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.

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!

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!

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.

Humor Makes Best Travel Companion

Some people love getting behind the wheel out on the open road. I’m not necessarily one of those people … anymore. Only because I’ve recently developed this hard-to-fully-describe condition. I get a feeling of being off balance or slightly dizzy and then I go into full blown anxiety. It doesn’t make driving too much fun. And I do drive a fair amount for my business. And I want more business so I must travel! So whenever possible, I have my boyfriend, friend or family member take the wheel or at the very least sit in the passenger’s seat to keep me company and calmly distracted. But let’s talk about something fun… and that is the fun that CAN be had on the open road.  Whether you’re off to a business or professional function or you are headed on vacation, the car is a great place to share laughs.  And when you venture into new territory, it’s a lot of fun discovering things together and ultimately creating humorous stories for future road trips.

Yesterday I was behind the wheel for a relatively short drive to a rustic little restaurant and gift shop in Shavertown called Ah! Some Chocolate and the Brown Barn Bistro. The occasion: celebrating the birthdays of my mom and my aunt, which are just one day apart (and 11 years). My cousin was also there to celebrate so it was a nice mother-daughter lunch. Besides the great food, the lunchtime conversation and the potential business connection I made at the restaurant/gift shop, there were numerous laughs as funny stories filled the car with the warm, summer air.  Even the simple things can create moments of laughter. My cousin, who was seated in the front seat with me, was attempting to give directions while my aunt gave them from the back seat. The problem: my cousin was confusing her left with her right … a problem I experienced later when I took a left after my aunt clearly said “Take a right up ahead” three times. Thankfully I was able to safely steer the car to the right at the last minute. The bigger laugh came on the return trip home when I was approaching a curve in the road that would take us to the left. I was on auto pilot kind of thinking I would go straight so I was not slowing down. My cousin had patience and reserve until we came within about 20 feet of the curve at 50 m.p.h. and she had to communicate “Um, hello?!! You want to slow down for this curve?” Once again I safely slowed the car down and we took the curve with no issues but we did have a few good laughs after we continued on the windy road safely.  I would later be asked to increase my speed as one of the birthday girls was feeling the effects of too much iced tea and wanted to get home … ASAP.

There’s something about the hope and promise of what’s around the next curve that gets us in a place where we’re free and open to new ideas and open to laugh with abandon. Maybe it’s the simple fact that we’re in motion that makes road trips so much fun. Change happens when we move. Our mind spins with new ideas. We clear space and push into the background the same old worries and thoughts that pop into view every day. Road trips are meant for new vistas and new opportunities to create stories that are tomorrow’s nostalgic laughs. So the next time the four of us gals get into a car we’ll crack up as one of us says “Remember that time when Jeannine was about to take that curve doing 50 and we thought we were going to be up on two wheels?” And we’ll laugh. And hopefully I won’t be driving!

I encourage you to always drive safely but also to be open to a change in direction and whatever that might bring. Hopefully, many many chances to laugh and connect with your travel companions.

Using Humor Month to Reignite My Pilot Light

To say that it’s been a long winter makes about as much sense as saying “It’s been a long day” or ” Wow, the summer went by so quickly.” Time is time. It doesn’t change, ever. But our perspective can make a day feel like a week and a season, like winter, feel like an eternity … if it seems unpleasant to us and we want it to pass. And that’s how this past winter has been for me.  It seemed a bit too long, a bit too snowy (although snow is a faint, fluffy memory since it hasn’t snowed much in the past four weeks or so), a bit too cold, a bit too gray and not a bit inspiring.  I spent too much time on my couch. Too much time enveloped by negative, obsessive thinking. And too little time thinking positive, hopeful thoughts and being productive. As I said to a friend earlier this week, I feel like my pilot light went out this winter. And I need to reignite it, fast!

