When your brain can’t multitask.

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When I was in Los Angeles recently to visit my elderly parents, one of the first things I did was work on a grocery list. I planned to go shopping later in the day.

Thick in the middle of peanut butter and canned pumpkin on my list, my dad sat down to give me directions to the supermarket. I couldn’t process what he was saying. At that moment, toilet paper and paper towels were my priority, not traffic lights and left turns.

     “Dad, hold on, let me finish the list before you give me directions.” 
“Well, it’s simple, Karen, you just…”
“Dad, give me a minute so I can pay attention.”
“I’ll draw you a map, Karen. If you turn right on Esplanade…”

My brain is OK with incoming information from multiple sources if the info is easily understood, like writing a reminder note, or hearing a funny story, or being asked if I want my coffee warmed up.

But for complex information, (and even directions around the block are complex for me), my brain can only handle one topic at a time.

My brain can’t multitask.

I can multitask physically, like when I make coffee at home. With my right hand, I pull the kitchen faucet hose extension over to the coffee maker to fill it. At the same time, I can open the drawer to pull out a coffee filter with my left hand, and plop it in the basket, without accidentally redirecting the faucet hose to the floor or my pants. (Usually. )

My brain can’t do that. It has folders for important information, and if the folder is closed, new data doesn’t get in.

     “DAD,” I finally said, “the folder in my head for directions is closed. Anything      you tell me now has nowhere to go.”

Then he understood.

If your brain is unable to multitask, a closed folder is a great visual.

My brain’s inability to multitask is the reason I haven’t posted here in awhile. I’ve had my Memoir Manuscript folder open, and not much else.

No  multitask for this manuscript.
My manuscript–all 86,000+ words of it!

Last week, after 20 years, I finished my manuscript.

My editor will have a red pen lollapalooza with it, I’m sure, but the bulk of the writing is done.

And now, I have to open some folders that have been lying dormant for too long.

The first folder, which I opened this morning, was Website Blogs. And here we are! I’ve been neglectful of this folder lately, so my very belated New Year’s Resolution is to open this folder and post monthly.

As soon as I hit “publish” here, another folder will open: Create and launch my quarterly Newsy Letter.

My Newsy Letter is how I’ll keep in touch with my email subscribers. Here’s what it will include:

  • One totally useless and possibly embarrassing fact about me.
  • A snippet from my memoir, and an update on my publishing journey. I want you to be the first to know when I get a book deal! (Notice I said “when,” not “if.” I’m working the positive thinking magic!)
  • Links to essays I’ve had published. Hopefully I’ll have some new ones out soon.
  • Books I’ve read, and upcoming authors to watch.
  • An inspirational quote.

My Newsy Letter will be a short page, four times per year. I promise it won’t overload your inbox. But if you don’t subscribe via email, you’ll miss out!

It’s so simple–just find the “Enter email” box, then, well, enter your email address. You don’t even need to have a brain folder open–it’s that simple. My 87-year-old dad has done it, and if he can, you can, too.

Speaking of my dad, once I opened the directions folder in my brain, he told me just how to get where I needed to go, and I didn’t get lost. One task completed at a time. That’s how I roll.

How do you roll? Can you multitask? If not, what folder do you have open today?

Milk this Thanksgiving for all it’s worth.

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Almond milk in disguise.

When I did my Thanksgiving shopping earlier this week, I brought my grocery list as usual, but this time I also had paper coupons, and electronic coupons saved on my Hannaford app. I bought almost twice as many groceries as usual, and it took me twice as long, but hey, I saved $20.

The next morning, I poured a little almond milk in my morning coffee, as usual. The almond milk was “Silk,” a new brand that I hadn’t tried before, but I had a coupon for a free carton, and who can turn down free? I saved myself a whole $3.29.

I took a few sips from my mug. It was delicious. Silk was much sweeter and thicker than my usual Hannaford brand. I took another sip. Mmmm. I’d definitely buy it again, coupon or not. 

Just before lunch, I started getting pain and discomfort in my gut. Over the past few years, I’ve developed a very delicate digestive system. In fact, about 90% of the foods on this earth bother it, and that’s on a good day. My gut is always a mess,  even when I eat the things I think are “safe,” so I didn’t suspect anything unusual. And since almond milk is a “safe” food, I continued to drink it throughout the day, around two cups worth.

Suffice it to say that it was a L-O-O-O-N-G day.

It wasn’t the kind of day you want a few days before Thanksgiving.

The next morning, again I poured my almond milk into my coffee. It was just as good as the previous day.

I picked up the carton to confirm that it had no added sugar. Nope, it was unsweetened. It said so right on the label. See it there in the picture? Don’t think I don’t like sugar, as I LOVE it, but sugar doesn’t like me back.

