Friday, December 21, 2018

How to Live on the Smile Side of Life Even When You Don't Feel Like Smiling

"Here's a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don't worry, be happy..."
Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy

There is a great webpage full of quick tips out there: - because in today's crazy, superspeed world, a little web byte at a time may be all the time you have to devote to yourself. I am currently working on a 5 Minutes for Me philosopy, which I will share soon, but in the meantime, here is a tip I wrote about how to Live on the Smile Side of Life even when you don't feel like smiling. 

Are You Living on the Smile Side of Life?

Monday, December 17, 2018

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Message on Thanksgiving 2018

Was going to create a silly or funny greeting, but after such a cluster of horror this year, I offer this, with the knowledge that, each day is precious.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Note to My Co-Workers on the Night of Murphy's Snowstorm

Today, I left the parking lot at 3:30 pm, after spending 15 minutes clearing my car. Took Rte 1 south, to avoid the Ryders Lane mess. Slow going, but it moved. Turned into Milltown, headed toward home via the usual back roads, at at about 20 mph. Slippery, but drive-able.

Passed one car stopped in the middle of the road with flashers on. Passed another car stopped in the middle of the road with flashers on. Passed a tractor trailer stopped in the middle of the road with flashers on. 

Turned onto Cranbury Road at 4 PM into stopped traffic.

Watched the gas gauge go down - the only thing moving on the gridlocked road. Finally reached WaWa around 4:35. All gas pumps blocked off. No gas. Actually, no pumps. Second day of "pump replacement." 
Concerned about waning gas level while sitting in traffic, ("30 miles") decided to stay at WaWa until non-moving traffic dissipated and would allow me to get to the 1/2 mile away gas station for a fill up.

Bought a coffee and a sandwich. Sat in the car with radio on, but car not running to save gas. Dripped sriracha all over my coat. Around 5:20 pm the radio cut out. Attempts to start the car were met with "that" clicking sound.

Dead battery.

Rescued around 6 pm by LOML. Left car at WaWa because traffic still backed up, and even a jump would not guarantee getting to the next gas station.

Home now. Car still at WaWa. May need to call AAA to come give a jump in the morning. First have to find a way to get there. Snowstorms often demand people in security work (aka LOML) to stay on post.

Conclusion: Murphy's Snowstorm obeyed its own law by causing as much havoc as possible at the worst possible time. 
Unsure of morning arrival time.

 I returned to my car after the traffic cleared and was unable to jump start it. AAA was summoned, although my stressed out brain confused both AAA and me, when I referred to my car model as a "verizon" and I stuttered for a few agonizing second until I blurted out the real make and model of my car.

The LOML and I dozed in his warm car, until AAA arrived, and it was amazing how quickly the new battery was in and I was ready to go.

Still needing to solve the low gas problem, I suddenly realized that work had been completed at some point, and all I had to do was turn my car around and head to the one pump that was open at that time of night.

Finally, with a new battery and a full tank, I drove home over formerly gridlocked-ice packed roads and got home, for the night, at 1 AM.

This morning, the sun is shining, the snow is gone from my local roads, and New Jersey os shaking her head, thinking "What the heck did I do last night?"

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Happy Halloween!

An excerpt from my Ha Ha Halloween podcast.

My affinity for the funny and whimsical side of Halloween goes back to my childhood. I never wanted to be a scary character, but something fun and fantastical. Even when I dressed as a witch, I was always a good witch. The year I was a flower girl for my uncle’s wedding, I wanted to go trick or treating as a bride, complete with a lacy white dress, a veil and bouquet. I had a bride outfit for my Barbie, with a pearl tiara and satin-lace trimmed dress and pictured being her twin. Shortly before Halloween my mother came home with my costume. This was, unfortunately, in the days of the plastic costume and mask in a box. She smiled, so proud of herself that she had actually found a Halloween bride-in-a-box costume.  But what I saw through the clear cellophane of the box top was not the fantasy Barbie bride of my dreams, but a bloody-faced mask, with a dirt and rip painted plastic evil Vampire Bride tunic. The story makes me smile today, but at the time, I was mortified, which is an appropriate mood for a vampire bride.

