Nips & Glugs

Nips & Glugs
Long time since my last post; and this update is just a sampling of “this n’ that”, which is why it’s titled Nips n’ Glugs. For the first nip, winter stunts outdoor recreation, and it reminds me of the story of Persephone. This mythological character was one of my favorites as a child, and although I may better resemble her mother Demeter, strongly identified as Mother Nature, the blithe image of Persephone is who I fantasize to be. If you are unfamiliar with the tale, Persephone was youthful, feminine, and beautiful. One day though, she happened to eat six seeds from a pomegranate and was abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld, who captured her and made her his wife. Because of this, Persephone stays with him for a time each year, and Demeter in her grief covers the land with a blanket of white until her daughter’s spirited return when Demeter celebrates her arrival with the graces of spring. But while it is not spring yet, I try to endure the long stretch from December until nearly April when I can once again revel in the outdoors without suffering from the elements that restrict my favorite sports.

Today, I am exhilarated to have done a little cross country skiing—alone in a local park—before being pummeled by the next blast of super cold. Expecting a high temperature for the day of -12 on Monday, I was pleased when finally my youngest son acquiesced to shop for a winter coat…on sale. God bless my kids, for doing all they can to keep costs low in some areas like textbooks and shopping clearance sales.

Skiing brought a burst of energy unexpected. The folks at the post office were chatting and informed me that this is the most snow we’ve had in 20 years, and it is reminiscent of the snows of my childhood, though that was more than 2x twenty years. Upon my return from trail blazing and working up a sweat, I tidied up the breakfast dishes— left behind leftovers for my sleepy gang—did some laundry, and made pickled turnips with beets that dye the concoction a lovely magenta color. One can’t underestimate the value of their probiotics. Soon I aspire to make a homemade giardiniera with cauliflower, celery, garlic, jalapeno pepper, and carrots, an exquisite condiment to many dishes. For you see, while believing in hibernating as much as possible in winter, I also succumb to my instinct to eat well.

As I trade apples, salads and spinach-protein shakes for heavier fare and dessert (eating caramel gourmet popcorn from my sister now) in this season, I have coined the term “winter body.” Provided I stay within about 5 pounds, I’m going to enjoy the holiday trimmings and indulge. Strong faith in the “set point” and years of knowing that I just have to contend with “winter skin,” allay stress. For the first time I am treating dry limbs with grape seed oil after the shower. My only hesitation is that I recently thought about what happens to all grapes…eventually. Well, can’t win either way!

Some days just make one feel strong, and this is mine. After skiing, I went with my daughter to the gym. The glute buster program on the stepper machine was a breeze, and I lifted like Wonder Woman. Examining callouses on the joints adjacent to my palms, I feel younger and optimistic.

Getting my driver’s license renewed recently brought a certain excitement, like getting it for the first time. Along with the fee, I had to take a vision test to be recertified. Mind you that I’ve had slight myopia for about 30 years, and I did tell the middle-aged lady behind the counter that some days my vision is better and some days a bit worse. That particular day was not my best, buy somehow even though I stated that the last letter in the second set was “a C, or maybe it’s a D.” And for the last letter of the third set, “Ugh…I think it’s an O, but it could be a C.” She said brightly, “You passed! You don’t need your glasses to drive!” I thought she was insane, but I was grateful for deleting the restriction I’ve held like a bit of shame on my license for so long. Now, I keep my glasses with me and usually wear them; but on a clear vision day, I drive around my town with no problem without their glare. Hopefully, I can resume wearing my circa 1980’s Vuarnet sunglasses this summer…while playing golf. Now that’s a happy thought.

Lately, hounding thoughts about my children becoming too spoiled and used to me being home have prompted me to look at local college employment ads; and while there were a few prospects, I usually found something disagreeable that made me hesitant to apply. With three children in college, the strain has been significant as we—and they—sacrifice in order to help them succeed. Often I have recited to myself and in my prayers from the Qur’an, “With every difficulty comes relief.” (94:5)

Even though I am constantly busy either with family, self-care, or professional activities, I really have not had a stable income for over 4 years. Furthermore, there are always goals I keep to self-improve. My last blog was about speed reading, and I leveled around 475 words per minute at 90% comprehension at final testing. A few of the books I intended to read have been completed; but then I found a new one to add and realized that another book was part of a trilogy, so I chose to start Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz.

Also, along the area of self-improvement, I became aware that it had been a few years since I attended a local conference featuring education professionals who are adept at technology. The ICE Conference has always provided me with new tools to make teaching more interesting and interactive. Staying on top of trends in Education, even in international settings, interests me. That is why I was invited to reconnect to an education institution this week.

Now for the “Glug”: Beginning Monday, I will commence a new project—while still developing my own company and volunteering with the American Halal Association—as director of admissions and administration for Northwest Suburban College. A critical accreditation visit comes in two weeks which could qualify this young institution for FAFSA. It offers 7 allied health curriculums and 3 in basic sciences. One of its unique features is that successful completion of its pre-med program guarantees acceptance to Avalon University Medical School in Curacao. As with any new job I have a lot to learn, but the school’s list of needs matches well to my qualifications. Although initially it will be only on a part-time basis until enrollment grows, it is perfect and flexible to allow my personal businesses to continue as well. The only caveat though is that now my kids have to at least do the dishes!

