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Archive for August, 2012

My skin was warm from an August day spent out of doors.  I noticed this as I lay in bed reading, legs crossing back and forth over one another, calves touching.  The smoothness and internal heat jarred loose a memory of summer nights from my childhood when my legs touched under the bedsheet in this exact same way, and the warmth had felt good and comforting.  I remembered how I would then fall into the blissful sleep of a young person, as yet untroubled by the concerns of adolescence or the worries of adulthood. 

This was a sensory memory.  I don’t know why, but I recognized this fact immediately, and I began to wonder if we could train ourselves to conjure up these kinds of memories at will.  If it was possible, I felt it could be hugely helpful in our writing, not to mention just an enjoyable pastime.  If you want to write a memoir, it could be crucial.  I googled sensory memory and found out some amazing things.  My interpretation here is from a laypersons perspective.  I’m not a doctor.  The only brain I’ve ever considered studying has been my own.

There are three types of memory – sensory, short-term and long-term.  The first thing I discovered is that everything comes to us by way of sensory memory, which is involuntary, and, are you ready for this, sensory memories only last from one half to four seconds.  They come and they go faster than a sneeze.   I presume it’s the brain’s way of making room for millions more sensory memories as we blithely move through our day.  So, how is it we retain anything?  Well, by paying close attention to something, we can move that fleeting sensory memory to short-term memory, but even that is (hence the name) short-lived, perhaps only minutes.   So how does it make it to long-term status?  Basically by being “memorable”…by the amount of time we pay attention to it.  Apparently my nice sun-warmed legs felt really good when I was falling asleep many decades ago.

We have five senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.  Almost all sensory memory enters our brains via sight or hearing.  The others are less common, and I suspect touch is the least common.  We see and hear all day long.  We physically touch things of significance much less often.  As an example of smell and taste, most of use have retained all aspects of baking and eating Christmas cookies.   We could imagine that chocolate chip delight in our mouths with little effort. This memory was so pleasurable and also reinforced each Christmas, that it is easy to access.

Not everything we have moved to long-term is this easy  to recover.  Sometimes these memories are triggered without warning – like my nice warm legs.  Sometimes they can be accessed through conversation and reminiscing.  I’m sure they can be accessed through our writing.  We know the process of word association.  This is experience association.  I think it should be practiced.  Often, because of health issues, medications, stress, sensory overload, or other physical roadblocks, we cannot retrieve what we have filed in this wonderful organ we call our brain.

I have seen a fellow on television (will try to find his name again because right now my personal retreival system is not firing properly) who has studied and gives seminars on keeping your brain healthy.  It was a mesmerizing show.   He contends negative changes in your brain caused by age, illness, poor diet, smoking, drinking and otherwise just abusing yourself, can be reversed with amazing results – even for senior citizens.  He has an ample supply of side-by-side, before-and-after brain scans to prove this.  The brain is able to regenerate itself quite nicely.  The bottom line is your writing may be improved when your brain is functioning optimally.  Granted, this does make me wonder how much more awesome some famous authors’ works would be if their brains hadn’t been sloshing around in gin.  I can’t say.  I’m just considering the possibilities of exercising our brains and working to consciously gather, store and retrieve information.

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Just a few things tonight…

~ I picked twelve pounds of raspberries today.  If you pick twelve pounds or more at Yellow Hill Farm right now, you get a 30% discount.  I have the farm’s link under Gettysburg.  There are tons of red raspberries, some gold and also still nice blackberries.  Works out to $2.32 a pound.  Take your children.  There were two little kids picking on the other side of my row.  Their mother was not within earshot and they were alternately singing and conversing while they picked.  After a few minutes of quiet, I heard little Grace say, “This will be a great memory for me – for years, and years and years.”  How astute for someone so young.  How could you not smile?

~ I got a bicycle and went for my first ride today, after the berry picking.  Had not been on a bike in, oh, about two decades.  I didn’t fall off or wreck it so I considered the event a big success.  It’s part of my new fitness regimen.

