Finding Your Funny    

Photo Find Funny

Somewhere between sorrow and euphoria, there is an emotional part of us that tends to lay dormant. We forget to give it a proper workout, so it languishes there patiently awaiting its turn. It’s our funny gene. We all have one; some are geared to an audience (the stand-up comic variety) and some are for private use only (the proper giggle type).

Whether we laugh out loud or chuckle to ourselves, we should all be working to flex our happy muscles. In the course of a day, there are probably more than a few instances where the personal interpretation of our experiences will fall short of our expectations. That’s where the funny gene comes in. Once we unleash it, it overrides the negativity and the anxiousness of the moment, much like that ocean wave that knocks you down and spins you around until you get all that salt water up your nose and sand inside your bathing suit. I got carried away, but you get the idea. Basically, it lightens our outlook and gives us an internal “thumbs up”.

Are you ready to get started? Okay, think of the last time you scolded yourself for something that happened to you. Rather, than playing it over and over again in your head, find the humor in it (it’s there somewhere, just look for it). Now replay it and yuk it up a bit; that’s it! It’s not that difficult; a few minutes of soul searching can make all the difference.

I discovered this phenomenon quite by accident when my attempts at being graceful always seemed to be thwarted by an unwelcome visit from the awkward fairy:

– When all eyes were on me, as I walked proudly through a seated crowd at a business luncheon, only to find out that a huge cloth napkin was still dangling from my belt.

– When, at a chance meeting with 2 CEOs, the mint I was sucking on fell out of my mouth and they both politely dove down to pick it up, thinking it was my tooth.

– When a planned dramatic entrance down our family home’s staircase one date night fortunately only led to 2 bloody knees and a bruised ego.

– When my date gallantly opened my car door on prom night, then accidently shut it on my fingers resulting in me washing the blood off my white gown, drying it under the ladies room hand dryer and wearing 2 white gloves stuffed with tissues on my one hand (in a giant tribute to Michael Jackson) to stop the bleeding.

Science has already proven that laughter can make us look and feel younger, cure illnesses, and extend our lives. Take it from 95 year old Carl Reiner and his 2 nonagenarian pals, Norman Lear and Mel Brooks. Together, they have been laughing for over 279 years and are still writing, producing and acting. Carl Reiner says he starts each day glancing at the obituaries. If he doesn’t see his name, he has breakfast.

Don’t take yourself so seriously; remember you are laughing with yourself, not at yourself. It’s time to reboot! The last thing you want is a flabby laugh physique due to inactivity. So, drop and give me 50… chortles or cackles, your choice.

Next Stop: La-La Land

Photo La La Land

It’s time for a change. I’m packing up and heading to La-La Land, defined as “the dreamlike mental state which disengages us from the harsh realities of life”.

Every now and again, we need to languish in our own form of tranquility, that indulgence that lulls us into a state of bliss. It can be as lavish as a tropical vacation or as simple as a bubble bath. It’s our own personal whistle that blows inside of us when we’ve had enough and need a break.

What’s really bothering us?  Is it the distressing news constantly being reported or the fact that we’ve neglected to listen to any music recently? Is it the ever-present intrusion of social media in our lives or annoyance at our lack of discipline to turn it off once in a while? Is it the demands on us as spouses, parents and children or the feelings of joy and gratitude that we forget to think about? When we feel an unsteadiness on the balancing act we face each day, it’s time to get on the La-La Land train.

In order to get the full effect, you need to surrender. A quick walk through the park, mumbling to yourself while you recite your to-do list will not cut it. Some say that a nap (or just getting into bed with the covers over your head) is tailor-made as a kick starter. A long run or an intense workout might do the trick. Or, there’s shopping; the sound of the hangers as they glide on the rod have been known to invoke a trance-like state. How about dining out? You and your lobster can become one, as you delve into every nook and cranny. Yoga and meditation do not involve lobster, but also might work. Whatever you choose, really let yourself go and when you return, you will feel as good as new.

I envision my La-La Land as the place where my Christmas Eves look like the cover of the Lord and Taylor Christmas catalog: everyone is dressed in formal attire, gathered around a baby grand piano, rather than the year that we headed home from visiting family with a sick child, a cancelled flight, lost luggage and a car in the parking lot that wouldn’t start. How do you visualize your La-La Land?

