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From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: Daily Inspiration & Forming New Habits

26 Feb

It takes two weeks of repeated practice to establish a new habit.

Good thing because I absolutely love, and want to make a habit of, sharing a message of the day with those I am working with each and every day as we are doing each day to start our morning meeting for the St. Lucia Project.

We are taking turns sharing thoughts — some are quotes from others, some are our own thoughts, and some (those shared by the one who just can’t leave well enough alone…me) create a variation of the two.

Here are a few of our thoughts from this week and a few photos.



Challenges are what makes life interesting, and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.  Joshua J. Marine



Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for your uniqueness on this Earth, you would not be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in world come about. So be that one person!



We spoke yesterday about not knowing what you can or might just love to do until you try. When you move beyond your comfort zone, you expand your horizons and your possibilities. 

I am the keeper of the Journal for Team 32 — it is my responsibility to make sure that everything gets typed in and turned in at the end of the trip. Last night as I was putting in the entries from earlier in day, I read through all the Message of the Day entries. Oh my how we have evolved and oh my how it shows in what we choose to share each day.


From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: Little Things Catching My Attention

25 Feb

My entry from Monday, February 23 recapping my Friday activities as part of St. Lucia Project Team 32.

“Friday was a bit disjointed for both Barbara and me: RCP had planning meetings and the Primary School was pretty consumed with Independence Day activities. When I arrived at the school all of the children were outside, many dressed in the patriotic colors of the St. Lucian flag. The children answered questions, read passages about historical events, and several teachers spoke about national pride and patriotism. It was fascinating and uplifting to hear and feel the depth of the passion behind the words. There was one thing from the morning session that stuck with. One of the teachers asked the students to name patriotic acts—specific things that citizen might do to show they love their country. The first answer? Vote. It felt like the perfect answer and one I wished that every child would give, everywhere, first.Flag_of_Saint_Lucia

Chemida brought Barbara over to help at the Primary School so we got organized and started down our long list of students to see, ready to have a full day of one-on-one sessions in both literacy and math. On the way to meet Dan and Chemida for lunch, I snapped photos of the route we walked, the houses and buildings on the way, and an awesome pile of nuts drying in the sun. The little things continue to catch my attention. The father holding his child’s hand. How warmly people greet each other. The produce on the tables in the street. The detail of the braids and the care placed in the ribbons and clips in the girls’ at the Primary School’s hair. The trusting reception I continue to get from just about everyone I speak to—especially the children at the school.P1160801

When we got back from lunch Barbara and I found out that there was a competition—game show quiz style and all about Independence Day—that started at 1:15 and lasted the rest of the day. We went in and watched for a while as proud students representing the four “houses” in the school answered questions based on facts about St. Lucia.  I just love the national pride and deep understanding of the island’s history that is taught in the schools….

I seem to be on solid ground with the principal and am loving the one-on-one sessions with the students. Dan continues to be an inspirational rock star. And Barbara seems to be feeling more at ease with her role and appreciate the work she is doing with RCP. Bring on week 2 with all its bumps and disruptions! We are ready!”



Finding the Perfect Purposeful Project Fit: Global Volunteers

5 Apr

On my quest to find meaningful and purposeful ways for Baby Boomers to spend time, I stumbled on something and someone “truly amazing”: Global Volunteers and its co-founder Michele Gran.

global volunteers logo

As I dug through the organizational literature, I found that this nonprofit runs volunteer projects around the world – each one making a significant difference in the health and well-being of the community it serves, and each one providing needed and valuable services.

And, it gets better. This global organization is delivering all of this the exact, right way. All projects are done in conjunction with local organizations so that each project is built to best support the real needs of the community as seen from the inside. That hits us, the Baby Boomer generation at our core values, and hits me, on every single responsible, brain healthy activity level – we can Be Active, Be Social, Be Engaged, and Be Purposeful while being responsible and respectful of community and cultural values.

As I dug deeper, I found that about 30% of Global Volunteers’ current participants are Baby Boomers. I was so encouraged and intrigued by this focus that I reached out to Michele Gran, Trustee and Co-Founder, and she graciously agreed to speak with me.

When I asked Michele how she saw the value of Baby Boomers serving as volunteers, she explained that this 30 year old organization “grew up with the Baby Boom generation and to date Boomers have been the backbone of the Global Volunteers.”

