5 Ways To Be Happier Right Now

Published in Discover Ferndale, August 19, 2017

Internet clickbait aside, the following five things really work. Also, there’s no need to change your hair color or your spouse, or move to a sprawling estate in the country or visit France – although any of those things could, under certain circumstances, bring on the happy. Here are some things you can do today.

1 – Stop being infuriated about everything. Save your outrage only for the one thing that matters most. There’s a lot to snarl about in our world and everyone has an opinion. Decide now to limit what’s rage-worthy in your life. Positive vibes will find their way back to you and so will your energy. No one is making you mad. It’s your choice to be angry, and by nipping at the heels of every little thing in the news, you’re missing out on the most important news of all – your life. Dump the diatribes and move on.

2 – Sleep more. Figure out how to hit the rack earlier or sleep a little later, or a lot. Take a nap, or two. This isn’t always easy to do, but I promise it will make you a happier person. There are, of course, good reasons to stay up. When children were little and awake late into the evening, exhaustion would set in and I’d think, “If I could just go to bed right now I wouldn’t have to eat the rest of the pie.” Pie is good, but sleep is better. Really.

3 – Give others the benefit of the doubt. It’s been said “To assume makes as ass of you and me.” Sometimes this may be true, but who’s keeping track? And more importantly, it’s tiring and energy sucking to constantly assign ulterior motives. Be aware, be smart. But stop thinking (and yes, you can do this) that everyone is out to get you, that you were lied to, cut off in traffic intentionally or that someone stole something you probably misplaced. Not everyone is malicious. People most often need support, not the stink eye.

4 – Express gratitude. To God, the Universe, Nature or the Grand Poobah. Thank the grocery bagger, the mail delivery person, your kid for doing the dishes. This should be done from the deepest part of your being. Really mean it. Think about what you’re thanking someone for and why they’re doing it for you. Do this everyday. This will become a habit and even when you’re out of money and your car won’t start or you’ve had a rotten day at work, if you genuinely recognize your indebtedness to someone or something, it will start to change your life. I pinky swear on this one.

5 – Care less. We’re often too invested in what other people think of us. We’re afraid people judge us because of our weight, because we wore the same thing to work earlier this week, because of a social gaffe, because there’s hair growing out of our nose, because of that toe fungus we’ve been meaning to address. The key word here is ‘afraid.’ Caring less about what others think is a hard thing to do immediately, but the freedom associated with it is a little heady. And whenever I start taking myself too seriously I remember that quote that says, “You’d be less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”

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Just Another Ten Minutes

There’s a story alive in our family lore that’s told as frequently as anyone can work it into the conversation. It’s primarily about the three oldest children when they were little and how, even when it was still light outside, I made them go to bed at a certain time.

The way they tell it, they longingly looked out of bedroom windows while neighborhood kids played outside, and even worse, saw their friends come to our front door where I kindly informed them the children at our house were in bed for the night.

Recently I was talking to my son and granddaughter on Skype when he mentioned something about her bedtime. “Yeah,” he said. “I don’t make her go to bed at EXACTLY 8:00.”   “I get it,” I responded. “You’re a better parent than I was. I shouldn’t have been so strict with you guys.” He laughed and said, “Then we wouldn’t have all those great stories.”

It’s true. I was a bedtime Nazi. I like to think I softened a bit with the last two little boys that were born into our family – that there was more spontaneity and less code. More warm lingering and less razor-sharp structure.

I addressed the subject of little noses pressed to windows before the sun went down with my daughter not long ago, and she gave me some validation. “I understand it now,” she said. “You were done. You were tired. I know the feeling. But I’m not gonna lie. It was pretty awful at the time.”

She also insisted that the ribbing they hand down to me is not mean-spirited, and that if true hard feelings existed they probably wouldn’t keep telling the story. I told her I hoped I was a different person now. They seem to like me in spite of these past, dark episodes.

I’m grateful the years keep stacking up, but while my aging eyes read the word “influential” as “inflatable” (and that’s with glasses on), and I have to carefully plan the number of hours I get to sleep every night before I go back to work the next morning, I also get the less annoying bonus of perspective that comes with time.

