Neuroplasticity-part 5 Neuroplasticity & Education Conference

The Eaton Cognitive Improvement Center sponsored a conference on October 25th, 2013 titled, Neuroplasticity and Education: Strengthening the Connection. The program consisted of 7 experts from the field; Dr. Justin Davis, Dr. Max Cynader, Dr. John Ratey, Dr. Brad Hale, Barbara Arrowsmith Young, and Dr. Gabor Mate. Each of this speakers is consider a leader in his/her filed.

If you follow this link you can listen and learn from each of these seven speakers. 


Only six took part in the panel discussion. One subject matter expert could not stay for the panel discussion part of the conference.


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Neuroplasticity-part 4 Scientific Learning also Specific LDs

The Arrowsmith School approach to helping people who have learning disorders is one which requires participants to go in residence. You need to live in one of the few major cities to enroll. Depending on the severity of the learning disability it can take anywhere from a year to three or four years to complete the work. Each weak area of the brain is diagnosed and then individual  activities are prescribed and initiated. The Arrowsmith School has a very long list of success stories.

Scientific Learning, based in downtown Oakland, California was started by Michael Merzenich Ph. D. whose video you might have watched in Blog 3. Scientific Learning’s flag ship product is called Fast ForWord. It is a computer based program that helps children with reading problems develop the necessary neural connections to read effortlessly. The following video has six parts to it. Watch at least the first two.

What is Fast ForWord?

This next six minute video is a real life success story about Kenny Hilliard and how the Fast ForWord program changed his life. For this one you will need to click on the URL below.


Another success story for Fast ForWord.


I went looking for a list of specific learning disabilities and here is what I found:

1) Reading or Dyslexia, 2) Writing or Dysgraphia, 3) Spelling, 4) Math or Dyscalculia,          5) Auditory Processing, 6) Visual Processing, 7) Sensory/motor – Dyspraxia and 7) Social

Here is the video from which I found the specific LDs.

For a more in depth explanation of each type you can go here:

Howard Eaton Ed.M has written a book titled Brain School. It contains stories of children with learning disabilities and attention disorders who changed their lives by improving their cognitive functioning.  Here is one paragraph from the site:  “Above all, Brain School is for those people concerned about children with learning issues, social problems, and underperformance at school. You will read about children and watch their progression from despair to hope to achievement in cognitive functioning. You will see educational psychometrics that will encourage you and provide you with increased awareness. The children in this book have attended Eaton Arrowsmith School and succeeded under its professional teaching staff. Their stories were assembled from assessments, school records, teachers’ comments, and parent interviews. Neuroscience research is discussed, showing how it is connected to the Arrowsmith Program and why the program is so effective.”

I’ve not read the book yet but I have put it on my reading list. There’s nothing that warms the heart more than having children with problems, succeed.

I just viewed this short video and thought it would be a nice way to end this blog post.

………..………….. Dr. Martha Burns ………………..

The Eaton Cognitive Improvement Center list 19 Brain Exercises which cover the most frequent Learning Disabilities out there. Here is the link where you can go read about each one and a description of the effect of the weakness:



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Neuroplasticity–part 3 Into the Details!

As I sat at the Golden Arches reading The Brain That Changes Itself the more excited I became. The one hour each morning I allowed myself drinking coffee and reading started to fly by. Oh, by the way I would recommend you acquiring your own copy of the book if the topic interests you. Here is the link to where you can purchase it.

As I was doing more research on learning disabilities I came across the next video. This one showed me how Nick must have felt at times while trying to learn in his third grade class and as well as with me before I learned about his LD. Take a few minutes to watch it and feel how frustrating it is for these non-LD adults to feel like they have a learning disability.

The book The Woman Who Changed her Brain is Barbara’s own story about struggling with her LDs and how through her learning and developing her own exercises she was able to overcome them. Her book is also full of real life stories about how her teaching techniques are able to help children and adults overcome their learning disabilities.