Michele believes that we are the generation of change makers and that perspective makes us the perfect match for volunteer work. Service projects are the perfect vehicle for this huge group of ready willing and able-bodied people with a passion for fairness and social justice. Michele believes that we were raised on these values and, as we age, our generation will find service and service projects as a way to fulfill that need to find a deeper purpose.

And then the conversation turned to brain health and the St. Lucia project…. We talked about how brains need the proper environmental support to grow, develop, and thrive. With that basic premise in mind, Michele and her team built a demonstration project on St. Lucia as a perfect way to build the case for promoting healthy brain development – change the basic conditions, one community at a time, and change the world.

This video (only a 1:22 long and is worth every second) set the bait, got me to bite, and reeled me in – hook, line, and sinkers.

Talk about the most perfect fit…. More on Global Volunteers projects later but for now, it is so reassuring to know that I am not screaming into a vacuum. There are organizations out there, directed by people who “get it” – we just need to find what matches best for each of us.

What kind of service projects help you serve your purpose?

Serve Your Community and Serve Your Purpose

31 Mar

Be purposeful.

Finding and taking steps to serve your purpose can be an incredibly rewarding and life /brain changing experience.   Did you know that doing things that make you feel like you are serving a greater purpose can stimulate your brain and fire activity in novel ways?  Actually, researchers with the Rush Memory and Aging Project found that people who lived more purposeful lives were less likely to develop symptoms related to Alzheimer’s Disease.

How about some more brain enhancing reasons to “Be Purposeful”?

  • When you do something meaningful to you, you feel good.  When you feel good, your brain releases dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline.  That sets off both a chemical and an electrical series reactions that make you want to come back for more.
  • When you feel accomplished — like you have really contributed to the greater good – notice that your respiration is more even and your stress levels (and therefore your biological stress reactions) reduce.
  • Finding your purpose is a learning and exploring process that requires actively using so many areas of your brain.  You are looking at how you want to live from an intellectual, emotional, and solution oriented perspective.   In order to do that, you must use every higher-level cognitive process and give those rational thoughts emotional value.  Talk about keeping neural pathways open and active.

Think about how often historical great thinkers were also great givers,  philanthropists, and community builders.   Doing the right things for the right reasons is frequently inspired by others and we “do good” as a tribute to someone else.   Have someone that you admire in mind?   Look for a project close to home, find a way to serve your purpose, and do some good for someone else today as a thank you to the person who has your attention!

Find what drives you – those “things” that give you a reason to be – and work toward them. When you live more purposefully, you create tangible ways that to leave the world a better place than you found it.   One day, one action, one moment at a time.


Contribute to the World One Small Project at a Time

28 Mar

Life does throw us curve balls and there is more and more evidence that you can prepare your brain for some of these mishaps along the way by building up a bit of reserve.

Creepy Staircase

This was one dark, windy, steep, creepy staircase…

Building cognitive reserve can be very rewarding process.   Find a purposeful project and contribute to the world while you fill your well of brain processing power!

I discovered an outlet for my purposeful projects and that is being a Citizen Scientist –  a non-scientist, non-specialists who collects data and adds to the body of scientific knowledge.   There are a ton of projects out there — some easier to participate in than others.   I love the philosophy of one project  the Marine Animal Identification Network — a project tracking seals and reporting information about migration — because it sums it all up:

“In many cases, we learn through the imprecise science of serendipity whereby a matrix of possibilities results in a report: the right person in the right place at the right time knowing the right person to contact.”  How wonderful is it that we all, just by chance, can be that person at the right place at the right time and can contribute to science?

I was surprised at how easily I found projects that require very little investment of time and technology.    All you really need is a smart phone or a computer and  a few extra minutes to participate in some of these projects!  Do a search for citizen science projects in a geographic are or that have to do with an interest.   Love the outdoors?  Check out the projects from the National Wildlife Federation’s listing of projects from backyard birders to butterfly counting to star gazing.    All of these projects ask you to do is observe, record, and report.

Butterfly Resting Ground

This field was full of butterflies saving up energy to take the next step on their journey north. If we had not looked closely, we would have missed them completely!

Are you near the Mississippi River and interested in birds?   Work with the Audubon Society’s Rivers Project Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to  monitor and track birds in the  bottomland forests on the Mississippi River.  Observe, record, report, contribute!

In your reflection

What do you see in your reflection? Be kind….


 How about working with NASA from your own backyard?  NASA has several ongoing citizen science projects going on now and more to come!

There are so many things you can do right now that take so little and give back so much!