The same way we all want endless summers and unlimited resources, I want to go back, for just another ten minutes, and see my little ones as the young mother they remember, but with the experience of my years.

Right before bed on one of those spring evenings, I would ask them to please do this for me now and then I would promise to make it up to them with fun later nights in coming years. Then I’d tell the oldest to always appreciate knowledge and fact, but mostly trust in his heart and gut. I’d tell the second one that whoever she wants to be is OK by me and offer to help her find out who that is. And I’d tell the third one to keep swinging from light fixtures and taking chances, but to be sure and look both ways first and choose only the risks that are really worth it.

Then the second before I shut each door I would make sure they looked at me directly when I tell them I will never stop loving them no matter what they do.

And yes, it would still be 8:00pm and sunny.

“Everything’s Amazing And Nobody’s Happy”

Published in the Ferndale Record, January 27, 2016

This title is taken directly from comedian Louis CK, who used these words a few years ago when describing a time he’d flown across the country. A fellow passenger was notably upset because of a last minute glitch meaning Wi-Fi was not available on the flight. Louis talked about how it used to take wagon trains 30 years to make the same trip that can now be done in five hours. Despite the extraordinary technology and opportunity everywhere, people will always complain about something.

I thought about this when I flew to Boston from Seattle last month. I used to be terrified to fly, and while I still have a healthy respect for air travel, instead of blocking the experience, I embrace it. I don’t really get the laws of lift, weight, thrust, drag and the Bernoulli effect, but apparently they work, and as Louis CK says, “You’re sitting in a chair.. IN THE SKY!” When you think about it, it’s pretty remarkable.

My experience with family in Boston was even more meaningful than the travel. Flight reawakened me to awareness, to paying attention. This happened a lot during the trip, but specifically when I was cuddling my newest grandson, something I knew I’d miss when I came home. “I should have done this more when you were a baby,” I told his dad. “I should have stopped doing whatever I thought was more important at the time, and just held you.”

I want to be more careful, go through my days deliberately, be happy and grateful for cell phones, the Internet, employment, shelter, family and enough to eat. And to not for even one second take it for granted or believe it will necessarily be there tomorrow.

I suppose this is all about that cliché – ‘living in the moment.’

But if we are not significantly changed, motivated or inspired by an event, or series of events, why are we participating in the first place? Has modern life and all of its amenities become boring, or even worse, expected? Have we stopped seeing every day magnificence?

Here’s what writer and artist Toko-pa Turner says: “This is the true meaning of embodiment: To show up with wholehearted presence for this moving encounter with life. Instead of clambering towards ever-furthering horizons or withdrawing into distractions and addictions, showing up for those absences in our lives. Welcoming our fears and discomforts as necessary conditions to creativity. Loving the gestation as much as the harvest, even while remembering the barren season that must follow. Aspiring, in all things, to be human.”

I like this. Not because it’s easy to do, but because it means we get more out of whatever we choose to do. Instead of slogging through life, or simply working toward another paycheck, we lend hyper awareness to our circumstances, we more fully appreciate living, work, other people and service. In refusing complacency, we become more whole.

Not every moment or string of moments is dazzling. But many are, and we miss them because we’re searching for common glitter to hold our attention when real gold is right in front of us.

The Dark Side Of Reading Online

Published in the Ferndale Record, November 4, 2015

I used to read a lot of books, magazines and newspapers. Now, most of my reading is done online, and this isn’t necessarily bad, but it places me squarely at the mercy of everyone who posts anything on the internet and the randomness surrounding this medium.

When I choose what to browse or absorb, I’m reminded there are slimy strings attached to brilliant technology. Even major news outlets pander to human nature’s seamy side. Everyone wants a larger piece of the reading audience and their tactics are often shameless.

The result is that I sometimes cave and peruse bits that are only mildly entertaining and far from edifying.

This week, while catching a look at NBC news online to see if there was anything I absolutely needed to know, I saw these headlines:

“Two more women accuse Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct” – How is this even important to the general population?

“Here’s how to make money off the migrant crisis” – Why is this a thing? And why is anyone writing about it?

“Vladimir Putin’s approval rating hits all time high” – Well, good for him.

“Trump takes swipe at Carson: Lower energy than Bush” – No mud slinging, please.

