Want a Better Brain?

I read: “The Attention Restoration Theory: things that require us to concentrate, such as work, fatigue our minds over time. Things that capture our attention involuntarily, such as artwork or nature, let the brain relax and refresh leading to a better mental state and performance.”

Then I read: The University of Michigan’s psychology team documented that exposure to nature creates a better mood and improves short-term memory by up to 20 percent!

Hmm…I realize it has been two years since I gave up my daily summer walks around the pond near my home. Why, I ask? Going for a walk is certainly not as easy as turning on the TV, but it is probably more relaxing…according to the experts.

But as you all know—life happens. It’s easy to forget to stop and smell the roses amid everything life throws at you.

So, I step outdoors. Take a deep breath, which feels wonderful. I take a second step and then a third and before you know it I’m on the asphalt path around the pond. I take in the bountiful view of a Midwest autumn. It’s as if nature decides to give us an explosion of color every year before the greys and whites of winter set in.

I take a seat on a fallen log on the edge of the pond where Mr. Turtle used to live two years ago. He’s not there, and I’m surprised to feel a little sad. A soft breeze lifts my hair, and I hear the honk of a goose. Branches scratch together and drop red and gold leaves onto the path. I glance at the sky and see clouds scudding past against a pretty blue backdrop.

I think I’ll sit here until I get my full 20 percent improvement. Maybe more.

When is the last time you got a full twenty?

Annalisa

Annalisa Russo is a published author and master storyteller based in Chicago, IL. Currently writing with The Wild Rose Press, she has just released her fifth novel: Angel Boy. You can read more about it and the author at annalisarusso.comFollow Annalisa Russo on TwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.

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When was the last time, you did anything for the first time?

A TV commercial asks: When was the last time, you did anything for the first time? The ad struck a chord with me. What an intriguing question! So, I gave it some thought. And…well, let’s just say I fell short.
New adventures, new places, new people? Was I in an inexcusable rut? I had to admit while I vacation and go out frequently, I had fallen into going to the same places with the same people for the same reasons. Not to disparage my wonderful friends, but we should all have new experiences to keep the ole’ brain working and the interest level of life high.
I’m not talking about a bucket list here, though I’ve had one since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I’m talking about paying attention. What about a new food I’ve never tasted, a color I’ve never worn before, or a person I’ve seen on numerous occasions but haven’t spoken to other than a few words, like the checkout lady at the supermarket.
Why not? I ask myself. And what about the lovely walking path along the Desplaines River I pass almost every day of my life that beckons? Why haven’t I ever parked my car and followed it for a few miles? I will take the TV ad’s advice. Will you?
Start simple. Plant a new flower see what pops out!
Annalisa
Annalisa Russo is a published author and master storyteller based in Chicago, IL. Currently writing with The Wild Rose Press, she has just released her fifth novel: Angel Boy. You can read more about it and the author at annalisarusso.comFollow Annalisa Russo on TwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.

Are You Feeling Blah?

Winter in the Chicago area has admittedly been more tolerable this winter due to the moderate temperatures and lack of snow. (Hope I didn’t just jinx it for everyone) According to some weather related headlines, “Chicago’s Cloudy Streak is Longest in 25 Years.” Talk of SADs (Seasonal Affective Disorder), light therapy, and Vitamin D supplements are topics of conversation around the water cooler. Everyone is feeling…blah, for lack of a better word.

During the one of the unseasonable ‘over 60°days,’I took a stroll around my yard and found a lot of brown stuff. (See first picture) Myriad shades of brownmonochromatic lifelessness everywhere and here we are rounding the first days of spring.

But, in the Midwest, even when nature’s canvas is monotonous, there is always the possibility for a glorious unfolding of beautiful, magnificent new life. For under the tattered, brown leaves leftover from fall, pasted to the ground during multiple rains, a new picture will emerge eventually.

So, I check on the 60 tulip bulbs I bought in Holland, Michigan during the Tulip Festival. I planted them at the last minute in the first week of November. And there they were, already popping out! (See second picture)

Maybe beauty is taken from us, so when it reappears, we will recognize it for what it is and be encouraged and empowered by it. From a lifeless background to a glorious unfolding.