Transport yourself, make your life journey a bit more lightweight, and remember to save a seat for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perils of a Perfectionist

 

Photo Ducks 2

One quick glance around each room and I can size up what needs to be done. The pictures on the wall are a bit crooked and the pillows are not aligned correctly on the sofa in the living room. The chairs around the dining table are not pushed in at the same depth. In the kitchen, the spices are not in alphabetical order and the candles are not standing straight up in their holders. Just when I roll my sleeves up, intending to get to work, Mr. Wiz* takes me over to the side, puts his hands on my shoulders and reminds me that I am on a Parade of Homes model house tour.

Sometimes it’s great to have a keen eye for detail and a determination to always strive for excellence and sometimes it’s a pain in my (hopefully physically fit?) posterior. Luckily for me, I was blessed with a combination of both my parents’ personality traits. My Dad’s obsessive, work ethic and drive for success, along with JC’s* easy going, go with the flow attitude, has kept me from falling off the “obsessive, compulsive cliff”.

Early on in life, I realized that I would need to take control of my tendencies. Riding that bucking bronco of flawlessness, I had to learn to lasso that energy into a healthy focus. Being aware of who I am and actually cultivating a relationship with myself made the difference. It gave me a comfort level that the rest of the world did not see. How could I possibly begin to exude confidence if I didn’t like myself? In time, I learned that the secret connection between me and my psyche was actually a simple process: just stop, look and listen:

  • Stop: Take a couple of minutes each day to close your eyes and imagine how you want your life to be.
  • Look: Try to objectively observe how you are progressing and what you might need to tweak.
  • Listen: Compliment yourself out loud and let those few short sentences spur you on.

My relationship with myself is a humorous one. Together, we chuckle at my ability to detail the heck out of even the smallest task. We giggle at the way I prompt myself to hum a tune as a reminder not to review a past mistake over and over again. We chortle at my micro-managing tendencies, practiced under the guise of providing useful information to anyone at any time, whether they want it or not. And we have a good laugh over whether I can finish reading an article before getting up to fix something out of place on the other side of the room.

I realized that in order to move ahead and see the big picture, little by little, I had to let go of the minutiae of everyday life. This has given me a bit of a carefree feeling so that I now only document 41% of my life on Excel spreadsheets (down from 92%) and just last week, walked past 2 crooked welcome mats without giving them a second thought.

We are all a work in progress. I now understand that I need to embrace the odd duck in me and realize that I cannot totally change who I am at this point in my life, but I can work with myself and not against myself to create the best imperfect perfect person that I can be.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

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Why a Stranger Isn’t Strange to Me

Photo Strangers

First, we acknowledge each other as we pass by each day. Then, we smile and wish each other a good day. Next, we share a few comments about the weather, finally introduce ourselves and begin to make small talk. This is my how my relationships started with my walking friends; strangers that I’ve met while walking the same route each day.

First, there was the young woman who left the corporate world to become a dog walker (the same mother that left the room crying when she announced her career change, now introduces her as her successful entrepreneur daughter). It was the colorful set of keys hanging from her belt that sparked our initial conversation. Because she was out in all kinds of weather, she was tuned in to the National Weather Advisory 24/7 and became my personal weather forecaster.

Then, there was the striking, older couple who would take their morning constitutional; she, always wearing a stylish hat and he, looking like Santa Claus and sporting a carved cane (only for effect, his wife would say). After running into them at a couple of charity events throughout the city (including Big A’s* grammar school), I would instinctively look for a lovely hat whenever I’d enter a venue. I’d never know when they would pop into my life next, surprised to see him on a local TV station interview (turns out he was a famous Chicago area writer) or as Mr. Wiz’s* customer at the Mercedes Benz dealership.

Finally, the gentleman that would be up so early walking his dog was always so cheery that I’d find myself smiling and continuing on my route with a newfound spring in my step. One of his daughters was the same age as Big A, so we started comparing notes and swapping Millennial one liners. A chance meeting in our neighborhood with our spouses has since led to a wonderful friendship.

A stranger is just a person that you haven’t gotten to know yet; take Miss Rye Bread. Once, when Big A was a little boy, we were walking back from the grocery store and decided to stop at Woolworth’s. One of the cashiers, a young Filipino woman who seemed a bit stern, noticed our loaded cart and cheerfully said “…Why don’t you leave your cart here. Don’t worry, I’ll watch your rye bread…”, noticing the loaf balanced at the top. For years, we would say hello to Miss Rye Bread on the street, visit her in whatever area store she was working in and never failed to surprise her when we’d sing Happy Birthday to her on her special day.

Nowadays, it’s not that strange to interact with strangers. Thanks to the internet, we date them, room with them, vacation in their homes, stay in their spare bedrooms or on their sofas, rent their cars and pay them to host us for dinner, along with other guests (who are also strangers).