“Costumed canines strut their Halloween stuff” – Harmless, but not interested.

The following links were more to my liking, but still not anything I needed to know to survive:

“Mets to start Harvey in game 1 of the World Series” – The teams in this year’s Fall Classic are not my favorites, but there might be some good baseball, and I’m thrilled that the New York team playing doesn’t start with a Y.

“The 6 biggest health mistakes women make in their 50s” – I haven’t clicked on this yet, but I might. On principle alone, I usually move quickly past headlines claiming “6 things, 10 things or 17 things” that are critical for my wellbeing and promise that “number 4 will blow your mind!”

“Watch time lapse video of Hurricane Patricia” – OK, I clicked on this one.

I’m positive I would have lived another day without any of this information. It’s clearly up to me to make good choices and not just gobble up information because it happens to be in front of me. That’s really the problem, isn’t it?

I don’t dispute the value of everything written online, just a lot of it. Sensationalism is rampant. Grabbing readers and filling space seems more important than printing anything worthwhile.

Recently I heard a talk in which the speaker said, “ ..Why would we listen to the faceless, cynical voices..? [They] prefer to tear down rather than elevate and to ridicule rather than uplift. Their.. words can burrow into our lives.. Is it wise to place our.. well-being in the hands of strangers? .. These anonymous individuals, if presented to us honestly, would never be given a moment of our time, but because they exploit social media, hidden from scrutiny, they receive undeserved credibility.”

Choosing wisely shouldn’t be hard because there’s a lot of goodness out there, too. Try reading the high road. See where truth and fairness take your mind and heart.

School Pictures: The Good, The Bad, And The Really Bad

Published in the Ferndale Record, September 30, 2015

It’s that time of year.

Cameras are poised, little heads are done up with gel and bows, photographers practice their best kid-speak to produce winning smiles. But when you’re an adult working in a school, you get your picture taken, too.

I don’t know many grown-ups who are casual about having a portrait taken of themselves. Most of us don’t like it – at all. Selfies? Oh sure, bring on the phone! Best friend’s birthday? Jump in the shot! But, sit on a little podium by yourself between a paint-spattered backdrop and a professional photographer? Um, no thank you.

However, the buzz in the teacher’s lounge is EVERYONE has to have a picture taken, “for school records.” So we do, and we hate it.

As the school Administrative Assistant, it’s my job to hand out the pictures when they arrive in the mail. Just to be nice, the company taking the shots, gives each staff member a free picture packet – complete with an enormous 8×10 where nasal hair can actually be counted, two 5x7s to presumably use for target practice, some wallet size (because everyone carries wallet size pictures these days), and don’t forget the tiny ones to share with all of our friends!

Almost without exception, when a staff member sees his or her school photo, their response is something like, “Oh NO! Oh, please. Oh.. just. Oh no..” Nothing against the photography, just the massive, single face on the page.

A couple of years ago, most of the staff hated their pictures so much that one of us, with a particularly artistic bent, decorated the wallet sized photo of anyone willing to share. These were classic: missing teeth, eye patches, scars, and most notably, one of us was made into a clown. I kept these posted in my office to the delight of adults and small children alike.

The good pictures: These are, in my opinion, almost all of them. Even ones teachers hate of themselves, are good. They’re representative of that person. You recognize who you see in the picture. It makes you happy inside – if you’re not the person in the photo.

The bad pictures: These are the ones where someone was obviously trying too hard to look nice or different. You don’t know exactly what it is, but something’s wrong. It looks pretend, weird, or makes the viewer feel uncomfortable somehow. We’ve all seen these – or been in one.

The really bad pictures: These are, of course, the most hilarious. A school photographer usually gives you one shot. They may capture a surprise look, like you were caught picking your nose, or your smile is clearly fake. Maybe the spinach you ate for lunch is lodged in your teeth. That decision to get a haircut before picture day was a really bad idea, or maybe you should have rethought the lime green argyle sweater.

This year, I know what I’ll wear, how I’ll smile, what to do with my hair. Odds are I’ll still hate it. No big deal. Thank goodness for retake day in November, when we’ll all get another chance at a really bad photo.

