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Earworms Dig In

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-8-33-04-amThe wheels on the bus go round and round. Round and round. Round and round. STOP! I want off this bus! This silly song won’t go away. Like wheels, it goes round and round in my brain.

Call it an earworm or a brain worm. It’s defined as a catchy song or tune that runs continually through a person’s mind, or more scientifically, it’s involuntary musical imagery (INMI). Sometimes an earworm attacks long after we’ve heard a song and often it’s an annoying ditty that we’d never choose to remember. It is probably not even a favorite song. The Wheels on the Bus is certainly not worthy of being my favorite and I don’t want to hear it over and over.

Why does this song get stuck in my brain? And how can it get it unstuck? Although psychologists and brain researchers have studied earworms, what triggers them and why they occur remain mysteries. Mainly because earworms, which supposedly last only a few seconds, are involuntary and that makes tracking them in a scientific setting almost impossible.

It’s believed there are groups of people who are more likely to experience earworms: those constantly exposed to music, those who are exposed to the same song multiple times during a short period, those with obsessive-compulsive behavior, and those who express strong emotions. So I expect that my friend who teaches school music classes and sings the same songs during school hours will hear those tunes long after 3:00 p.m. And it makes sense that people who try to do everything right would strive to hear a song perfectly and repeat its lyrics many times.

Brain researchers suggest that the size and shape of one’s brain might be a factor. Earworm frequency depends upon the thickness of brain regions and are more common in people with thick brains in the areas associated with musical memory and auditory reception. (Side note: did you know it’s been proven that the smartest people have the thickest brains?)

So I can’t determine exactly why the Wheels on the Bus gets stuck in my head, it just does. Are there ways to prevent it? I could quit music, cold turkey. No radio. No Pandora. No singing with the Grands. No concerts. But I’m not giving up music.

However, I discovered many suggestions to stop an earworm. Sing the entire song, every word, every note, every stanza – wear the song out. Or listen to other music. Or sing a different song – either aloud or in your head and hope it doesn’t get stuck. Or distract your brain by engaging in a language activity: work a crossword puzzle, play Scrabble, write a poem, or simply talk to someone.

My favorite solution comes from an article published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: chew gum. The articles states, “Doing so appears to reduce the numbers of wanted and unwanted songs in your head and is consistent with other studies saying gum chewing disrupts voluntary memory recollection.”

So now I have a plan to stop the wheels on the bus. I’ll chew gum and sing every verse aloud, including the verses about the wipers and the horn and the people. If that doesn’t work, I’ll play Scrabble, my all-time favorite board and online game. And for good measure, I’ll call a friend for a phone visit. I just hope she doesn’t mention the words wheels or bus.

Leaving and Taking

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-6-35-24-amHusband and I are moving. Leaving the house we built. The yard we cleared of brush and saplings. The home where we raised children and welcomed Grands. Moving a short distance, only a mile. To a yard that’s much smaller than the 2.3 acres we cleared thirty-something years ago. To a house a bit smaller and making it our home.

It’s a good move. A move we’ve talked about for several years. A move that’s our choice.

We’re leaving our snow sledding hill.   Where the Grands learned to sled, learned to lean left to avoid hitting a tree, learned that their sledding turn wasn’t over until they pulled the sleds up the hill for someone else to have a turn. We’re taking the buyer’s promise that our Grands are welcome to sled anytime the hill is covered with snow.

We’re leaving the basketball goal. The goal set up on the concrete driveway before the house walls were painted. The goal that our children and Grands spent hours shooting a basketball through. We’re taking the ball and we’ll buy a portable goal.

We’re leaving the wedding steps. The outside yard steps built fourteen years ago so wedding reception guests could easily walk down our steep hill to celebrate with Daughter and Son-in-Law. We’re taking the memories and pictures of a long line of family and friends who visited as they slowly made their way down the steps to wedding punch and cake.

