Tag Archives: science

It’s Been Flubberized!

While intrepid jungle explorers receive all the kudos, quite frankly, I feel any parent brave enough to delve through their child’s school bag deserves a gold medal, a statue in their local park and their own TV show. This is where such lofty ideals as COURAGE, BRAVERY, PERSEVERANCE and PERSISTANCE  hit the road, and you find out whether you are mighty… or a mouse.

Rowena 1981

You’d never suspect this neat girl would have rotting yogurt or a squished banana in her bag, would you?!!

Thinking back to my own school bag, there were definitely some serious horrors in there. Indeed, there were horrors of Elm Street proportions. Undoubtedly, the worst of it had to be the burst yogurt. Don’t ask me which fool put a yogurt in their bag without a raincoat or any form of protection. No one likes a dobber. However, I still remember the stench, and fishing out wads of soggy paper caked in the stuff and trying to salvage affected exercise and text books. Of course, I didn’t clean it up very well and the smell only got worse, and no doubt even mould set in. This was pure YUCK in capital letters!! A school kid’s equivalent of a toxic spill. I don’t remember Mum cleaning it up either. That was my job…along with cleaning out the squashed banana, which was also brutally slaughtered in that very same school bag. I feel ashamed to admit it now, but I was evidently a repeat offender,  who didn’t learn from her mistakes.

Unfortunately, my daughter has followed in my footsteps. While she did a fantastic effort with a squished banana, she’s now found a whole new catastrophic realm. Her school bag has “flubberitis”.

Flubber is a type of slime. If you’re from my era, you might recall that you could buy slime in a little green plastic can. I loved this was fanastic, goopy ooze.

On the other hand, this slime is quite different. You make it yourself and it looks and smells like some deadly toxic pestilence straight out of Ghost Busters. Slime replicates very, very quickly and is currently spreading through schools and homes faster than the common cold. If you have a good look around in the playground, you’ll see its tell-tale \ smear on just about everything, just like another substance we’ll simply call> “nasal secretions”.

green slime

Flubberitis…goopy slime on the march inside my daughter’s school bag. At least, it smelled like fresh apples. 

My daughter’s been operating a slime laboratory in her room for the last six months and I haven’t been impressed to find slime stuck to her sheets, carpet, school hat, skort. Depending on the type of slime, it’s footprints vary. Not quite as bad as chewing gum, it still likes to stick around and can be a beast to get rid of. Moreover, there’s all the apparatus used to make the slime. That’s simply mess on mess on mess, even if you can appreciate that it’s “art”, “science”, “an alternative to screen time” or “better than drugs”.

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My daughter is keen to export slime to even the remotest corners of the globe…a budding entrepreneur. 

I have mixed feelings towards my daughter’s obsession with slime. On the positive, making slime is a creative and scientific venture. She not one mixes the core ingredients together, she and her friends add things to vary it’s texture and colour such as foam balls and glitter.  There are a multitude of different recipes and kinds of slime out there and it really is quite fascinating for anyone with a science bent. Moreover, many people also enjoy the sensory stimulation of playing and fidgeting with the slime. This can be a lot of fun and may also relieve stress. On the other hand, if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like stuff sticking to your fingers, some slimes won’t be for you. I personally find many of the slimes feel quite icky on my skin and I don’t like touching them at all. Smell is also a problem and has caused breathing difficulties in our family. I also find the mess and the smears across just about every surface annoying. I’ve also been concerned about her sniffing all that glue, and she’s now been told to make it outside.

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Like Mother, like daughter. This was where I made potions out of wildflowers when we were living on acreage out at Galston, Sydney. This was my happy place and this has always been a much-prized photograph. 

That’s how I see the stuff. My daughter finds it mesmerizing and a real sensory indulgence, especially when she’s added things like foam balls, sparkly glitter or sand to the mix. I’ve seen her squishing it for hours, as it releases some kind of magic I struggle to understand. Yet, that doesn’t matter as long as I can show some interest and listen to her accounts of the ducks’ guts of slime.

It could be better. It could be worse.

Have you or your kids had much to do with slime? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

xx Rowena

 

Mothers’ Day Is Floating Away…

Mothers’ Day is inevitably full of surprises. Not that I’m naive enough to script the day. Indeed, the older I get, the more I let it go. Run by itself.

That says quite a lot, because I can be something of a control freak.

Anyway, as I said, Mother’s Day is full of surprises and usually goes off script.

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The Family with the balloons before blast off.

