Laughing at Halloween Is A Treat

We all face stress every day of our lives. Much of that stress is caused by sources beyond our control so it doesn’t help to stress over that stress.

During this scary fun time of year, we can disguise ourselves for just a bit. Step out of our usual roles to become someone or something else, like a witch or a superhero or a princess or a pirate.  Halloween gives us an excuse to leave our everyday selves behind and explore new personalities and possibilities.

I encourage you to be creative; use your imagination; have fun and LAUGH!   Everything is made better with the treat of laughter.

Watch this short video message from me and learn how you can put more ha ha ha into your Ha-ppy Halloween!

With Humor Fueling Our Steps, Let’s Trail Together

Trails are simple in nature but can lead to a robust lifetime of benefits for the community in the form of healthier residents, booming businesses and renewed pride. Here in northeastern Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have The Lackawanna River Heritage Trail (LRHT), which is part of a 70-mile multi-purpose trail system that follows the Lackawanna River. The trails have grown in popularity with residents and that’s great! We have a place to exercise, enjoy nature and come together. As with any passageway that gets congested, we all need to follow some rules for safety and a good experience.  Consider these tips to get the most from your trail experience while letting others do the same.

 

• Group Think – Everybody’s Doing It: Having friends to walk with is helpful. They can keep you accountable. Just knowing that you’re supposed to meet for a walk helps to motivate you. And…it’s fun. You chit chat while you walk and time passes quickly. You don’t even realize you’re exercising. But, even if you feel like you’re joined at the hip with your friends, there are times when you need to separate … like walking on a trail. There’s simply not enough space for people to walk four or five-across when someone is running, walking or biking toward you. Be polite and tighten up to let the oncoming exerciser pass without having to run through foliage.

•Not A Place for Free-range Dogs or Kids: I do not currently have a pet and I am not a parent, but I am affected by the way pet owners and parents manage their charges. Please take no offense. I am not putting children in the same category as Chihuahuas. Those yappy dogs are much more obnoxious than children and much fussier about the sweaters they’ll wear. I’m kidding. Dogs will wear whatever sweater you put over their little heads. Seriously, children and dogs are equally delightful but in obviously different ways. And both can get in the way if they are not being supervised. Even if your child is the most well-behaved on the planet, and even if your dog is the calmest, most obedient pet on Earth, you are the adult humans in charge of both. Children are carefree, as they should be. That means they tend to run, bike and play as kids do – all over the place. When I’m out for a run or bike ride, I am prepared to stop as needed, but… my planned exercise is better when I don’t have to zigzag, stop short or brake so hard that I fly over my handlebars. Please exercise control over your children and your pets, which need to be on a leash – the pets that is.  Your cooperation and courtesy is appreciated.

•When Poop Happens, Clean it Up: It seems ridiculous that this would have to be said and yet my Berber carpet knows all too well that some people ignored the first memo about what to do when poop happens. These are folks like my careless, inconsiderate neighbor who lets her dog roam and conduct business on my property and other free-range pet owners who leave organic “gifts” along our trails. I don’t care if your dog is small enough to fit inside your Coach purse. If it poops, you clean it up. Unless you were nabbed and forced to take your dog for a walk by some odd healthy lifestyle kidnapper, you know when you are taking your dog for a walk, so plan accordingly. Carry a plastic bag with you. Remember that you are not the only one using the trail. My Berber carpet expects to be walked all over, but doesn’t like $hitty days any more than you do.

•Do Your Creepin At Home: The word leer is only appealing if it’s spelled lear and has jet after it. No woman feels comfortable with a man standing  along a trail oggling at her in her shorts and sports bra. I can tell you that I don’t take it as a compliment to see your tongue wagging while I’m trying to catch my breath on a run. And I don’t believe you are at the trail for a workout in your jeans, brown socks and polyester shirt. If it’s lap jollies you’re after, watch porn on your laptop like most other red-blooded American men.

•That’s Not An Angel Getting Its Wings – I have a bell on my bike. I like it because of its nostalgic feel and I get to save my voice for my business presentations. But when I use that bell, it’s not to communicate that an angel has gotten its wings as said in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it’s my way of indicating that I’m behind you so stay alert. I usually add something like “on your left,” but I find that can add a new level of confusion for people who forget which is their left and their right. Those folks tend to scurry in all directions like cockroaches when the light’s turned on. Just keep in mind that you’re not alone on the trails so stay aware of your surroundings.

•The Eyes on the Back of My Head – I am not a grade-school teacher or a mom so eyes have not grown on the back of my head. That means that I cannot see behind me. Please be courteous and let me and other runners know when you are approaching. Say something like “excuse me,” “coming your way,” or how about something flattering like “looking good.” If you are a person of few words, simply cough or clear your throat loudly. Last week a man in his 50s whizzed by my left shoulder and had me spinning like a top.

Forgive me if I seem to be lecturing. I do have that “Bad dog…” tone when I write and talk some times. In my defense,  I studied under some of the best lecturers around – the Sisters of the IHM – as a grade school and high school student in Catholic schools.  Now, please follow these rules on the trail or you just might see me out there running with a ruler in my hand.

The Weekend of Saying, “Yes”

Most of us get up and go about our day without planning how much we will accept others’ ideas or determine how many times we will say, “yes.” It would probably feel odd to sit at the kitchen table early in the morning and write out how often you will agree with someone or support their ideas. Yet, we either do that throughout the course of a day or we don’t. And many times it’s human nature to: not even hear what someone has said because we’re tuning in to our own thoughts and concerns; hear what someone says but instantly say “no,” or “yes, but….” wasting no time to critique their idea and offer what we would do or say. That’s habit for many of us. This past weekend was all about saying “yes,” for me and the nearly 300 people I shared my message with.

Through my business, Laugh to Live!, I have the self-appointed pleasure of standing in front of people, sharing some humorous material about my life – like how I live next door to my parents who love me but don’t quite appreciate the disorganized state in which I keep my home, a method I like to call the poor woman’s security system because if someone breaks in they’re sure to think the place has already been ransacked and go right out the door – talking about the research that states how valuable laughter is for our well-being, and then leading the group in some laughter yoga exercises or some improvisation activities, depending upon the group and what I was hired to do.