Here is what Dr. Norman Doidge wrote about Michael Merzenich Ph.D.on page 58 of his book The Brain That Changes Itself: “ What Merzenich most wanted, of course, was to investigate plasticity directly. Finally, he decided to do a simple, radical experiment in which he would cut off sensory input to a brain map and see how it responded. He went to his friend and fellow Neuroscientist Jon Kaas, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, who worked with adult monkeys. A monkey’s hand, like a humans’ has three main nerves: the redial, the median, and the ulnar. The median nerve conveys sensation mostly from the middle of the hand, the other two from either side of the hand. Merzenich cut the median nerve in one of the monkeys to see how the median nerve brain map would respond when all input was cut off. He went back to San Francisco and waited.

Two months later he returned to Nashville. When he mapped the monkey, he saw, as he expected, that the portion of the brain map that serves the median nerve showed no activity when he touched the middle part of the hand. But he was shocked by something else.

When he stroked the outsides of the monkey’s hand—the area that sends their signals through the radial and ulnar nerves—the median nerve map lit up! The brain maps for the radial and ulnar nerves had almost doubled in size and invaded what used to be the median nerve map. And these new maps were topographical. This time he and Kaas, writing up the findings called the changes ‘spectacular’ and used the word ‘plasticity’ to explain the change, though they put it in quotes.

The experiment demonstrated that if the median nerve was cut, other nerves, still brimming with electrical input, would take over the unused map space to process their input. When it came to allocating brain-processing power, brain maps were governed by competition for precious resources and the principle of use it or lose.

The competitive nature of plasticity affects us all. There is an endless war of nerves going on inside each of our brains. If we stop exercising our mental skills, we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead. If you ever ask yourself, “How often must I practice French, or guitar, or math to keep on top of it?” you are asking a question about competitive plasticity. You are asking how frequently you must practice one activity to make sure its brain map space is not lost to another.”

The following is a video of Michael Merzenich.

Hour and a half video by Michael Merzenich Ph. D.

Bad Habits from The Brain That Changes Itself, page 60

“Competitive plasticity also explains why our bad habits are so difficult to break or ‘unlearn.’ Most of us think of the brain as a container and learning as putting something in it. When we try to break a bad habit we think the solution is to put something new into the container. But when we learn a bad habit, it takes over a brain map, and each time we repeat it, it claims more control of that map, and prevents the use of that space for “good” habits. That is why ‘unlearning’ is often a lot harder than learning, and why early childhood education is so important—it’s best to get it right early, before the ‘bad habit’ gets a competitive advantage.”


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Neuroplasticity–part 2 What is it?

Here is one supplied by Merriam – Webster

Capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction. Rapid change or reorganization of the brain’s cellular or neural networks can take place in many different forms and under many different circumstances.

Neuroplasticity occurs when neurons in the brain sprout and form synapses. As the brain processes sensory information, frequently used synapses are strengthened while unused synapses weaken. Eventually, unused synapses are eliminated completely in a process known as synaptic pruning, which leaves behind efficient networks of neural connections. Neuroplasticity occurs during development in childhood, following physical injury such as loss of a limb or sense organ, and during reinforcement of sensory information such as in learning. Neuroplasticity forms the basis of research into brain-computer interface technology, in which computers are designed to interact with the brain to restore sensation in people with an impaired sense such as the loss of vision. Research on neuroplasticity is also aimed at improving scientists’ understanding of how to reactivate or deactivate damaged areas of the brain in people affected by stroke, emotional disorders, chronic pain, psychopathy, or social phobia; such research may lead to improved treatments for these conditions.

A short but pretty accurate definition goes like this: Plasticity is the quality of being ‘plastic’ or formative. Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change and adapt as a result of one’s experiences. To view the slideshare presentation, go here.

I located online many sites giving practically the same description of the term but felt that Webster might have the most unbiased one.

Here are links to several more of the sites I found while looking for the definition.


While reading The Brain That Changes Itself this fall at the Golden Arches I started looking up information mentioned in it. Here are some videos giving more detail:

The woman who is perpetually falling. Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita

Seeing with your tongue.

One of the stories in Dr. Doidge’s book which fascinated me was about Pedro Bach-y-Rita the father of Dr’s. George and Paul Bach-y-Rita. In 1956 or 57 Pedro, age 69, had a massive stoke and was paralyzed on one side. If you go to this pdf paper you can read about his story.

