Saturday, December 19, 2009

White Brain Matter Really Matters

I bought a capo today for my guitar. A capo is a clamp that you place on different frets of the guitar to change the pitch of the open strings. If you Google capo, be sure not to spell it Kapo because a Kapo is a term that describes a prisoner who worked in a lower administrative position in German Nazi concentration camps during WWII. The spellings are definitely not interchangeable. Back to the capo. I needed the capo to play "Country Roads Take Me Home" and to look like I know what I am doing when I play the guitar. It's working.

This blog is totally out of my circle of knowledge, but I heard a report on the effect that white brain matter has on learning something new -- let's say something like, maybe, I don't know, let's go with playing the guitar. Yea, that's a good example. White brain matter really matters when you are learning to play the guitar. I wanted to know more.

All of us have heard the brain referred to as gray matter. The gray matter can be thought of as the actual computers of the brain. Using the computer as an analogy, the white matter represents the network cables connecting the computers together. The white matter is white because of the fatty substance known as myelin that surrounds the long nerve fibers. The myelin acts as electrical insulation and allows messages to pass quickly from place to place. Finally a fat that is good for you. This white matter forms the basis of the deepest parts of the brain. So, the faster the passage of messages from place to place in the brain the quicker the brain learns. This is certainly a layman's explanation, but it's a pretty accurate description.

We know that children are sponges who can soak up new information at an incredible rate. Perhaps they are learning even before birth while they are still in the womb. Researchers believe that the connective tissues in the brain form faster and stronger as children are exposed to new types of learning -- languages, musical instruments, math, etc. Additionally, researchers suggest that some of the connections must be made at an early age or they will never form. In other words, we have a window of opportunity to learn certain skills or we lose the ability to learn them at all. These connections may be contributed to the formation of white brain matter.

Gray matter development peeks in a person's mid-twenties and then starts to slowly decline. Researchers have recently discovered that white matter may not peek until a person is 40 and then slowly declines. The decline depends on a litany of variables. Two of the most commonly cited variables are brain exercise/stimulation (do you continue to learn new things as you age), and physical exercise. It seems that exercise of the brain AND the body are important to prevent many of the evils that aging forces upon us.

An Internet article that I read today suggested the following ways to keep white and gray brain matter as strong as possible to prevent the horrible disease Alzheimer's:

1. Write, write, write. The process of writing demands correlation between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Translating complex feelings into words demands that both sides of your brain work hard to accomplish the task. I will remind my husband that I am not just bloging, I am preventing degenerative brain disease from occurring. Thank you very much blog.
2. Learn a new skill or language. Learning something new, especially something that is totally new territory to you is crucial. This new information is a huge boost to your neurological reserves. Perhaps the learning process can even cause new connections to be formed.
3. Learn to play a musical instrument. The same kind of new connections that form when you learn a new language, form when you learn to play a musical instrument. I feel smarter already. Thanks guitar.
4. Travel widely. When you travel to countries that don't speak English, you are forced to assimilate and learn a new language. Your brain is in learning overdrive. You will practically feel the neurotransmitters firing in your brain as you struggle to learn enough words to suffice during your trip.
5. Exercise. It's just good for you and you know it. Aerobic and cardiovascular exercise may benefit areas of the brain that are most susceptible to the ravages of aging.
6. Be Happy and Connected to others. Feeling a sense of connection to others - either individuals or groups can actually slow the aging process.
7. Don't stress. Stress can actually permanently damage the tissues of the brain and is certainly not good for any part of your body.
You can read articles by the Internet arthur at

Here is my summary of how to stay young as detailed above:

1. Write down your feelings (maybe start your own blog)
2. Learn to play the guitar (or some inferior musical instrument)
3. Learn a new language
4. Travel to new and distant lands
5. Have friends you love and go hang out with them
6. Exercise regularly
7. Don't stress

Please follow my suggestions, you know I am a doctor......

Monday, December 14, 2009

A new Fender Guitar

I just came in from our front porch at 11:45 p.m on a Monday night to write this blog. I should already be in bed. I have a long day tomorrow and an equally demanding week. But, I always stay up too late. It's amazing what you can accomplish at night and I find myself more and more often working late at night either on Facebook, blogging, or cleaning the house. My husband is also turning into more of a night owl. Funny how we change as we age!

