Snorkeling Sensory Peace

Senses were our gateway to fully enjoying each present moment during our pre-Christmas family vacation to Puerto Morales, Riviera Maya, Mexico. The 100 degree difference in temperature was our first clue that something was different. We left -20, and arrived to 80+ with high humidity. Once at our resort the children discovered coconut ice cream, fresh lemonade, and could still get the hamburgers they loved. Brightly colored flowers, deep blue sea and lazily waving trees and thatched roofs helped us enter a wonderful peace.

My personal sensory smorgasbord awaited in our snorkeling excursion. It brought a brand new kind of peace, helping me overcome the panic I experienced the last  time I donned the mask several years ago. Amancio, our tour guide, noticed my less-than-elegant attempts to manage my life vest, flippers, mask and mouthpiece and took me on as a special project. He recommended that I use the vest as a raft instead of being strangled by it. He put a film of toothpaste—yes toothpaste!—on the inside surface of my swim mask to prevent the fogging that messed me up the last time. He suggested that I just hold on—eventually I relaxed my death grip–and he towed me around the beautiful inlet. I would have missed the colorful fish along the way without his pointing them out. Entire schools of fish swam just beneath us. I reached out to touch them, but they slipped out of reach.

When I relaxed enough to rest in the water, face down and ears in the water, a new sort of tranquility wrapped around my body and spirit. Interesting that most of my body was still above water, but my senses took in only the underwater world. I was able to inhale peace and exhale joy. The experience reminded me of the central role of senses in our existence. Stress melted away when I heard and felt only the unhurried world under the water’s surface. I did “run the tape” to save the experience to recall during future meditations at home.

We also snorkeled in an ancient cave, with only natural light through the cave’s ceiling. Again, unusual sights, sounds and sensations filled my brain and spirit with unusual gifts that I was able to bring home with me. Amancio helped me overcome my apprehesion to again put my face with mask and mouthpiece into the water. My fear melted away as I entered the soothing world below me. He photographed the moment, and our driver photobombed the event. What a blessing this trip was for me.  I thank God for this gift!

Max Your Mind with Chippewa Valley Local Authors on WEAU TV



EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)– “Max Your Mind It’s a Faith Based book written to give hope. To help maturing individuals recognize and appreciate the gifts of growing older. It’s not all downhill from here,” says author Sandra Stanton.

Searching since age 13 for an explanation of how the brain works, Stanton began her research during her Master’s Counseling program at UW Stout in 1977.

“I explain it as ‘a good friend on my bookshelf’ type of a book. It’s meant to be a conversation piece that incorporates a humorous side of science,” says Stanton.

The book is made up of 4 parts; brain, body, spirit and relationships. It’s available on, and in Eau Claire from the Local Store, BAM, and through for a signed copy.



Max Your Mind on WEAU-TV

mym_cover_240Max Your Mind was featured on WEAU-TV’s Today Show. Special thanks to Noelle for promoting the literary art of Chippewa Valley Local Authors!


Pretend Play Builds Brains and Relationships

Remember creating a “fort” out of blankets in the house or over the clothes line? Maybe it was a can to can string phone?  Pretend Play does great things for your child’s brain! Playing “dress up” or “tea party” or “Pirates” is very important “work” for their developing brains.

What is Pretend Play?

Children learn through imaging and doing. While they play, they test what they have learned from talking with parents and watching the world around them and make it their own– how things work, and what doesn’t.

Playing face to face, with your child– encouraging them to lead and explore, with you as a playmate following and their lead– gives you a window into the way their brain is learning about the world.

Often it involves new uses for common items.  Remember how they can get hours of fun out of empty boxes? Sometimes they prefer the box the toy comes in to the toy itself. Their brains love being creative with bowls, spoons, blankets, wood blocks, puppets, dolls, play figures and dress-up clothes.

How can play boost the brain?

They actually learn to solve problems, coordinate, cooperate, and think flexibly while “building” a post office in the family room, creating a restaurant, clomping around in grown-up shoes, becoming a pirate or teacher of stuffed animals, or building a stick and rock structure outdoors. What fun to exercise their growing imagination as the sandbox becomes a dinosaur bone excavation site!