Another story in Dr. Doidge’s book I found eye opening was about Barbara Arrowsmith Young. The following 14 minutes video is her wonderful story. After watching the video I purchased her book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.

Her story.

In just the last few years Barbara has published her book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. Here’s a short video on the book.

Here is a 10 minute interview about the Arrowsmith School.

Overview of what is happening at the Eaton Arrowsmith School. WOW

Following is a 2 minute video showing the children at the Eaton Arrowsmith school.


As I was reading Barbara’s book I found myself reading about me.

I started attempting to work with Nick using a clock app I downloaded onto my IPad. He enjoyed playing the game/tool but when I would ask him to tell me a time other than on the hour, he could not. Eventually, over a couple of weeks ,he started to improve and get it correct about half the time. Looked like improvement to me. Just this past week Nick and his family moved to a town about 25 miles east of McCook so our time together is over. I have his mother’s cell phone number so I will probably check with her every month to learn about his progress.

This is probable more than enough new information for anyone so I’m calling this posting finished. I will now begin working on my next one. Thanks for hanging in there with me.



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My Journey into Neuroplasticity–part 1

During July of 2010 I was talking with Tina, she and her husband Rich have rented Anna’s Place for over 15 year, and I asked her for the title of good book I should read. She suggested Brain Rules by John Medina . I need to tell you that Tina is a practicing psychologist in the Denver area. She suggested that title because it was not too technical and she thought I might find it interesting and informative. That same day I ordered the book through and received it about a week later.

I read the book that summer and I did find it interesting. As I read it I marked the more import parts to me with small scraps of paper. When I left Grand Lake on October 1st to move back to McCook for the winter I left the book behind.

Now it’s July 2011, and like the summer before, Tina and Rich were staying in Anna’s Place. Again I ask her for the title of a book I should read. This time it was The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge M. D.. I found the material fascinating and finished it before leaving for the winter, but unlike the previous year, I took this book home with me.

In April 2013 I purchased the book Super Brain by Chopra and Tanzi and started reading. I found it a wonderful informative book and recommended the title to those who would listen to me. Eventually I suggested to my close friend Linda that we should find a hand full of interested readers and when I returned from Grand Lake in October start a book discussion group. A couple of weeks prior to Thanksgiving the eight of us started meeting each Thursday noon for lunch and to discuss what we had read. 

Now I need to step back to last summer in Grand Lake. When I arrived at the cottage I had all three books there with me. Several times each week Mia, my springer spaniel, and I would drive to the village and I would take one of the three books with me. We would locate an outdoor table and chair at one of the local coffee shops and spend and hour or more reading while Mia tried to panhandle food from other folks enjoying the crisp clear mountain morning air. Eventually, by the end of my four months there, I reread each book at least once more.

This time I had a mission. I wanted a better understand of brain plasticity or neuroplasticity and how it related to the older generation, particularly the baby boomers, the group to which I now finally identify. I found myself switching back and fourth between the three books looking for similar ideas. And I found them. They really are all talking about how the brain works and what research has been done in the field.  Super Brain and Brain Rules are more into the personal application of the material.

They are all very informative, well written books but my favorite became The Brain That Changes Itself.  It’s the largest of the three but probably not for everyone reading list.

One of the things which marveled me was that I had marked up all three books as I read them the first time, and when I read them a second and third time I was underlining even more words and sentences. Obviously I was learning more from them with each  subsequent reading. Before, what I found interesting I now thought profound.

Last summer I really enjoyed sipping coffee and reading so when I returned to McCook I need to find a location where I could do the same. Being a member of the boomer generation I need lots of good light by which to read. I decided the best light at any of the restaurant in town was the newly remodeled Golden Arches or MacDonald’s. I also need to mention I’m an early riser so I’m usually at the YMCA each week day morning by 04 dark 30 and at the Golden Arches by 0600 hours.

I take with me my books, IPad, ear buds and coffee creamer. I order a large senior coffee for 96 cents and settle in to checking my email and searching through one of the three books while listening to Allison Adams Tucker or Kevin Kern through Pandora Radio.  Now when I find I want to learn more about something in which ever book I’m reading, I look it up on the Internet at that time. The hour or so I spend there seems to fly by and eventfully I need to head home with Mia so I can feed and walk her.