We’re leaving the creek. The shallow, narrow creek that’s perfect to wade in and build a dam across. To throw a leaf into and watch it float, to throw rocks into for a big splash, to gather smooth rocks, to dig in the mud. We’re taking the buyer’s welcome to come play anytime.

We’re leaving the dining room. The room where Son and Daughter-in-Law opened wedding gifts the day after their wedding while those who love them best sipped coffee and nibbled cinnamon rolls. Where Happy Birthday has been sung dozens and dozens of times. Where my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary supper and their teenage grandchildren wanted to eat and run and go to their high school’s football game. Where friends eat whatever is served – soup and cornbread or steak and shrimp. We’re taking the dining room table, the china, the silver, and making plans for family Christmas breakfast at our new home.

We’re leaving the very best ever next-door neighbors. Neighbors who watched our house and collected our mail when we vacationed and brought treats on every holiday. We’re taking their friendship.

We’re leaving trees. White oak, sycamore, tulip poplar, dogwood, maple. Trees we marked with yellow plastic strips to save from chain saws. Trees that drop brown and yellow and orange leaves. Trees where squirrels build nests and run along their branches. Trees I love. We’re taking memories of our children and the Grands jumping in just-raked leaf piles. Memories of the last yard clearing, for the year, on the day after Thanksgiving when family time was spent using leaf blowers, rakes, and huge tarpaulins to haul leaf piles to the woods.

We’re leaving a basement garage. We’re taking our cars to a main level garage.

We’re leaving one home and taking our beds, our clothes, our books, our coffeepot, and our welcome mat to a new home.

Oh, how I wish I could wave a wand to pack, move, unpack and be sitting with my knees under my writing desk. The move is good. The moving, not so good.

Special Delivery

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-15-56-pmAs Husband and I drove 1295 miles west, we wondered how much it would’ve cost to ship everything in our van. Son’s stuff that been stored at our house all his life and a few of his and Daughter-in-Law’s things. Now we were spending two and a half days travelling in a van packed to the hilt. Picture albums, quilts, treasures from grandparents, Daughter-in-Law’s great-grandmother’s desk, a Civil War rifle, a handmade cedar chest, and so much more.

For days, Husband and I gathered and wrapped and packed. We prayed for travelling mercies: good weather, safety, a sense of humor and all went as planned. We arrived at Son’s home in time to greet our five-year-old Grand as he stepped off the school bus. Dean’s eyes grew big when he saw his parents and us. He jumped down the bus steps, almost fell, and ran to my open arms. “Gran!” he shouted and threw his arms around my neck.

“What’s in your van?” Dean asked when saw it in the driveway. Things that belong to your daddy and mommy. “Any toys?”

The next day after breakfast, Husband opened the van’s doors and Son and Daughter-in-Law were surprised to see how much we’d brought. The best way I could help was to take the two younger Grands for a walk. Neil, age 3, rode his balance bike, and I pushed sixteen-month-old Annie in her stroller.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-16-38-pmWhen we returned, the van was empty and Son’s office was piled with treasures. Sitting on the floor, Dean plucked the strings on a guitar that lay across his legs. Son tightened the strings, showed Dean how to hold a guitar, and admitted he never learned to play when he got it as a young teenager.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-15-02-pmNeil grabbed a stuffed Benji, Son’s sleeping buddy when he was a toddler. Then he found two other Benjis and hugged all three. “These are mine!” Neil announced.

Chests that my dad had made were carried downstairs. The toy chest was filled with dress up clothes in the playroom; the cedar chest set at the end of a bed for guests. “It’s perfect here and I want to store quilts we aren’t using in it,” Daughter-in-Law said.

Dean discovered an orange and tan quilt that my grandmother had made and dragged it to his room. He yanked a quilt off his bed, threw it on his brother’s bed, and pulled the orange quilt onto his. “Here, Neil, you can have my old quilt,” he said.

Annie rocked in the toddler-size rocking chair that my dad made for Son almost 40 years ago. It fit her perfectly. Several times during the four days Husband and I visited, Son ‘went missing.’ He unpacked and unwrapped and reminisced, and he didn’t try to send anything back with us although I predict some things might be donated or tossed.