Not a bad New Year’s resolution!

Read With Speed for Achievement

2013-11-18_16-24-38_452 Read With Speed for Achievement

Bothered by insatiable desire to read with speed my books of latest action films, popular novelists, a number of e-books, and the lopsided pile of magazines stacked next to my bed, sometimes I just wish I could absorb and enjoy them sooner. Even the daily quantity of emails gets a bit overwhelming and consumes more time than can be justified. Yet, being an info junkie, I do not unsubscribe because reading gives me the edge in my businesses. A solution to this quandary was presented by Illumine Training, a UK based company that has made its claim “better brains for better business®” through various courses that run the gamut from writing, speaking, managing, and creative thinking training. Now they have tackled the bane of students who want to improve their study skills with their Advanced Study Skills for Students-Halve your study time AND learn more too! e-course.

For years, I’d attended seminars that tried to upsell me on additional self improvement programs, including speed reading, but they were costly and I hesitated to take the chance at making a wasteful decision. I just knew that compared to most people, I already read at a fairly speedy rate, and I thought, “How could those speed readers genuinely enjoy a book?” When I want to snuggle in my pajamas and robe to read, I didn’t match my fantasy to the site of myself speed reading. Therefore, many potentially enjoyable readings went unread for so very long.

Illumine Training has combined their speed reading and mind mapping programs into a hybrid study skills course designed for students. It is very reasonably priced and can be done in 1 ½ hours, perfect for students and others like me who are overly committed and have a bustling life.

Introducing the online course was Clive Lewis, author of The Extraordinary Reader. Objectives were presented, such as, “Double or treble your reading speed,” “Dramatically improve the effectiveness of your study,” and I felt a magnetic draw to the final claim, “Stop wasting your time.” Distractions and time suckers are my nemesis. I calculated that this was worth investigating.

Pleasantly, Clive Lewis presents a logical case for students to understand the research base for the program. Initially, prior to commencing, my reading speed was 364 words per minute, and according to the course material, that placed me around the upper 20% of readers. Comprehension was clocked at 80% on a trial reading that I deliberately raced through.

Upon immediate completion of the program and utilizing the tactics prescribed, my reading speed rose to 516 words per minute—putting me in the upper 4% of readers, but comprehension dropped to 60%. Not to be dissuaded, Lewis presented graphs explaining this to be a normal phenomenon initially. What happens is that while one is focused on reading rapidly, it is normal for the brain to not absorb content as effectively because one is thinking about reading faster. However, when the habits inherent to speed reading become commonplace, through regular skill development and practice, comprehension will rise. Also, since focus is trained to be laser-like when reading, comprehension and recall are likely to exceed performance levels prior to taking the course.

Another intriguing strategy presented in the Illumine course that facilitates recall and expedites the ability to devour a book in less time, is mind mapping. I admit that I have dabbled a bit in doing some of these in the past, and as an educator have used graphic organizers. As I was trained to be linear in my formative years, it was stretching my comfort zone and I judge myself to be a bit clumsy in mapping 2D, 360° content from informational text. Yet, knowing that the brain seeks to organize, it made sense to follow Lewis’ prescription to preview and map a 200 page book within 20 minutes. I did it! And I found that I understood and was able to document the key nuggets found in an education themed book, ironically titled, “Checking for Understanding.”

Illumine offers the student insight to how we tend to read, that alpha brain waves are best for relaxed study and that baroque music elicits them, how our eyes tend to skip and back track, and that surprisingly if we can discipline ourselves to simply focus forward and not re-read what we just read, we likely comprehend just as well as if we hadn’t backskipped. All that is required though to be successful in speed reading is to understand what Lewis presents and then implement it in a mere 5 minutes, twice a day, for about 21 days.

Embedding effective reading habits is the key to success in acquiring superior speed and comprehension.

This is where most people fall short. For like any professional development, it is only as good as its faithful implementation. Yet, as the sun sets earlier, and my robe and slippers look inviting and comfortable, I’m ready to tie the habit to my morning and evening coffee routine. The best way to succeed in maintaining a new commitment is to hook it on to an existing one. As part of this course, I have been given access for one month to replay, and I have one more practice reading that I can use to clock my speed and comprehension rates.

This might be the year I finally get to the bottom of my magazine pile and read several of those young adult books I once bought for my kids and somehow didn’t get to enjoy for myself. If I am lucky, winter might not seem as long and cold this time, and I might teach another critical life enhancing skill to my brood.

Always finding something new to explore, all this has whet my curiosity about how video games develop cognition and can be used therapeutically. Lumos Labs has amazing work and a massive research database from their Lumosity site. Akili Interactive Labs’ co-founder Adam Gazzaley has worked with subjects 60-85 years of age to improve plasticity, even to the point where their performance in multitasking exceeded 20-year-olds who were thought to be more proficient.

I thought I’d start video games in my 70’s, but maybe I should begin as soon as I catch up on my reading?