Play with your child!

How do I play with my young child to build her brain?

Parent sets up the play environment but lets the child determine the course of play. The parent doesn’t model or drive the interaction, but follows and responds to the child’s choices

Pediatrician, Dr. Dipesh Navsaria says, “Children need to interact with people, not products.” Parent-child interaction is our most effective brain building activity. He suggests scaffolding play. When we resist the urge to tell them what to do, how to play; their brains kick into action. Encourage exploration and laugh together when things don’t turn out as planned. Ask, “What could we try to make that work?” rather than suggesting a solution. When they come up with it themselves-especially after many attempts– they will be justifiably satisfied.

Scaffolding builds on what the child has already figured out—using open-ended questions to move them to the next level. Help him go from “what he knows” to “what else could he know?” Let her lead the play – who says what, and the unfolding story.

Add Music

Music and movement ramp up brain building benefits. Make up songs together about what’s going on. Find ways to sing and dance while picking up toys, bath time, sorting laundry, cooking and anything else making it fun. Call and answer sounds and gestures, move to music by skipping, hopping, galloping, or twirling. There are no limits! Pretending with music, movement and laughter will grow brain connections while you make marvelous memories! Pretend play needs flexible time. Maybe leave the make-shift post office set up for a few days so the play option remains. Concepts they learn for themselves will last, and your relationship will grow. Great investment!


Dr. Navsaria –

Bright Horizons –

Pretend Play-






Remember these 5 steps to help build your child’s brain.


  1. Look Look into their eyes and follow what they are looking at even before they can talk.


  1. Follow   Let them lead play while you follow, responding to their words, sounds, actions and ideas


  1. Chat  Talk (or sing) out loud to them about what you are doing together.


  1. Take Turns Encourage them to watch and copy you talking, playing or exploring, and you do the same.


  1. Stretch Ask “open” questions Build on what your child says by asking “open questions” like “What do you think about that?” “How do you feel about…?”


Adapted from downloadable tips from Vroom: Brain Building Basics




Humor to Boost Business Climate

Successful businesses work hard to create a comfort zone for both customers and employees. How can we reduce the fear factor, increase productivity, encourage collaboration, enhance creativity and problem solving, and build relationships? Researchers tell us humor can do all of this and more.

How is this possible? Understanding where they’re coming from:

The brain’s “internal security system” called the “Amygdala” is tagged with keeping us safe and alive. When we encounter a threat, this system flies into action shutting down everything we don’t need for immediate survival—thinking, digesting, empathy, compassion, resting, immune system, social skills, coping, and many others.

Have you ever noticed difficulty with problem solving, decision making, collaboration, productivity, and general well-being while stressed? Laughter releases chemicals that shift our brain’s energy forward to the thinking brain or Prefrontal Cortex. Voila! Mental clarity!

A Brain Workout – Every time you hear a joke:

Just as the body’s muscles can fade when they aren’t exercised regularly, the brain needs challenges to stay sharp. Hearing a joke sets off a split second complex process that extends to other people.

  1. The sound enters your ear.
  2. The Vestibular system sends it to the language center in your left hemisphere
  3. That auditory center makes sense of the words.
  4. The message zips across the Corpus Collosum to the right hemisphere where the right frontal cortex stores social memories.
  5. The hippocampus processes emotion.
  6. Dopamine surges the brain’s reward center (Nucleus Accumbens) and you feel good.
  7. Brain stem takes over the muscles that make you laugh
  8. Your brain spreads the good feelings to others whose brains are “tuned in” to yours.

This explains the “you had to be there” effect when we try to recreate the connection for someone else who didn’t share the original funny experience.

Social Connections

In our own brains, the cells that fire together “wire together” forming connections between them. The same thing happens between people when they share an experience – telling a joke, completing each other’s sentences; their brains fire together, laying the groundwork for relationships. Connections form between two people just as neural pathways between parts of a single brain.  Relationships between friends are strengthened when we laugh together.