My children were influenced by my ha ha Halloween attitude, and preferred fun character costumes, hero and shero costumes, pirates, mermaids, WW I flying aces, and other creative themes. In fact, one year, my oldest daughter found my old suede bell bottom pants and a crocheted granny top, and decided to go as a hippy/flower child. She wore this outfit to the annual Halloween parade and costume contest at the Milltown, NJ Annual Legion. We all clapped when she was selected as a prize winner – but surprised when she was named Scariest Costume. As the legion member presented her with her award, he explained “We veterans of the 60s and 70s decided that hippies scared us!” Then he laughed. The kids were confused, but those of us of a certain age got his joke.

My son recalls a teen experience that happened on Mischief night – that night before Halloween that some tradition says that kids can get into “mischief” with no repercussions. Personally, I think it is a bad idea, and never knowingly allowed my kids out to participate. But, my son, somehow, that night was out on the street with his friends, and encountered local police officers. They were asked if they had eggs – the source of a lot of Mischief Night damage. The boys all denied having any eggs. The police officers then said, ok, so nothing in your pockets? And began tapping the boys pockets. There was the sound of eggs breaking. My son swears he only had “one egg” on him, and remains mad to this day. Me, picturing the boys with their egg-soggy pants can’t help but smile.

The mayor of Jamesburg, New Jersey where I live, shared a similar story with me Here is what she wrote me:

"My son and his friends were planning to go out on mischief night. This started when they were around 10-12 years old. I caught wind of their plan and so did another mom when we found stockpiles of toilet paper. I told them I would take them out but we could only use toilet paper and only our friend's houses. 

So off we go just after dark. 4 boys and a mom. We do their own houses and other friends we knew wouldn't mind a little toilet paper. We pull on to a particular street, which was also a dead end. I turn my lights off and the boys get out and start running down the street. Next I hear the kids yell "COPS".  I SLINK down in my seat as he passes. The kids scatter and hide. All except my son. The officer calls his name as he stands there with toilet paper in hand. The officer knew my son and almost all the kids in town who went through his Dare program at school. He asks my son "does your mother know what you are doing?” He turns and points his finger and says, "ask her, she's right there!" 

I try to sit up straight and not look guilty for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The officer backs up and shakes his head, laughs and drives away. "

My sister Peggy remembers the time she made group costume for her daughters Becky and Jen, and my sister Theresa’s son Joey. She took a clear plastic bag, filled it with dry leaves and attached a hanging tag to it to create a giant teabag costume for Joey. Then, she made a teapot and teacup sandwich board type costume for the girls. The two younger kids were fine with it, but Becky absolutely did not like it. However they won best group costume at another Milltown American Legion Halloween Parade. I’m guessing the award was some consolation for being a Tea Party member long before the Tea Party movement actually became a “thing.”

Fellow Laughter Professional, Miriam Gassman, recalled her before-punk-hair-gel days idea to make her hair stick straight up on Halloween. For some reason she thought that slathering her hair with Vaseline would do the trick. Well, not only did that not work, but she was forced to go to high school for the next week with greasy hair that took several days of washing to fix. Any teen will tell you, that is a really horror story!

Halloween was not so fun the year Hurricane Sandy blasted New Jersey and so many people were without power and just trying to assess property damages. Governor Christie even signed an executive order to move the date of trick or treating. It was the second year in a row that NJ kids had weather almost destroy Halloween. The previous year, a freak, heavy wet snowstorm played havoc with the celebrations. But, out of these two years of more tricks than treats, came a surge in popularity of  “trunk or treat,” a kind of tailgate Halloween party, held in school and mall parking lots. People load their car trunks with treats and decorations, and the kids make the rounds. Now that is how to keep the HA HA in Halloween!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

“It’s the Laughter We Will Remember…”

The song is bittersweet, about love found and lost, and the memories that remain. All that is left after years and years is the laughter they shared. And it comforts them.

