Living With Optimism, Joy, and Brain Health


I am not sure why I said yes when a woman I don’t remember meeting at a talk I gave weeks ago called and asked if I could speak at a meeting of a local Optimist Club the day before Thanksgiving. But I did.

It was a relatively small group – all except a few were over 65, equal parts men and women, and very racially diverse. They meet every Wednesday at a restaurant in a hotel just off Interstate 8. The soup of the day was vegetable beef and the special was a taco plate served with re-fried beans and rice. I ordered a cup of hot tea and sat in one of the booths to arrange my materials so the workshop I planned would flow well. I was trying out a new format – no technology, no PowerPoint, no devices.

The President rang the bell and woman asked us all to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Then another member stood to lead a prayer. I was a bit uneasy and braced myself to respectfully attempt to blend in to the background. The non-denominational blessing ended on an upbeat note and I let out my breath, relieved.

The President and another member pulled out a long stick with felt rolled around it. I was standing behind them so I could not see what was written on the felt but I heard the strong confident voices reciting these words.


OK, you have my interest and are speaking my language…


Wow, it was getting even better. Keep going….


As the scroll rolled out, the voices in the room got stronger.


Can this get any better, stronger, more hopeful?


Seriously powerful and hopeful words recited, I noticed, by heart – some with eyes closed but all with hearts wide open.

That, my friends, was a hard act to follow….

They gave me a piece of ceramic – a place to rest my coffee cup, the woman who invited me explained – with those words painted on the surface.

I am so grateful to this group for reminding me that there is hope and there is a way to get there together.  Our challenge is to share optimistic thoughts and good intentions in loud voices, and to raise the bar on our expectations. My hope is that, in the end, those efforts will shift a few who will shift a few more who shift a few more and so on.

This piece originally appeared on Cranium Crunches Brain Blog!

30 Days of Turning Up the Noise on My Life: Challenge to Do More


Everyone falls into patterns and gets comfortable in their routines. How do you work your way out of a rut?

Right now I feel like I need to do a bit more to enhance my life, move out of my comfort zone, and push – something on mission, something that truly makes me practice what I preach, something challenges me to dig a bit deeper.

I preach this.  If you want to amplify the quality of your life and fire up the chemicals and electrical activity in your brain you must:

  • Be mentally and physically active;
  • Be social and feel the collective energy;
  • Be engaged in your life and your activities;
  • Be purposeful – find meaning and positive approaches that feed you on a deeper level; and
  • Be complicated – add levels of complexity to the every day.

Be more be better

So here goes. Each day this month I commit to turning up the noise on at least one piece of my day. That means, I am making a promise to myself to amplify my life by looking at something through a new lens, adding sensory data, focusing harder, noticing more, consciously activating pathways, taking on a new activity, or engaging in my life at a higher level!

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you took a daily challenge to improve the quality of your life- to actually do, feel, experience, and be more?

I plan to find out.  You in?

Figuring Out the Details: Looking For Clues in Context


We often don’t see the whole picture and are expected to figure things out with limited bits of information. Looking for clues in the context can help you orient yourself and figure out how to prioritize information.  Let’s take a closer look at how this works.

First up….

1ZI pc program

There are several clues here. The first line is in bold so that would indicate some kind of listing — in this case a workshop title.  The words “Exhibit Hall” and “affords participation” also point to a conference.  Here is a the conference brochure.

exhibit book



Entry #2:

1zi bookjacket


The purple background and white letters here tell you that this is probably not a newspaper or traditional magazine.  Probably not a the interior of a novel either.  The words “visionary with strong…” and the attribution to  “Miami Herald”  indicate a review. It is a book jacket covered with reviews.

2 seth godin out


Bit #3:
1ZI bookmans

The clues in this are found both in the writing and printing styles.  Times New Roman letters on an off white background indicate traditional printing. The language is loose and feels a bit conversational so this is probably not  a news vehicle or a piece of business writing.   It is a page of novel.  One of my recent favorites, The Bookman’s Tale, that I won on one of my favorite blogs, Books Is Wonderful,  with one of my recent favorite lines, “One day when, without prior notice, life changes is a fundamental way.”

bookman out


And this delicious bit….

1zi menuThe words were a good indicator that this had something to do with food.  The type style changed as well and the tells you that this was probably not a food review.  The informal use of a + gave further clues and the textured looking paper sealed it that this morsel came from a menu — a menu from an amazing restaurant Bo Beau in Long Beach, CA.

bb menu out


And here is one you can hold in your hand….

1ZI pc bc

Phone number? It is the back of my business card!

bc out

This one is something I see all the time….

1ZI pc of research

What are the clues here?  Could this be some kind of reference to the piece?  Article 245 on page 1something? “me 8 indicates volume?  I spend entirely too much time reading journal articles but this is a good one — a study about what happens to the brain when you listen to music every day!

2 res paper out


And the final entry….

1ZI pc inside boook

Clues here are in type style and wording.  Times New Roman so maybe a book or newspaper. The phrases “business dinners”, “by spa doyen Deborah” and “first wellness ret(reat)” point to a review of location.  This happens to be in a great book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” that my friend from Midlife at the Oasis sent me in book box.  This description really makes me want to go to the Golden Door….

1000 out


Playing and Travel Are Good for Your Brain


Traveling, in general, rolls so many of those brain healthy activities together — being social, learning new things, moving outside your comfort zones, exploring your own limits.   Add to that photography, physical activity, and a purpose and you have a recipe for an amazing brain boosting adventure.  