Keep your eyes wide open. You don’t want to miss it.

Annalisa

Annalisa Russo is a published author and master storyteller based in Chicago, IL. Currently writing with The Wild Rose Press, she has just released her fifth novel: Angel Boy. You can read more about it and the author at annalisarusso.comFollow Annalisa Russo on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

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Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Many people celebrate the day by showing appreciation for the ones they love. Some take loved ones for a romantic dinner at a restaurant while others may choose this day to propose or get married. Many people give greeting cards, chocolates, jewelry or flowers, particularly roses, to their partners or admirers on Valentine’s Day.

But you might be coming up on your umpteenth Valentine’s Day together, and it’s very possible to run out of good ideas. Whether you are spending the day with a special someone, a long-time companion, or a new friend, finding the perfect romantic gift that shows your emotion and appreciation for the person you love can turn into a nightmare, instead of enjoying a day that is set aside for love. Perhaps one of these ideas will inspire you.

magnetic-wristband

First, let’s examine a few unique gifts for men. Do you have a man in your life who loves to putter around the house? Try Amazon’s gift idea (shown left $12.95) the Magnelex Magnetic Wristband. This is a great inexpensive gift idea for the husband who is always doing little projects, fixing things, or working with tools! Super strong magnets embedded in the wristband hold screws, nails, etc. and the band has adjustable Velcroto fit anyone’s wrist.

Or check out Mancrate’s gifts for men for their Caveman Crate: “Neanderthal Nutrition” at  $59.95. Mancrate’s manifesto is: “We believe men deserve better gifts that stir a primal craze of chest bumps and cheers, not polite half-smiles.” Their crates are sealed up tight and ship with a crow bar.

Or, simple and personal: After your best guy goes to bed, tape notes to his car’s steering wheel with reasons that you love him, or decorate the bathroom mirror with lipstick kisses or Valentine window clings. Or, hide little heart candies in his shoes, coat, car, etc.

On the other hand, gentlemen, women love it when you remember details from when you were still getting to know each other. Think back to your first date and take her to the same place, eat the same food, and do the same things that first sparked your romance. Or, give your special lady a dozen roses. On each stem attach a note for a future date—to do something that she would enjoy. (For example, “Go to the theater”) If you are separated across the miles, send a care package filled with things that are red.

And, above all, keep it simple. Remember, too much pressure takes the fun out of it. A carefully chosen gesture or two will mean the most.

Enjoy!

Annalisa

Loosen Your Belt—Thanksgiving is Coming

I recently spent two and a half months in Arizona where the subtle change of season is lost on me. While I live in an area usually known for its plains and long stretches of grasslands, I was hungry for the vibrant reds, bright yellows and deep golds of our neighborhoods, a precursor to the holiday of Thanksgiving.

My own extended family has developed traditions over the years: the traditional menu of roast turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, and of course for dessert, pumpkin pie. As the years went on, older family members passed on the traditions to the younger sect, who added their own touches to the menu, to the day.

I did some research for this blog and found other traditions worthy of mention and maybe inclusion in our own celebration this year:

  • Take some time for yourself before time with family.Take a walk to experience the quiet and special feel of a crisp fall morning before winter sets in and the uncertain beginning of spring is a wish away.
  • Remember loved ones who have passed. Holidays can be bittersweet if beloved family members are missing from the gathering. Hold hands and take a moment to honor their memory.
  • Let everyone make a toast! Have each family member raise their glass to the year, to your family, to your friends.
  • Stay connected with family members far away. If you’re not close to your loved ones during Thanksgiving, do a video call before dinner for the giving–thanks portion of the day.
  • Record the year’s blessings on pieces of paper to share: landing a new job, finally saving enough for a new roof, earning an A in Spanish. No item, too small for the list. Afterwards, copy the blessings into a Thanksgiving Journal to be shared for years to come.

Whatever your traditions, let me wish you a wonderful, memory-filled Thanksgiving. May you enjoy stuffing the turkey, watching the Macy’s Day Parade, and cheering over football games.

And don’t fight too hard over the wishbone!