From the ACLU's Twitter Feed, October 4, 2018
Yes, laughter is what we remember. A universal communication, it may actually have served as language for primitive man. Not to indicate humor, but to show mutual harmlessness, openness, and friendliness. Babies laugh before they speak, not because anything is funny. Instinctively a baby knows that laughter helps two brains sync together, and hopefully that other brain belongs to someone who is going to care for him, bond with him, protect him. It stimulates endorphins and oxytocin, creating what we call love. Love that grew from laughter. 

It is biology, evolution, magic — a precious gift shared by only a few other species on earth.

But laughter has a dark side. There is laughter that is not meant to show friendliness or bonding. It is meant to demean, belittle, and objectify. Those who use laughter as a weapon are often very skilled at it — the bully who makes someone cry, then convinces the rest of the kids to laugh. The sociopath who laughs when inflicting pain. Whether consciously our unconsciously, the person using laughter as a weapon knows that that laughter not only causes pain in the moment, but repeated pain, time and again. For some victims, they can no longer tolerate hearing laughter, even when it is joyous. Others are so traumatized they are convince that they do not deserve to laugh.

I know that feeling. Laughter was used as a weapon against me more than once in my life. There were the mean girls who didn’t let me into their group when we moved from New York to New Jersey. They laughed at my clothes, they laughed at my accent. Laughter that I could hear sitting inside my house, watching them walk by, sure that they knew about the chaos I was living with.

I carry other laughter with me. The laughter that came with the nickname “The Brainless Wonder.” The laughter that came when, after being forced to sing into a tape recorder (you like to sing? Then sing!), a song that had lyrics something like “until I die…” For what seemed like years I had to listen to that tape, and the voice that cut me off — “with a voice like that, you’re dead already!”

I was easily embarrassed, felt self conscious, and overly sensitive to laughter for most of my school years. Someone threw a firecracker at my feet in a school hallway, and the noise momentarily deafened me. But I could see the laughter on the face of the person who threw it.

It was music that saved me, and a music teacher who tolerated my hypersensitivity and tendency to storm out of a room and slam the door. I found the courage to sing again, and I spent my entire senior year studying humor and satire. The pain of the harmful laughter began to fade — not completely, it will never be completely gone, but it was locked away.

I thought it was locked away for good. But the brain is capricious with memory. Things will happen that launch you right back to the most uncomfortable moments of your past.

Such is what happened to me listening to the testimony of Dr. Ford. Like many, I had been sexually assaulted as a teen. A family friend cornered me in a boathouse, groped me, pulled me close, and put his hands inside my bathing suit. He laughed loudly as I broke free and ran away. I had actually forgotten about that laughter until Dr. Ford talked about her own experience. The fact that laughter burns into the amygdala. That laughter remains a sharp memory when other details may become fuzzy. I found out that laughter, used as a weapon, lies in waiting, ready to come roaring back to your conscious mind when you experience just the right situation.

And this evening, I witnessed the president of the United States mock Dr. Ford’s testimony, in the same way he had mocked the physical challenges of NY Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski. It made me sick. It made me furious. It made me ashamed because now that my memories were flooding back to me, I realized that society had permitted the mocking of Mr. Kovaleski, and would now permit the mocking of Dr. Ford.

There will be a flurry of outrage, but nothing will be done. What CAN be done? The man seems made of Teflon – he can sit in a fire of his own making and not get burned.

Laughter has become a mission in my life. I know its importance and power. Laughter can heal, bond enemies, reduce pain and lighten depression.  Laughter can highlight social ills and announce to the crowd that the emperor has no clothes. But, in the hands of a bully, a person of power, or an entire society, laughter as a weapon can cause unrelenting trauma.

Tonight I feel that my voice of laughter’s joys and benefits is weak and unheard. I feel complicit in not doing something, anything to stop this.

But I have no answers. It is the laughter I remember.



Sunday, September 9, 2018

Laughing Again

Since 2010, when I was first certified as a Laughter Yoga leader, attended "Can Humor Save the World" in Cape May, New Jersey, and started down the path of learning the importance of enhancing one's well being through humor and laughter, I am often drawn back to the events of 9-11-2001. 

Life would never be the same, and many of us wondered if we could ever laugh again—physically, emotionally, spiritually. There were unsuccessful attempts met with condemnations of "too soon." The equation that comedy = tragedy + time didn't tell us how much time. Mel Brooks often challenged others' interpretations of that, successfully facing it head on with movies such as both versions of "The Producers."