Here’s Transportation Everyone Uses

Published in the Ferndale Record, August 26, 2015

The fact that I often discuss food in this column is not lost on me. I’ll admit to passion about the subject and think I inherited more than a few tendencies and practices concerning it from my mother.

She loved whipped cream on most desserts, so it was common to have it around. I don’t mean the kind you spray from a can. Hers was whipped in a chilled mixing bowl with sugar and a dash of vanilla, and it was spectacular.

Once, after consuming what was left of the whipped cream on top of a mug of cocoa, Mom faced a dilemma – there was cocoa left to drink, but no more whip. In a story that is still told in family lore, she simply went to the mixer and whipped more cream so her cocoa would be properly topped. That really happened.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was probably my first experience witnessing food as a vehicle. You know – when one food is consumed mainly because what you really want is the food it’s commonly eaten with. In my mom’s case, the cocoa was good, but what she craved was the whipped cream.

I blame propriety. Why not just bring the bowl of cream to the table, add a spoon and eat up? It’s a good question that could be asked about a lot of food we use this way.

I’ve written about my love of frosting before. The following is a short list of items that, in my experience, serve as excellent conveyances for frosting: Cake, cupcakes, brownies, graham crackers, donuts, cookies and pie. Yes, pie. Fingers, spoons, forks and knives, while not edible, also have a place on this list, and if it weren’t for the trappings of convention, they would be used more often.

We want to eat healthy food so we stock up on veggies. This is commendable. But let’s get real. Those scrubbed, sliced carrots, celery and peppers are vehicles for ranch dip, peanut butter or sour cream.

Baked potatoes are not only an exquisite comfort food, but are supposedly good for you. However, in my world they’re also solid transportation for butter and blue cheese salad dressing. Also, baked chicken breasts can be part of a healthy diet. But how much easier do they go down when dressed up in a cream of mushroom soup and sour cream mixture?

Ketchup and salt transport French fries, Hershey’s chocolate syrup carries down the ice cream, salsa and melted cheese for tortilla chips, onion dip for potato chips, milk for Oreos, tartar sauce for fish, any dressing for salad, Strawberry or Chocolate Nesquick for plain milk, even hamburgers serve as a ride for bacon. Some vehicle foods come pre-packaged for our convenience. Case in point: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Some things just taste amazingly good together so we consume them as a duo. I understand this. But the next time you face a naked carrot (not because you’re dieting, but because it’s in front of you) odds are you’ll look around for the Hidden Valley Ranch because, well – you know.

Shopping And Frosting: Two Important Decisions

Published in the Ferndale Record, June 24, 2015

Once I wrote a column about how people encourage others to be outraged concerning causes they feel are important. I understand this mentality, the wanting to share, the “You’ve got to FEEL what I’m feeling!” sentiment. I have pet subjects, too.

But here’s what’s happening: I’m mellower and not as easily whipped into a frenzy as I used to be. Maybe it’s simply energy related and choosing carefully where my focus ends up, rather than being led all over the map – passionate about everything and effective in nothing.

Although weightier issues squeeze into my consciousness, there are some tiny preferences upon which my mind is set, and surprisingly, these less than urgent decisions make life a bit easier.

I hate shopping for clothes. So, when I do, an item has to shout to get my attention. I rarely start by looking at sizes. If the color catches my eye, I go there first. If I love it, but the fit or style isn’t right, I move on. I won’t buy it because I might like it better at home.

That’s how I shop for clothes. Totally based on love. I have functional clothing, but if I don’t adore it, won’t wear it, if it doesn’t fit right, or if that shade of red doesn’t blow me away, it goes back. The end.

Here’s another example. I decided years ago that frosting is my favorite part of the cake. Someone offers you cake, you say yes, and the frosting to cake ratio makes no sense. It’s all cake with just a sliver of frosting. You know what I mean. This doesn’t work for me, and if I’m being honest, it never has.

I boldly decided that if I’m going to eat those kinds of calories, they’d better be worth it. So, when I buy or create baked goods with frosting, I get as much bang for my sugary, decadent caloric buck as possible.

The bakery at our local Haggen makes a fantastic single-layer German chocolate cake. If I’m buying one, I check carefully to make sure the chocolate and coconut frosting layers are thick enough for my liking. I’ve been known to pick out a cake, take it to the counter and ask for more frosting, and they kindly oblige.