As a child, I remember being told never to get into a car with a stranger. Then, Uber came along and I became totally confused. Now, Uber is currently developing new technology whereby cars will drive themselves. That means that when you’re picked up, there won’t even be a stranger in the car with you. Now, that’s strange….

As a self-taught expert in “strangerology”, I have found that it’s the age of the passerby and not the size of the city that dictates the eye contact level. The younger the passerby, the more likelihood that they will be tuning out the world around them, either by wearing ear phones or by walking, head down, transfixed by some form of social media (the latter technique should not be attempted by amateurs).

Attempt this next exercise at your own risk. There’s no chance for a repeat relationship. It’s just the flash of a human connection, a one-time opportunity for a relationship, the gift of a personal link from one to another. Try it; smile at a stranger as you pass them by and see their countenance change as if by magic. It will change their day and it will make yours!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mother, Daughter & A Soul Bearing Secret

Photo Teddy

It was Christmas morning and JC* was ten years old. Back then, it wasn’t unusual for children to expect only one gift awaiting them under the tree (how that exploded into the shopping and gift giving frenzy of today is a topic for another post). The fact that she was living with her grandmother since her parent’s divorce did not seem to impact her celebration. She was an independent, resilient child and Nana was always fun to be with.

Nana finally awoke and the celebration began. The fast process of unwrapping only meant that JC had more time to play with her gift: a beautiful, white teddy bear. It was love at first sight and for the next couple of days she spent day and night with her new friend. JC thought she was the luckiest little girl in the world to have only white teddy bear in the world. In part, she was correct; teddy bears, which were first produced in the early 1900’s, were named in honor of Theodore Roosevelt and were usually brown.

It was a day later that Nana mentioned that JC’s aunt and cousin were unexpectedly coming to visit for the day. …’’I don’t have a gift for your cousin, Ruthie. She’s about your age, so let’s just give her your teddy bear and I promise we’ll get another one for you tomorrow…”.

Before she could react, the doorbell rang and a few minutes later, her teddy bear was in the arms of Ruthie, a bratty little girl that she remembered not liking the last time she had met her. Prompted by her mom, Ruthie mumbled a quick thank you, threw teddy on the couch and ran outside to play. JC’s lips quivered as teddy left the house that day, being dragged on the ground and then thrown into the trunk of the car.

Nana kept her word and the next day they were up and dressed early to go teddy bear shopping, downtown. She always made outings special and this time announced they would first stop at the bakery for a sweet bun. Fortified, they traveled from store to store, only to find no white teddy bears in stock. Finally, Nana decided they needed to settle on a brown teddy bear and made the purchase. JC tried, but could never play with that brown teddy. The crushing feeling of disappointment left her with a lump in her throat and a pain in the pit of her stomach that never really went away.

All these years later, these memories would come to the surface and take hold of her. She found herself sharing this story with family and friends, as if re-telling it over and over would somehow free her. Why was there a white and a brown teddy bear all of a sudden sitting on JC’s bed? They looked out of place against the sleek sophistication of the modern décor. It happened they were recent gifts, lovely gestures- the white one from her daughter-in-law and the brown one from a male friend, who like Nana settled for a brown teddy when no white ones were available.

A couple of weeks later, after enjoying dinner together, JC all of a sudden, teared up and confided in me that the adorable duo were wreaking havoc on her emotions. Each time she entered her bedroom, she would go back in time and re-live her parent’s divorce, bouncing back and forth from her grandmother to her aunt’s homes, the quiet strength that she wore like armor. She couldn’t just give them away, but realized they had to go…, but where?

The answer came to me immediately. When I dropped her off that night, I brought the teddy bears home with me. Now named Blanca and Castaña (the words white and brown in Spanish), they are delicately wrapped up and awaiting their introduction to JC’s great- grandchildren, along with the story about their spunky, resilient great-grandmother who was tough enough to endure all of life’s heartbreaks and smart enough to know when it was time to bear her soul and let go of the past.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

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Moving Mania: It All Depends What State You’re In

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Where is everyone going? Whether it’s housing or job related, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in every 8.5 people are relocating.

I’m not sure how it all started for me. Somewhere between a curiosity about a peripatetic lifestyle, longing to eat dinner with my extended family every Sunday and meeting Mr. Wiz* (who was a “retail brat”, moving with his family each time his father was transferred), it just happened. Once it did, I took pleasure in the fact that, with each move, the slate was wiped clean and I had the opportunity to start over and reinvent myself.

