Tag Archives: writing

How Do You Remember?

After many years together, I’ve recently discovered that my dear husband (DH) and I have very different ways of recalling events that have happened to us. This isn’t about what we remember (or block out, as the case may be!) but how we recreate those situations in our minds.

DH, who is an artist, remembers as if he were watching a movie. It is completely visual.

I, on the other hand, remember as if I were reading a novel; that is, while I might visualize certain aspects of the story, the narrative is generally descriptive and verbal.

I found this quite fascinating, and it makes me wonder how you, my dear readers and bloggers, remember things. SInce most of you are writers, do you also imagine a story being told to you? Or do you conjure up vivid pictures?

Dreams are quite different, I think, as they seem to always be visual, whether we are involved as characters or as onlookers. Is this true for you? Do share!

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: The Pen IS Mightier

Of course, writers intuitively know this.

Handwriting leads to faster learning than typing or watching videos

StudyFinds.com

by John Anderer

Photo by Sarah Chai on Pexels.com

BALTIMORE, Md. — Taking notes with a plain old pen and paper is becoming more antiquated by the day. However, a new study finds handwriting is actually the superior learning option, beating out both typing and watching videos when it comes to quickly picking up new information. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University report that handwriting is “surprisingly faster and significantly better” for learning certain skills.

“The question out there for parents and educators is why should our kids spend any time doing handwriting,” says senior author Brenda Rapp, a Johns Hopkins professor of cognitive science, in a university release. “Obviously, you’re going to be a better hand-writer if you practice it. But since people are handwriting less then maybe who cares? The real question is: Are there other benefits to handwriting that have to do with reading and spelling and understanding? We find there most definitely are.”

Pen and paper triples learning speed?

A group of 42 participants took part in the study. Researchers taught each person the Arabic alphabet after separating them into three learning groups: pen and paper, typing, and video watching. After all participants had been “introduced” to an Arabic letter via a short video, subjects had to attempt to absorb the new information according to their assigned learning group. The typing group had to find the letter they just saw on a keyboard. The video group saw an on-screen flash of a letter and had to answer if it was the same letter they had just seen. The handwriting group had to copy the letter with pen and paper.

By the time participants across all three groups had finished six “learning sessions,” pretty much everyone was able to recognize the letters. However, the writing group reached this level much faster than the other two groups, after an average of just two learning sessions.

Next, study authors set out to see if any of the groups could “generalize” their new knowledge. In simpler terms, while it’s great that they could identify the Arabic letters they had just learned, could they actually use them to write, spell new words, and recognize unfamiliar words? The writing group excelled in all three of those categories to a much larger degree than either the typing or watching groups.

“The main lesson is that even though they were all good at recognizing letters, the writing training was the best at every other measure. And they required less time to get there,” explains lead author Robert Wiley, a former Johns Hopkins University Ph.D. student who is now a professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Ultimately, the handwriting group showed far more of the skills necessary for expert adult-level Arabic reading and spelling.

Why do our brains react so well to paper?

As far as why handwriting is a cut above when it comes to learning, study authors believe it is because writing reinforces both visual and aural lessons. More specifically, they say that the very act of writing something down creates a “perceptual-motor experience” that fosters “richer knowledge and fuller, true learning.”

“With writing, you’re getting a stronger representation in your mind that lets you scaffold toward these other types of tasks that don’t in any way involve handwriting,” Wiley adds.

While these findings involved only adults, researchers are confident their work applies to children as well.

“I have three nieces and a nephew right now and my siblings ask me should we get them crayons and pens? I say yes, let them just play with the letters and start writing them and write them all the time,” Wiley concludes.

The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

Good News Monday: Something Writers Always Suspected

writing paper
(Credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels)

(From Studyfinds.org)

Writing on paper triggers more brain activity than using a tablet or smartphone

by Chris Melore

TOKYO, Japan — As digital devices become an everyday part of society, many probably view a pen and paper as things of the past. Despite the ease of tapping information into a smartphone or tablet, a new study finds you may want to keep those paper notebooks after all. Researchers in Tokyo have discovered that people writing notes by hand display more brain activity than their peers entering data into an electronic device.

A team from the University of Tokyo adds the unique and tactile information that comes from writing things on paper may also help writers remember the information better.

“Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall,” says corresponding author and neuroscientist Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai in a university release.

“Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize.”

The pen is mightier than the tablet?

