Tag Archives: San Luis Obispo County

The 2014 Central Coast Writers’ Conference and My Brain


By: Tina Davidson

What’s scarier? That the average human attention span is 8 seconds? Or that the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds?

(I want to know what gives goldfish the edge to hang on for that extra second and was it Gill’s good looks or his attention span that got him the part as Bob’s pet goldfish in the movie, “What About Bob?”)

With attention span on the decline due to the distractions caused by shiny electronic gadgets, it is a wonder I sat and listened to a recent FOUR HOUR talk given by Brian Schwartz. Thankfully, there was a break, so I didn’t actually sit the entire four hours and the material was engaging so my brain didn’t feel like exploding. While Brian was talking, I felt like I was back in the good old days– when I attended Cal Poly and took notes with a pen and notebook that couldn’t be powered on or off.

(Brain Tip: Handwriting is actually better for your brain than typing– watch the video linked on the further reading section of my post Can Writing and Success Help Your Brain?).

Schwartz’s presentation, “12 Steps to Becoming an Amazon Bestselling Author,” was one of the several workshops at the 2014 Central Coast Writers’ Conference, which took place at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo on September 19 & 20.

About four years ago, I was pretty excited about self-publishing, so my mom lent me her copy of Dan Poynter’s manual on self-publishing. This topic still interests me so my brain soaked up all the new information that Schwartz presented on the subject. Schwartz is an expert when it comes to publishing and helping authors market their Kindle books.  He’s a great resource and I recommend you listen to one of his talks, sign up for his email tutorials, and purchase his ebook software if you have self-publishing aspirations.

What are you afraid of?

Maybe you’ve always wanted to write something or attend a writers’ conference but fear stopped you from pursuing your dream. It is common to let fear prevent one from taking action. Both Brian Schwartz and the closing speaker, Don Maruska, touched on the issue of fear. Maruska’s presentation really caught my attention because he touched on neuroscience and how we lose our best thinking to fear.

As a Master Certified Coach, Maruska helps people figure out how to get their best brain working for them so they can achieve their goals.

One simple way Maruska helped the conference attendees get their best brains working was to have them perform an exercise meant to start pumping oxygen into their brains.

Something as simple as standing up and touching your right elbow to your left knee and then switching elbows and knees will suffice. This exercise crosses the midline in your brain (meaning you get the right and left side of your brain working) and this helps you to focus better and use your cerebral cortex, thinking brain, instead of your amaygdala, the flight or fight part of your brain. These helpful exercise tips apply to anyone who needs to keep their mind sharp or pay attention longer than a goldfish.

How can you just sit there?

So, perhaps you’ve pushed your writing fears aside but now you have writer’s block. Might I suggest a walk?

Deborah Netburn, journalist for the Los Angeles Times, covered a study that showed how walking, as opposed to sitting, boosts creativity.  She quoted Marily Oppezzo, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University and the lead author of the study:

“Our study shows everybody’s creativity improved when they were walking compared to themselves when they were sitting,” she said. “It’s so cool that you can just go out, take a walk, and make your creativity better.”

So, whether you have writer’s block or need a creative boost, walking can help.

One of the conference attendees asked Anne Perry, author and key-note speaker at the conference, how she dealt with writer’s block.  Apparently, she doesn’t have it because she writes around 42 page outlines for each of her books and recommends this approach to others.

No one asked Anne Perry if she walks regularly. I’m curious.

What inspires you? 

Now that you’ve walked, written your outline, and your muse is talking to you again, perhaps you need a little more inspiration?

Jeannett Hanscome’s class was just the inspiration I needed to get back on track with my writing.

Hanscome, an author, writer, and teacher, encouraged me with her insight on writing to inspire. She co-authored the book, “Running with Roselle,” based on the experiences of a blind man, Michael Hingson, and his guide dog, Roselle, who escaped together from the world trade center on September 11th. The story alone is inspiring and also the fact that Hanscome collaborated with Hingson.  Hanscome by definition is considered legally blind although she wouldn’t agree with that label.