So, this morning as we’re heading back to the car after Church, I’m wondering why the kids have wandered off AGAIN. I wasn’t impressed! Started wondering why we can’t all get to the car at the same time and why our family herds like meandering sheep…

Trying to round everyone up, I could see our son was clearly distracted. Indeed, all his attention was clearly focused at the sky and nowhere near the car, going home or my Mothers’ Day lunch.

Yet, in a moment which would’ve made his science teacher proud, he’d launched a shopping bag with a Mother’s Day card into the clouds powered by a bunch of helium balloons. I just managed to catch it visibly heading into the clouds like a dream. Apparently, he’d carefully tested the number of balloons required to achieve the desired amount of lift. This was a scientist at work, being observed by an absolute dreamer (his mother).

This spontaneous gesture filled me with such immense pride. He might not have broken any records, or invented the first shopping bag in space, but my heart was glowing.

That’s not something you can count on with a teen, especially on Mothers’ Day.

Although we did manage to get some photographs, he might just have to: “Play it again, Sam!” (Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca). These pics were hastily snapped on our phones.

It truly was a magical moment!

More Mothers’ Day entertainment to come.

xx Rowena

Featured Image: Photo Credit – My daughter “Miss”.

Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World.

If you could see my desk and take a panoramic view of my house, you’d immediately understand why I bought Tim Harford’s: Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World.

It’s not because I’m anally clean. Rather, it’s because I’m naturally messy, chaotic yet delightfully creative. Indeed, I rarely have any trouble with writer’s block and have more of a problem with creative overflow and all my neurons going off at once.

I didn’t need to think twice when I first spotted the book in  a Surry Hills bookshop in Sydney (the one with the rainbow bicycle out the front). I’d finally found an ally…someone else on my side of the messy desk debate. After all, I’ve long been an advocate of: “Messy desk, active mind”.

However, with the rise of the dreaded Declutter Movement, I’ve been becoming increasingly outnumbered. So, I welcome this book, which will become a handy weapon to defend myself against those marauding armies of preachy declutterers. While it might not be the size of a telephone book or antique Bible, it could still inflict a bit of damage, sending them packing along with their almighty bins.

book pile

However, Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World is far more broad reaching than the state of your desk. I guess it’s saying that you don’t have to be tidy minded to be creative. Indeed, Harford is suggesting quite the reverse. That chaos, shock thinking and juggling multiple projects across disciplines has led to some incredible breakthroughs. That being focused might not be the best approach to generating creative solutions after all. Indeed, he suggests the reverse.

I am still reading Messy and am only up to Chapter 3. While I appreciate that you usually finish the book before you write about it, I couldn’t wait.  I am finding this book so amazing that I’m not just reading it, I am studying it…scrutinising each and every page. That in itself is not exceptional. I always read books with a pen in hand to underline stuff and also jot down striking vocabulary such as “monomaniacal tendencies” in this instance. However, when it comes to this book, my scribbling has reached new heights and I am Googling bits along the way. There’s just so many valuable insights to investigate and explore that I really want to take it as far as I can. Just how far can these revelations take my writing? The way I think? I don’t know but I have very great expectations and am savouring every word along the way.

That’s why I thought I’d run through the book as I go on the blog and I’d like to encourage you to rush out there and buy it, so we can read it together.

When I studied creative writing at university, I was told that “writing is a thinking process”. Therefore, if we’re going to improve our writing, we also need to work on our thoughts, how we think, what inspires us and what helps us take those incredible creative leaps which take us way beyond anything we’ve ever written before.

As a reader, one of my pet hates is the number of writers who write about what it means to be a writer. Added to that, is the high percentage of novels which have have a journalist or writer as the protagonist. There’s such a plethora of characters out there, so why do so many writers stay within their comfort zones?

You might be surprised to know that I’m not only a writer but also a photographer,  am learning the violin and for the last 3 months, I’ve been taking adult ballet and lyrical dance classes. That’s alongside living with a disability and chronic health issues. This enables a lot of cross-fertilisation. I actually think of this as creative cross-training in the same way a swimmer might run, lift weights, do aerobics and yoga.

Have you read: Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World?

If not, I’d personally recommend abandoning your current read and getting stuck into it before you let the opportunity pass. It won’t just get you thinking, but will also inspire action, change and growth beyond writing. After all, we as humans should be in a state of constant refinement. To sit still, is to stagnate.

Well, I apologise for putting on my motivational speaker hat, but who doesn’t want to be their best? The only trouble is putting in the work.

Anyway, rather than stuffing all these insights into one humungus post, I’m breaking it up. My next post will be looking at Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategy Cards and then I’ll be looking at how to keep multiple projects on the boil without blowing a gasket.