Additionally, when I get the cake home (and since no one else likes it), rather than slice it in traditional wedges, I just carve off the edges to my preference, producing a perfect amount of frosting on the slice, without an overabundance of the delicious, moist, yet secondarily preferred cake.

If it sounds like I’ve thought all of this out meticulously, I have. Also, I feel no shame, just freedom from the shackles of ‘polite society.’ I also recognize these are options largely confined to a first-world inhabitant. For this, I’m grateful.

So, if the color or fit doesn’t make me a little giggly, I won’t buy it or keep it. And if there’s too much cake and not enough goodness on top, I sweetly decline. But if I know you well enough I might say, “More frosting, please.”

Dear Teenage Me

Published in the Ferndale Record, April 29, 2015

I’ve been thinking about you and what I would tell you if I could. Now that I’m a whole lot older than you, and have a wee bit of experience, here goes.

First – you are perfect just the way you are. I know this because our dad, who always spoke the truth, told me this on several occasions. I don’t think he meant ‘perfect’ in the sense that you and I never made mistakes, just that we didn’t have to try so hard to be something we’re not. That’s what I’m telling you, Teenage Me, you are good enough, and much better at most things than you think.

Don’t use a small voice, ever. Keep laughing too loud, talking too much and acting too silly. When people say you are too ‘something,’ take it as a compliment. You’ve become a woman who, frankly, is too much at times. It has caused only occasional problems, but mostly served you well. Keep it up. Be bold, live out loud. Don’t cower.

Next – you spend a lot of time being afraid. You fear the death of a loved one, spiders, not understanding, failing, succeeding, what other people think. Stop it. If you’re going to be afraid, save it for something really big like skydiving. Otherwise, roll with it. Stuff happens. People die. Life gets messy. Meet these things where they live and don’t smudge your innate curiosity with worry.

Also – boys and clothes are important. I get it. But they’re only miniscule parts of your huge life. Spend more time thinking about what you really like (besides boys and clothes). Go deep into music, writing and dance. Don’t think, not even for a second, that the dark-haired boy (who almost has a mustache) in your French class, or the sweater you have on layaway at Lipman’s are tickets to personal happiness. If you get how great you already are, those things won’t matter anyway.

Another thing – money. The older you has learned hard lessons about this. So, even though you’d rather spend than save, develop a healthy respect for what money can and cannot do. You know those three part time jobs you have? Be grateful that people pay you to baby sit, sling tacos and teach children piano lessons because there are days ahead when jobs and money won’t come as easily. I think you know this, so really enjoy what you’ve got, and it wouldn’t hurt to sock away a little of your extra dough – and you DO have extra.

The other thing about money: Don’t rely on anyone – the government, your parents or a man – to pay your way. Money comes from work. This is a tough lesson you don’t want to know, but it’s the truth.

So, Teenage Me, here’s the deal. I don’t really want to be you anymore. But if I could, in a Star Trek kind of way, go back in time for a few minutes, I would hug you hard, brush your long hair, and tell you all of this. Then I would assure you that you will love and be loved by many, I’d ask for a piece of our mom’s German Chocolate Cake, hug you again, and magically re-inhabit my current life.

Thank you for your part in our ride. I still feel like you sometimes.

Five Opinions For The Price Of One

Published in the Ferndale Record, February 25, 2015

Sometimes it’s hard to narrow a column down to just one idea, so this time I didn’t even try. Here are my thoughts on the following:

*A 14-pound baby was born in Florida a few weeks ago, to a woman who claims she didn’t know she was pregnant until her sixth month. These stories fascinate me. Having a baby inside of you, especially a large one, is like being inhabited by an alien. A mother who doesn’t know there’s one in there is always a little suspect to me. The whopping infant, who came into the world with a law degree from Columbia University, drove himself and his mother home from the hospital. Both are doing well.

*Mainstream pornography is now sought after, paid for and brought directly into homes through cable and Netflix. The acceptability of it, in the name of art and brilliant acting or writing, is tragic – and I don’t ever use that word lightly. Orange Is The New Black, Game Of Thrones and Fifty Shades Of Grey are only a few examples. Live and let live may be the politically correct thing to say here, but I won’t be saying it. This kind of entertainment is not sophisticated or intelligent. Porn, no matter how ‘tastefully’ it’s done, or how compelling the story, is a lie, and destroys real love and families. This is an opinion column, right?