Now what?

I hope you plan to be the hero in your own talent story as Maruska encouraged.

Will I see you at next year’s writing conference in San Luis Obispo?

I’ve already signed up at the early early bird rate. You can find information to sign up here. My brain always loves a bargain and is eager to learn more.

Sources & Writing Resources


Netburn, Deborah. “Researchers concluded cognitive benefits of walking were specific to creative thought.” Los Angeles Times April 26, 2014.

A special thanks to the following 2014 Central Coast Writers’ Conference presenters whose workshops I attended:

Brian Schwartz -12 Steps to Becoming an Amazon Bestselling Author

Jeanette Hanscome – Write to Inspire

Anne Perry – Plotting to Enhance Your Backstory

Mara Purl – World Building for a Series

Greg Pincus –  Don’t Tell- Write a Scene

Don Maruska – Take Charge: Become the Hero of Your Talent Story


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Allergies and the Brain

A foal, just 9 hours old, at the Cal Poly Equine Center and another “newborn”

Spring time on the Central Coast starts…. NOW!

Thankfully, we’ve had some rain and the hills are green from San Luis Obispo to Sonoma. I traveled north this past weekend to assistant with wedding photography in Sonoma. During the car trip, I had fun taking in the ambiance of some northern sites, like the Golden Gate Bridge.  Also, I navigated with a map! (Imagine that!) An easy way to exercise your brain is to leave your GPS at home when traveling to new places.

Since I took a Cal Poly orienteering class I rarely struggle with getting lost, but the toughest part about going new places for me used to be my allergies.  There is nothing more embarrassing than wiping your nose constantly or sneezing your head off when trying to venture out.  It gets trickier when you run out of Kleenex and there is none near.  My friends who have known me since childhood will tell you that I’ve always had a tissue on hand.  In fourth grade, my teacher once jumped and threw his books in the air after I let out a LOUD sneeze due to the aroma of freshly cut grass sneaking in the open window.

I’ve had allergic symptoms to all the main culprits: dust, mold, pollen, grass, trees, pet dander, etc.

I never wanted my allergies to “win” so I hated taking allergy medicine.  When my husband finally forced me to go see an allergist, the doctor informed me I was a prime candidate for allergy shots because I was basically allergic to almost everything.  After the allergist’s assistant performed the arm and back prick test, I was just one red irritated mess.

Luckily, I had good insurance because that trip to the allergist would have been pretty expensive otherwise (don’t let that deter you from seeking help though!).  At that visit, the doctor informed me of a helpful online site where I could purchase special bedding and pillow case covers to deal with my dust mite allergy (gross!).

There were no dust mites out on the trails but that did not stop my runny nose and itchy eyes.  I continued to walk outside during the spring among the wild mustard in the open spaces in SLO County around Highwy 1.  I refused allergy shots, never went back to the allergist, and continued to sneeze A LOT (which really annoyed my husband).

Now, I don’t know why or how, but I seem to have kicked my extreme allergic symptoms.  Maybe it is because I quite walking in the open spaces during spring? Or maybe my sneezing fits stopped because I got rid of any carpet in my house or I am keeping my environment cleaner? Or that I moved closer to the ocean where there is a breeze that keeps the offenders away? Perhaps it is because I changed what I ate? I consume a lot more healthy fruits and vegetables than I did in the past.  Sadly, the only thing orange in my lunch used to be cheese puffs!

I don’t know exactly what to attribute it to, but I made positive changes and I am loving life without the daily attack of sneezes! I am not totally free of my allergy symptoms but I have noticed a big improvement.

Perhaps you can relate to having allergies? In a quick search for allergy statistics, I found that the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology website states that, “Allergies are among the most common chronic conditions worldwide.”  According to WebMD, allergies rank 5th among other leading chronic diseases in the U.S and one in 5 people in the U.S. have either allergy or asthma symptoms.  WebMD listed one estimate of the annual cost of allergies to the health care system and businesses in the U.S. at $7.9 billion.

