Happy New Year from Originality by Design


 It's with humble hearts we thank all of you who have stopped by our blog, read the wonderful posts, left comments, and shared.  It is our hope to continue providing quality articles that interest our readers throughout 2021 and beyond. 

May 2021 be filled with renewal, peace, and much hope.


From all of us at Originality by Design,

Grace Augustine, CoAdministrator

Joanne Jaytanie, CoAdministrator

Marj Ivancic, Author

Darlene Kuncytes, Author

Lexa Fisher, Author,

Ruth Ross Saucier, Editor

Jacquolyn McMurray, Author

Jennifer Daniels, Author

And our many, many guests

Saying Goodbye to 2020 ~ by Darlene Kuncytes

Well. It’s almost time to say goodbye to a year that I can honestly say, I don’t think anyone expected or will miss.

A year that has taken its toll on us in so many ways. Ways that are still too painful to think about.

I know that this year has been a rough one, and I am praying with everything I’ve got that 2021 will be a new beginning. That it will be an upswing for us all.

I was sitting over the holiday, missing the fact that we could not celebrate like we normally do, and something hit me. We are experiencing this, not just as a nation but in unison with the entire world.

Everyone on the entire planet is going through the same thing that we are at the same time. They are feeling the same things.

That is mind-blowing.

I know it’s been really hard to find the good in this year…but it’s there. We simply need to look. I admit, we have to look a bit harder, but we also need to remember to look. It’s much to easy to wallow in the bad. To lose ourselves in self-pity, when that serves no purpose.

There were babies born. Lives joined together in marriage. Laughter being shared. Perhaps it was over face-time or zoom, but it was still shared.

This may sound strange, but we STILL stand together even when we are divided.

Yes, this has been a dark year, but I have faith that we will persevere. We will climb this mountain and hopefully really learn how important the small things are. The things we have been taking for granted.

Hopefully we will truly learn how we need to treasure every single moment. Every single memory – new and old.

I look forward to the new year. To what will hopefully be new beginnings that are joyous and healing.

Yes. We have a long way to go, and when that clock strikes midnight, it’s not going to miraculously just flip us out of this nightmare.


That being said, I am choosing to look at that strike of midnight as something so much stronger than anything else. 

I am choosing to look at that strike of midnight as the signal of hope.
The signal of better things to come. 

Thank you for being a part of my year. You all have been one of the good things that I hold on to. 

Happy New Year and here’s to hope.
Darlene

Pictures courtesy of google

In Loco Parentis ~ by Ruth Ross Saucier

 Maria and Tod were something like five and nine years old [okay, maybe seven and twelve; I’m getting old, don’t hold me to the details] when they came to stay with us in Seattle for a weekend.

They lived outside of a small town and we lived in Seattle, so we thought we’d share the big city with them, take them out to eat, play games, go to the theater, and see the city.  Share some culture.

 As recent grads of the U. of Washington, we were big fans of their theater program. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the UW had oodles of theater venues—theater in the round, a theater in a riverboat, you name it. Always inexpensive to attend, the productions were in small theaters so you always got a great seat and a fascinating look at plays from Shakespeare to modern.  The play scheduled for that weekend was completely unknown to us, but we booked four tickets and proudly took them to experience the sophistication of live theater. 

The title of the play was Hot L Baltimore.  Set in a gritty city hotel (the ‘e’ in the neon sign had burned out), it proved to be a bit more enlightening than we counted on.



Particularly so when our lovely second row seats had a perfect view of a scene when, yelling and bouncing, an utterly naked, well-endowed student actor playing a prostitute ran across the stage,  not once but twice. Uncle Fred lunged in an attempt to cover Tod’s eyes, but that failed utterly.

My husband, being sure that his sister would never ever forgive him, swore his nephew to absolute secrecy. On our return home, as a reward, a bribe, and a treat, we made banana splits for dessert. But we couldn’t really find any dishes that would work well, so we christened them “bread pan sundaes” and served them up in loaf pans.


The following morning we were awakened early by Tod bellowing from the kitchen, “Can we have bread pan sundaes for breakfast?” Still recovering from the antics of the prior evening, I considered the ice cream as a variant of milk, the banana as a fruit, the nuts as protein, the virtue of not having to get out of bed, and yelled back, “Sure – just don’t tell your mom!” 

But of course, when Mom appeared later that afternoon, our born-chatterbox nephew ran to greet her and the first words out of his mouth were, “Mom, Mom, I saw this naked lady and had bread pan sundaes for BREAKFAST!