Ok, what was I doing on the front porch at 11:45 p.m? I was practicing on my new Fender acoustic guitar! That's right, I have a new guitar!!!! Until now, I have had the immense honor of using a very generous friend's Takamine acoustic/electric guitar. The Takamine sounds wonderful and it fits me perfectly. I have tried to buy the Takamine from its owner, but he is adamant that he plans to learn to play and he will not sell. I can appreciate his reluctance. The Takemine is a 1983 with a beautiful sound. In my teacher's hands it really has a beautiful sound. Sometimes I framm it until something akin to a beautiful sound leaps out of it in pure frustration! Still, I trudge on hoping to get better. The picture is me with the Takamine guitar. Practice, practice, practice.

I often practice on the front porch. My husband appreciates that I often practice on the front porch rather than in the house. I understand. I can hear myself play. Not sure if the neighbors are happy about my front porch playing at 11:45 at night. Sorry neighbors. I figure the louder I play the better I sound. I am afraid it's like talking to someone who does not speak English -- just talk louder and they will understand. Right? I think if I play louder or harder that maybe listeners will appreciate the passion and energy of the music. In other words, I hope to fake out the listeners until I can really play. I totally believe that it's working so far.

Back to the Fender guitar. A friend of our family recently brought me the guitar as a Christmas present. It's not a new guitar, but he knew that I was learning to play and he had this great guitar. He brought my husband a very nice golf club that he played with Sunday, but he will have to blog about that. I am interested in telling you about the Fender.

I almost cried when I opened the guitar case he handed me. When I saw the word Fender and the beauty of the guitar I was elated! I was getting ready to buy a new guitar so that I would have one of my own, so this Christmas present was perfectly timed. As I brought the guitar into the house, our friend said that it had not been tuned in 10 years and probably was terribly out of tune. As I sat down to tune each wonderful string of that guitar, I realized that they were perfectly in tune with the exception of one string that needed minor tuning. I immediately began playing my short list of songs. Beautiful. I can't wait to hear the guitar played by someone who is especially talented. Maybe I should think of a name for this fine, new guitar. I will ponder the perfect name for a Fender acoustic guitar owned by a Rock and Roll Wanna Be!

The generosity of our friend is so much appreciated. You can all appreciate the kind of friends that you have known for 20 years who you can call on if you need them. My husband and I will make great use of our new Christmas presents.

It's a great time of the year to call up old friends and make sure that they know you appreciate them and value their friendship. I don't do this nearly as much as I should. Facebook and this blog have been great ways to reconnect with friends from high school and college. Keep in touch. Life is short and has no guarantees. I hope that I will become talented enough on the guitar that you can hear me play some day on my new Fender acoustic guitar. If you hear some very loud guitar music, it could be me. Practice, practice, practice.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's all about Give and Take

I love celebrations. I still love celebrating my birthday. Of course, I don't love getting older, but I love celebrating my birthday! I don't need gifts, I just need the day to belong totally to me and for everyone to recognize that it's my birthday! Very much like a child, but my grandmother was the same way until her death. She always looked forward to her birthday. Birthdays are meant to be celebrated. If I play the Georgia lottery, I always use important dates as my numbers. I do plan to win very soon on my birthday and anniversary numbers.

Please play the Georgia lottery. It supports education. Don't win, just play. We need the money.

My sweet husband and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary this week. We had a great day that I will always cherish. As you readers know, my husband is not big on mushy talk, but he always tells me that he loves me. Because we stay up way too late each night, he wished me happy anniversary and told me he loved me at 12:01 a.m. For some strange reason, we always stay up until midnight to wish each other happy anniversary, happy birthday, merry Christmas, etc. It's strange for two adults, but it is what it is. By now, I guess it's a tradition with us.

Back to our anniversary celebration. My sweet husband wished me a happy anniversary before we left for work and called me during the day to send his wishes again. About mid-day the most beautiful red roses arrived for me -- a dozen long-stemmed red roses from my favorite florist in town. I love flowers, I especially love roses, I most especially love red roses. The anniversary day is progressing beautifully.

We had decided that we would go to Valdosta for dinner to celebrate our anniversary. Sweet husband suggested one of the great restaurants down town, maybe Red Lobster, where ever I wanted to go. All day I thought about where I wanted to go and even ate a smaller lunch so that I could completely enjoy the dinner. By 5 p.m. I am ready to leave work and head out of town!

On the way to Valdosta I asked my husband where he wanted to eat and that sweet husband of 21 years who had sent me a dozen red roses and promised me a beautiful dinner in Valdosta suggested with complete seriousness that we try that great, new restaurant - The Smok'n Pig! I am pausing for this to sink in to my readers. Go back and read this paragraph again. Seriously. I have attached a picture of the Smok'n Pig restaurant for your viewing pleasure. Well.......I suppose the fine folks at the Smok'n Pig won't mind that I have on high heels and a dress. Surely BBQ can be enjoyed in my fine frock as well as in jeans. Because my husband really enjoys eating, I reluctantly agreed to the epicurean delights of the Smok'n Pig!