Ladies Love to Laugh

This past weekend I was able to share laughs with nearly 300 people – 98% of which were women – in a 26-hour span of time. And once again, I can say to you, “Yes” laughter works and I can’t wait to share more with the next group –  a small club of retired women who gather monthly for lunch in a resort community – this Thursday.

Fear, anxiety, nervousness, doubt and self-scrutiny are the emotions I feel before I interact with a crowd and 9 out of 10 times, it’s satisfaction, pride, relief, affirmation, and joy that I feel after my encounters with participants.  Friday morning I had the pleasure of sharing some humorous stories and interactive laughter yoga with a group of nearly 200 child care workers at an end-of-year celebration. This group of mostly women came from four different counties to share in festivities at the Lackawanna County baseball stadium. Yes, we had a glorious view of the baseball field while sharing some “ho ho ho’s” and “ha ha ha’s.” While it took a little while to get everyone warmed up, by the end, I felt that the majority of participants were bound to feel better than before they started laughing – even if they did think these laughter exercises seemed a bit odd.  One woman made a point to tell me after the presentation that she really enjoyed it and even though she liked to talk a lot, she didn’t think she could get up and do what I do and seem so comfortable. She thanked me and gave me credit for what I do. That meant a lot to me and I told myself, “Yes” you do have skills and talent to share to help enrich people’s lives and it’s time that you truly believed that.

What Better Place to Laugh than Happy Valley?

Then I was on the road to State College to present at an IAAP Conference, which was a gathering of administrative professionals from across Pennsylvania. I presented to one chapter of IAAP last year and those women enjoyed it so much that I was asked to present something a bit different for the larger group. I was very excited to present my relatively new program: “Using Improvisation to Address the Three Cs: Communication, Conflict Resolution and Collaboration.” I was eager to share the golden rule of improv, “Yes, and…” with these women and to see what we could create together. I was equally excited to be back in Happy Valley. I am a 1993 graduate of Penn State University and have been back to visit about a dozen times but I never seem to have enough time to get fully reacquainted. What I do notice, is how much the campus continues to grow and change. I found myself feeling a bit like a stranger among modern, glass buildings for chemistry and science that clearly replaced something that I was familiar with back in the early 90s.

After settling in to our room at Tofftrees Resort where I would be presenting on Saturday, my boyfriend and I walked around the grounds, which had very green, finely manicured grass for the golfers and hosted an assortment of creatures from ducks to chipmunks and squirrels to a number of gophers. Yes, we talked about “Caddyshack” and Bill Murray. How could you walk on a golf course, see not one, but four go-pher go-phers running across the grass and not reference that classic movie? On our way back to our room we spotted an archway and rows of white chairs set up for a wedding the next day. Within minutes I had posted the picture to Facebook asking “Should I say, ‘I do’ in 15 hours, or run in 15 minutes?” I couldn’t resist putting that out there as a social experiment of sorts and fun. By Saturday there were mostly positive affirmations of congratulations and best wishes with a few women and men encouraging me to run. Even though my event Saturday was not to say “Yes” to getting married, I did say “Yes” to sharing the concept of improvisation with about 70 women who all experienced similar barriers or conflicts in their workplaces.

When We Say Yes, The Possibilities Are Endless

It’s interesting how we encourage children to try  different things that require bravery but adults tend to be quite scared to venture outside of our comfort zones. While everyone in the group did participate in the exercises I shared Saturday, very few volunteered later when I wanted to conduct an activity at the front of the room to further illustrate the value of listening, supporting and contributing. I eventually employed the teacher in me and “called on” a table of people who seemed to be good sports and were the closest to the front of the room. The women who volunteered on their own to play some “Yes, and…” games with me seemed to really come alive when they were forced outside of their comfort zones. And the group I volunteered to play something called the “Ad Game” with me, seemed to have a ball, especially when the audience showed their support of their work through laughs, applause and squeals of delight. Our group task was to reinvent adult diapers so we created Dignity Diapers that were purple and changed colors when wet. With Arnold Schwarzenegger and Caitlin Jenner as our designated celebrity spokes people, we were set to launch the product in Philadelphia to Elton John’s  “Philadelphia Freedom.” Yes, we were free. Free to share any idea no matter how silly or unrealistic it seemed. It was our job to brainstorm and to fully support one another.

Sure this was just an exercise, but it was a lesson to show the workshop participants how important and influential our individual roles can be in group dynamics. The quieter contributors were not always heard while the louder, more confident ones were. And some people talked over others. The game showed the value of listening, accepting and really supporting one another with an enthusiastic cheer of “yay, great idea” every time anyone said anything, the value of giving and taking and of all being on the same page. It was a great way to practice being in the moment, focusing on one shared goal rather than being distracted by the ticker that runs across our minds almost constantly each day, reminding us of both personal and professional “to-do lists.”

Be Not Afraid, Say Yes

As I told the group a few times throughout the afternoon, doing these exercises may not change anything substantial but if it gets you thinking a little differently – even for a little bit – especially about how we support one another in groups and relationships, then we’ve achieved success. I felt rewarded and validated when two women came to me after the workshop to ask about using “Yes, and…” in two completely different, yet equally valuable ways. One wanted to learn how to say “Yes, and…” to her kids because she was always telling them, “No,” while the other wanted to help the gentlemen she worked with learn to work better together using improv but she said it would require each of them tying up their alpha dog traits for a bit.

Do I believe that the rules of improvisation can teach everyone a thing or two about themselves and about working with others? Yes, and… I hope that people continue to be open to accepting it and sharing it with people in their offices and homes to make life more fun and productive!

Yes, and… Five Rules of Improv Help in Work and Play

I used to get a knot in my stomach on Monday afternoons as I anticipated that evening’s comedy improv class about nine years ago. I wanted to be in the class and loved performing in the shows at the Comedy Dojo in Scranton (when people laughed at what I did on stage) but I was still a ball or nerves before class. I was doing the exact opposite of what improv represents. I was not being in the moment. I was worrying ahead of time about what I would say and do, what interesting choices I would make that night in class. But to quote my instructor at the time, Chris Barnes, (and I believe he was quoting someone else when he said this) “You have to walk through the fire to get to the cooling water.”