After we left Son’s house, he texted a picture of a 1940’s porcelain white chicken candy dish that was his grandmother’s. “Just found the little white chicken. It’s great! Some things old are new again.” I wiped sentimental tears.

When we got home, Husband found a box we forgot to take and two weeks later, I found a box in our storage closet labeled with Son’s name and “School stuff and more.” He’ll be surprised when UPS delivers a box on his doorstep. I hope he reads the autobiography he wrote when he was in the 8th grade and I wish I could be there when he opens that box.

Driving 1295 miles wasn’t just about delivering stuff. Hugs and kisses and playing can’t be measured in dollars.

From Our House to Son’s

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-6-17-54-amWhen Son said, “This is the house our children will grow up in,” it was time to take him all his stuff. Son moved away from home more that twenty years ago. Went off to college and then moved into a 900 square foot house when he took his first real job. He married, he and Daughter-in-Law had three children, and they moved three times. And everything collected and saved from Son’s birth through college years has been safely stored at Husband’s and my house.

Now, Son’s family has settled into their forever home. So Husband and I started gathering stuff and making plans to drive 1295 miles to deliver treasures. We’d take the back seats out of my van and fill it full.

Would Son want everything that has been saved? Some things were going for sure: a cedar chest and a toy chest and toddler-size rocking chair that my dad made for him many years ago. High school yearbooks and a letter jacket. College fraternity scrapbooks. All the picture albums with his name on the spine. A purple and gold basketball from Tennessee Tech basketball camp. Quilts that he and his family had chosen from those my granny made.

I was surprised when we opened Son’s cedar chest. Forgotten treasures lay inside. A never used quilt, pillowcases cross-stitched by another great-grandmother, three stuffed Benjis – one so loved that its fur was flattened and matted. A cookbook, including Husband’s grandmother’s recipes, published by her Home Demonstration Club. Small treasures from his grandparents’ homes. Things that Son chose when he was young. A vintage white chicken candy dish. A small wooden black bear with a note tied to it. My mom had written, “Papa and I got this when we went to the Smokies for our honeymoon in 1939.” Would these things mean anything to Son at this stage of his life?

Then there was a pile of questionable stuff. Should we take a leather belt with a big western buckle? A guitar that Son strummed for a few weeks when he was 14 and bored and snow storms closed school for a month? Cassette tapes? A blanket he bought at a flea market when he went to camp one summer? A collection of twenty-year-old Sports Illustrated magazines? Rifles – the 22 he learned to shoot as his grandfather stood over his shoulder? A Civil War rifle passed down through generations? His first B B gun? A Santa Claus cookie jar? And so much more.

Son and I talked using Face Time. I held my phone camera in front of items. Yes, the belt. Yes, the guitar. “Does it still play?” he asked. No, cassette tapes. Yes, to everything else, including all three Benjis. “Unless you don’t have room and I’ll get some stuff another time.” There’d be room. Husband and I were determined.

Daughter-in-Law’s parents brought treasures. Her great-grandmother’s desk with fragile curved legs and a mirror and jars of her grandmother’s homemade blackberry jelly.

Loading the van was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that didn’t fit. Husband measured and wrapped and taped. We wedged and padded and filled every possible space. After three hours, we declared that everything would travel securely and not rattle during our journey. Husband drove around the block just to make sure.

How would Son and Daughter-in-Law and their three young children react when they see all this stuff? Stuff that’s theirs. Mostly stuff that has been in the house where Son grew up.

Laugh – It’s Good for You

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-2-38-11-pmJune wiped her wet eyes and took a deep breath. “Oh,” she said, “I feel so much healthier.” I, too, wiped my eyes, as did my college girlfriends while we celebrated a milestone birthday. We’d laughed so hard, we cried. So hard that we emptied a box of Kleenex to wipe our faces. June took another deep breath and said, “I love being with you all because we laugh. Long and loud.”