~ Think about donating to the American Red Cross to help hurricane and flood victims – www.redcross.org – doing good every day.

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Was just reading something that made me want to post something brief for folks who are going through chemo.  After these treatments you will most likely be given a shot to boost your white blood cells.  These shots can cause severe bone pain…not always, but sometimes.  This did happen to me after my third chemo.  I tried every pain killer I had in the house, and I had some heavy-duty stuff in my cabinet.  I’m talking Percocet, Oxycontin, etc.  Nothing helped.  I decided to call my oncologist’s office and spoke to my regular chemo nurse.  She immediately said, “Those drugs won’t work on this kind of pain.  Take Aleve.”  I said, “Are you kidding?”  Nope, she wasn’t.  I took the Aleve and proceeded to be amazed.  The pain was history.  I guess the moral is don’t overlook the obvious, but I never dreamed Aleve would work on pain like that.

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My mother had a little Scottie dog when she died.  Afterward Mac lived first with my daughter and then two years with me where he learned old dogs can learn new tricks, but I digress.  I was in my home office one day when he suddenly began acting very strange and appeared in distress.  The vet is one mile from my house, and Mac took his last little breath on his table about ten minutes later.  The vet said it was a massive stroke or heart attack.  We had him cremated, and he was returned to us in a lovely wooden box and velvet bag.  Since he had been my mother’s dearest little friend, my kids and I decided it would be appropriate to reunite them.

The first opportunity was Easter Sunday, and Jess, Cameron and I visited the country cemetery with Mac and some tulips.  You are allowed to plant flowers in this particular cemetery, just to be clear.  The plan was to disguise our little outing as nothing more than that.  Jess and Cameron opened the trunk expecting to see a trowel, but were distressed to see, what they vociferously claimed was, the biggest shovel in the world.  There was no one else around, so they sighed in unison and Cameron began digging.  With the first shovel full, Easter visitors began arriving en masse, and, of course, they were all visiting our little section of the cemetery.  Cameron stopped digging, looked around and then at me, asking, “I don’t suppose you got permission for us to be doing this?”  I answered him non-verbally, which immediately prompted a follow-up query, “Exactly how many laws are we breaking right now?”  Jess said, “Just dig.”  A few minutes later the shovel clanged hard on something in the ground.  Cameron jumped a foot (and screamed like a girl according to his sister).  We said, “She’s much deeper than that.”  He pulled out a rock, and we escaped to the car a short time later.  We knew my mother was happy.  If you visit in the spring, you’ll see some very lovely pink tulips, and that is all.

On a related note, you know how they say animals can sense death?  When my mother died, Jess and I were by her bedside; Mac and my dog, Oliver, were penned up in the kitchen because they had been agitated and in the way.  My mother took what we considered many last breaths, with monumentally long pauses in between.  After each, she eventually gasped and breathed yet again.  The dogs, on the other side of the house, were quiet throughout the ordeal.  Suddenly, my mother had another breath, and the dogs instantly went crazy, howling like nothing you’ve ever heard on this earth.  It was a hellish noise that continued until we were forced to leave her and settle them down.   This cacophony was heard outside the house by the neighbors (windows and doors were closed).  The neighbor next door said when she heard those dogs, she knew my mother had died.  She described the din as horrible sounding; said it sent a chill through her.  Yes, it had been my mother’s very last breath.  So, how did Mac and Oliver know?  She had been breathing like that for at least a half hour.  They were several rooms away, could not see her.  All those breaths sounded the same to Jess and me.  I will never forget it, and I have no logical explanation.

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Every five years we all have one – our high school reunion.  They are always interesting and mine, last night, met and exceeded expectations yet again.