No matter if it’s an improv class or some other activity or event that takes us outside of our comfort zones, we need to get through the pain, discomfort, difficult stuff to get to the other side where we get to feel cool, calm, relaxed, even proud and let out an “ahhhhhh.”

As I prepare to present a workshop at a conference for administrative professionals using improvisation to address communication, conflict resolution and collaboration, I’m reminded of the valuable lessons the rules of improv can teach all of us… for life.

  • Yes, and… is the one unbreakable rule in improvisation. It means that we say “yes” to what our fellow actor has given us. We accept their words as a gift or treasure and we add “and,” which shows our commitment to contribute something just as valuable that will help us move forward.  Consider saying “Yes” in life more often. Imagine the possibilities. Too many times we disagree with ideas and just say “No.” Or, we want to appear agreeable so we say “Yes, but…” which is basically saying, “I hear what you’re saying but my way is better.”  So the next time your coworker asks “Are you looking forward to that meeting?” Instead of rolling your eyes and saying “No,” try smiling instead and say, “Yes, and I think I’ll suggest we start the meeting by each sharing something fun we did this weekend so we can start on a happy note.”
  • Make unusual or unexpected choices. This improv guideline isn’t something you can apply to every part of life. Attempting to pay your bills with magic beans is not likely to work but there are many instances in which you – and people around you – can benefit from a choice that is different from the status quo. Instead of complaining that it’s Monday and you’d rather be in your garden or on the golf course, CHOOSE to be happy that you are working and doing something that not only affects people’s lives but also allows you to buy that new driver you’ve been scoping out online.  Or, instead of putting in your headphones at your desk so you can tune out your loud, gossiping coworker in the cubicle next to you, listen! Maybe you can learn something that will help you improve your relationship. Take an opportunity to engage her in conversation about a movie, new local restaurant or any topic other than the number of different cars she sees in her neighbor’s driveway on the weekend.
  • Be in the moment. This popular advice is key to the success of improv performers on stage because the scene they create for their audience is so much more interesting when it happens right there and doesn’t reference a past that the audience cannot see or a future that has yet to unfold. Search through any list of self-help books and this theme appears. Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” effectively addresses the value and absolute necessity of living our lives in the present. It boggles my mind how simple an idea this is but one that eludes so many of us. It just makes sense that we can only live in the present moment but I can’t tell you how often I live in the past as thoughts in my head (usually negative) race around as if on a track like horses trying to win the Triple Crown. All those hooves galloping kick up quite a bit of mud. I am far, far away from mastering the concept of being in the moment. It takes effort to make sure you are in the moment. Practice it. If you’re like me, you can read a magazine article and not know the full meaning because your mind went somewhere else by the second paragraph. “I have to call to reschedule that doctor’s appointment. I wonder if the new “Orphan Black” is On Demand yet; I want to watch that tonight. Oh crap, I forgot to get gas last night, that means I have to leave the house early today so I’m not late for my meeting.” Practice being in the moment!
  • Show. Don’t Tell. When improv actors create a scene on stage, this is key to believability and much more interesting to the audience if they show activity rather than talk about. For example: Actor A says, “I am not going to walk toward you, place my hands around your neck and pretend to choke you.” Actor B responds, “I’ll stand here and wait for you to do that and as you approach I will bug my eyes out as if I have a look of fear on my face.”  The scene should just happen. If you see it, you will have a much better experience than if you hear about it.  In life this comes in handy when we communicate. Many of us have different communication styles and we may not get someone’s wordy explanation but if they show us how to do something we might have a better time understanding.  And at a higher, loftier, Ghandi-esque level, it’s a good idea to SHOW, not TELL in the manner in which we live our lives. It’s great to teach your children to be honest. It’s good to tell your employees to be productive and do their jobs with integrity but SHOW-ing your children what honesty looks like and SHOW-ing your coworkers what integrity looks like, are much more effective. Ghandi said it simply, “Be the change that y0u wish to see in the world.”
  • Bring something to the party. This is something that improv instructor Barnes used to say to us as we were about to enter a scene. He would remind us that we should bring something to the scene. Yes, it slightly contradicts the idea of not planning what you will do or say in an improv scene but it worked and made sense. He wanted us to think about what we were seeing on stage. What did our fellow actors create already in this scene and what could we bring to it to help it move forward?  When you are hosting a party and everyone brings chips and dip, your menu is going to need help. The next time you enter a room, whether at work or at a social gathering, see what you can add.  Is someone upset, recounting a story about her husband leaving her? Is someone consoling another person who just received bad news from his doctor about cancer? Is someone raising his voice at another person who just offended him?  Your attitude and words can help or hurt the people you are about to engage with. Be aware of other people’s feelings and the situation in front of you and bring something to this party that will help, not hurt or destroy it.

Am I happy that it’s Monday and it’s gray and rain is predicted for tonight when I run a 5K?  Yes, and… I won’t need to wear my sunglasses or worry about getting too hot while I run. The rain will feel refreshing.

10 Reasons Why the World Needs A Day to Laugh

If I haven’t gotten around to mentioning it (but I believe I have), I am a procrastinator.  This blog should have been written before May 3 but alas, it wasn’t. The annual celebration of World Laughter Day was held this year on May 3. As I do each year, my business, Laugh to Live! sponsors a free community event in Scranton where people in the area come out to sample laughter yoga, kids tell jokes and get prizes for their bravery and promotion of healthy laughter and we raise money for the nonprofit Humor Therapy Fund of the Scranton Area Foundation. I do this to promote therapeutic laughter and humor in Northeastern Pennsylvania to enrich the community where I live because I want to see people lead healthier and happier lives. Laughter can help people achieve that.

Here are 10 reasons I’ve come up with, why the world needs at least one designated day to laugh.

10. ISIS. When I attempted to write this blog last week I had trouble with WordPress. My web guy told me that there were major WordPress and Woocommerce security updates last month that were made to all sites because of ISIS hacking many U.S. websites. These updates caused a little conflict that prevented my blog platform from working. Who would have imagined such a day? I know that the word ISIS is not usually followed by laughter but this group is dedicated to hate and terror. What breaks down hate and comforts people in times of fear or uncertainty more than love and laughter?