I want to mention that across the street from me lives a single mother with her four children. Nick, her oldest, is eight and in third grade. Nick and I have become friends and we have walked Mia around the block many times over the years. Eventually he learned how to ride a bike so his trips around the block became much shorter than mine. During the winter we even helped each other shovel our walks.

When I returned to McCook this past October I decided that his mother could use a little help so I offered to keep Nick two afternoons after school so she only had three children to contend with for a few hours. I also offered to help Nick with his home work during our time together. On Nick’s first afternoon with me he brought his home work along with math flash cards.

Our routine settled in and each day we would do a little homework, reading and bake cookies or use an easy to make cake mix. We would practice reading the directions. He would measure out the ingredients, set the over temperature and timer. Mia got to lick the mixing bowl clean.   I quickly learned that Nick was in the special education classes at school, he read at an early 1st grade level and his math was not much better. He also did not understand what he was reading if he did get most of the words correct in a sentence. I noticed that he tended to talk in short sentences and to leave out words. He would say “I go home.” In place of “I want to go home.” He also struggled with remembering how to pronounce many words. He would struggle through trying to pronounce it out then just guess at a word it might be. Never the correct one.

One morning, while reading The Brain That Changes Itself,  Doidge wrote that children with learning disabilities can leave out the central words of a sentence. Immediately I thought of Nick and his learning problems. Up until that time I did not realize that his  problems might be due to LDs. There were areas in his cerebral cortex under developed, possibly since birth. It was at that point that I seriously started to learn about brain plasticity and learning disabilities in children.  I began spending more time each day searching through The Brain That Changes Itself for anything that might help me work with Nick.



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My Anger Tree part 5

How do I know when I’m Getting Angry?

Anger catches many of us by surprise.  Our bodies give us many hints that we are beginning to become or are angry. By keeping in touch with our feelings and listening to our words, we can stay on top of the situation and prevent ourselves from going “out of control” and into survival.

Each of us has certain physiological and emotional characteristics associated with our anger.  It is important to recognize them when they happen so we can stay in control and use our anger’s energy constructively.  Below is a list of some of the possible feelings you might experience when getting angry.  Which ones apply to  you?

____ Muscle tension (jaws, shoulders, neck, etc.)
____ Grinding of teeth (during day or night)
____ Chills and shudders
____ Scowling
____ Nausea
____ Crying
____ Trembling
____ Sweaty palms
____ Glaring
____ Clenched fists
____ Paling or flushing
____ Changes in arm and body positions (squirming)
____ Prickly sensations
____ Numbness (emotional and physical)
____ Choking
____ Twitching
____ Sweating
____ Loss of self-control (yelling, cursing, hitting)
____ Fear of doing something regrettable
____ Changes in thought process (panic, can’t think, tunnel thinking)
____ Rapid heart rate
Twelve Reminders about Our Anger:

1.    The events of our world don’t make us angry.  It’s the meaning we attach to the event that determines our emotional response (our personal reality).  Ultimately we can choose what meaning we want to attach to an event.

2.    It is not possible to feel anger and joy at the same time so try substituting a happy or pleasant memory when angry thoughts are trying to take hold.

3.    Angry thoughts frequently contain distortions.  Correcting these distortions will help reduce our anger.  The longer we hold onto the distortions the bigger they seem to grow.

4.    Ultimately one’s anger is caused by his or her belief that someone is acting unfairly or some event is unjust.

5.    Try seeing the world from the other’s perspective.  You will be surprised to find their actions are not unfair from their point of view.  The unfairness turns out to be an illusion that exists only in your thoughts.  Try letting go of the unrealistic belief that everyone shares your concepts of truth, justice, and fairness.  They are products of your beliefs and past experiences, not everyone else’s.

6.    Others usually do not feel they deserve our punishment.  Retaliation is unlikely to help you achieve any positive goals in your interactions with others.  Our anger will often just cause further deterioration and polarization in the interaction.  Even if we temporarily get what we want, any short-term gains from hostile manipulation will often be offset by a long-term resentment and retaliation from the people with whom we are angry.