It’s a common belief that digital devices help people complete tasks faster. Despite this, the study finds people writing notes by hand actually finished their task 25 percent quicker than tablet users.

Researchers add that paper notebooks also contain more complex spatial information than a digital screen. Physical paper allows the writer to add tangible permanence to their important information. Writers can also use irregular strokes to convey special meaning and uneven shapes — like a folded corner of a page. Study authors say “digital paper” is much more uniform. There is no fixed position when scrolling and the information disappears from view when users close the app.

What happens to the brain when you write on paper?

The study gathered 48 volunteers to read a fictional conversation between two people talking about their future plans. The discussion included 14 different class times, assignment due dates, and scheduled appointments. Researchers also sorted the participants — all between 18 and 29 years-old from university campuses or the NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting — into three groups, according to memory skills, personal preferences of digital or paper methods, gender, and age.

The groups then recorded the fictional schedules using a paper notebook and pen, a calendar app using a tablet and stylus, or an app on a smartphone using the touch-screen keyboard. The participants did not take extra time to memorize the information after completing the task.

After a one-hour break and an “interference task” to distract the volunteers from thinking about their notes, researchers gave participants a test on the conversation. The multiple choice questions also ranged in difficultly from simple to more complex. Simple questions asked “when is the assignment due?” while others included “which is the earlier due date for the assignments?”

During this test, study authors examined brain activity using functional MRI (fMRI) scans. During this procedure, scientists say increased blood flow in specific brain regions is a sign of higher neuronal activity.

The results reveal young adults using paper completed their note-taking in just 11 minutes. Tablet and smartphone users finished in 14 and 16 minutes, respectively. Volunteers using pen and paper also scored higher on the multiple choice test. However, researchers say the participants’ brain activity reveals even greater differences.

Volunteers using paper displayed more brain activity in areas with a connection to language and imaginary visualization. They also show more activity in the hippocampus, a brain region vital to memory and navigation.

Writing on paper may also be better for kids and creativity

Study authors say the fact that writing on paper triggers activity in the hippocampus shows analog methods contain richer spatial details which make hand-written notes easier to remember.

Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage. But if you remember a physical textbook printed on paper, you can close your eyes and visualize the photo one-third of the way down on the left-side page, as well as the notes you added in the bottom margin,” Sakai explains.

The team notes that it is possible to personalize digital documents, using highlighting, underlining, circling, and drawing arrows. People who prefer a digital pad can even leave virtual sticky notes that mimic analog-style spatial enrichment.

Although the experiment only included young adults, researchers believe the link between paper writing and brain activity will be even stronger in children.

“High school students’ brains are still developing and are so much more sensitive than adult brains,” Sakai adds.

“It is reasonable that one’s creativity will likely become more fruitful if prior knowledge is stored with stronger learning and more precisely retrieved from memory. For art, composing music, or other creative works, I would emphasize the use of paper instead of digital methods.”

The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Oh, What Fun!

Let’s re-name Black Friday, “Insane Driver Day”. The official start of shopping frenzy is less about the sales, whether online or brick-and-mortar, and more about the holiday fog that threatens to engulf even the mildest of revelers. Miraculously, it appears to lift on January 3rd.

I especially notice this at the grocery store. Austinites are generally considerate and polite. But come holiday season it’s every one for him/herself, cutting people off in the parking lot, leaving their cart blocking the aisles, and rushing about as if there will never be another opportunity to buy milk. Gah!

A few suggestions for anyone who wasn’t organized enough to have all their holiday shopping done in July (that would be me and 99% of everyone I know).

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1) Always have a back-up plan. If the sweater you wanted to buy Cousin Joe isn’t available, already know that he needs a new iPad cover, gym bag or shot glasses, and move on.

2) Keep some wrapped all-purpose gifts (fancy chocolates, imported cookies, small tins of caviar, champagne, wine, candles, pretty soaps etc.) in an easy-to-find location so you’re ready if someone you never exchange gifts with suddenly surprises you. (Do you hate that as much as I do?) This is especially useful at the office. Take that cardigan out of your desk drawer to make room.

3) Never shop on an empty stomach. You will be cranky and resentful. Keep some peanuts in your purse or car for a quick protein boost.

4) Buy something nice for yourself. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just something that will make you feel pampered. A new lipstick always perks me up; men, you’re on your own as far as suggestions go.