9. Potholes. I’m sure that every state across this great nation has potholes but I can only speak to the ones I see and drive on every day in Scranton, PA. Let me tell you. We have some real doozies. On my third trip to the dentist last month, another one of my fillings was knocked loose. I love what this group is doing to help us use a positive attitude, humor and laughter to deal with these bumps in the road. Check back to see my submission. It’s going to be the most fun you’ve ever had with potholes.

8. Litter. I admit. I DO NOT laugh when I see litter everywhere in my community. And I’m definitely not laughing as I drive by a street that my boyfriend and I cleaned up only two weeks ago to see it now littered yet again. But it’s the ugly parts of people and the Earth that need more beauty. Laughter can help us bring that out. Get a group of friends, coffee, gloves and garbage bags and head out one weekend morning to clean up a messy lot or street where you live. Share a few but-gusting stories while you pick up someone else’s butts. Smile and be an example of the world you want to live in.

7. Dating and Relationships. When I was playing the field I met some really nice men and I met some men who were just, well, misguided? clueless? What woman really wants to be picked up for a date by some guy’s mom because he lost his license to a second DUI? Women appreciate a man who knows the value of a dollar but I don’t think they love it when he offers up his coupon to them to pay their half of the bill. Let’s say I had enough material like this to write a book called “He’s Not Prince Charming When…” Now that I’m in a serious relationship I need the follow-up book. The problem isn’t that I don’t have enough material, it’s finding the time to sort through it all.

6. Health Care. Not to get political or anything, but there’s a lot of red tape, waste and frustration in the health care industry. Just a few recent examples in my own life include:  having to call a dental insurance company five times about bills for a plan I was no longer enrolled in; having to call my doctor’s office at least three or four times and visit in person when no one answered or returned my calls about a bill that was to be paid through my auto insurance after I was hit by another vehicle seven months ago because the doctor’s office never submitted it to my auto insurance company and .. well, I could go on but we all have our examples of bills, phone calls, automated systems where you need to press 10 different buttons before you get the pleasure of speaking with a human.  I attempt a laugh after using every curse word I know and inventing several new ones. I guess that I should skip straight to the laughter and forget the cuss’n.

5. Summertime Noises. Some people don’t appreciate nature’s alarm clock – by which I mean the chirping sounds of birds. I love bird noises because it IS life to me and it means better weather. The summertime noises I need laughter to help me cope with include: the sound of dirt bikes that ride a 150-foot long dirt path back and forth and forth and back only 40 feet from my window and the chimey/crib mobile sound of the ice cream truck. I know. I know. I probably seem like Cruella Deville for not liking the sound of the ice cream truck (if it’s any consolation, I don’t wear fur) but it’s so repetitious that I just can’t take it after 15 minutes. I’d like to buy each child in the neighborhood a cone or frozen ice before I go all nutty buddy.

4. Rainy days. It’s a nice idea to advise people to not let things we cannot control – like the weather – affect our mood but it’s not realistic advice. For some people, weather has actual, physical affects on them. Let’s face it, thunderstorms can be fun to listen to and watch but most of us would much rather a sunny day than a rainy one. So the next time it rains, smell the wet concrete, remember that the grass and trees need to drink and then pop in a comedy with the lights off. Let laughter brighten up your room.

3. Facebook. You don’t need me to tell you why this provides many opportunities for laughter, right? Don’t get me wrong. I use it. I am addicted to it too. But it really is pretty amusing. People say some of the meanest things to other people that they would never have one ounce of courage to ever say to anyone’s face. It can be every coward’s best friend. And then there are those people who show you their cyber life, which tends to look nothing like their real life. Telling your husband how much you love and appreciate him in a post when he’s probably in the arm chair in the next room? Um, okay. I’m surprised you have time to type that…what with all of the love and fabulous stuff you have going on.

2. Politicians. Again, as with social media, I don’t need to point out why politics and laughter are such good friends. In fact, as we get further into the campaigning for the 2016 presidential election, number 3 and number 2 will form one giant powerhouse of a reason to laugh. Let the name-calling and unsolicited opinion sharing begin.  You like Hillary? What are you some tree-hugging, Communist, femi-Nazi? You vote Republican? You must drive a pick-up with a gun rack to church services and to your anti-Gay rallies.  You jerk.  Btw, see you at soccer practice. I’ll bring the flyers for the pasta dinner fundraiser for new uniforms.

1. YOU – you should be the number one reason to laugh.  Research by actual doctors – not just people congregating on street corners – shows that laughter is good for the mind, body and spirit. It helps with heart health, the immune system, cancer, diabetes, burning calories, an improved mood and more.  (Don’t you love the “and more”? No, I’m not throwing in an extra Ginsu knife if you laugh really hard but you should laugh really hard anyway).

Five Tips to Keep Things Light This Thanksgiving

Sitcoms, movies and comedians have long cooked up jokes about the holidays – especially Thanksgiving – because we gather with family we typically do not see much throughout the year, often by choice.  At least that is what the jokes imply.  Case in point: Jim Gaffigan’s take on Thanksgiving. We see cards and clever napkins with depictions of people stuffing themselves, plying themselves with wine and then passing out on the couch in front of the TV, only to ignore the very family they’re visiting.  So what gives?

I don’t think people should ever feel obligated to gather family for dinner just because it’s an American tradition.  They should be with people they love … and genuinely like. I happen to love, and like, my family so it is fun to see them at the holidays (and throughout the year). And yes, I some times drink too much wine, but it’s not because I don’t like my family. It’s because I happen to really like wine.  But some families can become like an infected cut or inflamed sore.  Wine + long-held grudges = trouble. And some family members don’t help things by reopening old wounds.  One never knows what will come out around the Thanksgiving table.

So here are a few tips for you to digest to help you keep things light this Thanksgiving.

#5 If it seems like cousin Tom just can’t quit his habit of ‘playfully’ harassing uncle Frank about his beloved Eagles, don’t let it escalate to the point of them each giving the other the bird.  Swoop in with a picture on your phone of Kim Kardashian’s latest, slippery photo shoot. Then she’s the only ass you’re looking at.

#4 Help keep your mom from getting upset when Aunt Louise slanders her stuffing, saying it’s too dry, by having a water balloon at the ready. Offer a solution to your aunt’s problem that will probably help her to get over it and may amuse your mom.

