Daddy's Christmas Angel

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Brain Fitness and Nutrition

How important is your diet when it comes to brain health? According to a great deal of research, it means a lot.

As I read about so many diets and plans, the thing that stands out most to me is that certain foods are almost always there. One of those is broccoli. I see it over and over as almost a miracle vegetable. In the article, "Eat Your Way to Brain Health", Amy Paturel cites a study from Martha Clare Morris, professor of nutritional epidemiology at Rush University, "people who ate one to two servings of green leafy vegetables a day were cognitively 11 years younger than those who ate fewer greens." (Leafy greens include broccoli, spinach, and kale, according to this article.)

Crab Cake Dinner ©Mary Montague Sikes
The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet "emphasizes fish, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans, and a daily glass of wine." It also stresses berries and leafy greens. This diet claims to cut the risk of Alzheimer's by as much as a whopping 53%.

Over and over, I read about the benefits of eating blueberries to achieve "the best cognitive perks". Other important items to improve brain health are olive oil, avocados,tomatoes, walnuts, grapes, coffee, and dark chocolate. Writers especially appreciate the addition of dark chocolate to their brain fitness diets.

I hope that crab cakes fit under the fish category to provide a boost in brain health. Every night, I try to have a green leafy salad with arugula, tomatoes, and avocados as part of our dinner.

Here is a broccoli salad recipe I often use. Perhaps the addition of blueberries would make it even more brain healthy. The bacon might need to be deleted, but perhaps we can have one vice.

Broccoli Salad

Broccoli Florets
6 to 8 slices of bacon crumbled
½ cup chopped yellow onion
1 package of craisins-5 oz. size
8 ounces cheese, cheddar or whatever, cut into very small pieces
1 cup Hellmann's mayonnaise (or whatever amount seems good)
Cherry tomatoes halved or grape tomatoes
Seasoned salt and pepper to taste

Cut up broccoli to manageable size pieces. Place in large bowl. Add bacon, onion, craisins, and cheese. Mix. Add tomatoes and mayonnaise. Add seasonings and toss gently. Place in serving bowl and garnish with tomato halves and arugula. 

Do you have a brain fitness plan?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Your Studio is Wherever You Paint (or Write)

The artist Robert Burridge always seems to inspire me in some way. I look forward to his "Bob Blast" each week.
Artists in a Magic Studio (GAMi) ©Mary Montague Sikes
Yesterday I watched his short video and found him urging artists to "own" their studios no matter where they might be located. He pointed out that some might be a small section of a room, others could be on the kitchen table. One woman in assisted living claims a portion of her bed as her studio, he said.

"Wherever you paint is your studio." That's the Burridge message.

"Wherever you write is also your studio." That's my thought.

Burridge says he always writes down his goals before he starts a painting project. Then he chooses the brushes and the paint colors he intends to use, and, because he is right-handed, he puts them to the right of his paper or canvas.

I like the idea of writing down the goals for an art project. It's a little like making a synopsis for a book or  writing down the ideas for your day's project as an author.

Organizing your writing space before you begin the day is a great idea. I don't, but it would solve a lot of problems for me if I did. Although I am right-handed, I have items I use to the right and left of my computer space and also behind me.

Robert Burridge calls his painting space his "Magic Studio". What he creates from nothing is like magic. What writers develop from nothing is magic as well.

He has three important rules he follows in his life as an artist:

1. Paint what you know.
2. Teach what you've learned.
3. Love what you do.

The same rules can apply for a writer. Perhaps that's why memoirs have become so popular. Write what you know. In the end, if you love what you do, you are on the road to happiness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It's Over for the "Next One Up"

The baseball season is over for me. Since I was a child, I've been a St. Louis Cardinals fan. I listened to their games on the radio late at night. For more than 10 years, my husband and I have gone to Spring Training at Jupiter FL for one or two weeks. Now that we have satellite television, I hang on every pitch for the 162-game season.