We know from many survivors of horror, such as Viktor Frankl, and the clowns who entertain children in Middle East war zones and other places, humor, even "gallows humor," often has a place in the midst of unimaginable situations.

Next April, The Association for Applied & Therapeutic Humor will center its whole conference on the very idea of "too soon." I'm sure part of the discussions with be the Comedy Equation, and how the "time" factor must remain an unsolvable variable that will require many other calculations to glean.

As the anniversary of 9-11 approaches, I look back again on what I wrote that year, doing my best to assure myself and others, that, yes, we would laugh again. That in fact, laughter is a necessary part of healing.

We Will Laugh Again

©Noreen Braman

As I write this, October 2001 is spreading the golden crown of fall across most of America. A sense of change is in the air, as nature prepares herself for the long restful sleep of winter.  And, deep within us, there is change too – not a seasonal change brought about by nature, but a violent upheaval that reverberates to the innermost depths of the soul. Our hearts have been slashed open by an insidious foe hiding behind a cowardly mask of self-serving ideology. Our pain is so great, we know we have been changed forever, and in our grief, in our mourning, in our righteous anger comes the feeling that we will never smile again. Indeed those of us who have survived these horrific events, those of us who can hold our loved ones to our breasts are burdened by an overwhelming sense of guilt and a helplessness that is almost paralyzing.

But we have been asked to get back to business. We have been asked to prove that our way of life here in America is not something that can be snuffed out by those who place no value on life, have no sense of honor and seek only to destroy all who cannot feed into their megalomania. Indeed, they are depending on the very things that make us American ­– our compassion, our openness, our hands that we extend in friendship to those who love and hate us — to let them get to us, hurt us, kill us. But those hands have now closed into fists of anger and frustration, those hands have grasped the tools of rescue and rebuilding, those hands have raised the flag of freedom and justice, and those hands are reaching across the globe, to find the cowards where they hide, to drag them out into the light of day, where no evil thing can live. And slowly, yes, slowly, our tears will dry. Our faces will wear the grim visages of determination; our eyes will focus on the task ahead. As one, we will rise like the Phoenix from the ashes, stronger and fiercer. And when the dust, dirt, debris and blood of the battle clears – we will stand, united and free still.

And yes, as time goes by, we will smile again, we will laugh again. The United States, the nation blessed and charged with standing as the shining example for all, will go on.  But we shall never forget.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

A poem in honor of baseball season

The D Sign

When my coach flashes the D sign
my pitching arm better be warm
and ready to retire the side
3 up, 3 down.
Not to get battered
pitching into disaster
my rotator cuff on fire.

Or, stepping up to the plate
the D sign means
don't think about my average
just face down the fastball.
Out of the park
or hard bounce in the infield
whatever brings the run home.

Getting the D sign is serious
strikeouts or homeruns expected.
That's what happens 
when you make the choice
to compete as a

©2018 Noreen Braman

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

INDEPENDENCE DAY 2018 - John Adams and Erma Bomeck

This time of year, I think about my favorite Broadway play, 1776. The music is wonderful, the story well-presented, and perhaps, the fact that I first saw it back when I was an idealistic teenager has something to do with my affection for it.

I could not help but be caught up in the portrayal of John Adams as an annoying buzzing fly (among the other annoying buzzing files in Philadelphia) who doesn't give up on his vision of what a new country, the United States of America, could become — if only his compatriots could see what he saw.

I still get goosebumps just thinking about the roll call at the end and how they all end up frozen in place, to match the famous painting. Yes, the music, the bells, the humor — it accomplishes the whole point of leaving the audience with swelling pride. But also, in some respects, an underlying current of sorrow. Sadness, perhaps, for the distance between aspiration and accomplishment that still exists.

The history of the US is full of bright lights and dark caverns. We have, at times, been the beacon of hope for the world, and at other times lost our way in the shadows. It is a history we must pay attention to, in order to keep the light burning bright, while acknowledging the darkness and keeping it at bay.