No need to worry. Spring IS here. We will have three or four consecutive days over 45 degrees very soon. I just know it. And so what if we don’t?  We cannot control the weather and the forecasters can rarely predict it correctly so let’s not focus too much on that.  It’s the promise and hope of spring that has already begun to awaken something in me. And more importantly, in just a few days, we begin the start of National Humor Month. And that celebrates something that we CAN control … how much we recognize and use humor in our lives. I’m not just talking about playing pranks using whoopee cushions or plastic vomit to get a few laughs on April Fool’s Day.  National Humor Month celebrates the amazing tool that is humor!  I mentioned before that a day can feel like a week and a season can feel like an eternity based on our perspective. Well when we use humor in our lives, we can gain a different perspective … one that is usually lighter and happier. It helps us to put a pin in our worries and live in a joyful, happy moment or if we’re lucky … a few moments, a day, a week.

I am hopeful during this month that celebrates humor and ushers in thoughts of tulips and green everywhere, I will reignite my pilot light so that I can really get cooking. For me, that means feeling content and joyful for myself again – something that seems to have frozen over this winter – and then putting that positive, bright vibe out to the masses so that others can get lit.  (Let me explain: I hope to share a light feeling so that others feel lit up with happiness, joy and levity. Wild Turkey and Jameson can get people lit but that’s not exactly what I mean. Although I am Irish and German so I’m not opposed to getting lit … just don’t drive, text or Facebook while under the influence.)

What I look forward to in the coming month specifically to help me reignite my light is:

•Teaching an 8-week improv class at The Vintage Theater in Scranton. I’m excited about sharing this art form with other like-minded, creative, imaginative people. I look forward to introducing them to improv games and techniques that will have them laughing and helping others to laugh, but more importantly the techniques will teach them to be more comfortable thinking on their feet; listening to others’ ideas; accepting others’ ideas; building something as a team; and being free to think, act and explore their creativity from toe to head.

•Warmer weather that will make it more comfortable and fun to run outdoors with more smiles and less clothing. It has not been easy or fun training for the Scranton Half Marathon that I will run on April 6. Although I ran my first full marathon in October, it feels like all of that training has been erased with a few months of hibernation.

•Flowers. I especially like the smell of lilacs because they remind me of childhood when I would take flowers from our lilac bush, put them in a cup in front of my Blessed Mother statue to pay tribute to her during the month of May (it’s a Catholic thing that is about showing honor and respect to the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mom).

• Birds chirping outside my window. Although it’s sure to mean the return of my nemesis, the pesky squirrel, I will  break out the ladder to start my routine of filling the “squirrel-proof” bird feeder (yeah right, they treat it like it’s a jungle gym and they’re rehearsing for Squirrels’ Cirque du Soleil the way they swing on it, reaching inside the feeder with their dirty little paws). I love hearing and seeing all of the birds gathering in the tree that’s easy to view from the window in my kitchen, TV room and office upstairs.

•Possibilities. I have two comedy shows scheduled in April and May. I have speaking engagements scheduled for April, May, June, July and August and I’m excited about other prospects that came about recently and that I know will increase as I get cooking by getting out networking more,  making calls and planning meetings. What my winter lacked, I am hopeful my spring and summer will make up for two or three-fold.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

I have this nasty habit of writing about myself when all of the tips I read from professional speakers and writers is that people don’t care about me. You don’t want to hear about me. You want to read something that helps YOU. That makes YOUR LIFE better.  I can only hope that my writing is at least entertaining enough to make you laugh and/or think. But wait, there’s more!

HOW CAN YOU ADD HUMOR TO YOUR LIFE TO MAKE YOUR LIGHT SHINE BRIGHTER?

1. Take opportunities to turn crap into comedic material. When you spill coffee on your blouse and have no time to change, laugh it off. Tell people that you’re a fashion designer in training and you’ve just created a new way to dye your blouse that’s aromatic and eco-friendly. When you step in crap from your neighbor’s dog who seems really fond of your front yard, laugh it off (this one might be tougher). Just think, you can always make a care package for your neighbor to get your point across. Or, when you circle the shopping center parking lot for 15 minutes before finding your car, don’t freak out, laugh it off.  Consider walking in circles looking for your car part of your new exercise program. Just think of the calories you’ve already burned. None of these situations described are life and death so breathe in, breathe out and laugh.