5) Take deep breaths. I recently read that a quick trick to relax is to cover one nostril and breathe slowly several times, then repeat by covering the other side. Failing that, a glass of whiskey or a Xanax should do the trick.

6) Watch comedies and avoid dramas, especially if your family or romantic situation is less than picture-perfect. This is no time to feel inadequate.

7) Plan a vacation for January or February. It could be as simple as a spa weekend or exploring a nearby city you rarely visit. Keep reminders of your trip on your night table so you fall asleep with something positive to anticipate.

8) Don’t feel obligated to accept every invitation. Being over-scheduled will make you tense. General merriment is highly overrated anyway.

9) Call or write to the people you love, give something to charity, soak in a hot tub, and be kind to yourself. That’s the best gift of all.

A Family By Any Other Name

If you’re like me, the concept of “family” is complicated. The family we’re born into may be less than ideal, incorporating fraught relationships with parents or siblings. Even in families with a relatively healthy dynamic, there’s often a tendency to act or be treated as if we are eternally eight years old.

As we get older, our definition of family expands and changes. Lines blur as our children become friends, close friends become more like siblings, and siblings may become strangers.

Since Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s typically associated with family, let’s celebrate ALL our families, not just our biological ones:

  • Circumstantial: The family we join through marriage or re-marriage
  • Work: After all, we probably spend at least as much time with our “work family” as we do at home
  • Friends: Who else could we bitch to about everything — including our families?!
  • Support System: Our family of stylists, massage therapists, manicurists etc., with whom we share stories and confidences
  • Our church, synagogue, mosque or other religious affiliation
  • Neighbors

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This is one of my favorite recipes for dessert, whether you’re hosting or bringing something to the feast. Almond flour and Whey Low make it healthier.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone — however (and with whomever) you spend it!

Double Chocolate Almond Flour Brownies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (I use 4 tablespoons (¼ c) butter + ¼ c canola oil)
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (substitute bittersweet if you prefer less sweetness)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar (I use 1/3 c brown + 1/3 c white for less sweetness)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Optional: ¼ teaspoon espresso powder

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º and butter an 8”x8” pan.
  2. Place the butter and chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler or a large glass bowl set over a pot of gently boiling water. Whisk together until the butter and chocolate are melted and well combined. Set aside and let cool for five minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the almond flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla.
  4. Add the cooled chocolate and butter mixture to the egg/sugar mixture. Whisk to combine and then mix into the dry ingredients until everything is well blended.
  5. Pour the batter into the baking pan and bake for 25 minutes or until tester comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it.
  6. Cool before slicing.

The Bunion Diaries – First Month

Now that I’m at one month post-surgery, I can tell anyone who’s contemplating a bunionectomy what to expect. Warning: gnarly photos ahead; not for the squeamish (this means you, dear husband)!!

Day of surgery 

We arrive at the facility at 7 a.m., where the TV in the waiting room is endlessly replaying recaps of last night’s endless presidential debate at top volume. This is one time I would give anything for Keeping Up with the Kardashians or any of the Real Housewives.

I’m prepped, changed into a gigantic dressing gown and stuck with IVs and other stuff to measure my vital signs. My blood pressure is very low (100/70) so I am either actually relaxed or a zombie, not sure. Luckily, hearing Trump did not spike my BP to lasting effect.

We talk to the anesthesiologist, who is extremely thorough and asks detailed questions nobody else has. I see my doc and it’s off to dreamland from about 9 to 12, when I emerge in the usual post-surgical fog. (Note: they use a general anesthetic since they literally don’t want you to move a muscle.)

Here’s my “before” photo. Pretty ugly, I know. That’s why I’m here.

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Once home, I settle into bed with the following:

  • Wedge pillow plus another old pillow under leg to keep elevated (also brought to surgical center for the ride home)
  • Computer and cell phone
  • Glass of 7:1 water/orange juice to stay hydrated
  • Meds and saltines to avert opiate-related nausea
  • Stack of magazines and book (the latest from the excellent Alan Furst)
  • Rented knee roll-about scooter (mine’s a nice shiny red) and crutches for tomorrow.  img_1567

Today’s about resting, following multiple instruction sheets, eating mild food and sleeping. Lots of sleeping.

Day 2

No pain yet so nerve block must still be working. I take pain meds prophylactically every four hours to avoid it though. My main job is to alternate ice on/off every 30 minutes and keep moving my legs and rotating my ankle to prevent blood clots.

