Posts Tagged With: kids

This Year, Resolve to Work Out Your Brain Too: 10 Healthy Tips


For those making resolutions to hit the gym this year….

You might want to consider working out your brain too.

Here’s why:

If you don’t start now, you won’t have half as many stories to tell your grandchildren.

You simply won’t remember. Seriously.

In Layman’s terms, our memories are kind of like a huge library. If you keep shoving them into the back of the dusty corner, you’ll eventually forget where you put them.

Now, I’m not talking about dementia or Alzheimer’s. This begins happening as soon as your brain reaches maturation. You are not exempt if you are only 40, or even 20.

Childhood memories slowly begin to fade away, and only the significant events remain.  Sure, some item or person may suddenly jolt your memory, but you will be less likely to remember that on your own.


Recognition Vs. Recall

Note: There is a difference between recognition and recall. —-Recognition is the association of a memory with an event or physical object you’ve encountered. So, you might see a baseball glove and suddenly remember how your grandfather took you to a Texas Ranger’s game. Recall is more like a Fill-In-The-Blank. It’s not even multiple choice. You have to remember something, with nothing in front of you to help.


So, what to do about this?

Well, the brain is a muscle, like any part of your body. Time to pump the iron.

If you’re looking to improve your memory, with training techniques, there might be far more indirect brain benefits than you realize:

It will keep you telling those hilarious stories at social events, lower your stress, keep you better organized, stay mentally healthy, more alert, and better grasp concepts.


My 10 Practical Tips:

Yes, I’m hitting you with the diet stuff first. Let’s get it out of the way. Hey, if it makes you feel better, I’m medically allowed to add wine to this list.

  • Get enough sleep.

(Yes it’s that simple. No, we don’t do it.)   Nothing makes for a foggy day like being sleep-deprived. The reverse is true: nothing makes you feel more alive and alert than a full night’s sleep.

  • Carry around a notebook

Whether you’re nostalgic or frustrated, a new parent- creating a book of bedtime stories, or collecting material for your memoir, ALWAYS carry a notebook with you. everywhere. Best advice I can give you.

  • Exercise

Stimulates production of new synapses, essentially new pathways which are applicable to any situation (whereas learning Sudoku might not help except in number-related puzzles). Also, the increased oxygen to the brain= good thing. Trust me. Last but not least, when you work out, (whether cardio or weights) it releases the feel-good chemical endorphins. (see link for targeted work-out tips)

  • Play video games   (for real)

Neuroscientist Yaakov Stern of Columbia University said in an article, “It requires motor control, visual search, working memory, long-term memory, and decision making,”  [also ability to control and switch attention among different tasks.] “People get better on tests of memory, motor speed, visual-spatial skills, and tasks requiring cognitive flexibility.”

  • Stay creative.

Don’t just do busy-work and boring work. Do something everday you love, for you. Writer Charles Bukowski didn’t believe in the “tortured genius.” He believes our motives affect our performance.

  • Laugh

It’s good for the soul. And apparently your memory retention? Also, don’t forget to laugh at yourself! Many memories are embarrassing, but don’t let that stop you. You might find some of them hilarious now, which you swore you’d never speak of again. In fact, tell it to a friend. Laugh until you cry. You never know, it might bring up other pieces of the event, if it happened with a friend.

  • Drink green tea.

Not only is it good for your brain, it actually has 7 other healthy benefits.

  • No More Mean Girls. Make real friends & real memories.

Surround yourself with healthy relationships. Ok fine, we can still watch the movie. I just mean, friends are the ultimate memory booster. They always remember stuff for you, good or bad. They induce those memory recall situations. Not to mention, people are the most important memories.

  • Try meditation, reading an old book, visiting where you grew up, yoga,  crosswords & Sudoku, using Mnemonic devices, active listening to radio news, trivia games, or (my favorite) photo albums.

I’d love to know:

What proven method did I leave out?

What unconventional method works for you?

What’s your strongest memory?

What triggers your flashbacks?

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Pictures & Memory Association

Above: 10 year-old Neo Makoena on his birthday, playing in the street. 