This year, I worry, more than I ever have, about the soul of the United States. Our collective minds debate daily what should be the future path, and our hearts are pendulums that traverse from stone-cold indifference to tearful empathy. But our souls seem the most fragile and endangered. At times we seem to teeter on the edge of losing them forever, either through willful abandonment or the sweep of powerful tidal forces.

Dante posted a sign at the gates of Hell, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." 

Yet, Pandora found that hope could still exist, even in the face of overwhelming tribulations. 

My wish for the US on this Independence Day, is that we choose the path where hope is still the beacon we shine to the world.

Is anybody there?
Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

They want to me to quit; they say
John, give up the fight
Still to England I say
Good night, forever, good night!
For I have crossed the Rubicon
Let the bridge be burned behind me
Come what may, come what may


The croakers all say we'll rue the day
There'll be hell to pay in fiery purgatory
Through all the gloom, through all the gloom
I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory!

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

I see fireworks! I see the pagaent and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans - all Americans
Free forever more

How quiet, how quiet the chamber is
How silent, how silent the chamber is

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

Words from Erma Bombeck:

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy and the flies die from happiness.  You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.  by Erma Bombeck.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Two Tales of Dunkin' Donuts

Today, I read a story in The Outline, by Laura Yan, who decided to spend 24 hours in her neighborhood Dunkin' Donuts - a Brooklyn neighborhood not far from the neighborhood where I spent my early childhood. It also reminded me of my own Dunkin' Donuts poem - a poem that was once published on the website of a popular NPR show that is no longer with us. A poem I can hardly believe I wrote 18 years ago! So, I am sharing it here again, as well as the link to the Brooklyn story.

An unfortunate demolition of the driveup menu from 2007.

Opening Night at the Jamesburg Dunkin Donuts

“We’ve been crushed all day,” says the man behind the counter
who unlike the other workers, wears a crisp, embroidered, denim shirt,
denoting his position as a higher authority, maybe even the franchise owner.
All day long they’ve been doling out coffee, doughnuts and ice cream
like Atlantic City card dealers — here’s your hand, let me scoop up your money.
By 8 PM, the stock is depleted, not a chocolate doughnut in sight
but the ice cream counter can make up for that
even though the night is unseasonably chilly for June
big dollops of mint chocolate chip tantalize the lips of customers
some who stay to revel in the clean newness,
sitting at the burgundy tables, scraping the floor with the heavy wooden chairs,
leaving chocolate sprinkles, doughnut crumbs in their wake.
A huge van equipped for cross-country travel tries to park outside the window
back and forth it goes trying to fit, while the children inside
illegally unrestrained, press their faces against the window.
Finally they are in the space and the door slides open
and out bounds Dad with three in tow — pale blondes,
one for each hand, and one to hold his shirt tail.
Inside he picks up the youngest and stands him on the counter, leaning far over
to see what doughnuts are left.
Hidden behind the line of coffee drinkers, soda buyers and ice cream lickers,
the other two children discover the freezer and it’s all too easy to open the door.
Inside, a wonderland of ice cream cakes, complete with sparkling trims
little plastic graduation hats, diplomas and glitter.
It seems perfectly logical to help daddy out and bring him the cake
and they drag it by the box until the corners give out
and the ice cream cake with its chocolate top
and frozen roses and crunchy bottom
rolls out of the box and onto the floor,
in front of amused coffee drinkers who have no idea that the cake is real.
And daddy, who notices at last, shoves the mutilated frozen treat
back into the box, and back into the freezer,
and quickly departs with his  purchases, and his three little blondes,
two of whom seem confused that they have no ice cream.
Finally some one asks, are those real cakes, or just displays,
and finding out they are indeed consumable,
tells the tale of the upside down cake —
which is immediately removed by the teenage girls
who dish out the ice cream in their white shirts and hats
and the glitter is swept up and the melted ice cream mopped up
as the dealers at the counter don’t miss a beat
pouring the coffee, wrapping the donuts, collecting the money,
smiling and hoping this crush of business
continues after opening night.

©2000 Noreen Braman

24 Hours At My Local Dunkin' Donuts

Home page of The Outline