7.    Anger as a result of our frustration is usually caused from unmet and unrealistic expectations on our part.  If we are harboring unrealistic expectations (about our abilities or others) the easiest solutions it to change our expectations.

8.    Much of our anger is a result ofa  personal defense system to save self-esteem.  When events don’t go the way we think they should or we think someone is criticizing us, often we apply anger to save that self-esteem.

9.    Frequently we “justify” our angry thoughts and behavior on events and others. Once we justify our behavior we place the blame for it on others.  When we do this we are only kidding ourselves.

10.  Anger can be used as a tool to control others. Some children while growing up are successful in using angry behavior to control others, even their parents.  Many continue using it into adulthood. Ask yourself if you know anyone like that in your circle of acquaintances. Don’t forget to look in the mirror.

11.  With some people the use of anger has become a tool to gain control of others and to shape their behavior to conform to one’s wishes. If this type of person is successful using their anger to control others they will keeping using it. Frequently right into adulthood.

12.    Remember that anger in itself is not bad, it’s what we do with it that can be.  It is up to us to choose if we want to go up the left-hand (non-control) side or right-hand (growth) side of the Anger Tree.  Ultimately we are responsible for our actions and not the ones we place the blame for it on.


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My Anger Tree part 4

If you click on My Anger Tree you can see a larger version.


Anger in itself is not bad, but the expression of it can be very destructive to relationships, others and oneself.  When a triggering event seems to attack us we have a choice. We can do the habitual behavior and rocket up the left-hand side of the anger tree, taking the situation personally, placing blame and justifying our anti-social behavior. Or, we can accept responsibility, go up the right-hand side, growth/control, cool off, and then ask that most important question, “Why do I feel angry?”

People are literally rooted in their old, learned behaviors, and must develop new ways of doing things, then practice them until they are the new habits.

Practice the Self-Talk Anger Tree:

As I learned, when I tried to develop the habit of washing my ears before I washed my face while showering, I needed to practice the anger tree. I realize I’d been using the same old anger habits for most of my life so if I didn’t establish my anger tree as the preferred method of handling my negative, angry emotions, it would never replace the old, destructive methods.

When I first developed the Anger Tree I thought back to the times I became angry, and noticed they tended to be with the same people or in similar situations.  Learning this, I went through the Anger Tree Process with each one to understand my reasons for going up the “left-hand side” of the tree.  By doing this with the times I was angered I was able to work through the “right-hand side” of the My Anger Tree and handle the recurrences differently. I had to practice the new behaviors until I was comfortable with them so when I felt my hot buttons being pushed I didn’t just react but responded in a more appropriate manner.

As an additional tool I started recording any angry feelings in my Day-Timer when they occurred.  I noted them on the Advance Planner portion in red and explained them on the 2-Page-Per-Day Indexed Calendar Pages.  Each week I reviewed the items in red to see if there was a pattern to the incidents.  If a pattern appeared I would begin using the most frequent occurring incidents to practice My Anger Tree.

Several years after developing my Anger Tree I read Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (see page 14) and found that his illustration of the “Circle of Concern versus the Circle of Influence” needed to be added to my anger material.  The following story is why I included it as one of my anger tools.

In 1990, I was elected to the city council of the small community in Nebraska where I live.  There are a total of five seats on the council and, when I was elected, three others were elected at the same time.  That first night in December, when we were all sworn in, I discovered that you needed three votes to get anything passed.  The first action taken was to elect a new mayor and I soon found myself on the two side of the vote.  As it tuned out that was to be the program for most of the next two years, out-voted on many of the controversial issues.  When it came time for me to run for reelection two years later I declined. The three elected at the same time I had been were on four-year terms so if I had been reelected I would have still been in the voting minority.


One of my adult learners, I’ll call her Vicki, related the following story to me about how she used the Anger Tree to improve the relationship with her mother.

I’ve been facilitating a book discussion group for many years and, at their insistence, one Friday in the early 1990s I spent the hour going through my anger material.  About six weeks after giving the anger presentation Vicki mentioned to the group that she had used the Anger Tree to help her change how she reacted to her mother’s visits.

