Saturday, November 16, 2019

Thanksgiving Thoughts


Thanksgiving is often thought of as the "All American" Holiday, a time to pause with family and friends to reflect on those things and times that have given us the most joy. A list of "Gratitudes" such as:

Grateful are those who have enough to eat
Grateful are those with a safe place to sleep
Grateful are those who feel love in their hearts
Grateful are those who have others that help
Grateful are those who are able to help
Grateful for comfort when things are not easy
Grateful for laughter for health and for healing
Grateful if only for the end of a hard day
Grateful for the days filled with unbridled joy

These are my Gratitudes today, what are yours?

Thanksgiving Emotions and the Helpfulness of Sharing Laughter 

Thanksgiving can also be a time of self-reflection, nostalgia, and for some, heartache. The person who no longer shares our table - through  death, estrangement, or distance. The sharpening of hurts, disasters and tragedies experienced since last Thanksgiving. Personal and global anxiety. Mixed emotions of the history behind our celebration. Who knew that the sharing of a roasted bird, the bird that Benjamin Franklin wanted to declare America's official bird, would, so many years later, be marinated in so many feelings?

And while I might say that we all gather and laugh together for bonding, healing, and comfort, I know that even laughter, can, like that turkey, be stuffed with many sentiments.  And yet, I do encourage you to bond, heal, and find comfort during this time of year. In fact, it is my wish for you that you expand your laughter to other holidays, gatherings, conversations, social media posts, and work life. Laughter is the social bonding survival skill that has been with us since before humans had adequate language.

The very act of smiling helps pave the way to cooperation and understanding. In fact, the growing of America was helped tremendously by those of different origins and languages learning to smile at each other, even if they came from older traditions that discouraged smiles and laughter. Shared laughter over a shared meal can go a long way to create bonds of tolerance and understanding with strangers, and, yes, even with your opinionated relatives.With my family and friends, there are just some stories and memories that we can't help repeating during these gatherings because the still make us laugh until we cry.

And because the power of Laughter can both heal and hurt, I encourage you to use your powers for good. It is not always easy, and I have struggled with laughter in my life, at one time only seeing its weaponization. I've written about it several times, here is my recent essay from LinkedIn.

It's the Laughter, We Will Remember

Originally appeared in my Smile Side of Life Laughter & Happiness Club Newsletter. You can subscribe here

Friday, November 15, 2019

A Cautionary Tale About Baby Screen Time

Image by Nadine Doerlé from Pixabay

Everyone knows I am all about tech and new gadgets and social media. I am also aware that people have been scared and concerned about "new" ways to access info since the Gutenberg Bible was published and some clergy thought it was evil for the "rabble" to be able to read the bible on their own. Victorian women were told that too much reading was bad for their brains. The radio took families away from dinner table discussions. In the 50s, comic books and the boob tube were the enemy. And, it is true, that the human brain adapted to incorporate these things into daily life. 

Anyone born after 1995 has grown up with smartphones, and there have been social and behavioral changes resulting from that - much in the way that access to books, newspapers, radio and television created changes. However, in the wake the recent generation's early exposure to "screen time," the intensity and close proximity of small children to phones, tablets, and other electronic things, disturbing physical changes to the brain are being discovered.

 Screen Time Lowers Brain Development in Preschoolers

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Charles M. Schulz, The AstroBeagle, and Me - UPDATED 8-21-19

In 1989 I wrote a short article for a tiny publication about being thankful. My article, “Why I am Grateful for Charlie Brown” detailed how I had carried around a tiny book of Peanuts comic strips entitled “Everything I Do Makes Me Feel Guilty.” I thanked Charles M. Schulz for creating in Peanuts, an assembly of characters that not only entertained me, but spoke to my troubled teenage years as well as my (at that time) young motherhood.

I treasure the letter I received in return, and his wish for me: “I am pleased to know that the Peanuts family has been helpful to you down through the years, and hope they will continue to have a place in your home in the future.” Those who know me, know how true those words were, and still are, to this day, 40 years later.

This weekend I will be traveling to the Midwest, to be with my son, his wife, and their children, to provides support and love as their youngest undergoes brain surgery. There was no doubt what I would bring with me for this baby full of smiles and laughter — a Peanuts gift. The choice was apparent the moment I saw it, a stuffed Astrobeagle commemorating Snoopy’s role as NASA’s safety mascot. Astronauts and ground crew would even “beep” Snoopy’s nose for luck, and carry a silver Astrobeagle medal on their journey, to be gifted to a special ground crew person on the return. I’ll be carrying the stuffed Astrobeagle on the plane and on the train, asking strangers to pose with him and smile, so he can bring all their good vibes to the one who needs them most next week.

And while I am at it, I’d like to thank Charles M. Schulz again – he probably never realized how his words would come true like this – that Peanuts has had a place in my home and my heart in all the intervening years since his letter.

And so, I posthumously award Charles M. Schulz a Smile Starter Award for all the smiles he has brought to the world. I know, somewhere in the great beyond, he is beeping Snoopy’s nose for all of us.

UPDATE: 8-21-19

I opened up the plastic frame with my Schulz letter in it, and found ANOTHER LETTER, from 1991 - in this letter he says "When a person sits in a room by himself day after day trying to draw something funny, and sometimes meaningful, he has no idea as to the affect it might be having on his readers." What a wonderful thing to find after all these years! Also in there, a 1995 postcard from Dave Barry when I thanked him for the "eyes" of his audience that fell on something I wrote that was published next to his column.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

August is Supposed to be Happiness Happens Month

Image by HOerwin56 from Pixabay
I am posting this on a day that is full of horror and sorrow. A day which once again finds families making preparations to bury victims of violence. Violence that is happening too frequently to chalk it up to a homicidal sociopath with motives that cannot be explained. Homicidal sociopaths have always existed among us. However, they have now been joined by homicidal ideologues who have been emboldened by hateful rhetoric. Rhetoric that aims to normalize divisive tribalism in order to centralize power, control and the money that goes with it.