My husband and I did just that when we went on a perspective changing volunteer vacation.  Our objective was to collect scientific data about the 2nd largest reef in the world — the Barrier Reef in Belize.   The result was a trip of a lifetime with more than one “coolest experience ever”….

How about adding a game to the mix? Here are some of my favorite photos from that trip turned into Find the Difference puzzles.  Can you find the differences in these photo sets? 

Click the photo set to see a larger version!  Short descriptions below each photo set as well.

Night dive

OMG…The String of Pearls….Breath Taking

These 2 men are about to see the coolest thing that either has ever seen…the “string of pearls” in the Caribbean Sea.  Indescribably awe-inspiring.

beautiful reef

So much tiny life on each square inch of the reef. Be sure to look for the small details.

This photo was taken about 40 feet under the surface on the world’s second largest reef! ReefCI leads amazing reef conservation trips for “citizen scientists”. Find 3 differences in this photo set.

Trying so hard to leave the world better than we found it.

Trying so hard to leave the world better than we found it.

Amazing trip to Eladio Pop’s Cacao farm in the Toledo district in Belize. Pretty sure that Eladio is one of the top 5 coolest people we have ever met.   To learn more about Eladio’s farm scroll to the bottom of this link: Thanks for playing!

Brain Benefits of Volunteer Vacations and Citizen Science: Boomer Options

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Being Purposeful and traveling are two of the most robust paths to keeping your brain firing and engaged.  So think about this…. The world of travel is about to face an incredible opportunity — millions of Baby Boomers looking to fill their lives with purposeful, constructive, educational experiences that make them feel alive.

Train and Cruise through Alaska

I am one of that army of educated people looking to serve my purpose, enjoy life, and engage more fully in the world but I have a head start…. Unlike my peers though, I found what excites me more than just about anything — being a Citizen Scientist on a volunteer vacation. I caught the bug on trip to Belize in November where my husband and I participated in a reef conservation project with ReefCI .   We found this oh so life changing experience through an incredibly well run organization out of the UK POD Volunteer.

Learning on the island

Learning about lobsters before we go hunt them with Jason, marine biologist extraordinaire! Photo was taken by Polly, the founder of ReefCI!

Both my husband and I work…a lot… and lead really  busy lives so when we found a way to really contribute to the scientific body of knowledge while traveling AND that travel fit into the limited spaces of time we could take away from work, we were thrilled.  Combine that with something we love — scuba diving — and we had a recipe for something life changing.  And that it did…. We are currently planning our next adventure.  It might be an archeological dig or could be a turtle preservation project or we may be working to restore a habitat somewhere cool but it will be something purposeful and engage our minds on a whole new level — up the challenge and keep our brains firing and re-wiring!

Airport Traveling

I plan to write each week about volunteer vacation opportunities and how to use those to both maximize your brain health and amplify the quality of life. Find something you love — something you are passionate about — and see if you can find a trip.   Better yet, tell me what you love and are passionate about and let’s explore together.  

This piece was originally published on

Guided Relaxation: Journey to a Peaceful Brain


There is too much evidence to ignore the brain health value of reducing stress.   Whether you enjoy yoga, meditation, guided relaxation, or you find peace some other way, make sure to take the time to take care of yourself today. We are working on a Mind & Spirit App that will be packed with brain re-charging exercises like this Guided Relaxation sampling. Click on the link; take a deep cleansing breath; and peacefully fire up your neural pathways and re-fill your cognitive reserve well.

Guided Relaxation Exercise Part 3

Engaging your senses more fully will add another brain boosting element to your relaxation.   Did you know that you can activate the same areas of your brain (fire them up) by thinking about stopping and smelling a rose as actually doing it?   If you can’t get out and do today, take a moment to stop and think.

Stop and smell, feel, and taste the roses!

Stop and smell, feel, and taste the roses or at least think about it!

Enjoy a peaceful moment today and re-charge.



We have known for a long time that the best way to stay mentally sharp is to keep thinking. The “use it or lose it” principle is pretty sound – firing the electrical and chemical connections in your brain helps keep:

  • brains healthy and
  • functioning at a higher level.

The oldest and most common method to keep mental sharpness and improve memory is practice, and there is little question that practice may not make perfect but sure beats the alternative. The hotly debated topic right now is what to practice. Are crossword puzzles and Sudoku enough or should we be doing more?

The simple answer is practice what you need.

If you are having trouble finding everything you need to start your day successfully – your keys, your cell phone, wallet – practice focusing your attention on one thing and looking for it. Focused attention is not just blocking out sounds, smells, and other images. Sometimes focused attention means seeing things through the clutter of everyday things. Give yourself time, every day, and test strategies (ie. scan the room in a systematic way or try to isolate things of the same shape or color, or look for things out of place) to find what you need. Pay attention to what works and repeat it. Pay attention to what doesn’t work and think about why.

Practice what you need.

If you find yourself searching for a word or the right thing to call something, take the time you spend waiting — on hold on the phone, standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for your next appointment — to practice. Look around you, find things — a window, a painting, a shirt, a bus — and try to think of three (3) names or terms for each thing. Say them out loud, say them in your head or, better yet, write them down. Practice digging for the right word and fighting until you get the perfect word. The best way to keep the words coming is to fire those electrical and chemical connections and keep them active.

Practice what you need and make it PLAY.

Every day is a new puzzle – same basic picture with some slight variations. The challenge each morning is to:

  • Pay attention to the details.
  • Look for anomalies.
  • Restore order.
  • Start the day off in cognitive balance!

Now where are my keys…?