2. Take a break before you break. Whether it’s a tense situation at work, at home or in the check-out line of the grocery store, we all have our breaking point (it’s not the same for everyone, thankfully, but it’s there). Before you lose your cool and say or do something out of character or you get your emotions spiraling into a negative ball of ick, breathe in, breathe out and laugh. Do you see a pattern here (there’s a lot of that in comedy by the way)? Humor can help you feel better and it can also remind you that you are not powerless to the stressful situation you are in. Use humor to gain control and power over the stress and negativity. Show it who’s boss! You will not have a crappy night. You will remain calm. You will feel happy*.   *Don’t misunderstand my advice. If your boss is being unfair to you, going to the ladies room or outside for fresh air and a good laugh will not make things better for the long haul. You will need to think about how to fix that problem or move on to another job where you will be more respected. But … humor can help you get through a particular situation, help you keep your composure and maintain the strength you need to find a long-term solution.

3. Forget Hammer Time. Schedule Humor Time. It may sound silly to actually schedule time to laugh but it shouldn’t You plan everything else. Your kids’ appointments, soccer game, football practice. Doctors’ appointments. PTA meetings.  Laughter and humor are important for your well-being. Stress leads to chronic illness. It’s important you have a way to cope with stress that is a healthy one. I prescribe more humor and laughter! So plan a night of funny movies or playing fun board games or charades with your friends and/or family. If you’re crying from laughing by the end of the night, you’re all winners!

Change doesn’t happen overnight. This has been a mantra of mine during my relationship over the past year. I tend to forget that as adults we don’t change easily or quickly, or sometimes ever, but I’m hopeful. And you should be hopeful too…as well as hopeless, as in hopelessly devoted to huuuuu-mor.

Lift Your Heart with Laughter

There are face lifts, butt lifts and boob lifts. And they all require an expensive surgery and a fair amount of recovery time while wrapped in bandages. What I propose is of much greater value. Seriously.  A heart lift, compliments of laughter!

February is American Heart Month. Yes, I’m aware that there are just a few days left in the month but since the message about a healthy heart and how laughter can help is relevant all year long, I don’t feel too terrible about my procrastination to write this blog. Besides, you’ve probably seen your fair share of signs of red all month long so let’s close the month out seeing pink in our cheeks as we get laughing!

Dr. Michael Miller at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine has researched the value of laughter and a healthy sense of humor for heart health and his findings give us reasons to love laughing. “Using laughter-provoking movies to gauge the effect of emotions on cardiovascular health, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have shown for the first time that laughter is linked to healthy function of blood vessels.”*

Let’s take that one step further and there’s more good news. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack,” according to the study by cardiologists. “The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, was presented at the American Heart Association’s 73rd Scientific Sessions in New Orleans. The researchers found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.”**

Okay so now that I’ve quoted the experts, let me tell you from the mouth of a lay person, laughter is good stuff! I can’t tell you that it helps to keep my ticker healthy because I don’t know that with medical or scientific certainty, but I can tell you that I laugh a lot and I have a good heart. I also run so I’m sure that helps keep my heart healthy too. My diet could use some cleaning up so I won’t even pull that into the conversation. The bottom line is that laughter is fun and it does make us feel good. That much I DO know.

One of the services I offer through my business, Laugh to Live, is laughter yoga at interactive workshops and conferences. When I lead a laughter yoga session, I see the smiles on people’s faces and I see their shoulders drop. Their bodies just relax and they tell me how good they fell after the session. I know how relaxed I feel after leading a session of laughter exercises. And when I do stand-up comedy and people laugh after hearing my jokes, I feel even better. That laughter is connected to humor that they must process in their minds and then laugh so it’s less of a practice (as laughter yoga is) and more of a response. And I like that so I feel especially happy. (By the same token, when I tell jokes and no one laughs I feel disappointed but that’s the beauty of a sense of humor, it varies from person to person and audience to audience so I am working on not taking it personally. But this blog isn’t about my fragile ego so I apologize for getting off track.)