Let me give you a food critic review of the Smok'n Pig: Go eat at the Smok'n Pig! Go today. Wear your stretchy pants. Take friends. Go for your anniversary! The food is fabulous. They have a beef brisket that is the most flavorful, tender meat that I have every tasted. The sweet potato souffle is heavenly. I ate until my fine frock was screaming! To make the night even more sophisticated, we brought home a to-go box full of left overs.

The moral of today's blog - it's all about give and take. I had my sweet husband of 21 years and a dozen red roses. He had his wife of 21 years and Smok'n Pig BBQ. Life is good and I thank God every day for allowing me to marry the love of my life and most importantly that he is STILL the love of my life. Life is great. If we had gone to dinner at one of the restaurants that I had in mind, there would be no blog to write. Thanks Smok'n Pig for being blog-worthy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Things you must do in life

I was once told that at some time in your life everyone should own a vehicle that is a convertible. I have owned one and loved it. Funny thing about convertibles in south Georgia is that it's too hot in the summer to ride with the top down. If you do dare put the top down in the 100-degree July heat, you turn on the air conditioner so that you don't melt into the upholstery. Spring and fall are the best times to ride with your top down. If you haven't owned a convertible, maybe you should put it on your list of "things you must do in life."

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that playing the guitar was one of the huge items on my "must do" list. I totally am playing the guitar now. Of course, I have just scratched the surface of guitar knowledge but I am progressing. Just so you know, playing the guitar is ubber hard. Really, it is. I know those silly people who claim they just learned to play by ear make it sound easy, but it's not easy. It's hard, it's complicated, and it has many layers. My teacher tries patiently to introduce new information to me, but mostly I just want to framm (great word to describe how I play) on the strings and pretend to be Slash from Guns and Roses. How anyone masters this stuff is still a mystery to me. Maybe I just have so much more to learn that I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you haven't learned to play the guitar, piano, drums, etc. maybe you should put that on your list of "things you must do in life."

During the summer I had the awesome opportunity to ride on a zip line through the Central America jungle. I wrote about this in an earlier blog. There were 11 different lines that we "zipped" from in the jungle. I have never had so much fun. The first zip was completely scary because I didn't know how to balance myself, but the others were great. I couldn't wait to get in the air to look at the jungle below me, around me, and above me! I took pictures, but I kept telling myself to try to burn the memory of the experience into my mind for safe keeping. Each zip brought its own treasures of animals, flora, and differing heights. I am so thankful for this experience and hope that I can repeat it many more times. If you haven't ever zipped through the jungle on a zip line, maybe you should put that on your list of "things you must do in life."

For one of my and my husband's milestone wedding anniversaries, we flew to New York during the Christmas holidays. I had been to New York before, but my husband had not. I knew that the trip would be a wonderful opportunity to watch his face as he saw the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Times Square. I was not disappointed. He was impressed by the non-stop activity, the lights, and the multitude of people in NYC. He was not impressed with the food and while I stopped at the Starbucks on every block, he stopped at McDonald's. He claimed that only McDonald's has sweet tea in NYC! He loved the subway and soon had the entire city mapped out in his head. His favorite trip was to the Bronx to see BOTH Yankee stadiums side-by-side. I was a little scared in the Bronx, he loved it. The splurge of the trip was that we stayed in an amazing hotel in Times Square. We had to pay top price for the room, but we were treated like royalty with champagne and food sent to our "anniversary" suite. If you have never visited New York City during the Christmas holidays and splurged on a fabulous hotel, maybe you should put that on your list of "things you must do in life."

I love flowers. Every kind of flowers. Not cut flowers -- that seems like such a waste. I love planted flowers, particularly flowers that bloom for an entire season. I have planted lots of flowers every where we have ever lived. Seeing those flowers bloom, makes me so happy. I believe it's quite a miracle that you plant a tiny hard seed in the ground and it comes out as a beautiful flower. I particularly like to take "cuttings" from a mature plant and produce lots of new plants. The best plant to start from cuttings is weeping willow trees. Just cut about a 12 inch piece of the weeping limb, strip the leaves, and stick it in good soil. In about two weeks tiny little green leaves appear on the limb. Let the roots get strong for a season and then plant it in your yard. Instant weeping willow tree. It's a little like birthing a new creation. If you have never taken a cutting from a plant and created your own entirely new plant, maybe you should put that on your list of "things you must do in life."

This list will definitely continue in subsequent blogs. I would love to hear what you would suggest we add to our list of "things you must do in life."