Laughter is contagious. At the sound of someone laughing, our own brain responds. Our own internal “Happy Juice Factory” releases – Dopamine, Serotonin, and Endorphins to give us a natural rush—free, legal and no “residual” problems. Rely on laughter early and often!

Creativity – Problem Solving

Several researchers document the benefits of humor on creative thinking. Robyn McMaster’s study noted that finding new connections is at the core of both humor and creativity—so they complement each other.  “In fact, humor is highly correlated with both creativity and intelligence … A dose of humor releases the chemical serotonin in your brain, which improves focus, increases objectivity and improves overall brainpower.”   (A Dash of Humor Ups Performance and Creativity at Work by Robyn McMaster, PhD. Brain Based Biz, Sept 2008)


Problem solving improves in a similar way. Exercising the brain through humor keeps it agile and ready to view novel solutions.  (Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving” by Alice M Isen, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1987, 52, 112-131)

Humor Heals

Finally, the health benefits of humor have been documented for centuries.  Norman Cousins wrote about healing himself of degenerative arthritis during the 1960’s through reading humor books and watching comedy shows– Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin and massive doses of Vitamin C. (Anatomy of an Illness 1990)

In business and in daily life, humor creates healthy resiliency and success. When we can see the humor in challenging situations and poke fun at ourselves, even setbacks have their benefits. “She who laughs, ‘lasts’.”

Print Resources:

  • Humor, stress and coping strategies by Millicent H. Abel (study 2002)
  • A Day in the Life Your Brain by Judith Horstman (2009)
  • Wake Up Laughing by Rachel St. John-Gilbert (2011)
  • “A Dash of Humor Ups Performance and Creativity at Work” by Robyn McMaster, PhD. Brain Based Biz, Sept 2008
  • “Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving” by Alice M Isen, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1987, 52, 112-131

Online Resources:

  • April 21, 2016
  • Humor boosts overall brainpower. “A dose of humor releases the chemical serotonin in your brain, which improves focus, increases objectivity and improves overall brainpower.” by Andrew Tarvin
  • “Give your body a Boost with Laughter” by R Morgan Griffin, WebMD 2012



Coloring Books, Grown-Up Style: the Trend and Brain Benefits

Special thanks to Sarah Stokes, the author of this article, originally published in the April 2016 Queen of the Castle Magazine.

If you’ve walked into a bookstore in the past year, you’ve
probably run right into the displays of adult coloring books. They
are everywhere! The swirls, mandalas, paisleys and flowers are
just waiting for you, the black and white designs next to the
boxes of tempting vibrant-colored pencil options.
Growing up, we knew coloring was a great activity as we learned
to choose colors and create a finished product that was sure to
have mom grab a magnet for the fridge. We learned to move from
scribbling to coloring inside the lines. We could gaze lovingly at
our favorite cartoon characters, brought to life by our crayons
and sign our names to the pages. Now, as grown women, we
are using colored pencils and markers to design beautiful pages.
Coloring books are cool again.

Here’s what some of our readers said about adult coloring books:
“So relaxing, and I wish we would have had these available as
kids!” – Nikki Chetwood
“It helps to color when you’re bored, stressed, have a headache,
decompress from a long day. I would recommend to anyone.” —
“[It] brings peace and solitude after a long and rough day.” —

But what are the benefits behind the books? We went in search
of answers from brain expert, Sandra Sunquist Stanton, author
of “Max Your Mind: An Owner’s Guide to Your Strong Brain.”
Sandra referenced the constant state of “go go go” in our lives
and said coloring can slow us down, almost like a mindful
meditation. “It captures the focus of many parts of the brain
and keeps them busy creating beautiful pictures that ‘stay done’
unlike most household tasks.”