"Spring Training in Jupiter FL" ©Mary Montague Sikes
This year, it was especially hard to be a Cardinals fan. From Spring Training on, they suffered injury after injury to key players, including their pitching ace and my favorite player, Adam Wainwright. On top of that, they always seemed to be losing the game. Sometimes they would stage a comeback. They did that 44 times, the most in the Major Leagues. And almost all their games were one-run wins or losses. That was hard. I often longed for a blowout win with no fear of their losing. That happened almost never. They were truly the Cardiac Cardinals.

Even with all their injuries, it seemed someone would always be the "next one up" to step in and make up for the loss. They played well and with lots of heart. With all the adversity, the Cardinals won 100 games and had the best record in baseball for the season. I thought that fact alone should take them to the World Series. It didn't, and the season is over for them and for me.

Now I will have time to write, paint, and teach art classes for the next four months. I will count the days until mid-February and the start of Spring Training.

Being a baseball fan is hard work.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Creativity and Fitness Can Improve Your Brain

Over the years, I have taught art to students at every age level from pre-school to older adults. I love witnessing their creativity and excitement over their accomplishments. I especially like seeing the joy that art brings into their lives.

For older people, creativity provides a goal, a reason to get up in the morning and go out to an art class or head to an easel or art wall inside their own homes. The creative activity can take the form of painting, sculpture, pottery, jewelry and more. Crocheting and knitting are art-crafting endeavors enjoyed by people of all ages, especially older ones. Some studies show that crafting provides a large benefit but not quite as much as painting.

My mother loved to crochet. She would sit for hours crocheting colorful pieces that she later put together in afghans to give as gifts. Although she did not grow up in a time when physical fitness was stressed as it now is, she kept her brain healthy with the bright strands of yarn dancing on her needle.

A recent syndicated article by Leslie Mann, Tribune Newspapers, describes studies that show the value of doing artwork for people in "their middle and old ages". One Mayo Clinic study found that those who created art during those later years were "73 percent less likely to develop MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment)". (MCI is a problem that can lead to dementia.)

Because people are living longer, the 85-plus age is a fast-growing population segment. It's a group of people who can be inspired because of creative potential or they can be led into depression by those who do not understand their needs for purpose in life.

Recently, I was with a group of older people and found their main topics of conversation were about the drugs they take to control their physical ailments. My doctor wants to prescribe more drugs and is disgruntled because I believe our nation is over-medicated in many instances.

If people are encouraged to take more art classes and more art workshops, I believe they will be happier. They will have less reason for depression. They will need fewer drugs.

Artist Kendra Wadsworth inspires creativity with her abstract mixed media
Coloring books for adults and zentangles (drawing structured patterns) are new interests in our society. These are different forms of art that I suspect can help improve our brain health.

I enjoyed Mann's article which was about a study published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Along with physical fitness, creativity can help us grow happier. We should promote that path.

Friday, October 2, 2015

It's a Cold and Rainy Day

"It's a cold and rainy day."
Crab Carnival 2008

Is that a good sentence to start a book? Probably not.

But it really is a cold and rainy day in Virginia, and the next day or so promise to bring even more of the same kind of inclement weather. For one of only two or three times in its long history, the West Point Crab Carnival has been cancelled. The Occasion for the Arts in Williamsburg has also been cancelled. The Williamsburg Book Festival at nearby Bruton Parish Church will go on as planned but with definitely less potential to draw big crowds.

In past years, I've participated in all three events. Once, long ago, at the Occasion for the Arts, I crouched for many hours beneath a sheet of plastic, protecting a selection of tug boat paintings, both under glass and on canvas.

Three years ago, I was one of the authors seated behind a mound of books at the first Williamsburg Book Festival. Because the event was in a location not close to the main activities that day, authors made very few sales. It was a discouraging day for profits, yet it was fun to be with other authors.

I'm sorry about the craftspeople who have worked so hard over the past months to create all sorts of items for sale. Many crafts are crab items which are a main stay for the Crab Carnival but more difficult to sell elsewhere.

If we avoid the dangers of a major hurricane, that is a good thing. We'll recall the sunny days and beautiful weather from past Carnivals and book signing events. Perhaps Christmas on the Town activities in our communities will help make up for the October losses. A cold and rainy day is actually a very good time to paint, craft, or write.

Perhaps that is a very good line to start a book.

"It's a cold and rainy day."