The “Be’s” of Brain Health

24 Mar

There are ways to activate the pleasure centers, challenge your creativity, and maximize quality just by approaching life differently. Here is an introduction to what I see as the “be’s” of brain health:

Ray of Sunshine A ray of sunshine before the clouds move in, bringing a winter rain storm.

  • Be active. There is no better way to nourish yourself – mind, body, and soul – than to take an active approach to life. Be a thinker, a doer, a creator, and a motivator. Move your body, use your mind, and think bigger.
  • Be social. Not only are we better together but reaching out to other people also activates multiple areas of the brain. When you are interacting with other people you activate multiple areas of your brain: sensory, language, memory, logic and reasoning, and emotional areas — all working in concert.
  • Be engaged. Participate in things that fire your passion and excite you. Some days it is not just enough to be active and social – throw yourself in fully and participate in life by becoming a part of your experiences. Yes, this includes both IRL and online!
  • Be purposeful. Find what drives you – those things that give you a reason to be – and work toward them. When you live more purposefully, you both fill holes in your life and contribute to something greater.

Beyond a shadow of a doubtIn 2008 I started writing a Dream Inventory. That inventory is vast and varied but each item shares the basic elements of those “be”s. My husband and I are setting out on a short adventure to practice what I am preaching and to knock something from my first Dream Inventory.

We are, as this posts, on our way to on a tiny island off the coast of Belize to actively participate in a reef conservation project. I am not sure what exactly we will be measuring or labeling or counting or documenting but I know that we will be supporting something so important to both of us – the health of ocean and, as a logical offshoot, the overall health of the planet. As a bonus I get to be at peace underwater, surrounded by color that most can’t even imagine exist, and in complete harmony with the rhythm of my breathing.

**We looked the island up on Google Maps last night and the indicator arrow pointed right in the middle of the water. So I zoomed in. Still nothing but water. One more zoom and there was something that I guess could have been land…. I am leaving my coordinates with Lois Alter Mark in case you need to send out a search party!

What are you doing to “be” today?

Time to Be Intentional About Living a Quality, Brain Healthy Life

18 Mar

Last week at the National Forum on Brain Health, one of the leaders in the field of neuroplasticity and the aging brain, Dr. Paul Nussbaum, said a few things that almost knocked me out of my seat.

Ah ha moment #1:   At this point in the history of research in the field, “I think it is OK to speculate.”

puzzle brainOK, that is big…. In this “show me definitive proof before I take/recommend action” world of neuroscience, one of the premiere voices in the field is saying that maybe we should just act on what we know and maximize our lives based on the evidence as it comes in. What a huge boost for the cause of every day brain health. Practice those things that we know make a difference in quality of cognitive life and trust that the proof will follow. I’m in!

Dr. Nussbaum then spoke about a wide reaching approach to aging as well as cognitively possible. My heart skipped a beat as ah ha moment #2 started to sink in:

Why have a limited toolbox? “Meditation and nutrition are every bit as important as Paxil.”

Again, that is huge! He is talking about those things that are so hard to measure in part because controlling all the variables sufficiently to remove all doubt about what, exactly, was effecting change is a monumental task.

I have a hard time agreeing to lowering the standards of proof and statistical significance of an outcome but I also agree that there is a time to just go with it. We may never have definitive proof that nutrition and meditation alone brought about a change but we sure can come to some pretty well grounded conclusions that both matter. Maybe we do know enough, right now, to take positive steps to improve the quality of our lives.

Dr. Nussbaum’s recurring theme is this. Our bodies and lives are driven by this 2 to 4 pound organ made of mostly fat and fueled by chemical and electrical activity. So if we are being logical about all of this, it makes sense to act on what we know.Brain wrinkles

Through lifestyle choices we know ways, right now, to regulate and amplify that chemical and electrical activity. We have proven strategies to protect ourselves and build our brain “resilience” so we can ward off bits and pieces of decline.

As Dr. Nussbaum said when asked what he thought was coming next in the field, “We are going to find out that answers lie between our ears.” 

Why not keep that “thing” between your ears functioning at maximum capacity?

It is really time to expand our toolboxes with choices that we know make life better: read, socialize, get involved in music, pay attention to what and how much we eat, participate in challenging activities, seek out new situations and tasks that are complicated, tune in to what your body tells you, enhance your sensory experiences…. Be Active, Be Engaged, Be Social, and Be Purposeful but most importantly, Be Intentional about maximizing your cognitive life.

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