What was so funny? We reminisced about a time when we were together and got caught in a downpour of rain at a shopping mall. We made a plan to get to our van without any of us getting our hair wet. Holding the only small umbrella we had over her head, Blondie walked to her van and parked it closer, two parking spaces away. The other six of us huddled under a store awning. Carrying the umbrella, Blondie jumped a puddle of water and walked toward us. She and June walked back to the van. Blondie got in the van and June carried the umbrella and walked Kathy to the van. Then it was Kathy’s turn to walk one person to the van. A few trips later, and after we’d all jumped over the same puddle of water, all seven of us were in the van. No one’s hair was wet, but we poured water out of our shoes and our clothes were damp.

We laughed then, almost twenty years ago, about how silly we must have looked walking two by two under a small umbrella and we laughed when we were together recently. Hysterical, uncontrolled laughter.

According to medical authorities, there’s evidence that we were healthier after laughing. I read an article in Reader’s Digest that quotes from a book, Heal Your Heart, by Dr. Michael Miller, MD. He states that deep belly laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which activates nitric oxide. This chemical causes blood vessels to dilate and increases blood flow, reduces the buildup of cholesterol plaque, and lowers the risk of blood clots. After fifteen minutes laughing, volunteers in Dr. Miller’s study got the same vascular benefit as if they had spent 15-30 minutes at the gym or take a daily statin. No treadmill. No meds. Just laughter.

Even watching a funny movie improves health. In another study, the blood vessels of those who watched There’s Something About Mary dilated, and the blood vessels of participants who watched Saving Private Ryan narrowed. And it’s been proven that people with heart disease were less likely to use humor in an uncomfortable situation, such as when a waiter spilled water on them, than people with healthy hearts.

Now I know why my friend, Jo, is super healthy. She shared that one morning while walking for exercise, she fell, rolled, and got right up. Because she rolled with such good form, she laughed. “I’d rather be sore from laughing than from a fall! I laugh out loud every time I can,” Jo said. Most often at herself.

So maybe a couple of old sayings are true. Maybe laughter really is the best medicine and maybe laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects. No negative side effects – only positive ones.

Good reasons to laugh hysterically and keep a sense of humor. And good reasons to get together with friends who laugh with you.

Peanut Butter Sandwich – Anyone?


images       The grape jelly jar was empty so I searched the pantry for something to make a sandwich. Peanut butter and raspberry jam? Orange marmalade? Molasses, thick and grainy? Perfect. Peanut butter and molasses on whole wheat bread may have been the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

Peanut butter is a staple at my house. A spoonful of peanut butter and a cup of coffee, with a little cream, and I’m good to go for a few hours. I first reached for the peanut butter jar those early mornings when I was teaching and in a rush to get out the door and needed protein. I licked the spoon clean as I drove across town to school.

Have peanuts and peanut butter been around forever? According to National Peanut Board, the peanut plant probably originated in South America; pottery was shaped in the form of peanuts as far back as 3,500 years ago. Africans introduced peanuts to North America beginning in the 1700s and they were a commercial crop in the 1800s, first in Virginia. During the Civil War, both armies subsisted on peanuts as a high source of protein, and after the war Union soldiers took them home. In the 1900s, peanuts and cotton were the South’s commercial crops.

There’s evidence that ancient South American Inca Indians were the first to ground peanuts into peanut butter. In 1895, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of cereal fame) invented a version of peanut butter and later a St. Louis physician developed a smooth peanut mixture as a protein substitute for his patients who had poor teeth and couldn’t chew meat. In 1904, peanut butter was introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair. So who came up with the famous peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It’s believed that the U. S. army made the peanut butter and jelly sandwich poplar during World War II.

And a pb & j sandwich is a favorite with young and old. The basic sandwich is classic, but peanut butter combines with almost anything to make a sandwich. Honey. Marshmallow cream. Apple slices. Banana. Brown sugar. Some people even make a peanut butter sandwich with pickles and lettuce. Husband’s choice is peanut butter, Miracle Whip, tomato, and a thin slice of onion.