Annalisa

Annalisa Russo is a published author and master storyteller based in Chicago, IL. Currently writing with The Wild Rose Press, she has just released her fifth novel: Angel Lost, Angel Found. You can read more about it and the author at annalisarusso.comFollow Annalisa Russo on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

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These lovelies greeted me upon my arrival from Arizona.

Spring Is Sprung!

May 2016

Spring Is Sprung!

If you live in the Midwest, you’re just peeking out of winter hibernation. In Illinois, for example, we know that three days of full sun does not necessarily mean spring is sprung. Chicago has been known to spit out shut-down-the-airport blizzards in the middle of April. But, I brave the 58° temp and start gardening.

I cut the grass with my mower on a low setting. (Tip: You’re supposed to do this the first few times you mow to let the sun get to the new grass) Earlier, I braved late March weather to fertilize my lawn and apply broadleaf weed and dandelion control. The result being, I have to mow every four days now. You’d think I would learn my lesson.

Next, I remove as much of the old brush as possible and rake up stubborn leaves that haven’t had the courtesy to blow away over the winter. After the Forsythia blooms, (you know, that bright yellow bush), I cut back and fertilize my roses and pull out the hose caddies and deck furniture. Hmmm. My deck needs a new coat of preservative. Didn’t the bottle say one coat was good for ten years? Obviously commercial hyperbole.

I notice my grill needs a good cleaning and two Rose-of-Sharon bushes haven’t made it through the winter intact. They need deep cutting back—or maybe a funeral. And, the Hawthorn tree next to the deck is encroaching, its lower branches brushing my head as I stand on the edge of the deck steps.

I include a favorite picture of my beautiful Bradford Pear parkway tree in full spring bloom. This year, a victim of some crazy blight, it is dying a slow death. I contacted my doctor (tree Doc), and he tells me it’s a lost cause. After thirteen years at the end of my driveway, I feel like I’m losing an old friend. Still, I fertilize the tree—just in case.

And once again, I chastise myself that last fall I didn’t plant some spring bulbs—tulips, crocuses, and daffodils—the cheery greeters of the change of season.

Maybe this year. Remind me in October, please.

Annalisa

Blooming Tree

Bradford Pear tree blooming

Annalisa Russo is a published author and master storyteller based in Chicago, IL. Currently writing with The Wild Rose Press, she has just released her fourth book: Angel Lost, Angel Found. You can read more about it and the author at annalisarusso.comFollow Annalisa Russo on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Daliso and Geni

To prepare for this blog, February…Valentine’s Day…the ultimate month for romance…I reread one of my all-time favorite love stories by JD Robb. It’s the first book in her futuristic series, where NYC Detective Eve Dallas, hard-ass cop with enough problems of her own, meets her future husband, former thief and current murder suspect, Roarke—multi-billionaire with the face of an angel.

I guess all love stories have their merits, but for me, one in particular comes to mind every Valentine’s Day. The enduring love story of my grandparents: Daliso Lenci, of Segromigno Monte, Italy, decides to leave the home of his birth. The lack of work in his small village in the hills of Tuscany, the lure of adventure, and hope fora better life, encourages Daliso to leave Geni Bianchi of the same village behind and travel by boat to America. Painstakingly, he saves the requisite $50.00 to show to the shipping line to guarantee a place on the voyage (equivalent to about $1100.00 today) and asks Geni to marry him and wait until he sends money for her to follow. After he leaves, Geni is determined to wait even though she is considered the belle of her village and already has had several marriage proposals.

And wait she does, for seven long years, with only two letters from Daliso. Crazy you say?

After he arrived in America, my grandfather joined the United States Army to obtain citizenship, and in doing so delayed his intent to send for Geni. After the war, he settled just outside of Chicago among a few other Italian immigrants from his village. And as the story goes, one night after a very lucrative poker game, he won enough money to send for his intended. Romantic? Not very, but Geni made the voyage through Ellis Island, married Daliso, and stayed married some forty-six years. Daliso died first and ten months later, on Valentine’s Day, Geni followed.

So, on that day, even after all these years, I always remember them and their love story with vivid memories and warm affection.

I miss them.