That’s just looking at Chapter 1 on Creativity. So, stay tuned for more gems to get those synapses firing…really firing!!

xx Rowena

M-Dorothea MacKellar Replies #atozchallenge.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for lovely letter. It has been so many years since I wrote My Country when I was in England as a young woman and thinking of home. I was touched to hear that it spoke to you in a similar way when you were in Paris. Well done on the reading!

What you might not appreciate me, was that I am a fighter. Writers and poets have to speak out. Words weren’t only created to sound pretty but to also serve a purpose. Each of us who indeed calls themselves a poet, must ultimately take a stand. Improve the world around us.

Bearing that in mind, I am asking you to fight for your country. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about going to war. Rather, the battle has changed and the mountains, plains, oceans and clear skies I loved so much, are under threat. This means that the battle is now within and unless we rapidly change course, we will self-destruct.

Tough decisions need to be made. However, Australians have always rallied together through a crisis and have what it takes to act!

Yours sincerely,

Miss Mackellar

 

F- Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

Dear Mr Frost,

Sometimes, when you reach a fork in the road, you don’t get much of a choice about which road to take. Such as when you’re a dead poet receiving a letter all the way from the 21st Century and you’re being expected  to think, respond, answer questions when your only conversations have been with the worms and other subterranean guests.  That’s what makes life, and I guess even death, exciting. There’s always the challenge of the unexpected…that wake up call. So, Mr Frost, this is yours.

Welcome back!

Through your poem The Road Not Taken, you’ve become known as the man who stuck the fork in the road, creating that ultimate dilemma…which road should you take? While in your original poem, both roads are almost exactly the same, it has been reinterpreted as making a choice between the freeway or the road less travelled. Are you a follower or a trail blazer?

Now, I’ve reached my own fork in the road.

Should we explore what your poem was originally about or what it’s come to mean to so many?

Choosing Which Road To Take

While it can be really difficult to decide between two evenly weighted options, it’s either win-win or lose-lose. Of course, you’re closing off a possibility and with that there’s that sense of loss but if we are to carpe diem seize the day, we acknowledge that loss and move on.

The Road Less Travelled: The Freeway or the Scenic Road?

So, moving onto a different fork.

On one hand, you have the Freeway with its smooth, well sign posted conditions and faster speed limits but bland scenery.

Then, there’s the Scenic Road with is beautiful scenery, photo opportunities, slower speed limits and unpredictability. You’re constantly needing to monitor for hazards, take evasive action and possibly even navigate by the stars. Anything could be down that road and there could be a very good reason no one else is using it. After all, the flock might not be mistaken.

Which road would you choose?

That’s what I asked my family over dinner tonight.

My husband pointed out that your choice depends on the circumstances. If you’re in a hurry and need to get from A to B as fast as possible, then take the Freeway. However, if you have plenty of time and are looking for interesting places to explore, adventures  and photo opportunities, then take the scenic road. He also grew up in the country and loves nothing more than burning down a dirt road, where the car almost dances going round a corner. That’s an Aussie bloke for you and possibly quite different from your New England experience.

So, rather than setting hard and fast rules, we need to be flexible about which road we should take. However, does this leave us sitting on a barbed wire fence going nowhere?

Forced On the Road Less Travelled.

As much as we like to believe we’re in the driver’s seat, life can dump us on the road less travelled without a bottle of water or compass. There is no choice. I was born with a mind-altering neurological condition called hydrocephalus, which went undiagnosed until I was 25. With a harbour inside my head applying pressure in all sorts of funny places, I was bush bashing with my machete to create any kind of path. Surgery saved my life. However, then I developed a rare life-threatening auto-immune disease where my muscles attack themselves. This goes in and out of remission and even when I’m well and look fine, there’s still stuff going on.

However, through being dumped on a rough and rugged road and having to survive, I’ve become much stronger and tenacious. I’ve also been shattered, bruised and battered along the way and it’s been incredibly hard going. At times, nothing short of anguish. However, like coal enduring all that heat and pressure, I’ve emerged a diamond. Well, at least in theory!

That confirms some of the virtues of travelling along that rough, unchartered road.

A Choice

Taking the road less travelled, can also be a personal choice. Perhaps, you could call it lively curiosity. That pursuing all my unanswered questions, automatically takes me over unchartered ground.

Kids and the Road Less Travelled.

family

A recent family photo.

While I am accustomed to taking the road less travelled myself, I am much more perplexed about whether our kids should undertake the journey.

As a parent, protecting your children is an inbuilt, natural instinct. Of course, you want to give them a smooth road. Make their journey as easy as possible. Yet, is that what they need? What will be the ultimate result?  That concerns me.