Peanut butter shows up in many things we eat. Celery stuffed with peanut butter and decorated with raisins. Cookies. Candy. (Reece’s peanut butter cups are my favorite.) Cakes. Pies. Ice cream. Pancakes. Granola bars. Pretzels. Doughnuts. Spread on bagels and English muffins. The list extends to peanut butter sauce for chicken and Asian stir-fry, which sounds as unappetizing as Husband’s sandwich.

I grew up eating the traditional sandwich: grape jelly and smooth peanut butter on white bread, cut into two triangles. I’d wager that most every kid, except for those who have nut allergies, eats at least one pb & j sandwich every week. And for those with allergies, there’s sun butter, a sunflower seed spread that’s tastes like peanut butter. Most of us, 94% of Americans, have at least one jar of peanut butter at home the Peanut Board says. Americans eat three pounds of peanut butter per person every year. (If you don’t eat your share, I eat enough for several people.)

There are recipes for deep-fried and oven-roasted and grilled pb & j sandwiches. Seems like a perfect lunch on a cold winter day. For now, I’m sticking with my new favorite: pb and thick, grainy molasses. And when I run out of it, I’ll try fresh molasses or whatever is in my pantry.











Tribute to Our Town

IMG_1292 (1)I love living in Cookeville. Love the small town atmosphere. The downtown places for children to play and the chance meetings with friends at the Heart of the City Playground and Dogwood Park. One morning last week I went with Daughter and her children to play, and I ran into three friends and their grandchildren. Friends with whom I enjoyed visiting and I loved seeing their grandchildren. But if weren’t for places for children to play, we wouldn’t have gotten together.

There was no time I appreciated our town more than when Son and family visited recently. What do you do with three young children, ages 1, 3, and 5, after they’ve been strapped in car seats for 2 ½ hours while riding from their other grandparents’ home? Take them to the playground. It was hot that late Sunday afternoon and many families had the same idea. Let kids play somewhere safe and fun and free.

A child swung in almost every swing. The four seats on the seesaw were filled. Children darted from a climbing tripod to the Tennessee Tech tower to the Burgess Falls climbing wall. My eight Grands, including the five who live here and are ages 2-11, roamed from one activity to another and then the two youngest rested in their parents’ laps. The others congregated on the merry-go-round. Around and around they went. Some pushing, some hanging by legs upside down, some sitting, some standing. All laughing and smiling. There was room for them and others. We adults watched and my heart swelled with pride as I remembered that about a year ago many people spent days and days and days from sunrise to past sunset, often in pouring rain, to build Heart of the City Playground.

Two days later, I convinced my Grands’ parents to get everyone ready for a family picture at 9:30 a.m. (That’s a whole long story!) As soon as the photographer put his camera down, my 11-year-old Grand said, “Okay, Gran. Remember you promised a treat after the picture?” So everyone put on play clothes, loaded in two vans, and off we went to eat ice cream. Where do you take eight kids who have licked ice cream cones with their tongues and noses and the ice cream melted and dripped down their arms and two Grands dropped their cones onto their laps? To Dogwood Park Fountain.

“Does this run all the time?” Son asked. Everyday, weather permitting, from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. “It’s free?” Yes. “We didn’t have anything like this when I was a kid.” Three decades ago.

My Grands stood under the giant waterfalls. Some with heads tilted face up, one pretending to wash her hair, one with hands reaching for the sky, another dancing. Or maybe he was swinging his arms and kicking his feet in pure joy and freedom. They all ran zigzag among the many fountains spewing from the concrete ground. They stood over fountains to shower from feet to head and they tried to stop the water flow with their hands and they karate-chopped forceful streams. Three Grands held hands to form a circle and skipped around a spewing fountain.

The toddlers wore out quickly and nestled with their mothers and me on park benches. The older Grands chased each other along the sidewalks and through the grass. I wondered if those who planned Dogwood Park knew how much fun children could have on a muggy August morning.

Cookeville. I’m ever so thankful to live here.