#3 Everyone eats too much at Thanksgiving dinner and most people complain about it afterward with regretful words like, “I can’t believe I had that third helping of mashed potatoes and gravy. I’ll have to hit the gym five times tomorrow just to burn those calories off, and I don’t even have a gym membership.”  Help everyone avoid the discomfort of  that tight/ready-to-explode feeling by passing out sweat pants with an elastic waist band before dinner.   Just think, if you all wear a pair, then you can share a special bond and even look like a sloppy gang ready to hit the aisles of Walmart.

#2 I love good conversation. Art. Pop culture. Religion. Politics. News. Style. Home decor. You name it and I love to share my opinion on it …and even listen to other opinions on occasion. But be careful at holiday dinners. Think of the rules you would follow on a first date: no talk of religion, politics or other potentially controversial topics. Let the turkey be the only thing that gets burned on this holiday. If Uncle Fred or Aunt Wilma share their views on gun control or immigration and you disagree, just smile and nod. Let your ego take a nap early. You don’t need to share your opposite view or to ‘school’ anyone on the ‘right’ way to think. Instead, start a debate about which flavor ice cream is the best to serve on the apple pie. That way, there’s no real winner… or loser.

#1 No matter how you spend Thanksgiving – whether you have to work, you choose to be alone or with only a few people, or you visit lots of family – remember that there is no amount of laughter that is too big to serve. Laughter not only doesn’t contain calories, it helps to burn calories. And anyone who doesn’t like to laugh is … well…I hate to say it, but a real turkey!

Spread Laughter, Better than Ebola

As news of terror groups’ influence spreads like the Ebola virus in west Africa, the need for lighter, laughter-filled moments is obvious. Those who wonder how or why we should laugh while stories of beheaded reporters and deadly viruses top our news, should take a moment to consider a few things.

What happens when the laughter stops? We’re left in darkness. Life can be very serious. It can be sad. It can be challenging, and at times seem hopeless. But we need to make life a laughing matter in order to face the laugh-less times and matters. Robin Willams knew this. Joan Rivers did too. Both of their lights have been extinguished, making  American life -specifically the world of entertainment and pop culture- a bit darker. That makes me sad and a bit worried. The world needs more leaders of laughter and hope to help combat the leaders of terror and dread.

I don’t want to sound dramatic but I fear what will happen in a society with less laughter. Imagine a dark field filled with people just sitting, waiting, wondering, feeling scared, confused and growing more worried.  Now imagine one person lighting a candle and turning to light the candle of the person next to her. She lights the candle of the person to her right and he does the same. This continues until the field is illuminated and people feel safe, warm and comforted to see and talk with the people around them. This is what laughter does. It lights the way, making it easier to see potential pitfalls. It doesn’t remove all of life’s bad stuff but it does help us to deal with it better; it reinvigorates us, giving us the hope and strength to continue to fight whatever battle we are waging.

It disappoints me when people, especially those in power, who are decision makers in organizations, don’t see the light that humor and laughter provide. They question how laughter can be introduced to people who are depressed or to families coping with the wounds created by the suicide of a loved one. These people who do not see laughter as a beacon, seem to almost fear it, like it can do further harm. I think that belief is one that stems from fear, antiquated beliefs and/or a closed mind. It is true that laughter has power and that it can create change. We just have to be open to the idea. It doesn’t require a prescription or a House vote or a platinum credit card. Laughter is within each and everyone of us. And once we let it out, it can and will spread like a virus. But this one is the kind you won’t be infected with. You’ll be effected…for good!

Procrastinators Rule…Once We Get Started

I think it all started in the womb (doesn’t everything?). It was Labor Day weekend and my mom’s doctor wasn’t about to have his holiday plans soiled by some pesky little baby girl, so he induced labor and delivered me on Friday afternoon.  That freed up his schedule so he could hit the links on Saturday morning, launch his pontoon boat in the Paupack, or attend a swingers’ convention (it was the early 70s after all).

Like a discovered fugitive forced out from the safety of his hiding place, I was dramatically removed from the comfort of my mother’s womb before I was ready. And I believe that ever since, I have been rebelling, through procrastination. (On a side note, please accept my apologies; this column was actually due last month.)  Nevertheless, I hope you can still appreciate the message here. Maybe some of your best friends are procrastinators; perhaps someone you love wears the scarlet P on his or her chest, or, the procrastinator, is you! If you’re like me, I forgive you for putting the paper down and not finishing this column for a few days. As long as you return soon, I’ll be happy.

The thing about procrastination is, it doesn’t keep us from being productive members of society.  Forgive me for bragging a bit, but I set some lofty goals and even though I take my time getting started, I do achieve them. I’ve written and published two books, ran my first marathon last fall, and left my day job to invest full time in my business: Laugh to Live! But I often wonder what else I could achieve if I didn’t put things off. I can only imagine the challenges I could conquer if I didn’t pause to watch hours of junk TV on Bravo. If Andy Cohen would produce the Real Housewives of Plains Township, I would watch it. The only differences I could imagine from the Real Housewives of New York or Orange County, would be the women in Plains doing their hair pulling and back stabbing at the church picnic instead of the Chanel store.  My name is Jeannine and I watch too much TV. (Here’s where you would say , as a group, “Hi Jeannine.”)

I don’t know why I put things off. Every time I begin a project days before it’s due or I wait until hours before a business presentation to prepare my notes, I seem surprised by my own behavior as if it was beyond my control. I tend to get nervous and worry if I’ll succeed. Well it’s time that I learn to embrace the procrastinator in me and feel confident about what I will accomplish.  The procrastinator in me needs love too. She may be a little tardy for the figurative party (I am actually a very punctual person so I’m rarely late for the literal party) but when she arrives, she’s fierce. The only alternative to accepting and loving the procrastinator in me is to change my behavior, or at least curb it.  I’m not sure how soon I see that happening. I bought a book once about how to change my procrastinating ways, but I only read the first two chapters. That was 10 years ago.  I may not have finished that book, but I’ve completed a number of important chapters in the story of my life.