Sandra said these are some other benefits for your brain when
you’re coloring:
• Repetitive motion is soothing for the brain, as in knitting,
crocheting, sewing, rocking, and walking.
• Using our senses activates the parts of the brain where they’re
processed. Creating the pages triggers the kinesthetic sense as
well as the visual.
• What fun for the right brain to choose color and design for the
over-all picture—unlike the old prescribed colors in paint by
number projects!
• The left brain works to create visually pleasing balance,
sequence and detail.
• It’s a perfect self-soothing activity to help us shift from the
amygdala’s worry, planning and regret to the prefrontal
cortex’s positive focus.
• Occupational therapists and psychologists have prescribed
them for people with stress disorders, anxiety, anger
management issues and substance abuse issues.
• Coloring pages are a treatment modality accessible to
anyone—without a prescription, huge expense for equipment
or need for an appointment with someone else. They sit on
your table ready when you are. How cool is that?

Several organizations are hosting coloring groups, to add a
social element to the stress-busting activity. Personal growth
centers like Silver Springs Wellness in Whitehall and Equine
Inspired Wellness in Cadott are hosting coloring events and
senior care non-profits like American Lutheran Communities
in Menomonie, Willowbrook Assisted Living in Eau Claire and
Pioneer Nursing Home in Prairie Farm are welcoming seniors
from the community into their buildings to enjoy the brain boost
along with a cup of coffee.

“We do activities all the time with our residents, but realized
seniors who live at home may not have access to the same
opportunities, so we started hosting a free public coloring
group for people who live in our area,” Angela Greger, the
administrator of Pioneer Nursing Home, said. “It’s a wonderful
thing to see a group of people enjoying themselves and tapping
into their young hearts.”

No matter why you color, just go for it! Find this article on for a selection of free printable
coloring pages and a listing of some area coloring groups.

L.E. Phillips Senior Center – 5 class series Max Your Mind class

We’d love to have you come and join our Max Your Mind class

$40 will hold your spot and get you a signed copy of the book!

Register at L.E.Phillips Senior Center

Thursday April 7-May 5 2016  1-3:00 PM



Not Your Mother’s Parenting

shutterstock_98703734Parenting for Your Baby’s Brain- Then and Now

Do you sometimes wonder what’s going on in babies’ precious little heads? The experiences parents choose for their baby shape her. What a responsibility! It’s always been a daunting task, one for which we don’t even get an operation manual. We have to figure it out for ourselves, often with the help of our own parents who learned long ago how to navigate in very different “waters”. Let’s look at some of the ways parenting has changed from the 70’s and 80’s to 2015.

Today’s parents have the benefit of recent neuroscience research. We now know that full term babies have 100 Billion brain cells of which only 25% are connected to each other and functioning. The rest of the connections grow through the child’s experiences—engineered by parents and caregivers. When little ones feel safe and know that they are loved, they are eager to learn. Touch and loving eye contact create a sense of safety, giving them freedom to try new things. Don’t worry about spoiling a baby. They grow and develop best when they know that they matter to the grownups who care for them.

“Children should be seen and not heard”


We used to hear this from adults who were frustrated with noisy, distracting children. This philosophy downplayed the importance of interaction for babies’ brains. Ignored by their adults, many little ones felt isolated. Without interaction, children’s brains become stressed, restricting the formation of connections. Playpens were common in the 70’s and 80’s.  With baby playing in an enclosed space, moms could get their work done, and they could still watch, talk and listen to the kids.  Children were safe and entertained, but they couldn’t explore their world.


Babies now often spend their time in carriers, experiencing their parents’ movements and activities. This is a far better way to create connections between the child’s brain cells. Parent and child are able to enjoy each other singing, dancing, and sharing activities.  Parents are better able to become their child’s favorite “toy”. They love to study Mom’s or Dad’s face, and learn how to get smiles.  Climbing into his world on the floor develops his brain and helps him learn about relationships.

Entertaining Children


Children across time have learned by playing. In the 70’s they liked, trucks, dolls, and other toys. An entire generation grew up watching Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. Sitting and reading the same book over and over together in a rocking chair has always been a wonderful way to help them explore relationships and learn about their world.


In the past ten years, electronic options with bright moving visuals and engaging sounds keep children occupied and quiet, tempting busy parents to rely on them.