When I look back, each experience had its unique qualities. I tried to find the best of every city, made it my own while I lived there, then happily moved on, tucking those memories away into the layers that formed who I am today:

  • Mr. Wiz moves from Cleveland, Ohio to a Park Avenue studio in New York City. We start our sales representative business together. Business cards look great, but no one is invited to his cramped quarters.
  • Little by little, Mr. Wiz is moving his belongings to my place in Mohegan Lake, New York. He presents a spreadsheet at dinner one evening, showing me that we could afford a New York City showroom for our business if we move in together: deal done!
  • Our Mohegan Lake rental goes co-op. We spearhead our fellow renters to unite for better purchase terms and are relieved to find out that the young couple with a new business who are turned down for a loan is not us.
  • Executives from an English company fly over for the day to meet us and offer us both a position. It’s too good to pass up and we’re off to Lake Bluff, Illinois.
  • A Chicago company with a subsidiary in Arkansas sweetens the pot just enough and our next stop is Heber Springs, Arkansas.
  • Mr. Wiz excitedly surprises me with his idea to buy a historic building in nearby Mountain View, Arkansas. Once a car dealership, it’s now utilized as a warehouse by the company he is running. We scrape the black paint off the windows and experiment with selling their products at the upcoming Bean Festival. Fifty thousand tourists crowd the little town, we sell out, renovate the building, move upstairs and our store Mountain View Mercantile is born.
  • Once Big A* is born, we are starting to wonder where he will go to school (Arkansas is not high in its educational rankings) and missing family and friends. We head back to Merrick, New York, a suburb of N.Y.C. and home of my parents.
  • As hard as we try, we just don’t seem to fit into the suburban lifestyle. This time, rather than have the job dictate our new city, Mr. Wiz decides that we should first choose the city and the job will follow. We choose Chicago and after a few phone calls, he is offered a position there.
  • From our city rental, we move to a city condo.
  • We move two more times within the same condo building. It’s a win-win; Mr. Wiz gets to gut and renovate and Big A and I are happy not to have to leave the area.
  • We (J.C.*, Mr. Wiz and I) decide to put our Chicago condos up for sale. They both sell quicker than expected and before we know it, we are in Austin, Texas, signing leases for rental apartments.
  • Our heads have almost stopped spinning. Once we get our bearings, I’m not sure what will be next.

The word moving is defined as “to change one’s place, position or residence; to make progress; to advance”. In one way or another, I hope that I never stop moving.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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I Danced with a Man with No Legs (and Other Inexplicable Moments)

Photo Inexplicable 2

Coincidences? I like to think that things happen for a reason and if you take the time to analyze each situation, you will come up with its rationale. What I first thought were rather strange occurrences were really just wonderful experiences in disguise:

When I read about the dance in the church bulletin, something told me to get out of my comfort zone and go alone. My first husband and I had just separated and I was feeling sad and lonely. A young man with a great smile asked me to dance a couple of times and then we sat and chatted. I complimented him on his dancing skills and he said “…Not bad for a man with no legs…”. He then went on to tell me that he had lost both legs in a motorcycle accident and had been fitted for prostheses. He opened up about how he was determined to not let that accident change his life. I listened in awe, embarrassed by the drama I had created in my mind over what now seemed like minor issues that I was facing. I never saw him again, but after that evening I resolved to get back to positive thinking and get on with my life.

Before I deleted my Facebook profile, I decided to look up one of Big A’s* pre-school classmates that had suddenly popped into my mind; I’m not sure why. I just wanted to glance at her home page, which is visible to all, without having to “friend” her. I was so happy to see that she had recently gotten engaged. The next morning, the hair on my arms stood straight up when I saw an email from her asking for our new address so she could send us a wedding invitation.

My Dad had just passed away and I had put his business card in a frame at my bedside. A great marketer, he had created the persona of the “Gentleman Roofer”. I loved seeing the picture of him in a bowler hat, smiling back at me from the card each day. I awoke one morning and was amazed to see the metal frame of the picture sparkling! Though the technical reason was the combination of the sun hitting the frame just right and the movement of the ceiling fan, I like to think that it was my Dad letting me know that he was okay.

It was my Dad’s birthday. I kissed the little frame at my bedside and asked him to give me a sign that he was all right. As I walked to work, I was startled to see a can lying in the street near the curb, across from the convenience store. I rolled it over with my foot and gasped. It was a can of Progresso Wedding Soup, my Dad’s favorite. I picked up the can, carried it lovingly to work and enjoyed it slowly for lunch, thinking of the times we would cook together, even making our version of that same soup.

Be open, be attentive and look for signs all around you.  Slow down enough to let the little surprises in life astonish you and enjoy the inexplicable moments.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.