One of the many great things about laughter is that you don’t need special equipment or attire to do it. You don’t need to buy anything to just laugh. And laughter triggers are everywhere. What are these triggers you might ask? Here are a few:

Funny friends who share comical stories or even knock-knock jokes (avoid the Debbie Downers and Frownie Freds who only want to tell you about the biggest pothole that knocked their tires out of alignment or the snow storm bringing record amounts; unless they lighten up they’ll drain the life out of you after a while).

Sitcoms and movies that you can watch when you have time. With Netflix, Redbox, Youtube, and DVD rentals at your local library, you should have no excuse not to watch the occasional comedy. I own every episode of “Seinfeld” and watch it in reruns too because it’s guaranteed laughs for me. There are a number of other funny shows and movies out there. Find what you like and press “Play.”

Youtube sensations seem to make people chuckle. I can’t say that I totally understand how a cat grabbing a dog’s tail is worthy of 1 million views but maybe I’m just bitter because I haven’t topped 500 views on any of my stand-up comedy videos yet. (Did I mention that I’m a human being who must think to create that material? Eh, maybe I’ll just rescue a cat and set up a nanny cam to record it all day.)

Life is a wonderful opportunity for laughter. Sit and sip coffee somewhere. Listen in on people’s conversations. Watch through the window as people scamper back and forth through their busy lives. I’m not saying to mock or be mean. Just observe for a bit. Soak it up. Life is full of chances to laugh. And what’s even better than watching others, is to laugh at yourself. Instead of cursing that coffee spill on your pants or rip in your jacket from getting stuck on a door handle, accept that it’s one little tear in life and you are the one in control of finding it funny or infuriating.

Laughter yoga is still not a household word but it should be. Started in the mid 1990s by medical doctor Madan Kataria in India, it is the simple practice of choosing to laugh. Don’t wait to hear a joke or watch a video, breathe in deeply and let out a haaaaa, hoooo and a heeeee. Clap your hands. Chant ho ho ha ha ha. LAUGH because you CAN! Because you choose to breathe in life and exhale with laughs.

I’m sure you can think of many other triggers to get your laughing started: your children, blowing bubbles, reading comic books, etc.  As long as you’re not making fun of others, go ahead and laugh, loudly! Your heart will thank you by pumping stronger and giving you another day to repeat that exercise.

Laugh. Lift your heart. And if you still feel the need to lift your face, butt or boobs, that’s your business. I’m sure the experience will give you more material to laugh about!

Laughs Bring A Family Closer Together

It’s not uncommon for adults to live with their parents these days. Times are tough. People get divorced. Relationships end. Jobs are lost. Times get tough and loving parents want to help their grown children. I moved out of my parent’s house about 13 years ago but I still see them quite a bit. The commute is really short. It takes less than 10 seconds and 10 steps to get to them. They live next door, or, I should say that I live next door in the double home they own. They are the best landlords a girl could have.

Fortunately, my parents and I get along well. They help to support me and I offer to help them with what I can … some heavy lifting at times and technical stuff like troubleshooting when they can’t connect to the Internet to check the Facebook or bank online, etc.

Each family is different. Some families fight a lot but hug and kiss minutes later. Some families have more bumps than the roads in Scranton (they’re not good, trust me).  Some families appear happy as can be but hide secrets as dark as night. And other families are your average, run-of-the-mill families depicted on sitcoms. They have their troubles, they do their best and they love one another. And like the families on sitcoms, our family shares a lot of laughs, often at our own expense. Well, okay, maybe I joke a lot with my folks and laugh at their expense and should probably engage in more self-deprecation but my parents are good sports. And I usually do my best to use humor to lighten a heavy situation or to make someone smile and laugh.

Research shows that humor and laughter are very important to relationships. Families who have a sense of humor feel good about themselves and can cope better with life’s stressors and crises. Families who laugh together are stronger, gain perspective and have power to deal with bad times while intensifying good times.