Annalisa

Annalisa Russo is a published author and master storyteller based in Chicago, IL. Currently writing with The Wild Rose Press, she has just released her fourth book: Angel Lost, Angel Found. You can read more about it and the author at annalisarusso.comFollow Annalisa Russo on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

My Five Fave Love Stories

I like to share the best books I’ve read each month. I read fiction, nonfiction, romantic suspense, and much, much more- I hope to have book recommendations for everyone here! This month, I am sharing five of my favorite love stories, not in any particular order. Each of these I’ve read and reread many times over. I hope you enjoy them and tell me about the highlight of your reading month in the comments.

Annalisa Russo is a published author and master storyteller based in Chicago, IL. Currently writing with The Wild Rose Press, she has just released her fourth book: Angel Lost, Angel Found. You can read more about it and the author at annalisarusso.comFollow Annalisa Russo on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

A Hidden World Under Streets of Chicago

 

In my newest book, Angel Lost, Angel Found, my heroine, Charity O’Malley, the proprietress of a speakeasy, gets deliveries of illegal liquor through a series of underground tunnels. I didn’t use writers’ license to make my point. Chicago has sixty miles of forgotten tunnels under the city.

Have any of you been to The Billy Goat Tavern, made famous by John Belushi of SNL fame, or braved the daunting street traffic of Lower Wacker Drive? This is only one level of underground streets below the city of Chicago. The tunnels I relate to in my book were built forty feet below street level between 1899 and 1914 to carry freight, coal, merchandise, and mail.The tunnels connected stores, warehouses, and delivery points. Some were hidden and some just overlooked. They are 6 ft. wide by 7 ft. 6 in. high, lined with waterproof concrete, dry and airy. They are a constant 55°. It’s not a reach to speculate these tunnels would have been handy to bootleggers and speakeasies.

In current downtown Chicago, a series of underground tunnels called The Pedway are marked by a sign with a distinctive black and gold compass logo. Short for “pedestrian walkway,” this maze-like system of semi-public hallways connects the basements of over fifty Loop buildings. You can get a haircut, get a clock fixed, grab a coffee, shop for a blender, or order new license plates down there. The Pedway spans forty blocks under the central business district and was originally built for downtown travelers to pass between buildings without dealing with inclement weather.

Remember the tunnels of Chicago when Charity braves them to follow her dreams.

Annalisa

Annalisa Russo is a published author and master storyteller based in Chicago, IL. Currently writing with The Wild Rose Press, she has just released her fourth book: Angel Lost, Angel Found. You can read more about it and the author at annalisarusso.com.

Follow Annalisa Russo on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Keep It Simple!

January 10, 2016

I get the mail and receive a copy of the Winter/Spring Park District Catalogue of Events for my small community. I thumb through four pages of adult fitness classes: Power Fit 45, Saturday Cardio Challenge, Pilates, hardCORE yoga, Gentle Yoga, Yoga Intensity, Vinyassa Yoga, Barre’ Yoga Fusion, Zumba, Cardio Kickboxing, Pump It!, Sculpt It!, Hit It P.O.W.E.R, etc. I’m exhausted from just reading the options, so I make myself a pot of tea, grab a legal pad, sit in my favorite spot and write at the top: KEEP IT SIMPLE!

—think small.

So…I write my 2016 goals:

  • I will eat more fruit and fish. I will read labels.
  • I will move more and sit less.
  • When I buy a can of vegetables, I will buy one for the local food pantry.
  • I will clean one room of my house per day.
  • I will be a better friend.

(Don’t limit yourself to the serious stuff)

  • I will take a short trip: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sounds right for 2016.
  • I will finally take a fun class, maybe flower arranging or butterfly gardening.
  • And I will write 1500 words a day on Angel Boy:Seth’s Story, but not beat myself up if I go for ice cream instead.

I take a break and drink my tea. I find I’m looking forward to 2016 instead of feeling guilty for not completing my goals of 2015. So, I challenge you—pick a few small goals, achieve success, keep it simple!

Happy New Year!

Annalisa

Annalisa Russo is published author and master storyteller based in Chicago, IL. In addition to writing with The Wild Rose Press, she has just released her fourth book: Angel Lost, Angel Found. You can read more about it at www.annalisarusso.com.