 Pretty sure she forgave us—eventually.


For more posts by this author click:  
Ruth Ross Saucier Author Page

Winter Solstice ~ by Lexa Fisher

 

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

December 21st marks the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Here in the Pacific Northwet, a December evening starts about 3pm...or 10am if it's raining heavily. It is also observed as the beginning of winter.

The squirrels I feed are making a mine field of my yard as they bury nuts and corn for the cold days ahead. Yes, most of my back yard looks like this--holes everywhere, filled with peanuts or corn. I see the squirrels running under the fence to my neighbor's yard and wonder if we'll both see a corn crop next spring.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash
Though the days will now grow longer, my preparations for winter include gathering candles for those seasonal power outages. We had so many power outages last year that I wished I could have deducted my candle costs from the electric bill.

 

 

Photo by Tijana Drndarski on Unsplash

With winter's approach, cozy wool sweaters and socks also come out of storage, perfect for bundling up as we read books and sip hot cocoa in front of a fireplace. Some of my favorite reading during the cold winter days is poring over plant and seed catalogs, planning my spring garden. 

 

Photo by Hanna Balan on Unsplash

 
This is also the season to pull out those recipes for warming meals of soups and stews. Fresh herbs from the garden (yes, even in winter) add extra nutrition and flavor. While they simmer on the stove these meals heat the kitchen before they warm our tummies. And what goes better with homemade soup than fresh herbed rolls from the oven? 

 

Likely winter will seem so, so cold and long, but two months from now it will be time to fertilize plants before they send out new growth and till up the soil for all those seeds I've acquired. Maybe I'll even get a few unplanned stalks of corn, courtesy of my well-fed backyard squirrels.

Photo by Rodrigo Rodriguez on Unsplash


 



 









 

Writing for Children ~ Mindy Hardwick

 

Photo by Joshua Fernandez
on Unsplash
At the beginning of the pandemic, a friend posted on her Facebook page a funny video of a thirteen-year-old Schnauzer giving advice to the two-legged from the four-legged. The advice included everything from wearing button pants to chilling out at home and wandering around and playing with the tennis balls.

https://youtu.be/XYWrjjwDeiA



I immediately started following Pluto’s Facebook page and was hooked with the weekly videos that doled out advice on everything from keeping your nose on your own face to telling the two legged to “Stay home. Stay!”

It has been weekly entertainment listening as Pluto gives advice with her own dog language and ways of speaking. Pluto also gives me ideas for how to craft a book I am currently writing from the point of view of my nine-year-old, black and tan cocker spaniel, Stormy.


My work-in-progress, “The World is a Sniff” tells the story of our training to be a reading dog team, failing the test, and finding our home on the Oregon Coast.

In order to help me develop Stormy's voice, I created a Twitter account here:

https://twitter.com/stormyspaniel 

He loves new followers--dog or human!


Photo by Mindy Hardwick
On our daily walks, Stormy and I often see elk in the
park, sand dunes and beach. Sometimes the elk are right outside our door.   



The following story is part of my book in progress and is told from Stormy’s point of view. I hope you enjoy it! 


Fall on the Coast: A Dog’s View

      

In the middle of the night, I smell them. The dark and dank scent. I cuddle against my Human in the pillows and covers. I lift my head and stare toward the bedroom window. They are out there. The creatures who smell.

Elk.

I bury my nose against my Human and I only smell her.

In her sleepy state, she pets me. “Shhh…Stormy,” she says my name. “It’s okay.” I snuggle closer to her. 

       In the morning, I leap out of bed. I retrieve my Human’s slippers and she serves my breakfast. My Human and I meet up with my dog pals on the coffee shop porch. Muffin and bagel crumbs land on the floor. My dog pals and I bump against each other in the dash for crumbs under the tables.

       After coffee, my Human works on her computer and I snuggle beside her on the chair. After a while, I get bored. I use my best pleading whine and she clips on my leash. On our walk, I smell the dank and dark creatures. They are at the top of our hill. I lunge toward them.  Most turn away but one stares at me. Slowly, it takes a step toward me.

My Human tightens my leash. We run down the hill to the park. The scent of elk is all around us.

We pass by the creek. When we are far enough onto the beach, my Human slips off my leash. She throws my ball and my feet dance on the sand. When I get tired, we walk home. The dank, dark smell is gone.

That afternoon, the man in the big truck comes to the door. He hands my Human a box and like always, there is a treat for me. I wiggle and wiggle. I love the man in the big truck.