Unfortunately, screen time develops mostly passive connections in their brain at the expense of active skills. According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”[i]

For more “bang for the brain”, babies and toddlers need face-to-face interaction with a parent or consistent responsive caregiver. Examining a real leaf, empty boxes, plastic containers and other real-live experiences with their adults awakens their creativity, wonder, and teaches them to play. When either the parent or the child is focused on TV or other screens rather than each other, children miss out on critical development opportunities. Most important, the screen doesn’t respond to the child’s communication, so they learn they don’t matter.

Babies are gifts—even when they keep us from sleeping. Find joy in your time together, and everyone will have a stronger brain.


(footnote i)


Building Baby’s Brain Class:

Contact Family Resource Center at 715-833 1735 to register for Building Baby’s Brain class on  June 16, 2016 5:30-7:00.


First published in Queen of the Castle Magazine, Nov. 2015

Eight Great Ways to Max Your Mind

We’ve been given one mind with 100 billion brain cells. It performs 400 trillion processes every second, so it needs our help. These eight Fade-Fighting tips will help keep it sharp and humming along at its best.

1. Relationships with the People we “Do Life” with are gifts we give ourselves. They keep our minds healthy. Sharing hugs and fist bumps boost our brains and emotions.

2. Exercising Body and Brain Active muscles stimulate the brain and release healthy growth hormones. Brain chemicals or Neurotransmitter help us manage stress and mood. Our body generates natural feel good chemicals, endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin.
Exercising our brains with crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or video brain training software help keep it sharp. Try Neurobics—switching up a regular activity by doing it with the other hand, or backwards, or finding a new way to do it. The brain loves novelty which creates new connections.

3. Humor, Laughter and Joy
Laughter can dissolve stress and heal our bodies, even without jokes. 8000 Laughter Yoga groups have formed around the world to enjoy its benefits. They fake laughing on purpose until the body takes over and makes it real.

4. Trust
Knowing our world is in God’s hands frees our brain to fully experience the present moment and its gifts. Rest, knowing that fixing things isn’t your main job. Just be.

5. Gratitude
Focusing on the positive counteracts the brain’s default mode looking for threats to keep us alive. Choose to be grateful and the entire body will benefit. The brain’s main job is to keep us alive, so its default mode is looking for threats. We can over-ride the negative focus and choose to be grateful and our entire body will be healthier and happier. Research shows the brain releases dopamine while expressing gratitude. It’s like enjoying a glass of wine without the chemical downside.

6. Creative Juices Go Ahead! Sing, Paint, Write! Your mind will love it!
Always wanted to make something beautiful? Painting, drawing, or even coloring books exercise your creative juices. A bonus-they stay done unlike many of our daily chores. Music gives the brain a workout. Sing, dance, listen, or make your own music for a healthy “rush” and mental exercise. Writing either with a computer or with pen in hand is a great way to explore your thoughts.

7. Sleep
Let the “Night Crew” clear the clutter while you sleep. While our bodies are at rest, the brain’s glial cells are very busy getting rid of byproducts of converting our food to fuel. During sleep the brain gets a chance to sort information we’ve taken in throughout the day. It files away things that we’re motivated to keep and gets rid of things that aren’t connected to what we’ve used before.
Note: Electronic screens before bed can interrupt the brain’s sleep cycle.

8. Nutrition
The brain runs on a steady supply of fuel delivered by the blood. Since the brain is 80% water, we need to keep it hydrated. When the water supply gets low, headaches or fading function might show up. Healthy Omega 3-6-9 fats from fish, avocados, and oils keep the axon’s myelin wrap in good shape o brain cells can communicate with each other.
Carbs become Glucose, feeding our brain. Choose healthy ones to keep everything working smoothly.

Want more? Order your personalized and signed copy of Max Your Mind: The Owner’s Guide for a Strong Brain from her website, or your favorite book store.
Contact Sandra for Brain Coaching to help you create your own best life through applying everyday neuroscience. As your thinking partner, she can help you discover many more ways to be kind to your brain, giving it what it needs to stay healthy. You’ll find information about booking a series of individual Brain Coaching sessions, conference presentations, or consultation tailored to your needs at

Grateful for Max Your Mind’s Journey

mym_coverBooks like Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series put me in awe of the writing process. How could anyone actually research and turn all that information into a gripping story? I doubted that I would be able to tackle such a project, but I truly wanted to accept the challenge.

