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Column - Vocabulary dumbbells

My brain is getting fat.

Not the nice, plump, filled-with-good-information kind of fat. The lazy, turning-to-sludge-and-blubber kind of fat.

It's time I do something about it.

I have always been fairly devoted to keeping my body in shape - I run, lift weights and try to eat healthy. I haven't expended nearly as much energy in exercising my brain. I've been feeding it Doritos and Twinkies, washing it down with chocolate milkshakes and plopping it on the couch, thinking that it would stay fit on its own. Sure, I read one or two books a month, I have to use my brain to write stories at work, and I obsessively play Scramble, a word game on Facebook.

Except for the writing, that brain exercise is about as strenuous as a walk to the cupboard to grab another cookie.

So I decided to do something I have pondered for a few years now - I'm taking some classes. I am now, officially, an "adult re-entering education." Translation: Oldish lady who still doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up.

Although it's been at the back of my mind for several years, in January I made a last-minute decision to go for it - two days before classes started. I decided to break myself in slowly - take one class and see how it goes. See if my deteriorating brain cells are capable of rejuvenating. Most of all, because I am semi-computer-illiterate, I started with one class to see if online learning works for me.

One of the reasons I've put it off is because it scares me to death. The fear of trying to maneuver through the mystery of online learning, the fear of discovering that I'm no longer capable of memorizing or absorbing information, the fear that I'm actually going to be graded, fear of working full-time while trying to study, and basically, the fear that I will fail. That's why I made the decision so quickly - so I had to do it.

The people at Alexandria Technical and Community College have helped tremendously. When I went in to register, I didn't have a clue what I was doing, but every single person there was wonderful and patiently walked me through every concern and question as if I were the only student they had. I felt like it was my first day of kindergarten - intimidated, scared, worried - but they did everything they could to make it easy. It was like they said, "C'mon, let's go play duck, duck, gray duck and you will never know your mommy is gone."

They were right. It wasn't nearly as scary as I thought. In just a couple hours, I had enrolled in a medical terminology class, and for the first time in more than 25 years, I was a student.

After three weeks of learning, I have to say, I absolutely love it! I open up the medical terminology textbook and read all these words, drinking them in like I've been in a desert for years and have just stumbled upon a glass of water. I flip through the pages, fascinated by the pictures and descriptions and definitions.

Not that it's easy. Far from it - there are hundreds of medical terms to memorize, but it feels great to stimulate my brain again. Not only that, it has made me more excited about everything else. I'm doing something new, I'm trying to make a positive change, I'm trying to improve myself. I have a goal and something to look forward to. It's making me happy, and with my grade so far, I have to say, a little proud.

Now, instead of feeding my brain junk food, I'm nourishing it with words like hematopoiesis and blepharoptosis. I'm making it do cardio with terms like onychomycosis and otorhinolaryngologist. I'm purging it of fattening toxins and replenishing it with memorization (347 flash cards so far). I'm lifting vocabulary dumbbells to strengthen and tone.

And now, I'm off to read chapter seven - the skeletal system.

Ahhhh...spinach for the brain!

"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.