There are many environmental factors that are causing today’s allergies. I just read, “The biodiversity hypothesis and allergic disease: world allergy organization position statement.”  (See end of post for the full citation and article link.)  Here’s how it starts off:


Biodiversity loss and climate change secondary to human activities are now being associated with various adverse health effects. However, less attention is being paid to the effects of biodiversity loss on environmental and commensal (indigenous) microbiotas. Metagenomic and other studies of healthy and diseased individuals reveal that reduced biodiversity and alterations in the composition of the gut and skin microbiota are associated with various inflammatory conditions, including asthma, allergic and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), type1 diabetes, and obesity. Altered indigenous microbiota and the general microbial deprivation characterizing the lifestyle of urban people in affluent countries appear to be risk factors for immune dysregulation and impaired tolerance. The risk is further enhanced by physical inactivity and a western diet poor in fresh fruit and vegetables, which may act in synergy with dysbiosis of the gut flora. Studies of immigrants moving from non-affluent to affluent regions indicate that tolerance mechanisms can rapidly become impaired in microbe-poor environments.

I think if you take the tech talk out, the authors are trying to say there is less diversity in our good bacteria on our skin and stomachs, folks aren’t eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables, and aren’t exercising enough. When people move from a non-affluent area to a crowded city their immune systems suffer.  Hence, more allergies.  I was surprised at the mention of type 1 diabetes above. It is usually type 2 that would be mentioned along with obesity.

What also stood out to me from the article was the connection with nature and the natural environment and how it helps improves allergies.

An urban environment appears to lack elements that apparently are important for the proper development of immune tolerance. The recognition of the (absolute) dependence of humans on both the commensal and environmental microbiota is crucial to unravel the mechanisms involved. In recent years, concepts such as ‘ecotherapy’ [152], ‘green exercise’ [24] and ‘forest therapy’ [27] have been launched. Urbanization and densification policy continues globally, and within the next 30 years, it is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population and 85% of the population in the developed countries will live in urban areas with little green space [153]. Prevalence of inflammatory diseases is likely to increase even more. The health effects of nature and green spaces (see ‘Biodiversity and human health’) should be recognized, and measures to limit excessive land use and fragmentation urgently undertaken.

As a biology enthusiast and graduate from California Polytechnic State University with a degree in Recreation Administration and a concentration in Natural Resource Management, the subject of forest therapy highly interests me.  It involves protecting natural resources, environmental medicine, and then you add in the brain component and you have all my favorite subjects tying together! (Nerd alert!)

A few years ago, I read the book, “Last Child in the Woods. Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” by Richard Louv.  It seems that, “More time in nature– combined with less television and more stimulating play and educational settings– may go a long way toward reducing attention deficits in children, and, just as important, increasing their joy in life” (pg. 107).   Enjoying time outdoors may diversify a child’s microbes, help them focus better, and limit their need for Ritalin. Sounds like an inexpensive way to improve your child’s brain function, right? Time in nature might even boost their immune system and limit their need for allergy medication.

One of my favorite books to help with allergies, “Is This Your Child? Discovering and Treating  Unrecognized Allergies  in Children and Adults,” was written by Dr. Doris Rapp.  She states that: “Specialists in environmental medicine believe it is possible that any area of the body can be affected by an allergy or a food or chemical sensitivity” (Rapp, pg. 35).  This means your brain, even an infant’s brain, can be affected by allergies (Rapp, pg. 114).

Here’s some signs to look for in your child if you think their brain might be affected by an allergy: expressionless look  associated with red earlobes, wiggly legs, and dark eye circles (Rapp, pg. 67). Some adults may feel tired, depressed, and unable to think or remember things because of allergic brain fatigue. On the flip side, there are also hyperactive adults who are workaholic with brain allergies. (Rapp, pg. 153).