After dinner, my Human and I meet my dog pals at the end of the street for a beach walk. I am not as fast as I once was, and two beach walks a day is a lot for me now. My dog pals try to get me to play chase, but I can’t always keep up. 

Beach walking Humans always have treats. I like to walk by their sides. I whine a little until a treat finds its way out of a bag and into my mouth. Getting old on the beach isn’t so bad.

Photo by Mindy Hardwick

After the sun sets, Humans and dogs walk down the hill. 

I smell them again.

The dark, dank creatures.

They are close. 

Very close.

One of my dog pals is off leash. She dashes into the trees. The twigs snap. The dark, dank creatures are everywhere. My dog pal barks at them. She barks and barks.

Her Human calls to her. But she doesn’t come.

The elk lifts his leg to smoosh my dog pal.

The Humans all go silent.

I smell it.

Fear. 

And, then, I hear.

My Human is calling. A high-pitched voice that she learned at our puppy training classes. The Trainor Human told her to use that call if I ever ran into the road. She told her I would stop and come back immediately.

It works for elk too.

Suddenly, my dog pal runs out of the bushes and toward the Humans.

The dark, dank creatures clomp into the woods. Their scent lingers in the air.  

I am happy to walk back to the cottage. At bedtime, I snuggle next to my Human. 

Tonight, the dark, dank creatures do not pass by my house. 


Photo by Mindy Hardwick


Animal stories make great picture book stories, and I am teaching an online Writing the Picture Book class with WOW-Women on Writing from January 5 to February 2. 


You can find out more here: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/classroom/MindyHardwick_PictureBook.php


Mindy Hardwick is a published memoirist, romance and children’s author. Her picture book, Finder’s Keepers, was published as a digital picture book. Her children’s and YA books include: Weaving Magic, Seymour’s Secret, and Stained Glass Summer.  Mindy facilitated a poetry workshop in a juvenile detention and wrote about the experience in her memoir, Kids in Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention. Mindy teaches GED and Creative Writing at an online high school in the Portland, Oregon area. When she’s not writing, Mindy can be found art journaling and walking on the Oregon Coast beaches with her dog, Stormy. 


I’m Too Old to Learn Technology . . .Right? ~ Charlotte Raby

 

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash 

So, you've been trying to learn a new technology-related skill. Learning seems more difficult and is taking longer than you think it should, and this has led you to be fearful and tech averse. Does this sound familiar? Well, if you're 55+ years old, it's probably all too familiar. Is it you? Are you too old to learn new things. The good news is yes, it IS you (mostly) and no, you're never too old to learn! The aging brain decreases our motivation to learn and changes the learning process (Neuroscience, 2020; Graybiel, 2014)Society’s expectations of older adults also add to difficulties of engaging with and embracing new technologies. But if we can understand what’s going on with our brains, we can learn better, improve our brain function, and enjoy using technology for pleasure and to support our medical, psychological, and social needs.

Our brains are composed of gray and white matter. Gray matter consists of mostly cell bodies and some axons (conduits for relaying information) and is mostly surface brain tissue. Gray matter is where younger brains learn. White matter is mostly axons, and it’s located in the deep tissue of the brain. White matter axons coordinate communication between different parts of the brain’s gray areas.  The ganglia, which is gray matter and found in the deep tissue, controls motivation. 

Inside the ganglia is a group of cells called striomes, which form a circuit in the brain that controls and maintains motivation, emotions, addiction and habit formation, and voluntary movement (Yotsumoto, et al, 2014). Motivation is driven by an emotional, cost-benefit analysis we make when faced with something new or risky, and this analysis is critical to our species’ survival.  This circuit is connected to a dopamine center, and since we want to feel good (via dopamine), we will follow the dictates of our striomes and assign subjective values to risks, which affect our choices. As we age, striome activity decreases, which in turn decreases our engagement in and motivation to learn new things (Graybiel, et al, 2014). Since we know gray matter becomes less elastic in older brains –  meaning it can’t be activated the way it used to when it was younger – it makes sense that this circuit would also become less functional, decreasing our discrimination and learning. However, this gray matter circuit can be manipulated to increase or decrease motivation to learn, via chemicals or biofeedback. 

If we can change our motivation to learn, but gray matter is less plastic in older brains, how can older brains still learn? It turns out that when gray matter becomes less plastic, white matter takes over. In the 2014 Yotsumoto study which compared learning processes in younger and older brains (65+), it was discovered that a reorganization of white matter occurred in older brains, which enhanced the efficiency in which signals were transmitted through the axons, thereby increasing visual/brain processes.  White matter in younger brains operates in an isotropic manner, meaning there is no restriction on the direction of signal flow (it is a communication manager, after all). But in older brains, white matter becomes more anisotropic when learning, meaning the diffusion of signals becomes more restricted and hence focused, in direction. This way in which older brains learn is significantly different than how younger brains learn. However, researchers found that performance improvement between the younger and older brains was virtually equal.

