Why Smiling May Keep You Sane

Last night I stood in line with three items; frozen yoghurt, ice cream and sorbet. It had been a hot and muggy day, and even the A/C in the grocery store couldn’t overcome the humidity. I was in the “12 items only” lane, behind a gal with about 20 items, but as every other lane was packed, I just stayed where I was. I was hot, tired, and just wanted to pay for my three little items and go home.

Well, 20 Item girl had trouble with her debit card, which had to be inserted four times to get it right. Then there was a small argument about whether or not a potted plant had been paid for after the card was inserted. Then the manager had to be called over because there was another glitch, then another and then one more.

My three items were slowly melting, even with the A/C running. The people behind me were getting restless, and there was a lot of sighing and muttering building up. I wasn’t thrilled about this either, but I knew that getting angry and impatient would only make me hotter, angrier and probably melt my sorbet. So I pasted on a smile and decided to make this a “zen” moment.

I began doing this a long time ago when I finally learned that you can sigh and shuffle your feet and roll your eyes all you want, but none of that will ever change a situation like this. All it ever does is add to the impatience and chaos that is already building up in mind and body.

All the other lines were packed and even with all the kerfuffle going on in front of me, it was still my best option to just stay in line—and smile. There is something deep in our cells that responds to a smile. There are tons of studies out there that tell us that smiling can actually change our brain chemistry, our mood and our outlook on life.

In the ten minutes or so when 20 Item girl was having problems with her card, I could have spent that time fuming and tapping my feet irritably, which would undoubtedly have raised my blood pressure and would have done nothing to improve the situation. So I smiled and it made me feel better.

It’s very possible that those around me saw me as a simple-minded smiling cluck, but at least my blood pressure stayed low. And eventually, as I knew it would, 20 Item girl finally got straightened out and I and my slightly mooshy confections were on our way home.

Smiling is the chicken soup of the body. As the old comedians used to say about chicken soup for a cold, ‘it couldn’t hurt.’ Same goes for smiling your way through an aggravating situation—-it couldn’t hurt.


Why Re-Reading Books is Never a Waste of Time

I grew up in a reading family. After dinner, it wasn’t unusual for all three of us to gather in the living room, each with our own book. Mom and I read for pleasure; Dad read for information.

Mom and I both kept book lists, and when one of us discovered a new author, we let the other one know pronto.  Then we had the pleasure of discussing it afterwards. My book list was just the book title and the author; Mom’s was that plus her commentaries on each and her own rating system, 1 to 10. Any book below a 7 wasn’t worth the time to read it.

We were in lockstep about books, authors and commentaries about books and authors. But what Mom could never understand was my passion for re-reading books.

“What a complete waste of time!” she would say. “There are so many wonderful books in the world we haven’t read; why would you waste your time on re-reading a book that you already read?!”

Well, here’s why: first of all, there is no dishonor or ‘points off’ for re-reading a book you love. It’s wonderful to open that well-worn book, saying to yourself, ‘oh, I remember this part; this was one of my favorites!’ And then snuggle down, sighing in pure pleasure of remembrance.

The real find in re-reading books was to discover a sentence (sometimes a whole paragraph) that you could swear you had never read before. This happened often to me; when I really get into a book, I will gobble it down so quickly that I will often miss bits of it.

When I discovered the fabulous *Harry Potter series (I think by then book two, “The Chamber of Secrets” was already out), I couldn’t wait for the next one to come out. And if you too are a fan, then you will remember the enormous hoopla that happened whenever a new book in the series hit the stores.

My wonderful patient Crankee Yankee would drive me to the nearest WalMart and wait for me while I stood in line to get my copy of the latest Harry Potter book. When we got home, I would stay up all night to finish it.

By the way, this also happened with the Harry Potter movies; the Crankee Yankee would buy me a ticket, tell me to have a good time, and off I’d go. The entire theater would be filled with all of us Harry Potter nerds—and we couldn’t have been happier!

I own every book in the series, and I can’t count how many times I have re-read them. I also have CDs of each book to listen to in the car when I am feeling Harry Potter-ish. Also, when I am having a bad night and can’t get to sleep, all it takes is a chapter or two of one of these books.

So if you too love to re-read some of your favorite books, please know that you are not alone. I am right there with you, excitedly turning pages and saying to myself, ‘oh, yeah—this part is the BEST!’

Just for the heck of it, here’s a joke about books that Mom and I loved:

Every week, a chicken would come into the local library, hop up on the librarian’s desk, and say, “book-book?”

Each time he did that, the librarian would pick out a book and tuck it under the chicken’s wing.

This happened every week, and one day the librarian was so curious that she followed the chicken. It took off along a path to a large pond, and in the pond sat a fat frog on a large lily pad.

The chicken looked at the frog and said, “book-book?”

The frog squinted at the title and said, “read it-read-it.”

*If you have never read this series of seven books, please do give them a try. The premise of the series is this: what would it be like to find out that you were famous in a world that you never knew existed? 

The Songs of Our Generation

I watched a Great Performances offering the other night, featuring the iconic Joan Baez singing “Forever Young.” I was a fan of hers back in the ’60s, when we all longed to be long-haired singers of meaningful folk songs. Listening to her now, her voice has mellowed and grown richer with age and experience. She was one of the reasons I took up singing and guitar playing.

Then there was the folk trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, who became more voices of my generation. How I loved them then, how I still love their songs today, and how I remember Mary (who sadly succumbed to leukemia in 2009); a slim white flame of passion.