Quick summary: Neo was born HIV positive, by no fault of his own. Even if you don’t need to know the story of the how…all you need to know is that he should have died in December. BUT “H.I.V. can’t kill Happy Birthday”

He’s a fighter and a conquerer with a beautiful heart. He got to enjoy another year’s celebration of being alive. God bless you buddy. May I always remember to dance as carefree as you do.

So, lately I’ve been thinking about how pictures create “a radiating web of associations” in our mind.

Isn’t it crazy how a picture can take us back to that moment, in the snap of the fingers? With just one glance, we are submerged in that memory. We are there. Taken back in time.

I don’t know what that might be for you — a picture of your family, a long-lost relative, a lover, a childhood snapshot…..but it’s powerful isn’t it?

I took that black & white picture this summer, during a photography stint in Capetown, South Africa- documenting the youth of the slums.

The associations a picture creates can be “good” or, in the same regard, “bad”.

I’m not sure how you would label this one…..but I can tell you this. It still haunts me today.

It was…surreal being there. My head was swimming. The reality didn’t (fully) kick in until I returned stateside.  I don’t think anyone can truly comprehend a 10 year-old staring down death with a smile…..until you actually meet such a person. Seriously, I don’t. You have to put a face to a name.

Seeing this– suddenly flashes memories from that day: endless talks in the car, driving what seemed hundreds of miles, fighting mental and physical exhaustion, Edwin’s orchestrating of the gigantic party like a proud father, food, the words on the cake – burning into my retina afther the flash, a donated DJ,  presents from the community, the whole neighborhood packed into to every square inch of the property- spilling out onto the street, music blaring, Neo’s mad dance moves, children running, Edwin trying to speak over the numbing buzz in my brain, my unsolveable anger for the whole situation……

It’s powerful– somehow I still am transported back there, upon seeing the pictures.

Let me tell you why.

The doctors said that Neo should have died in January. Yet there he was. Smiling. Dancing. Living.

Above: Mother (left), Neo (middle), Edwin (right)

It’s almost as if you could write more than just a few lines to describe some of your memories… could write a novel.

It’s a never ending web of associations. One thing sparks another….

[I’d love to hear what pictures do that for you]

Well, I found myself writing this poem, in response to reviewing them. I hope it helps explain things further.

Ode to Neo

Your mother realized she was pregnant, the same night she wrecked her car

checking for blood transfusion, the worried chaos beyond the immediate, a deafening crash of

“what will he think when he finds out?”- -smack, another painful blow, again undeserved

you see, she found out the bad news too, she had been given AIDS from someone else

when she got home, nobody could tell the difference between another black & blue bruise

a broken family, an only twin, you were no stranger to the pain when birth came

without a Dad, but Edwin made sure you had more- a Godfather closer than heaven

he held you, baptized you, bought you clothes, called over the whole neighborhood to play,

one last party to defeat the slurs of death, you danced over your own supposed grave

December’s calling should have given you a new name,

but instead

you threw down that badge and entitled your own –

the fighter: one whose feet move too quick for death

now, I know I have no room to talk about shed tears, but

remember, this is hard for me-

a paradox I can’t deceode

a metaphor I can’t create

a picture from which I can’t look away

A party so full of life, amidst the wreckage

It was not our gifts, which gave you grace to smile tonight

I realized the contrary was my lesson

You were slowly teaching us

how to shine

kids and adults alike

how to move to the music, to run in the streets

not denying the darkness

but shining in the midst of it

the very thing we long for as old men

wishing we could have done

Neo, dancing at the party

Neo, playing with his friends in the street

Edwin (the godfather) suprising Neo at his school, giving him clothes as a birthday present

*This post goes out with special love and dedication to Edwin Louw from These Numbers :  a family man, a mentor, a friend to so many, an inspiration, a role-model, a teacher, and above all– a father to so many.

Edwin, I miss you dearly from this side of the world. Please give Neo a hug for me. I will do my best to continue providing captions to the endless amount of untold pictures. I will do my best to tell the story well.