Photo by Jesse Martini on Unsplash
Another more recent study looked at whether environment affects how older people learn. Researchers asked adults aged 56-86 to take five classes simultaneously to learn a variety of new subjects and skills. Participants were learning in an encouraging and supportive environment – something typically only younger people experience – and were able to increase their cognitive functioning to levels of people thirty years younger, and in only 1.5 months (Wu, Strickland-Hughes, 2019). These results indicate that learning new things improves the older brain and gives better results than merely working to maintain one’s current brain function levels. At the end of the study, subjects reported feeling surprised at their own results and fearless in the face of new challenges.

So, what does all this new information mean, and how can we use it to our advantage? Adding this new knowledge to earlier scientific discoveries helps us better understand ourselves. For instance, human brains cannot multitask, but process by switching back and forth between tasks, using white matter (Graves, 2020). Since we know the older brain uses white matter for learning, we can therefore understand that older adults will learn more easily if they remove distractions and stimuli that require typical white matter processing, and dedicate their white matter to anisotropic, focused learning.


Photo by Ive Erhard on Unsplash

In addition, the brain uses more energy than any other organ in the body. Eating and sleeping well, exercising regularly – which makes more energy-creating mitochondria in our bodies – and taking breaks every ninety minutes to allow our energy to recharge, maintains and conserves energy (Graves, 2020). And do the terms “gratitude” and “purpose” sound familiar? Negative emotions use more brain energy, so developing the ability to feel positive emotions and find meaning in our tasks increases focus and strengthens our brains.

Which brings me – finally! – to the issue of older adults struggling to learn new technologies. There are multiple factors which lead to seniors feeling at odds with how to bring technology into their lives. While 73% of older adults use the internet and more than 50% spend half their leisure time using electronic devices, they still report struggling to learn new technologies (Jefferson, 2019). Something I have experienced myself is the fact that technology is designed “top-down,” meaning people who understand technology are designing for those who are complete novices, with the presumption of how the end-user will learn and use that technology. It’s difficult to find information that starts at ground zero for older learners who have no experience. And this pains me, right in my white matter!


Photo by Adam Niescioruk on Unaplash
Learning and using a new technology requires synthesizing multiple ideas and skills at once, often from a variety of sources. For instance, building a website requires finding and subscribing to a web server, finding and claiming a unique domain name, and then subscribing to and learning how to use a website-building application (or coding it yourself). And of course, understanding terminology and how these elements work together is integral to success. Until designers begin designing from the bottom up, with input from seniors regarding their physical and experiential barriers to technology, we’ll have to use what we know and what we’ve got.  

That’s right – white matter! We are now armed with knowledge about motivation, brain energy, and how best to learn. We understand why we’re fearful and frustrated, but we no longer have to let any of that get in our way – older adults can learn new things just as well as younger adults.


Photo by Philippe Leone on Unsplash
First – No Fear! 
Don’t allow negative beliefs developed through society’s agism hold you back. Believe you can do this. Activate your motivation circuit via purpose and meaning, set and prioritize goals. Do not multitask – remove all distractions and work on one thing at a time, to protect that new white matter process. Give yourself a supportive and encouraging environment by forming or joining a like-minded accountability or study group. And finally, give yourself time, don’t give up.

You’ve got this!

References

Graves, G. (2020) Optimize your energy. Health.com, November.

Graybiel et al. (2020).  Striosomes mediate value-based learning vulnerable in age and a Huntington’s disease model. Cell, October 28.

Jefferson, R.S. (2019)  More seniors are embracing technology. But can they use it? UCSD researchers suggest asking them. Forbes, June 28.   https://www.forbes.com/sites/robinseatonjefferson/2019/06/28/more-seniors-are-embracing- technology-but-can-they-use-it-ucsd-researchers-suggest-asking-them/?sh=582e2da32323

Neuroscience News. (2020). Why motivation to learn declines with age. Neuroscience News. October 28. https://neurosciencenews.com/motivation-learning-aging-17224/ 

Wu, R., Strickland-Hughes, C. (2019) Think you’re too old to learn new tricks? Scientific American, Observations, July 17. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/think-youre-too-old-to-learn-new-tricks/

Yotsumoto, Y., Chang, LH., Ni, R. et al. What matter in the older brain is more plastic than in the youngebrain. Nat Commun 5, 5504 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms6504

Charlotte has always been creative and interested in how things work and interact in the world. While she has a BSE in engineering, a M.Ed. in special education, she worked in a variety of positions, including Motorola engineer, special-ed high school teacher, homeschooling-mom, flute player, formal wear alterations business owner, and writer.  She also cross-stitches, paints, cooks, still sews for her family, and has recently learned how to use Adobe Illustrator to create repeating designs for fabrics and other items.  Join her over at www.charlotteraby.com to stay connected and see what she’s up to! 