I’m a big label reader as a result of my food sensitivities, so I turned the carton around to take another look at the ingredient list. I was curious what type of thickener was used. No guar gum listed; that was good. 

As I continued to read, this caught my eye: “Allergen statement: Contains soy.”  Huh? Soy? In almond milk? That’s a problem, as soy is a known trigger for my symptoms.

I turned the carton around to look at the front. Out loud, to no one in particular, I announced, “This isn’t almond milk. It’s soy milk!”

It wasn’t laughable then, but it is now.

My husband and I came to the easy-to-draw conclusion that the soy milk was the culprit for my ten-times-worse-than-usual symptoms. Then I came to the hard-to-defend conclusion that I may as well finish my coffee, as there was such a tiny amount of soy in it. 

Are you as incredulous as me that I would even consider taking another microscopic sip? That I would risk my enjoyment of Thanksgiving? My priorities were clearly messed up more than a gravy stain on a lace tablecloth.

Dumping out my coffee felt like a waste—of coffee, time, money, food, resources. I hate waste. I was brought up never to waste food. Poor people are starving, after all.

But my wise husband stopped me before I made a regrettable mistake.

 “Karen—throw it out,” Michael insisted. “We have more coffee.”

He was so right. I dumped the coffee and emptied the almost full carton into the sink.

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Actual almond milk, undisguised.

The soy didn’t kill me. I’m alive and well enough to type and laugh about it. I had an unopened carton of almond milk in the fridge (don’t worry—I triple checked the label) to salvage my fresh cup of morning joe

It was more delicious than I remembered.

And here are the lessons of Thanksgiving  I learned:  

1. Listen to the wise people in your life. If it’s a spouse or partner, thank them effusively.

2.  However you celebrate this day of thanks, and even if you don’t celebrate, focus on what really matters and don’t sweat the small stuff. I was willing to let $3.29 ruin another 24 or 36 or 48 hours for me. It wasn’t worth it.

3.  Dump any toxicity from your life, (especially romaine lettuce!) and replace it with things or people that make you feel good.

4. When you don’t follow steps 2) or 3), laugh about the mistake and be thankful that you’re human.  

5.  What doesn’t kill you teaches you a lesson. If it’s not obvious, dig deep—it’s there. 

6.  If you’re reading this, you’re alive. Be thankful. If you laugh today, be doubly thankful.

7.  If your hands have ever picked up something other than what your eyes saw, read labels very carefully today. Be mindful. You’ll thank me later. 

8.  Enjoy this day. Milk it for all its worth.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Have your hands ever picked up something other than what your eyes saw? Will you share your story here?

Birthday: What it births within us.

Birthday party pose.
Me at my 60th birthday party, before the festivities.

Today, I am 59 and 364/365ths. Tomorrow, I turn 60. Happy Birthday to me.

Other than semantics—“I am 59” vs. “I am 60”—the difference between today and tomorrow for me isn’t insignificant.

Sometimes one day does make a huge difference. Yesterday’s mid-term elections, for example. And, of course, the presidential election of 2016. That year, my birthday—November 8—fell on election day. All I asked for was that our country heal from its deep divisions.

That wish didn’t come true, but I haven’t given up.

I threw myself a birthday party a few days ago on Sunday, November 4. My husband Michael would have planned something special to mark my turn of a decade, but I had a vision of how I wanted to celebrate, so I planned it myself. 

Half the excitement was planning my own birthday party.

I rented a room, selected hors d’oeuvres, and ordered a white cake with vanilla frosting and lots of chocolate roses. I downloaded music, and invited some of my closest friends.

Friends—a room full of them. Something that eluded me for good chunks of my life. And this year, I have more friends than I could invite. 

The party was symbolic of the personal growth I’ve experienced in my 50s, especially in the last two years as I’ve launched my writing career. The celebration filled me with such gratitude, I was moved to tears. Repeatedly. 

The day gave birth to a whirlwind of emotions.

I’ll need time unravel the tangle, and after I’ve done that, I’ll fill you in. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my down time tomorrow. When Michael gets home from work, we’ll order some takeout, have a drink, and savor the last two pieces of birthday cake left over from the party. (I claim the one with more frosting.) It will be the perfect counterweight to Sunday’s frenzy. 

Finally, as my 59th year ends and my 60th begins, I am starting to truly understand who I am. I like the woman I’ve discovered more than I thought I would. 

Maybe it’s time to rethink birthdays. Maybe when we’re well into adulthood, it’s not as important that a birthday commemorates the day of our birth. Instead of looking back, maybe we should look forward. 

Maybe the real importance of a birthday is to see what it births–within us.