It has been noted that the brain can be affected by a wide range of common allergic stubstances.  Observation dating back to the mid-1930s indicated that odors, foods, pollen, molds, and dust could cause a wide range or problems in the nervous system. Entire chapters in texts for physicians written between the thirties and fifties were devoted to the role of allergy in relation to headaches, fatigue, epilepsy, behavior problems, minimal brain dysfunction, psychological  problems, and a wide range of other neurological or learning problems in children. (Rapp, pg. 394).

It seems this valuable information mentioned above was not included in past or present medical training for physicians specializing in allergy or neurology (Rapp, pg. 394). I truly hope things have changed and brain allergies are more widely studied.  If this subject interests you, you can read more about it in Dr. Rapp’s book listed in the sources below.

Take some time to let your brain find joy outdoors and do your part to protect the environment!  Future generations seeking allergy relief may depend on it!

By: Tina Davidson


Congratulations to Cal Poly Men’s Basketball Team for making it to March Madness


Tari Haahtela, Stephen Holgate, Ruby Pawankar, Cezmi A Akdis, Suwat Benjaponpitak, Luis Caraballo, Jeffrey Demain, Jay Portnoy, Leena von Hertzen and WAO Special Committee on Climate Change and Biodiversity.  “The biodiversity hypothesis and allergic disease: world allergy organization position statement.” World Allergy Organization Journal 2013, 6:3  doi:10.1186/1939-4551-6-3. © 2013 Haahtela et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. Here’s the link if you’d like to read the entire article.

American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies.aspx

Allergy Statistics and Facts. http://www.webmd.com/allergies/allergy-statistics

Louv, Richard. “Last Child in the Woods. Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” 2005

Rapp, Doris. “Is This Your Child?  Discovering and Treating  Unrecognized Allergies  in Children and Adults.” 1991

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Turn Your Brain’s Winter Blues into Yellows

Horse back riders near Sandspit beach at Montana De Oro State Park, CA

Horseback riders near Sandspit Beach at Montana De Oro State Park, CA


In the winter of 1998, I fell in love– with a place, California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo (SLO).   Although I was impressed by the stellar academic programs and the incredible REC center, it was the sunshine that won me over.  The unpolluted blue sky and lush green hills beckoned me to stay longer than my scheduled two-day visit, but, sadly, I had to leave and return to my college classes amid the dirty melting snow and grey skies of northwest Indiana.  Luckily, I didn’t stay in Indiana for long.  I returned to lovely SLO County one year later, graduated from Cal Poly, and have remained for over fifteen years (minus a few weeks every year for vacations).

As a California native, never having lived farther than twenty minutes from a sunny west coast beach, it was a climate shock to my system when I experienced an Indiana winter.  I had never heard terms such as “lake effect snow”, had never driven a car on an icy and snowy road, and definitely had never made a fool of myself slipping on ice trying to get to class.  These were all “fun” firsts I experienced during my freshman winter at Valparaiso University (Valpo).  I ended up staying through two winters at Valpo. The first winter I did ok.

The second winter was tough.

When the sun stayed away longer, the skies grew greyer, and the winter cold set it, I found myself hibernating in my dorm room.  My friend, Laura, who lived a few doors down, knew not to disturb me, the grumpy girl, during my habitual nap time.  I did not have the energy to keep up with my frigid surroundings. To cope with the winter blues, I loaded up on my favorite greasy-cheesy comfort foods, like macaroni and cheese, gained weight, developed acne, and slept a ton. I felt like a mess and longed for the sunny skies over SLO.

Summer breaks in southern California were spent soaking up the sun in my parents’ backyard.  Once home, and after a few weeks of “light therapy” while enjoying the outdoors, I felt energized, ate better, and exercised.  Now when I look back, it makes me realize that Indiana’s winters brought on SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder or recurrent winter depression).