There was also Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Donovan, Cat Stevens, Gorden Lightfoot, Petula Clark, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Creedence, Judy Collins, Neil Young, Pete Seeger, Gene Pitney, Arlo Guthrie and so many, many more.

We define our generations by the music of our youth and coming of age. In our minds back then, ours was the best music ever written. We go back in time when we hear a song from that era, and in a flash, we are teenagers again.

We know that we look ridiculous when one of “our” songs is on the radio, and we sing along with the music and tap our thumbs on the steering wheel to the beat. We don’t even care when a car load of kids drives up beside us at a stop light and laughs at us oldsters bopping away.

Our music is in fact, our own time machine. Whenever I hear the Stones’ “Honkey-Tonk Woman,” I am back at college, dancing on a crowded floor with everyone singing the song with me. In that song, I am young again with so much ahead of me.

However, I keep my ears open to some of the new music today. I have fallen in love with Adele, Lady Gaga, Sam Smith, Imagine Dragons, One Direction, Green Day, and many more. The only music of today that I just can’t understand or appreciate is rap.

While rap music is undoubtedly the “folk songs” of this generation, it’s just too “in your face,” rude and loud for me. It feels intrusive, abrasive and non-musical. Just my two cents. Ah well, these may be the anthems of the young today as our music was for us. Much of it back then drove our parents nuts as well.

Oh, the times they are a-changing, but the music we love remains the same. May we always in our hearts be forever young.

No More Self-*Depreciation!

Let’s stop “de-appreciating” ourselves. Let’s not compare ourselves with other people. Let’s not discount all the good things we do in life. Let’s not look in the mirror with distaste. Let’s not grieve that we are no longer young. Let’s stop “shoulding” on ourselves; as in ‘oh, I should have done this, done that, etc.’ Not everything is your responsibility.

Each time we put ourselves down for one reason or another, we cause ourselves unnecessary (and usually undeserved) pain.

In some of my posts I have mentioned the “sticky note on the bathroom mirror” prescription. One of the courses I took from the fabulous **Noreen McDonald is “The Power of Positive Thinking.” One of the homework assignments was to put a sticky note on the bathroom mirror reading “I Love [your name].”

This assignment was very difficult for a lot of people; we get so used to criticizing our looks in the mirror that it becomes a bad (and sad) habit. It takes a certain kind of courage to look at yourself in the mirror and say “I love you.”

As easy as it is to continue a bad habit, it is easier than you think to make a good habit. I’ve done this for so long now that it’s second nature now for me to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘hiya, gorgeous!’

It is amazing how even something this small can turn around our thinking. When we make this a daily event, it soon becomes a habit. When you listen to yourself complimenting yourself, there is a very real change that starts to bloom within.

Someone told me years ago that, whatever it is about yourself you are criticizing, there is always someone looking at you, wishing that they had your smile, your hair, your tiny feet (this was a big deal for me as I always had big feet), and so on.

Saying something positive about ourselves each day makes a profound change in our thinking and how we view ourselves. Sooner than you can believe, you begin to see yourself in a more positive light.

Let’s stop criticizing ourselves and give ourselves the break we would to a dear friend. If we keep looking for flaws in ourselves, we will find them. If we look for what is good in ourselves, we will find that as well.

*Depreciation means ‘to make or become less in price or value; to belittle.’

**Check out Noreen’s web site at http://www.noreenmcdonald.com and take a look at all the courses she offers. I have taken most of them, and they are life-changing!

The Lasting Strength of Friendship

Just think of all the songs that describe friendship; from the movie Toy Story there is “You Got a Friend in Me,” Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends are For,” James Taylor’s “You Got a Friend,” and so many more. The reason there are so many songs about friends is that we know how much we love and need our friends.

When we are happy, they are happy for us. When we reach a milestone in our lives, we want to celebrate with them. When we feel alone, we know we can talk with them and feel comforted. When we lose a loved one, or when they do, we grieve together, and the pain is lessened.

Some of us have friends from our childhood who are still our friends. How lucky we are! Some of us have lost friends along the way, and in that part of our heart where they lived is now empty and aching.

Many of us find new friends when we are older; they are a gift and a blessing to us—and hopefully, to them as well. When this happens, we feel that warmth inside that speaks out, whispering ‘this is an extraordinary person who thinks much as you do; you have a connection.’

I have mentioned in previous posts the Chinese proverb of the red thread: “An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”

It is said that every baby born has an invisible red thread tied around their ankle. It is tied to all the people they are destined to meet in life. They may be loved ones, teachers, inspirational people, children, marriage partners, friends and more.

I am very grateful for all my “red thread” people. I am grateful for all they bring to my life. I hope with all my heart that I bring as much to them.




When A House Becomes a Home…

A house becomes a home only when there is love in it.

A house becomes a warm shelter and safe place

When the people who dwell in it are filled with love and peace.

When the people who once lived there have moved on,

Whether by choice, family needs, or death—

They leave an invisible footprint of love and hope and joy.

When a house has been filled with laughter and love

Survived wind and weather and sudden changes—

It becomes so much more than brick, wood and mortar—

It becomes a fortress filled not with weapons, but with love, kindness and second chances.

When the people who have loved the house move on as they must,

They leave a bit of their presence there to mellow and sweeten.

When the new owners move in all their *lares and penates,

They are silently blessed and welcomed

Because a house is an ever-changing safe haven and protection

And all that love has settled in to make the house a home again.

*Lares and Penates: from the Latin, meaning household gods or personal/household effects.