Zircon, Tanzanite, and Turquoise ~ by Grace Augustine

December is another one of those odd months with three birthstones. The Traditional gem for December is turquoise. Tanzanite and Zircon
were added later. Let's look at the properties of these beauties individually.

Photo courtesy: Deposit Photos

The Zircon is a luminescent tetragonal with with prismatic crystals that are often twinned. This gem comes in a variety of colors, with ice blue being the most common. The stone is found world-wide, especially imbedded in granites.

It is often mistaken for cubic zirconia, which it is not. It is a gem of it's own, not manmade. When cut properly, the zircon closely resembles the diamond. Even though this gem mimics the diamond, the zircon is rarer than the diamond.

On the MOHS scale, it comes in at a 6, a relatively soft gem compared to the diamond that is a 10. To read more about the zircon, please visit  gemsociety.org

Photo Courtesy: Deposit Photos
The Tanzanite  In it's natural state, the gem, also known as zoisite, is a reddish brown. With heat treating it turns a beautiful blue or violet color. Virtually all tanzanite is heat treated to bring out the luster and color of the gem.

Their relative softness requires tender treatment when wearing and cleaning. A simple bump of the gem may cause non-repairable issues.

Zoisite is named after Baron Sigmund Zois, who presented the first specimens to Abraham Gottlob Werner, a great mineralogist. The name Tanzanite is the Tiffany & Co. trade name for blue zoisite, named after it's country of origin.

For more information on this lovely gem, please visit gemsociety.org


The Turquoise
 This gem is well-known, especially in the southwestern United States. It's traditional blue to green colors are normally set in silver. When you think of this gem, you can't help but think of the beautiful squash blossom necklaces.

Photo courtesy: Hoel's Indian Shop
This gem is moderately priced, making it a collectible for many. Its softness, coming in on the MOHS scale at a 5-6 at best, lends for delicate care. The stone was first brought to Europe from Iran.

Turquoise is formed by bubbling ground waters in aluminous rocks where copper is present. It can be found in Iran, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Tibet, and here in the United States in New Mexico and Arizona.

For more information on this traditional December birthstone, please visit gemsociety.org

If you have enjoyed this series on gemstones, please click HERE to visit my members page where the other blogs posts are listed.

Welcome Home, Orion! ~ by Marj Ivancic, Author

Constellation Orion (deposit photos)
With its long nights, cold temperatures, and blustering snows, winter does not have much to recommend it! But one of the most special things about this time of year is the return of Orion the Hunter. The constellation, which boasts two of the top ten brightest stars in the night’s sky (Rigel and Betelgeuse), becomes visible and stays so until around February.

I don’t know why he means so much to me. There’s just something about looking up into the heavens and seeing him. About knowing that people from across the globe and from across the span of time have gazed upon him too.

Isis Temple and Orion Nebula (deposit photos)
If you research Orion, you’ll find origin stories about him from not only the ancient Greeks but from the even more ancient  Sumerians of Mesopotamia as well as the Egyptians. In fact, the Great Pyramid at Giza was architected around two of the stars in Orion’s belt. And on the other side of the world, in South America, the appearance of his belt and sword mark the start of an Aztec ceremony to delay the end of the world. China, Australia, Scandinavia—these cultures also have references to Orion.

How many other things in this world can we say that about? What else has been so universally available and so steadfastly constant over the millennium? 

Galaxy Stars Universe (deposit photos)

To me, in the dark days of winter, Orion stands as a reminder that we are not alone. That though geography and culture and time may separate us, we are connected by a greater force. One that is so fundamental, it is beyond the understanding of Man.

And so, may you ever be humbled by the majesty of the night’s sky. That is my holiday wish for you…

To view Marj's other posts, please click HERE to be taken to her member's page.

Getting to Know My Neighbors

  Now that I've been working at home for over 400 days, I've really gotten to know my neighbors--the backyard neighborhood life, tha...