Each year Vicki’s mother would drive to our small community and spend a week with her. Yet, over the years, Vicki had grown to dread her mother’s annual visits.  It seemed that her mother knew how to push almost every hot button she had.  This year, for a week prior to her mother’s arrival, Vicki would get up an extra fifteen minutes early each morning, sit on the end of her bed and rehearsed the new way she was going to respond to her mother’s button pushing.

You see, Vicki had thought through the right side of the Anger Tree and analyzed her reactions to her mother during their visits.  She knew her mother was always going to be her mother and wanted to enjoy their time together.  With a little soul searching and lots of mental practice, Vicki spent that fifteen minutes each day rehearsing her new behavior.

When her mother arrived, Vicki was ready. The two got along like never before.  They ended up both having a wonderful visit and when her mother arrived back at her home she called Vicki and expressed as much, suggesting they not wait a full year before getting together again.  Vicki thanked me for the new material and told the book group that the Anger Tree had worked for her and it would probably work for them too.


When I begin to experience my personal anger symptoms like tunnel thinking, flushed face or a tightening of my shoulders, I realize I’m starting to shoot up the left-hand side of My Anger Tree.  My mental response is to tell myself, “I’m responsible, just think, Steve” and go cool off before I say or do something I will regret.

If I’m in a meeting with others, I usually get quiet and visualize the Anger Tree.  I see myself hanging out on the lower right limb of the Tree, relax my shoulders and take a couple of deep breaths. I then ask why I am feeling angry and usually the answer comes to me in short order.  If I’m already headed up the “outward” branch on the left side of the Tree, I apologize for my harsh words as I transition to the right side of the Tree.

I’ve found that once I’m on the right side of the Anger Tree the more calm and logical side of me takes over, and working through the six steps is not difficult.   It has helped over the years to have lots of opportunity to practice that side.  One of the significant side benefits of spending time on the right side of the Tree has been that I have been able to identify those things that are important to me in life and put them in order of priority.  It certainly has made answering some of the questions on the right side easier.


I’ve shared with you how I was able to discover a better, more constructive way to use my anger.  It was not easy to change my old habits and I’ve had several relapses in the past 25 years, but from, where I sit today, I have become a better father, friend, son and community leader because of it.

I’m sure part of what helped me change was the learning process I went through while conducting my research on anger.  I read several books on it and found that Make Anger Your Ally by Warren to be the one I could identify with the most.  This is not to say that other books were not accurate, just that this one is more appropriate to my way of thinking.  If you decide you need to change how you use your anger, then I suggest you search out your own sources and come to your own conclusions.

I have presented the material many times over the years and that in itself has been a good reminder and re-enforcer for me. I’ve received much positive feedback about the material and how helpful it has been to certain individuals.  Probably the single item in the material for which I receive most of the positive comments is the Anger Tree.   Because most people tend to be very visual, they find it easy to remember the steps in going up the right-hand side of the tree.  I’ve had several people tell me that they reduced the Anger Tree on a copy machine and taped the smaller version of it over the telephone so they could remember to use it when an angry customer called in.

It is now your choice.  It is entirely up to you what you do with the information offered in this paper.  If you feel you already have your anger under control and use its energy constructively, I congratulate you.  But if you are like so many people and occasionally find yourself traveling up the left-hand side of the Anger Tree then I suggest you spend some time analyzing your situation and developing new behaviors modeled after the right-side of the Anger Tree.  Remember, you and those you come in contact with will have to live with the consequences of your decisions.

Additional Material:


The circle of concern contains things that concern us but over which we may not have much or any control.  In contrast, our circle of influence contains things we are concerned about and have influence or control over.  By determining which of these two circles is the focus of most of our time and energy, we can discover much about the degree of our effectiveness. It might also tell us about the level of frustration of that person.

Proactive people focus their efforts in the inner circle because they can do something about the activities that happen there. Reactive people focus their efforts outside their circle of influence and frequently become frustrated with themselves and others.

An example of someone living in the outer circle might be a person in central Nebraska whose passion in life is saving the whales.  I believe it is safe to say he or she will spend many frustrating hours trying to convince fellow Nebraskans to get excited about saving the whales when mostly they want to talk about is how Huskers are doing.


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