I am so thankful to live in SLO County, where the weather is perfect for individuals with SAD.  Although dreary grey days exist, it is a land blessed with microclimates.  That means it might be 60 degrees and foggy at the coast in the summer, but a 20-minute drive to the north-east will take you to a brilliant 90 degrees in places like Atascadero or Templeton.  Or in January, due to a warm streak, it might be sunny and hover around 80 degrees right at the coast, with north county temperatures in the 60s.   John Lindsey, a SLO meteorologist, does a good job describing this phenomenon in his article, SLO County’s battling microclimates.

My brain rests assured that in the event of a foggy or grey day in SLO County, I can drive a few miles and experience a change in the weather, or stay at home, content, to gaze at my yellow walls.

Had I read Leatrice Eiseman’s book earlier, Colors for Your Every Mood, and been allowed to paint my Indiana dorm room walls yellow, my life may have turned out quite differently.  On page 46 of her book, she mentions that the color yellow may help with SAD syndrome:

It would be an excellent hue to use in alleviating the depression of the seasonal affective disorder (SAD syndrome). For those who literally suffer through the dismal days of winter, what could be better than painting the walls with sunshine where it doesn’t exist. It’s Prozac in a paint can (and a lot less expensive)!”

Eiseman, Leatrice. (1998) Colors for Your Every Mood. colorexpert.com

Sometimes I read books that are not specifically about the brain, but in the end (at least for me) I find a brain connection.  That’s what happened with Colors for Your Every Mood. I was expecting a book about decorating tips, which it does include, but it also informs the reader about many fascinating psychological insights in regards to color choice. I learned how colors have been used historically, the traditions associated with them, and other interesting tidbits like avoiding orange and red in the kitchen because they are thought to stimulate your appetite.  Check out her book if you want help bringing out certain moods in each room of your home, office, or school.

Also, if you’d like more references or an overview of SAD, I suggest checking out the article, Seasonal Affective Disorder, from the The British Journal of Psychiatry.  It cites another article with the full text available online, Pathophysiology of seasonal affective disorder: a review, that goes into more depth about light therapy and the role of neurotransmitters.

To all my friends that I met at Valpo: it was an experience I would not trade, and I cherish the spring and fall memories. I’m just biased about living in California during the winter months.

While I do enjoy yellow, my favorite color is actually blue–it is thought to evoke calmness and healing.  What’s your brain’s favorite color?

By: Tina Davidson

Morro Bay Rock, CA Historical Landmark No. 821

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Manage Your Stress! Be Mindful of Your Cortisol Levels!

When I first learned about the hormone, cortisol, and the effects of stress on the brain, I think my family wished I hadn’t.

Your body secretes cortisol when under stress, so if I noticed someone acting stressed, I remarked, “Looks like your cortisol levels are rising!” Or if I felt stressed, I remarked, “My cortisol levels are through the roof!”

It is important to be mindful of your stress and manage it accordingly.

I couldn’t help applying what I was learning from the book, “The Anti-Alzheimer’s Prescription,” by Vincent Fortanasce, M.D., and I truly had my family’s best interests in mind when conveying my new found facts on cortisol.  However, I probably should have waited for a more relaxed moment to share this wisdom with them.  Perhaps you have a more subtle way to let others know when your cortisol levels are reaching extremes?

One of my favorite ways to reduce stress is to enjoy live entertainment. There’s an opportunity this weekend in San Luis Obispo County, Ca, that is sure to lower your stress hormones. The added bonus is that it is a free event (something that always makes my brain happy!)



Saturday, October 19th, 2013
10:00 am–4:00 pm

Christopher Cohan Center

Here’s the site for more information: http://www.pacslo.org/outreach/bravo_slo

Also, if you are stressed because you know someone who has Alzheimer’s Disease or you are trying to protect yourself against it, I found “The Anti-Alzheimer’s Prescription,” by  Vincent Fortanasce, M.D., to be a great resource.  A special thanks to my friend who let me borrow her copy of the book.

Alzheimer’s is a heartbreaking disease!  Pray for a cure and support those who have it and their loved ones. Get connected with your local Alzheimer’s Association. http://www.alz.org/apps/findus.asp

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