I have played the Lumosity games in an attempt to improve my cognitive abilities, I have improved my LPI (Lumosity Performance Index) from 624 to 1141 (yay!). Along the way, I have made the following observations:

Some Games Are Much More Likable Than Others

My least favorite game is Tidal Treasures, which exercises working memory. As the game progresses, you have to choose an item on a “beach” that you have not chosen before. It is the game that takes the longest to play and is so very hard to conquer (but I am experimenting with mind tricks to be better, which I guess is the point of it being an “exercise.”).

Although Lumosity gives me the option to change games when Tidal Treasures comes up, I don’t. This goes in the category of “you have to take on the big challenges to improve.”

You can’t get a perfect score every time.

After each game you are shown whether or not your score that time fit in the top five of your scores in that game. It is so tempting to keep retrying if it happens to be a day you didn’t score in the top five.

It’s short sighted to not just get on with your life when you can’t get perfection every time.

Things Go Better If You Take a Split Second to Get an Overview

One of the games, Train of Thought, addresses divided attention, the ability to simultaneously respond to multiple tasks or task demands. As you increase your level of play, there are more trains going more places, and some trains look very similar to other trains (like the green train that has a BLACK top, compared to the all-green train). I’ve learned to take a split second before re-routing tracks to try to figure out where all the stations are — it makes a difference.

It doesn’t work to start playing a game right away if you don’t take a moment to figure out what field you are on.

Don’t Make Things Harder on Yourself

In the game Speedpack, which exercises visualization, the ability to manipulate or imagine the interaction of objects in your mind, the player has to “move” a camera to a certain compartment of a suitcase and try to put it in a compartment that won’t be full once the suitcase is closed. It reminds me of how much I hated those “what shape will this paper be when it is folded?” kinds of exercises we had when we took the ASVAB back in high school (is the ASVAB still a thing?). Sometimes, I can sit there trying to figure out which compartment to put the camera in when there is a whole row empty that involves no hard decisions.

When an easy option presents itself, take it!

Some Distractions Have Nothing To Do With The Route You Should Take

In Pinball Recall, a working memory game, the goal is to figure out where a ball is going to go based on its starting point and various bumpers in the way. Newsflash: some of those bumpers can’t change the direction of your ball no matter what. They are just there to make things look more complicated than they are!

Don’t assume every barrier is actually going to get in your way.

Don’t Paralyze Yourself By Lack of Confidence

Every single boss I have ever had (that took the time and effort to evaluate me) has said “if only you were more confident in your decisions.” SIGHHHH. So true but trust me never has that been said to me that I then walked out of that office and proceeded to automatically exude more confidence. Lack of confidence is a pretty deeply ingrained challenge. Lumosity to the rescue! At least for the ten minutes I am playing every morning. Success at some games, especially the ones which work on speed, depend on quick reflexes. I can either just make the confidence choice or get a lower score because I questioned myself.

Confidence often pays off. 

Everything in Your Field of Vision DOES Matter Sometimes

The Eagle Eye game tests “field of view” – the “area over which you can absorb visual information without moving your eyes.” (Quotes from Lumosity.) There is a piece of information in the center of the screen (like a number) and a “bird” elsewhere on the screen. The player has to remember the center item while recalling where the bird was.

This game always feels like life itself – you have to remember what is at the center and often be able to take care of important items “on the side.”

We Are Not Always The Best Judges of Our Strengths

hate to admit this (and please don’t tell any future editing or otherwise communications-based clients) but “Word Bubbles Rising” is not (give me just a moment here ….) the game at which I score the best. It is a flexibility game and I score best at problem solving games. Hmmm.

In the same way that a 360 degree evaluation in the workplace gives you insight you don’t expect, opening yourself up to an evaluation of your brain capacity strengths and weaknesses can surprise you.

Mood and Sleep Matter

Every time I start playing, Lumosity asks first what kind of mood I am in and how much sleep I got. Chronic stress can create long-lasting brain changes and depression can contribute to memory problems (uh-oh). Sleep deprivation can lead to problems with memory, concentration, optimism (gasp!), sociability, creativity, and innovation. I can see why Lumosity asks, and having to “report in” every morning is making me think about how I can improve my mood and enhance my sleep hygiene.

Mental Fitness Is a Gift

I’ve been worried ever since I read Still Alice about early brain deterioration. Living with an in-law with short-term memory disorder leads me to be terrified, daily, of what the future might hold. Playing Lumosity may not be the key to staying supple in the brain forever, but hopefully it’s a step in the right direction.

Just like exercise may keep our physical bodies stronger, our brains deserve a chance too.