If the kids are going to bounce back from life’s inevitable challenges, they need resilience. They’ll only develop resilience through being challenged, encountering problems and learning how to overcome them. You don’t develop these skills sticking to the main road where everything’s being done for you. No work or imagination required. Stay between the lines and under the speed limit and you’ll be right.

That’s very well when it comes to pitting themselves against the great outdoors but how about taking the road less travelled in the school context? Going against the flow and flaunting their differences like neon signs in the playground where kids can be brutally cruel and survival of the fittest is the modus operandi? What might be a bold, creative or adventurous move, can have a kid torn down and thrown to the wolves. Bullies know no mercy.

Knowing this, do you as a parent step in and gently redirect your child back into the flock or do you leave them be? After all, do they really need to sell their souls to belong, be accepted and have a few friends?  Surely, that’s not asking for a lot!!

These are tough questions. What would you recommend to parents? Should they be encouraging their children to conform and stick to the freeway? Or should they be and develop themselves, tackling the bumps and unpredictability along the scenic route, hoping they emerge a diamond, not crushed?

Personally, I also have to believe that shutting down independent thought is a really bad thing for the future of our world. That we need problem-solvers and thinkers who can put a heap of seemingly random things together and find that cure for cancer, develop ways of containing climate change and can help people live more harmoniously together. Cloned thinking has never led to discovery, invention or the answers we need.

I’m sorry I’ve jumped up on my soap box and have given you more of a lecture when I should be asking you. I guess I just needed to get all this out. See what you think.

Anyway, it’s now time for me to get some shut eye and for you to get to work.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Robert Frost's Grave

 

 

The Question Mark.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference”.

However, I must admit that I’ve never been that good at spotting the difference but that’s another story!

Perhaps, however, the ultimate question remains: how do we live with the question mark and life’s inherent uncertainty without becoming a nervous wreck? There is indeed a lot of strength or even misplaced power when we believe we’re all-powerful and somehow rule the world and control each and every roll of the dice…including the weather.

This is indeed one of life’s greatest unanswered questions along with how many days each of us will be walking this planet? We just don’t know. How long is a ball of string?

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”.

John Lennon

Inevitably, busyness usually distracts and refocuses our thoughts away from unanswerable questions redirecting our efforts onto something more tangible like cleaning the toilet.

More than once, I’ve cheered: “Thank goodness for that!”

This has been Q for Question Mark in the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge. If you are doing the challenge, please share what you have written today and how things are going? We’re now on the homeward track.

xx Rowena

 PS Found this great quote today as I approach W of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge:

 “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

N is for Neuroplasticity: Changing Your Life.

Welcome to N for neuroplasticity on the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. My theme for the challenge is: A Few of My Favourite Things and while neuroplasticity might seem left-field, I really want you to follow me on this journey because the power of neuroplasticity has radically changed my life and understanding how it works, can help you as well. You can read an overview of my journey in my About page here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/about/.

While I can appreciate that neurplasticity might sound intimidating and be a trigger to flick to another blog, it is not as complex or mentally challenging as you might think. Nor is it some wafty, unproven fad. It’s a proven, scientific process, which has been championed by Canadian psychiatrist, Dr Norman Doidge through his two books: The Brain which Changes Itself and The Brain’s way of Healing.

In other words, it’s not a fairy story.

Neuroplasticity is really quite a simple concept when you explain it properly and when you harness its strength, you like me, will experience absolutely miraculous change. Unfortunately, you will still experience those “stubborn mules” which prove stubbornly resistant. However, at least, you know you’ve done your best to try and move them!

From what I’ve learned about neuroplasticity, we shouldn’t just be teaching kids the 3Rs but also how we learn. Some basics on how the brain works such as “use it or lose it” and how “practice perfects”. That our success or failure is based less on innate talent than hard work and that it takes a lot of hours…at least 10,000 to be precise, to even have a chance of making it to the top of our field. That success just doesn’t arrive on a silver platter.

Of course, some people have been blessed with bigger, faster engines but if they leave them in the shed, they’ll soon be overtaken by apparent snail power and left behind.

If you and your kids can get a grasp on how this works, you’ll never look back. You’ll still have ups and downs but you will be more empowered and skilled-up to tackle them more effectively. There’s little doubt you’ll be working harder but I guarantee you that whatever you apply yourself to, will see results. It’s as simple as:

1+1 = 2

It’s not rocket science.

Perhaps, the simplicity of it all is what stops people from having a go. We’d much rather put our faith in a much more complicated, mystical route than sticking to potentially tedious, repetitious practice and hard work…going over and over and over our mistakes until we have overcome them and “got it”.