I’m not at all hungry until dinnertime, and still in a drug fog most of day. My poor husband has to do all cooking/cleanup/etc. and it’s going to be a long slog until I can contribute.

Day 5

My foot is bandaged like The Mummy, and just about as shapeless.

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I’m now taking ibuprofen only if needed. The pain block (Exparel) lasted 4 days and is a bona fide miracle drug.  Getting around on the scooter is quite a production. It doesn’t have much of a turning radius and I have to keep locking the brake so it won’t slip. Once locked in position, it gives me a secure place to rest my leg.

Crutches require upper body strength so I’m lifting hand weights to help. I can touch down with my operative foot (partial weight is ok) which is better than hopping. But it’s a pretty exhausting way to get around.

I’m officially allowed to shower, which is a multi-step process beginning by removing my safety shoe and encasing my foot in a knee-high plastic bag that looks like a giant condom.

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Funny, I never noticed before how high the “lip” of the shower is; trying to get over it with one leg is quite a challenge. My DH (dear husband) helps lift me in; once in, I’m fine. His back, not so much. We don’t attempt this again– back to sponge baths!

Day 6

My heel and the sole of my foot are quite bruised. I resume taking oral arnica, which I stopped a few days ago, and start applying topical arnica too. Hope this helps.

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First post-op visit

It’s 8 days after surgery. DH drives me and the scooter over to the doctor’s office. His nurse removes the bandages. The top of my foot is swollen and my toes look like fat little sausages. She tells me that swelling can take 6 months to a year to fully resolve. Oh joy. The incision is about 3″ long and is healing well but I can’t transition to a walking boot yet; the bone a little softer than ideal for full weight-bearing so I’ll have to wait and hopefully get the boot next week.

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Week 1: Who are you and what have you done with my ankles?!

I bump up my calcium intake to 600 mg twice a day, having slacked off to once a day during the previous month. (Note to those of you anticipating having this procedure: Make sure to increase weight bearing exercise and check your vitamin D levels well before surgery since vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption.)

Pain is low level but I experience occasional throbbing. Ibuprofen at normal levels (a 200 mg tablet every 4-6 hrs as needed) is helpful. Sleep is more challenging.

By now I have mastered the multi-step shower dance: first, DH places a chair outside the shower so I can use the chair back as support. I ease in and sit on the shower bench and then DH moves the chair so the door can close. You do not want to be in a rush for this one!  If my shower didn’t have a built-in seat this would not work, since I can’t balance on my left heel for the time it takes to shower and do my hair. Best plan is to alternate with sponge bathing for now.

2nd Post Op Visit

Big disappointment at Week Two:  Although everything is healing well, my nice doctor wants me to stay off my foot for another two weeks to be on the safe side. We do not want the pins in there shifting around. Ergo, still stuck with the scooter. On the plus side, my triceps are tightening up from lifting and repositioning the damn thing every few minutes.  And since the incision is almost fully healed, except for a couple of steri strips, I have a new cleaning option (sans giant leg condom): the tub!

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Week 2

This is way easier: position the scooter next to the tub, step in with my good leg, then lower the other one, making sure not to step down. All good.

Weeks 3 & 4

Continue to heal, no pain although bruised areas are still sore, and finally when I see my doctor at Week 4 he lets me transition to a walking boot. It’s very space-age, with a pump to inflate and deflate pressure. Unfortunately, the sole of the boot is 2″ higher than my regular shoe, so I am listing like a drunken sailor. But, I’m ambulatory! BTW, you can order a sort of platform thingy from Amazon called EvenUp. It looks a bit like a snowshoe and adds 1/2″-3/4″ height to your normal shoe or sneaker. My hiking boot is almost the right height so I’m not too uneven for the two days I wait for Amazon delivery.

Week 4

My tasks at home are to exercise the toe by bending it forwards and backwards (ouch) to keep it flexible (3 sets of 10 reps, twice a day) and to cover the scar with ScarAway, a silicone patch you cut to whatever size you need to help prevent and flatten the incision. So far, I’ve taken four baths and it hasn’t budged.

Wrap-up

After 4 weeks I’m still swollen around the ankles as well as the ball and top of my foot (an ace bandage leaves indentations) but I can already see improvement. Best of all, I’m now cleared to drive so I feel much more independent.  Come spring, I might even splurge on some Jimmy Choos!