This is the night, every five years, you may discover:

1.  You were not really as nerdy in high school as you thought you were.

2.  Someone you thought didn’t know you existed, back then, was well aware of your presence.

3.  People can and do change.

4.  We get better with age – in our hearts.

5.  Some friends have left us prematurely.

6.  Your old boyfriend can’t return to the state because there is a bench warrant for his arrest.

7.  You actually have things in common with these people.

8.  You do or don’t want to wait five years to see them again.

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All my life as I have had run-ins, run-overs and near-misses with wildlife, I always thought – “Oh, they’re so dumb, oh, maybe they’re deaf and didn’t hear me, oh, maybe they were young and inexperienced in the ways of automobiles.”  Yesterday, I had another near miss with a wild turkey.  The circumstances made me wonder if, like us, some critters are simply depressed and suicidal.  What can they do?  They have no hotlines to call for help.  The mountain road I was traveling has maybe one car on it every half hour, if that.  She had twenty-nine other minutes to leisurely cross, but she chose the instant I was coming by.  Inexplicable stupidity or death wish?  I braked and missed her.  Was she relieved to have a second chance at her birdy little life or angry to have to await another vehicle?  She ruffled her tail feathers at me.

I suppose we’ll never know for sure, but I believe the evidence is stacking up.  My daughter called me one Easter night in an uncustomary, semi-hysterical state.  She had been driving home when, according to her, the largest rabbit she had ever seen hopped in front of her car and, well, then he was the flattest rabbit she had ever seen.  She kept telling me she had killed the Easter Bunny.  She was certain.  So, was he just bummed out about delivering all those eggs?  It was his busiest day of the year.  Had he just had enough and snapped?  It was a four-lane highway; not exactly bunny territory.

I myself performed an assisted suicide on two mourning doves.  This pair must have had a pact.  Maybe their moms and dads were opposed to their relationship.  I only know they placed themselves just below a rise in the road, beyond my field of visibility.  I came over that rise, and they saw me when I saw them.  Have you ever watched doves take off?  It’s not exactly speedy.  I caught them both in my front grill.  It was gruesome.  I laid them off the road and went on my way to my appointment thinking I’d never be caught.  Luck was not with me.  When I pulled up in front of my client’s business, he was standing outside.  I got out of the car, and he said, “So how many birds did you slaughter this morning?”  The evidentiary feathers were still stuck in my grill.

I was playing golf once on a beautiful summer day, when one of my golf partners hit a lovely arcing second shot on a par five.  She brought down a robin,  about fifteen feet off the ground, in mid flight…a fairway fatality.  Coincidence?  Hmmmm.

Squirrels are the worst at getting in your way, but I contend they are just stupid and believe they simply like to play chicken with cars.  The other flat little squirrel bodies regularly scattered about don’t seem to deter them from their games.  Ergo, my conclusion of stupid.  I think they’d need a bigger brain to have feelings of low self-esteem and depression so I don’t believe squirrels are suicidal.  As to everything else, I’m open to the possibility.

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What is it that makes people want to tear down our heroes, our survivors, our best and brightest, our most successful in their fields?  This is just pure ugliness and nothing we should be participating in or condoning. 

This vendetta against Lance Armstrong makes me so angry.  The man took over 500 drug tests in his career and he was always clean.  There is no proof against him, only allegations of competitors.  Now, because he is no longer fighting this years-long attack against him, everyone says “Aha, proof he did it.”  No it isn’t.  I think I know why he’s giving up.  He’s a cancer survivor.  So am I.  The worst possible thing for your immune system is stress.  You need to avoid it at all costs.  You need to physically remove yourself from stressful situations if you want to keep your immune system healthy.  Having already fought cancer, he knows it could return any day.  So, is it more important to continually be responding to these horrific attacks or be done with it and live? I’m upset, but I can understand why he has to move away from this.  He will always be an inspiration, and I hope someday his name will be finally cleared…but Lance Armstrong has other important things to do right now – for himself and cancer patients he continues his advocacy for.

Ride on Lance…

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