The Smell of Leather Saddle Shoes in Autumn

I love these August days. Maybe it’s because I’m a Virgo and I associate this time of year with many years of happy birthday celebrations … for me, and for years, celebrating with my grandmother, a fellow Virgo.  Another reason could be that I was what one might call a bookish, kind of dorky kid who enjoyed the back-to-school season like any other joyful, colorful holiday. One of my favorite memories is that of the annual event of shoe shopping with my grandmother that took place around this time of year. It was exciting because it was one of few opportunities to express my sense of style. Because I attended Catholic school and wore a uniform from Kindergarten through 12th grade, there was little room for freedom of fashion other than choices like: cardigan or V neck? And white or maroon knee socks?

I also enjoyed picking out notebooks, pens and erasers. I treated those as fashion accessories. A simple joy in grade school was getting pencils and erasers that smelled like grapes, bananas or chocolate. And don’t get me started on the scratch n sniff stickers that were all the rage to put on notebooks. If I close my eyes really tight, I can smell the salty pretzel sticker. I also remember the fun I had getting a notebook in high school bearing the “dancing baby” from the TV show “Ally McBeal.” It was a conversation piece that always made me grin. I think little things produced  much more joy back then.  Today I do gain joy from simple pleasures like a good cup of flavored coffee, a sunny day and the smell of autumn in the air, but I think I recognize these opportunities for joy less as an adult. And when I do my allow myself to enjoy the moment, the moment goes quickly. The good news is that I’m aware and I am working to change that. Or at least I’m aware that I want to work to change that. I’m enjoying a good cup of coconut coffee while I type this. There’s a start.

Today I have the freedom to dress how I want for back-to-school season (as long as it’s in good taste, I am teaching at a Catholic college after all). I no longer carry on the tradition of shoe shopping and I don’t buy notebooks, pencils and loose leaf paper. But this morning I did have that all-too-familiar nervous feeling of knots in my stomach that eventually morphed into excited anticipation as I taught my first ever college class. (I ask for some leeway when it comes to my use of the word “teach.”)  Since it was the first day, I eased students into this writing class. We just got to know one another a bit and talked about the syllabus. I guess, technically, I was teaching them about the course and what to expect, while learning from them what they wanted to gain.

Naturally I took the opportunity to introduce students to the concept of laughter yoga, because that’s what I do, and because laughter works as a great ice breaker and brings the level of stress down in a room instantly. I asked them to stand and take a few deep inhales and exhales of ho, ha and hee. I didn’t want to take them too far outside of their comfort zones but I think this was just enough to loosen them up a bit and elicit a few smiles. I’ll take them farther down laughter yoga lane another day. I expect that we’ll have times throughout the semester when stress will need to be let out of the room so we can relax, re-focus and re-energize.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find some coffee-scented stickers for my academic planner.

The Rabbit Died & Other Funny Stories

It was a packed house on Wednesday, July 9 at the Scranton Cultural Center for an appearance by comedian/actress/author Amy Sedaris as part of the Lackawanna County Library System’s speaker series. The first thing that struck me about Amy when she walked out on stage was how tiny she is. We’re not talking Thumbelina small like Kristin Chenoweth but Amy is small. Her legs were tone but very thin. Her red handbag and pumps designed by friend Sarah Jessica Parker were also eye-catching. She had a comical bounce to her entrance, with her head sort of bobbing back and forth.

For as wacky as the characters are that Amy portrays, she took this interview seriously. She seemed grounded and genuine. Mary Garm, the director of the library system, conducted the interview. Mary delivers what one might expect from a librarian. She doesn’t look like she’ s ever done E at a rave or has tried to get away with checking out 17 items in the “15 items or less” aisle at the supermarket. She looks more like someone who would be happy to sit next to Wilford Brimley on a porch swing enjoying an ice-cold glass of lemonade talking about how hot the summer has been. She and Amy made the perfect pair. My friend Stephanie made the comparison, at points throughout the interview, that Amy and Mary interacting was similar to the SNL sketch “Delicious Dish” (most talked about for Alec Baldwin’s appearance promoting Pete’s Schweddy balls, which were Christmas cookies, of course).  Mary dryly responded to Amy’s answers with “hmm, interesting” akin to Anna Gasteyer’s character Margaret Jo McCullen saying “good times.”

Amy Was Funny And Serious

Amy answered all questions seriously in her regular voice. There were no characters who came out on stage. But Amy was warm, engaging and entertaining as she told her stories. She apparently likes to keep her private life very private but she did reveal her love for cooking and entertaining people in her New York City apartment and she revealed something that I thought was meant to be a joke at first, but wasn’t. Amy is a rabbit whisperer. She goes to people’s homes to help them rabbit proof and ensure the best environment for the fluffy creature.  Amy told the sad story of her 11-year-old rabbit Dusty dying but with a hint of humor. She recalled how the rabbit cried horribly for hours and that she was tempted to move things along by smothering him because she was sure that he was in pain but the vet assured her that he was not in pain. Amy also got laughs when she told the audience how bossy her rabbit was.

You Know Amy; You’ve Seen Her in the Tide Commercials

Amy Sedaris is not a household name but people surely know her if you tell them, “She’s that blonde on the Tide commercials who acts bubbly and kind of cooky.” After listening to Mary mention all of Amy’s various projects, it seems that Amy does a bit of everything. She has written and performed plays with her famous humorist writer brother, David Sedaris. She has done sketch and other comedy on TV. She has small roles in movies. She does voice-over work on TV and in films. She has the whole rabbit thing going on. She has authored books: “I Like You, Hospitality Under the Influence,” which includes recipes and tips on entertaining and how to be a good party guest, “Wigfield,” which she co-authored with Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello and of course her latest book she is promoting, “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People,” a funny book about how to create some off-beat craft projects.   She has created a line of quilt fabrics that are going to pop up on other household items like popcorn bowls. And she is of course the face and voice for funny Tide, Bounce and Downy commercials. I’m sure I’ve missed a few things but you get the point. She is prolific and her talents are varied.  With her upcoming break from projects she said she’d love to waitress again but she envisioned problems like other waitresses resenting her … specifically the ones who are doing it to earn a living. And the fact that people might recognize her could be problematic, she said. But she said she loves working with people and finds it so interesting to interact and observe others.