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Creativity Requires Willingness to Look Silly


My writing process is a lot like setting a kid free in an amusement park.

The only difficult part is deciding what to ride first and how to spend your tickets.

I immediately regress to being a fifth grader without a filter, or a concept of what is “appropriate” for that matter.

I guess that’s what I love about writing. It….frees me.

[When you’re truly passionate something, you’ll do anything to achieve it. Nothing will limit you]

You see, kids don’t care what they look like. They just do it. No matter how silly or stupid.

If you look back on your childhood, you know I’m right.

God, if I could remember half the hilarious stuff we got away with…I’d have a bestselling memoir on my hands.

I mean, come on. Do you really think you can grow up in a house with 8 other family members, and not have some wild stories?

When we weren’t organizing our own soccer teams and choosing sides, or seeing how many of us we could fit on a mattress without our grip being jolted loose as we hit the bottom of the stairs…..we were finding new ways to give our parents hell.

Not intentionally. (most of the time).  Kids are just naturally creative and find new ways to do something when you tell them “no”.

They really think outside of the box when they want something. They don’t let obstacles stop them. It’s all or nothing.

Okay….just go with me on this.

Do you have that one memory that just sticks out for some reason? And its random- you have no idea why?

I really hate how we forget the majority of the “minuscule” or “mundane” events in our lives. I put quotations around that because, whatever little guy is up in my brain deciding what’s “important” and what’s not — I wanna punch him in the face.

I think the intro to Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years says it best:

“The saddest part about life is you don’t remember half of it. You don’t even remember half of half of it. Not even a tiny percentage, if you want to know the truth.  I have this friend Bob who writes down everything he remembers. If he remembers dropping an ice cream cone on his lap when he was seven, he’ll write it down.  The last time I talked to Bob, he had written more than five hundred pages of memories.  He’s the only guy I know who remembers his life. He said he captures memories because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen; it’s as though he hadn’t lived the parts he doesn’t remember”

My examples:

I remember stealing a two-pound bag of powdered sugar from the pantry in 3rd grade, sneaking up behind my brother, Drew, jumping from the top of the couch spread-eagle, and smashing it WWE style on his unsuspecting head. It snowed in our living room that day. Seriously, everything was covered in white. I vividly remember how it was the first time my mother tried to scold me, but couldn’t hold back the smile and enormous laugh bubbling up.

  Drew [right], me [left]

When she asked me why I did it— I have no idea. Probably because I didn’t care about the consequences (just being honest). I was living in the moment.

Yet I do not remember getting attacked by Dalmatian dogs as a child, splitting my face open. (still have 3 pretty badass scars on my face from it). I remember getting my first set of cowboy boots, a vest, a toy pistol & rifle, and the whole get-up – as a 6 year old probably. Yet I can’t remember the name of the guy I taught a Literature Seminar with, just this summer.

Despite what psychologists might say about the reason why certain memories fade and other remain, as due to painful or important events…..I have to disagree.

There’s some important things I wish I could remember, and some random things that always manage to surface.

Frustrating to say the least. And you can just forget intentional recall. Nothing’s worse than when someone says, “Oh do you remember….?!” — and you have absolutely NO recollection. No matter how hard you try.

You see, in our lives — it’s a jumbled mess. It takes old age for us to be able to neatly piece together a comprehend-able storyline which others can smoothly follow in its re-telling.

That’s why we love novels.

They follow rules of concise chapters. An entire year or two is broken down and summarized in 200 pages.

We expect the writer to only give us the most relevant information. But, unfortunately, our brain doesn’t work like that.

Neither do our lives.

So, whether you’re an artist or not,

We don’t get to skip over the embarrassing parts, the screw-ups, and unrelated hardships. (although everyone else remembers them for me. Gee thanks.)

We have to be willing to risk looking stupid, to appear silly, if we are ever to write an interesting narrative with our life.

Somewhere along the way…..we mistook growing up & maturity for the structured & mundane.

Give yourself space to run.  Room to make mistakes. Room to create a story worth living.

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