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Evan Hazard: Kathy and Julie punt at a noon seminar

On Nov. 5, North Country Health Services Foundation presented a "Lifestyle for Wellness" seminar. It was at noon with a nice lunch, so we had to RSVP for reservations. (As usual, there was an advance notice in The Pioneer.)

Julie Flathers and Kathy Hruby spoke on "Stress Relief." Julie earned her Bachelor of Science nursing at Bemidji State University and is now a board-certified biofeedback therapist at NCHS's Peak Performance. She helps clients learn to reduce their own stress levels. I was one. What she teaches us works well, if we practice. Kathy earned her Bachelor of Science in occupational therapy at the University of North Dakota and worked at "Peak" for 16 years, doing biofeedback, massage and other things. She is now retired and does treatments and classes in Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation.

Wellness seminars are largely attended by "seniors." Many old people get places early. When we arrived at 11:50 a.m. there was already a line winding in from the hospital's east lobby toward the buffet table. Though many were ahead of us, most were standard Minnesotans, so there was still room for us down front with the "A" students.

Welcoming us and overseeing things, Penny Echternach, NCHS Foundation executive director, was her usual cheerful self. (Also her usual accommodating self: there was no milk to drink, so she got me a carton of skim.)

As Elaine and I reached the Education Center door, the lights went out - a power outage. The hospital emergency generator's lights came on, but they are sparsely distributed. Mostly the center was lit by daylight from the lobby. As we groped to our seats at table, Penny looked worried.

There were handouts at each place; some were sheets with small photos of the PowerPoint images Julie and Kathy had intended to use, with adjacent lines for note taking. But the power was down: no PowerPoints on the screen and no microphone. So our speakers punted (and Evan turned on his hearing aids).

After most of us had eaten, Julie started. She set their battery-powered laptop on the lectern where at least those down front could see the images, which, of course were also on our handouts. Each image comprised one-three illustrations, plus some brief statements. Julie and Kathy repeated much of the material, which is good pedagogy - it's called reinforcement. It's also well they did, because the laptop screen was too small to read easily, and it was hard to read the handouts in the dark. Both spoke clearly, and as loudly as they could, but I expect some in the back had trouble hearing.

PowerPoint had been in use only a few years when I retired from BSU in 1994. I was addicted to "overheads." You put plastic transparencies of your illustrations on the flat glass of a projector, and it projects them on the screen. With erasable markers, you can write on the transparency or directly on the glass. I am not sure PowerPoint is an improvement. In particular, if you want to point at something on the screen, you can point a pen at your transparency, and that shows up on the screen. At most PowerPoint talks I've attended, speakers continually look at the screen, even when they are not pointing out some feature with those little red penlights.

One thing Julie did was a group biofeedback exercise, like the ones she does with individuals, but without our being attached to leads that record, for example, a finger's skin temperature. First, we closed our eyes. As she told us to relax this and that muscle group, I could feel warmth progressing through my facial and neck muscles and down my arms, and into my hands just as it had in visits to her office. Having the lights out didn't hurt; it probably helped. Just as she said, "You can open your eyes now," the lights came back on. Hmm.

For those of us down front, the talk had probably been better than it would have been had the PowerPoint been functional. Julie and Kathy faced us the whole time; there was nothing on the screen to point at. They left time at the end for questions, they fielded them well and, of course, there was the usual evaluation for us to fill out. (They both got A's).

I even suggested to Penny that they had arranged the outage to make the talk better, at least for the "A" students. Actually, the outage was external to NCHS, affecting the whole neighborhood, including our home.

Evan Hazard, a retired BSU biology professor, also writes "Northland Stargazing" the fourth Friday of each month.