Forget All the World’s A Stage; It’s A Peek Backstage

Comedians need to people watch like we need breathe.  Anyone who writes humorous material must immerse themselves into the world with eyes and ears wide open so you don’t miss anything. (That is not a quote from Amy by the way. I’m saying it. It sounds good though right?)  As someone who has been writing for over 20 years and who has been writing stand-up comedy for about 10 of those years, humorous articles, my funny dating book, “He’s Not Prince Charming When…,” I know how much I owe to the fun observance of people and interpersonal experiences with people. Life is full of material for the next great comedy, sitcom, play, etc.  As Amy shared, her Greek grandmother was the inspiration for one of Amy’s first popular characters. Amy said “She was just so much fun to make fun of.”

What Makes Amy Laugh

When Mary asked Amy what she thinks is funny, she listed things like: people falling (at which point my friends Steph and Michelle looked at me because we witnessed some poor woman fall in the lobby that evening; while she wasn’t injured, none of us laughed because it wasn’t “that kind of fall”), wigs flying off. Eventually she said that she finds “everything” to be funny. She said she’ll laugh at a patch of mushrooms growing together.

As far as people she finds funny, that list includes her mother, Jonathan Winters, her brother David, her friend Stephen Colbert and others that I forget.

What about the Whole “Women Aren’t Funny” Thing?

Before I went to the event I wondered if I had a question that I wanted Amy to answer. I figured that the basics would be covered and beyond that I didn’t have too much I was dying to know. But I did want to hear Amy’s perspective on the whole “women aren’t funny” thing.  Even though I speak in front of audiences for my business, Laugh to Live, some times to groups of a few hundred people in size, I was nervous about raising my hand or shouting out a question. I never feel completely comfortable doing that.  Thankfully, mics were set up on both sides of the stage where Amy was seated so you just had to get in line and address her at the mic. So I did. I asked her what she thought of this whole notion or some-time buzz that women aren’t funny.

Her answer managed to surprise, disappoint and encourage me. It was as if I had asked her about a little-known restaurant down the street. Her response was like “Hmm? What is that?” It had not seemed to make any great impact on Amy’s career. She said that she enjoyed great female ensembles like the one on “Orange is the New Black” and that she worked with a lot of female actors and comedians, especially doing improv at Second City, and it was never an issue. She even asked back “Is that still a thing?” Her response disappointed me in a way because I kind of expected and wanted her to give some fire and brimstone speech about how hard her path had been but how she and other brave and strong funny women need to keep doing it to quiet all of the naysayers. But I was also inspired and encouraged that she was so unaffected by it and possibly even insulated from it. She has made a life and career making people laugh – and doing a host of humorous, creative projects – that is fulfilling to her without any gender angst. When I told her that not too long ago Adam Carolla created a bit of a stir by making comments about female comedy writers being less funny than men, she responded with “Who?” and then after a wry smile, “Oh, and we know how funny he is.” (I’ll make a note here to say that I have nothing against Carolla, not that if I did it would keep him awake at night or keep him from continuing to earn the fantastic living that he does, who am I? but I mentioned his comments because his were among the most recent that I could recall about women not being funny.) While I was at first disappointed by Amy’s nonchalant attitude about it, I am glad to hear that throughout her career she has not felt hindered or discriminated against for being a woman in the funny business and that the whole “women aren’t as funny as men” thing is not on her radar.  Amy strikes me as an explosive ball of creativity who is far too busy putting herself out there through her numerous projects and making people laugh to notice, or even care who is playing judge and jury to what or who should be considered funny!

Part Deux of 81 Things to Do

While stuck in traffic on Interstate 81 … or any highway or road for that matter.

Last week I shared the second half of my list of 81 things to do when you’re trapped in a traffic jam. Here’s the first and final part of that list of things to do!  Have fun. And remember, while you’re sweating the small stuff, you could be saving your energy for celebrating what matters!!  Make Life A Laughing Matter!!

 

1.Feel the wind in your hair.
2.Test how loud your speakers can be.
3. Do your happy dance.
4. Check out the guy in the car next to you.
5. Check out the girl in the car next to you. This is equal opportunity folks.
6. Sing…at the top of your lungs.
7. Read billboards.
8. See who is a good adoptive parent to their part of the highway. Scan the roadside for cups, bottles and food wrappers.
9. Laugh… Because you can.
10. Practice your speech, excuse why you’re late for work… again…, your marriage proposal, etc.
11. Pray. Say a few words to your higher power like, “Thank you,” “Help me,” or “Watch over my loved ones.”
12. Breathe.
13. Listen hard to hear the sounds of nature. Try to tune out the engine sounds.
14. Remember your first family vacation and why it was so much fun. (I have fond memories of Wild Wood Crest in NJ. Two words: sunburns and ice cream.)
15. Smile. Then think about who is the reason for your smile.
16. Dance in your seat.
17. Repeat.
18. Daydream about where you want to go if you could go anywhere and money was no object and there were no other barriers to stop you.
19. Be still.

20. Make a note of how you feel.
21. Inhale.
22. Exhale.

23. Giggle like a little girl … that’s right fellas, give it a whirl.

24. Sing the alphabet to feel young again. It’s said that all we really need to know we learned in Kindergarten, right?

25. Think about someone you’ve hurt and plan to call them to say “I’m sorry.” (If traffic is completely stopped, call right then and there. Don’t put it off because you’ll find something else to do. That’s how life tends to be.)

26. Try to twerk while seated.

27. Look at the clouds to see what shapes they make. Do you see the face of a president? A headless horseman? A flower?

28. Think of someone who inspires you. How can you do something that would make them proud?

29. Breathe in.

30. Breathe out.

31. Breathe in.

32.  Breathe out but this time, make a “haaaaaa” sound when you exhale.

33. Smile at yourself in the mirror and say one thing you like about yourself. And it does not have to have anything to do with your appearance.

34. Tap your foot.

35. Channel your inner Bobby McFerrin. Start slapping yourself to make music. (Just don’t hurt yourself.)

36. Hum.

37. Imagine what your superhero power would be if you had one.

38. Imagine your costume. (I’m all about the power cuffs.)

39. Think of the first thing you would do with your superhero powers. (Remember, these powers were granted only for good so you can’t do anything evil … well, nothing illegal anyway.)

40. Practice the second language that you kind of know. (For me it’s French. I like to count in French sometimes; say the days of the week, the months, etc.)