Over the years, nonfiction and the complicated world of neuroscience caught my attention. I had been fascinated with how the brain works since Junior High when my brain carried my friends with me during our family’s move to Cumberland, Wisconsin. I found many answers and tried to explain the brain in clear terms people could understand. My search led through education, counseling, and coaching.  My first attempt to explain the answers in print became a series of eight articles “Dr. Brain’s Basic Eight Things Every Brain Needs: Security, Play and Exploration, Music and Movement, Interaction, Touch, Good Food, Reading and Language, and Rest and Sleep ”  for Eau Claire’s Leader Telegram beginning during Brain Awareness month in 2005. I had become a member of the collaborative BRAIN Team (Brain Research Awareness Integration Network) when it formed through the Wisconsin Council for Children and Families in 1999. This was my chance to download some of the accumulated information to parents and others who could use it. Building Baby’s Brain classes for prenatal to toddler parents, Music, and the Brain:  an interactive class for parents and toddlers gave me face-to-face opportunities to teach about my favorite subject.

That series was on its way to become a book to accompany St. Mary’s Press’ Breakthrough Bible in 2006, until their marketing team made the decision that it wouldn’t sell. I kept trying with other conferences and publishers because I sensed a promise that God would use my work and finish the project in His time-not mine.  I had gone to several writers’ and speakers’ conferences, each one resulting in invitations to send the book proposal to publishers, each of whom eventually rejected it. Maybe the children’s Picture Book series based on my developmental guidance classes was a better plan.  I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers’ and Illustrators group and attended national conferences working to hone those skills. I learned the most from my gifted SCBWI critique group and our weekly work together.

Who knew God could work through Twitter?  In January 2014, W. Terry Whalin of Morgan James tweeted me back to work on Max Your Mind. I replied thanking him for his Book Proposals That Sell which gave me tips to improve my work through six rejections. Our online conversation continued, and he asked about my “Brain Book” which I had shared with him at one of those early conferences. Long story short, he encouraged me to submit the project to him, and to come to Author 101 University in March of 2014 at LAX. As I was packing for the conference, he called to let me know Morgan James was offering me a contract to publish the book with them.

This was the beginning of a complete rewrite with the help of Amanda Rooker, my gifted editor who cared as much as I did about sharing this information with readers. We wanted to reach people over 30 who had experienced frustrations with declining brain function. At the conference, I met Amanda and the Executive Team of Morgan James, and found that they shared my vision for the project.

Each writing day began with God’s marching orders at 5:00 AM.  The ten-hour days for ten months including weekends were extremely intense. I “finished” probably five times. My husband–and I– wondered how many times our finishing celebrations would only lead to more revisions.

On April 20, 2015, 500 copies of Max Your Mind: The Owner’s Guide for a Strong Brain arrived, the baby was born! The writing deadlines were over, but marketing is an entirely different kind of busy! Many more deadlines, contacts and arrangements needed for signings, promotional articles and campaigns, local book release parties and a book tour.  As a newbie, I learned much more than I signed up for, mostly by making mistakes. But, I’m very thankful for the journey.

Today being Thanksgiving, I’m filled with gratitude. The thrill of readers letting me know about something that helped them manage their health or adding helpful habits of laughter, breathing meditation, time in relationship, gratitude or exercise give me wonderful waves of thanks.

My business is Connections of the Heart, LLC, which means that I appreciate connections with real people, an antidote to the solitary times at my computer. I would love to hear from readers, and I am open to coming to you either personally for a presentation or online webinar (to be developed) or coaching by phone. Brain Coaching is my focus, and I offer Max Your Mind as a taste of my work to help people make the most of their lives through understanding and enjoying basic neuroscience. Thanks for taking the time to read this blog!




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