Today, as I feel almost without hope, I remind myself, as did Anne Frank, that there IS good in the world. Good that is not owned by one group or another, but that lives in the hearts and minds of many people. People who must now, as we did after 9-11, bind together to keep the darkness at bay. 

Once I wrote "we will laugh again" during a time we never thought we could. Since that time I have learned how necessary laughter is to human survival. From primitive times when a smile or laugh between two neolithic strangers was a sign of harmless intentions, and a willingness to
"all get along," to the survival-enhancing and bonding purpose of the laughter of a baby; laughter has sustained humanity.

On the evening of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January, 2015, I was scheduled to give a presentation on laughter. I was despondent, I could not imagine asking people to laugh on such a horrific day. But after expressing my concern to other members of the Association for Applied & Therapeutic Humor, I understood how very important it was to go on with the program. Not only to share laughter in a safe space to ease stress and release endorphins, but to help the attendees build resilience to help them through the difficult days. Difficult days, that now, in 2019, are still being repeated.

My wish for those in mourning is that happy memories — times of laughter and smiling — will help sustain them in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. That they may gather with others who loved the persons lost; to weep together, grieve together, share memories together, and eventually laugh together.

And I will continue to look for those people who help us build our resilience through their smiles, laughter, hopefulness and giving spirits. And I will be thanking those near me in Central New Jersey, who share this gift with others. Not just because it is a nice thing to do, but because we need it for our survival.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

There's A Funny Story in Here Somewhere - Water, Wasps & Mosquitoes

There has been a little break in action here at Swamp Central. By that I mean, there are no workers under my house, performing inscrutable procedures. I’ve had the time to re-examine what has gone on, and how, quite possibly, my own distress taken advantage of. First of all, standing water under one’s house is no joke. Specters of mold, mosquitoes, collapsing foundation walls and dollar bills being sucked down the drain at hyper speed are not crazy panic-induced illusions. They are all possible. However, they are not inevitable.

I realize now that the word “mold” was used by a man purposely wearing a for-real, I-mean-business respirator. I realize now, that the workers who spent hours in that same environment wore the same kind of mask I wear to clean out the bottom of my birdcage. I realize now, that the people I hired did not have proper equipment for removing the water, despite " flood clean-up" being their business. I realize now, that two dehumidifiers, left running under my house for more than a week, were not discharging water to the outside of the house, or the sump pump pit. Quite possibly, they were just discharging the water right back into. the crawl space. And, I realize now, that I know where the abundance of mosquitoes around my deck is coming from.

A correction is needed for sure, and no independent inspectors seem to exist. So, decided to get at least three estimates from local water proofers chosen by an online web service that purports to list reputable companies. I arranged appointments over a day and a half, looking to make a decision immediately following. I gave very detailed information about wanting an inspection and quote. For a crawl space. With a three-foot clearance. And standing water. I purposefully did not mention the “m” word, now convinced, that if you mention it as a concern, they will play on that and tell you it exists, whether it does or not.

Contractor/salesman #1 arrives. He pauses as I open the hatch. “Oh, this is a crawl space,” he says. “Oh, it has water in it?” he asks. “Nobody told me, and, anyway, I am not dressed for that,” he concludes. “How about I come back tomorrow, or first thing Saturday morning?” He had been at my house about 3 minutes.

He left, and I immediately went on the online web service, and gave his outfit a poor review, indicating that they were being dinged for wasting my time (time I had taken off from work) and that they lost my business no matter how many good reviews they had.

Then I decided I better call the other two bidders to make sure they were coming prepared. Contractor #2 put me on hold. Then another person came on the line and said, “Oh, our inspector just called out sick for tomorrow. Can we reschedule for next week?” No second chance for them.

Contractor #3 was almost surprised when I asked if their representative would be prepared to go under my house. They assured me he would be. But, actually, he wasn’t. However, he at least jumped down into the pit, shone a flashlight into the crawlspace, took measurements with a laser ruler, and examined the sump pump system and new pump that had been improperly installed. We walked around the outside of the house and he determined that grading was NOT contributing to the water. I felt a little better about taking a quote from him. This was the only place that I had an actual personal recommendation for, and I made sure to name drop. However, I think they need to come again, with a clean suit and a mask, to crawl around down there and give me a better assessment.

Of course all things halted for the Independence Day weekend. But that didn’t mean things got quiet here. The LOML was mowing the grass in the front yard and I was inside the house. I heard him cry out and the lawnmower stop. All the DuPont Safety Magazine gory articles about lawn mower accidents ran through my head, and I ran outside – running into the LOML heading into the house, pulling off his shirt. Apparently, he brushed up against the yews in the front yard, and had gotten attacked by wasps. After finding all the stings and administering AfterBite and Benadryl, I went to peek at the bush. A fairly large amount of angry wasps were flying around. From behind the safety of the living room window, I could see a paper wasp nest – not as big as the basketball-sized ones I have seen in trees – but bigger than a softball for sure.

Friends had all sorts of ideas, from burning them, to sneak stomping the nest after dark. I decided that discretion is the better part of valor, and we called in a professional. 

And he never once mentioned mold.
The real WaspMan at work in my front yard.