41. Work on your elevator speech. What makes you/your business a hero, rather than a zero (shout out to Lori Greiner on ABC’s “Shark Tank”).

 

 

 

81 Things to Do While Stuck on I-81 (or any highway)

This is part I of a II-part blog of 81 things to do while stuck on Interstate 81 or on any highway across America. We begin with # 42.  Watch next week as I present numbers 1 through 41.   Before you take a road trip this summer or get in the car for a long ride to a business meeting or conference, print off this list. If there’s roadwork ahead, you may need it!  Off you go with a smile!

42. Breathe deeply.

43. Hop in your time machine (aka mental file cabinet of childhood memories) and think about what your favorite game was as a kid. Hopscotch? Freeze tag? Kick the can? Smell the thick air of those summer nights. Smile knowing you don’t have school in the morning.

44. Look at your hands. What stories do they tell?

45. Organize your CDs into the side pockets of your car or in your center console (assuming you still use CDs; I do thanks to my dear friend in upstate NY who sends me CDs every few months of great dance tunes to keep me smiling when I’m driving and stopped in traffic).

46. Drink water, it’s good for you and wonderful for your skin (unless the traffic is really backed up because if you have a small bladder then you’ll be looking to relieve yourself later…I really don’t want to add that to this list).

47. Sing the Star-Spangled Banner. While most of us recall how badly Roseanne Barr mangled it, it still takes courage to sing such a well-known and beloved song in front of millions. The least you can do is try it in your car. Come on.

48. Give yourself a hug. While you’re there, rub your neck to work out a knot or two that’s forming.

49. Entertain yourself with some different voices. Try an Italian accent. Maybe Russian. Nyet? Okay, how about a Southern accent. Hey y’all.

50. Think about the first time you fell in love…with anything. A person. A breathtaking sunset. A piece of chocolate cake.

51. Sing old TV theme songs like “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Brady Bunch,” “American Hero,” and remember the days when homework was your biggest concern.

52. See how many state capitals you can name. I’ll help you get started: Harrisburg is the capital of PA.

53. Consider taking an improv class. It will at the very least remind you of the importance of saying “Yes, and..” How can I support someone’s idea instead of block it or tear it down.

54. Plan your next physical challenge. Are you a runner? Think about what your next race will be. If you bike, plan your next bike route in your head. Visualize the road or trail. If you’re not active but want to become active, tell yourself that you WILL walk after dinner tonight. It will feel great after sitting so long in traffic.

55. Practice your auto tunes voice. You could be the next singing sensation. Why not? If the ladies of the Real Housewives franchise can do it, can’t anyone?!!

56. If you had the chance to meet any historical figure, who would it be? Susan B. Anthony? Benjamin Franklin? Ghandi? What would you ask them?

57. Clench your butt cheeks. It’s amazing what you can do for the appearance of your dupa while seated. Squeeze those buns!

58. Say your best traits aloud. For example, “I am kind. I am thoughtful. I am strong. I am a good dancer. I make great potato salad. I open doors for people.” Don’t feel conceited. You’re asked in job interviews what your best qualities are. So be prepared!

59. Okay now that you feel good and your chest is out, think about what you could improve about yourself. Don’t say “I hate my hips. Or, my thighs are too big.” Are you argumentative? Do you take things too personally? Do you give up too easily? Do you get angry really quickly? How can you work on these things.

60. If you have a Sharpie or even a pen, draw a mustache on something in your car … a CD cover, your coffee cup or even your finger. Show to other trapped drivers for comic relief.

61. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale with a haaaaaaaaa sound.

62. Don’t think of anything specific. Let your mind wander without a chaperone. See where it goes.

63. Sing the song, “Everything is awesome” from the Legos movie. And BELIEVE it!

64. Snap your fingers. If you can’t, try anyway. See what kind of sound you can make.

65. Work your neck muscles (helps to defy aging ladies) by sticking your tongue out and bugging your eyes out, like you’re trying to make a lion face … if you’ve ever done laughter yoga, you know the lion laugh face. It’s not pretty but it’s fun and can help preserve your neck from aging prematurely.

66. Think of positive gestures that you can make with your hand to fellow drivers, instead of the usual bird; it’s so foul!

67. Add up the change you find in your car. If you’re at a complete stop, see what’s in the bottom of your purse. You might have enough for another cup of coffee or the parking meter. Maybe you can even pay for someone whose meter has expired. What a nice gesture. Good Karma!

68. If you’re completely stopped, close your eyes and take a really deep, cleansing breath. It will not only calm you but it’s good for you too.

69. Think of ways to spice up your sex life. A little Sriracha sauce anyone? Okay that might burn the bits a bit. Keep that in the kitchen for your eggs or sandwiches after sex.

70. Wiggle your nose like Tabitha from the TV show “Bewitched” to see if you can change something that’s bugging you … like traffic jams, the clothes your husband wears or the negative gossip that spews from your co-worker’s mouth every day. If that doesn’t work, laugh for now until you have a real solution!

71. Belt out the words to the song “Let it go” from “Frozen.” Then slap yourself for doing so. Please everyone, let this song go!

72. Keep calm and breathe on before you can drive on.

73. Think of five things that make you smile. Go. (I would say ice cream, junk TV, my parents, my boyfriend, my friends – not necessarily in that order.)

74. Do brow exercises to release tension from your head. Wrinkle your forehead. Cock your eyebrow.

75. Use your lipstick to apply red, rosy cheeks like you’re an old-fashioned doll or Raggedy Ann.

76. Imagine yourself marching in to see your boss and telling him/her all the reasons you deserve/demand a raise!  Smile.

77. If traffic is completely stopped: call a funny friend who can make you feel good while you wait.

78. Picture odd celebrity couples in your mind, like Fabio and Kristin Chenowith or Paul Reuben and Cher or Snooki and Pierce Morgan.

79. Make animal noises. Belt out your best bark or softest meoooow! This skill will serve you in scaring neighborhood strays and burglars and landing a date.

80. Breathe in. Exhale some ha ha ha’s. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

81. The ultimate: take a “stuck in traffic selfie.” Try to get the driver behind you in the picture, especially if she/he is doing something embarrassing.