Diagram showing brain activation while playing the violin.

Diagram showing brain activation while playing the violin.

As a musician, I’ve experienced this first hand. Instead of playing my favourite sections of a piece over and over again, my teacher gets me reworking the rough bits and playing them over and over again. She doesn’t say: “Play it again, Sam”. Being somewhat of a slavedriver, albeit a very nice one, she says: “I want you to play that section 10-20 times a day to get it right”. This sort of detailed practice is quite foreign to me as I just want to get up there and play, especially to an audience but you can’t do that straight away. It might be a year’s worth of practice on that one piece of music to bring it to the level of perfection where it can be performed. That’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes. However, once I have reached that long-awaited moment of victory, it’s like nothing else. A real eureka moment and I’m running down the street naked like Archemedes carrying my violin. Well, not quite but you get my drift!

What is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity “refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.[1] Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how – and in which ways – the brain changes throughout life.[1]

In The Brain Which Changes Itself, Norman Doidge M.D. a psychiatrist and researcher set out to investigate neuroplasticity. He writes “that the brain can change itself. It is a plastic, living organ that can actually change its own structure and function, even into old age. Arguably the most important breakthrough in neuroscience since scientists first sketched out the brain’s basic anatomy, this revolutionary discovery, called neuroplasticity, promises to overthrow the centuries-old notion that the brain is fixed and unchanging. The brain is not, as was thought, like a machine, or “hardwired” like a computer. Neuroplasticity not only gives hope to those with mental limitations, or what was thought to be incurable brain damage, but expands our understanding of the healthy brain and the resilience of human nature”. http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=1259

This brain plasticity isn’t just something for the laboratory or people experiencing chronic medical conditions or disability. It affects us all and is a more “scientific” explanation for what we have always known: “Use it or lose it!!” Indeed, our brain is constantly remoulding and fine-tuning itself.

To get an idea of how brain plasticity works, picture an old fashioned telephone exchange with all those cables plugged in. Our brain is built of these cables. So for example if we keep getting angry, those anger pathways will keep getting bigger and bigger just like exercising a muscle. Moreover, the bigger these pathways become, the angrier we will become unless we take action.

Conversely, each and every time we appease our anger and breathe deep, count to three whatever it takes, those neuropathways shrink and actually disappear. These are actual, physical changes in the structure of our brains. The brain map is different.

I have experienced these changes myself after undergoing brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus. I have experienced many changes but probably the most surprising is that I can actually play the violin and I now play in an ensemble. That takes some pretty complex brain and physical developments, which I never thought possible. I only took the violin up to help my daughter.

Neuroplasticity and Acceptance.

At the start of 2012 after a serious health scare, I set a personal challenge. I applied neuroplasticity to the serenity prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

-Reinhold Niebuhr

You see, since forever, people have been telling me to accept things and quoted that prayer. Yet,  the trouble was that I simply didn’t know what I could change and what I had to accept and that’s what I decided to put to the test. I didn’t really set out with any clear cut goals but I was needing to lose some weight, which is a tough call when you’re taking prednisone AKA the “fat drug”.

It was during this time that I heard about brain plasticity and also the 10,000 hour rule and so what I was starting to appreciate was that I wasn’t set in stone. That all these words I used to describe myself, both the good and the bad, weren’t indeed words tattoed on my forehead which couldn’t be changed. They were more like stepping stones or train stops on a journey. I didn’t have to stay there. I could apply a bit of elbow grease and I could move on. Indeed, I was now in the driver’s seat and with the accelerator pushed to the floor, I was flying.

That was until I drove straight into pneumonia followed by a flare up of my auto-immune disease, which really was attacking my lungs this time and threatening my very existence.

Yes, neuroplasticity couldn’t fix everything.

However, my lungs have also responded to the same kind of repetitive practice and hard work which I’d applied to practicing my violin, except in this case I focused on building up my healthy lung cells instead of focusing on the damage and limitations. My lung volumes have since increased from a recorded low of 43% to 62% and are currently stable. In a sense it was a miracle and also the result of medical intervention but it also takes ongoing hard work.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to start walking before that all important tide comes in and puts me out of business.

Living in a tidal zone really reinforces the need to carpe diem seize the day because “the tide waits for no (hu)man.”

Xx Rowena

PS When school goes back next week, I’ll be having to reacquaint myself with my violin. It has been rather neglected of late and I don’t want to lose the progress I’ve made!!

Sources

http://www.normandoidge.com/

[1] · Pascual-Leone A., Amedi A., Fregni F., Merabet L. B. (2005). “The plastic human brain cortex”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 28: 377–401. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144216.