*Jonathan Freund, mayor of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin got an earful while ceremoniously presenting the local groundhog, Jimmy. When his handler cleverly held him close to the mayor so Freund could ‘hear’ the forecast, Jimmy leaned in with gusto and took a healthy bite at Freund’s ear. I say Jimmy is tired of this charade and while he’s well fed and required to work only once a year, he’s had enough already. I also believe his actions represent the true feelings of groundhogs everywhere. Back off, mayor – Jimmy’s in charge now.

*When people we’ve known or loved die, especially if it’s unexpected, we can’t believe it. It can’t be true. Our lives and the world will never be the same. It always takes time to process the loss. I heard someone say the reason endings are hard for humans, is because our souls know there’s more, and in our finite state as mortals, we can’t totally grasp that concept. I believe this, and stick by a quote I love, “We should not assume.. that just because something is unexplainable by us, it is unexplainable.”

*Dogs that bark all the time must be exhausted because literally everything gets their attention. In my neighborhood several of them bark whenever I come home, turn a light on in my apartment, turn on the TV, or enter a different room. They bark when the wind blows, when someone shuts a car door, or when they see a rock. And they don’t just bark a couple of times – they do it until their doggie voices become raspy and tired. This can, of course, be annoying, but it’s also slightly amusing to see how often I can get them to respond.

OK. Next month’s plan: grab one topic and go with it.

Forgiveness: It’s What’s For Dinner

Published in the Ferndale Record, October 29, 2014

It’s almost time to sit around the dining room table with family and either really enjoy it, or really hate it. Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings have a way of making us remember either why we love the people we do, or why we left home and rarely come back.

Recently I heard a speaker talk about how to obtain confidence, specifically spiritual confidence – the kind that let’s you know you’re doing good things and making progress without having to be perfect. I needed this.

I also needed each of his six practical suggestions to get and stay on this road, but one of them knocked me out. He said it like it could be done, and many will believe it can’t, but I think it can. Here’s the suggestion:

“Become really, really good at forgiving. Forgive everyone, everything, all the time, or at least strive to do so, thus allowing forgiveness into your own life. Don’t hold grudges, don’t be easily offended, forgive and forget quickly.”

I’ve been playing with this for the past few weeks and here’s what happened. I don’t naturally give others the benefit of the doubt—I have to work at it. But when I force myself to try, it’s easier the next time.

For instance, it means that when the guy on TV yells at me to buy OxiClean, or an ad pops up on a website inviting me to learn “73 Things About Reese Witherspoon You Didn’t Know,” I need to replace the snark running around my brain, and remember one of the things I’ve learned about marketing – it’s meant to be in your face.

Or, when I’m on the freeway and that woman on her cell passes me just in time to make the same exit I’m taking, instead of muttering and laying on the horn, I can relax and tell myself that maybe she really, really needed to be somewhere in a hurry.

These examples sound syrupy, sniveling and unimportant. They aren’t. Simple steps make the big ones easier. It’s a chain reaction, I promise.

When we think we know what someone else should be doing, saying or being, we really don’t. We know what we see. What we can’t see is what’s in their hearts.

Forgiving is one of those things that doesn’t have to be easier said than done. I know this because I’ve lived with people, (yes, LIVED with) who knew how to, and chose to forgive instantly.

I’m not talking here about huge issues that stem from hurtful relationships and habits. Those need to be addressed on their own levels and take time.

But maybe they won’t take as much time as we think. Forgiveness can be done and over with in seconds. The deed, the slight, the hurt can be forgotten – but here’s the catch: we have to just do it. Not wait, not let it simmer, not ruminate about how we’re right and the other person is wrong (although that may be true). We can simply let go of the rope.

Soured relationships turn sweet, impatience gives way to understanding and holiday dinners become something to look forward to.

The freedom associated with this is at once terrifying, exhilarating and enlightening. It’s like high stakes risk without the chance of a crash and burn.

You win every time.