Have you laughed with your family lately? Take a trip to grandma’s house. Call up your sister or brother and schedule a date with your parents to laugh. Look at old home movies. Dust off the photo albums that show your dad wearing a leisure suit or your mom in her favorite bell bottoms. Watch a comedy together. Whatever you do, laugh … together!!

Thankfully, my parents are very good sports and don’t mind when I draw from my time with them to write some of my stand-up comedy.  Here’s a recent clip. Enjoy a laugh or two and maybe you’ll think of your own family and smile.

 

Deck the Halls, Trim the Tree… with Smiles & Memories

Last night I trimmed my parents’ Christmas tree with my mom. I’ve been helping her trim the tree since I was a kid. And since I’ve moved out, I still help trim it. It’s usually like a ritual. We have a drink, turn on Christmas music and begin. (Last night we had no music on, the TV was one, but a glass of wine was still included.) My parents have an artificial tree so it goes up before I put my real one up. I get to trim two trees. I don’t mind at all. In fact, I enjoy it.

We’ve never been matchy matchy people so there are no theme trees in our history of holidays. We don’t do trees with all of the same color ornaments and bows or all Hallmark precious moments ornaments, or a Victorian style tree or … you get the picture.  Our trees are more like us. Like life. They are a wonderful collection of different, beautiful and interesting ornaments. Our ornaments are conversation starters. We decorate with a variety of styles, round and long, Santas to alligators (yes, there are two reptiles hanging there) – ones that we purchased on our own because we thought they were pretty and a lot of ornaments that were gifts, along with very old colored glass ornaments that are more than 50 years old. And each year the ornaments make my mom nostalgic. For many years, it was my “thing” to bring home an ornament from wherever I visited. She smiles and says “You got me this one, and that one.” or “Remember the year you brought this one home from Florida after we took you to the airport the morning after that bad snow storm. You were determined to get out …and you did.” One of her favorite ornaments is one I brought back from France.

Each year I love hanging the gold Santa ornament engraved with “Nana” because it makes me smile thinking of my Grandma Esther Dolan who I had the pleasure to live with until she died when I was 21.  She is the woman whose hand I held at night when we shared a bedroom and I was scared at age 5, the woman who yelled and cursed when I sat on the dishwasher door at age 7 – an encounter that I recorded on my tape recorder and played back later to my parents saying “Grandma yelled at me.” She is the woman who was strong and tough. She worked hard. She said some inappropriate things. She made us laugh. She laughed with us. She loved us with the same depth she did everything.  The ornament that bears her name “Nana,” has been going on the tree for well over 30 years but it has come to mean so much to me over the past 20 since her death. It makes me smile, remember her strength and the laughs we shared.

During this season that tends to make a busy life even busier, may you take the time to let yourself get nostalgic. Look at old pictures. Wrap yourself in a scarf knitted by someone special. Break open a recipe from your mom or grandmother’s collection and let the memories rise as the sauce simmers.  Enjoy the moment or moments. No need to rush. Tomorrow will come soon enough.

Stuffing This In Because I Procrastinate

I have many good intentions. And I’m sure I’ve even stated this before in a previous blog. We all know what’s been said about good intentions. They’re what the road to hell is paved with.  I hope I haven’t offended anyone. The bottom line or gist is that we all have things we want to accomplish and we can sit and think and think and even plan with color charts and long lists. But action and doing are really the things that matter. So with that said, I’ve been jotting down ideas and even a few sentences about blog posts that I was going to write but here I am about two months after the fact so I’m being spontaneous and stuffing this post in my day. But please don’t think it’s done with any less love for you my readers, or without a purpose. My purpose is to wish you a warm Thanksgiving holiday and to remind you of the value that laughter and humor have during these times.

Holidays can be an incredible gift to us. We are given permission and time to sit around a table and reminisce about good times and we ultimately create next year’s fond memories. But not every table or home will be the portrait of peace and love. In fact, all families have their pain points. That relative whose name no one is supposed to speak. The one who left his family to go open a T-shirt shop in Florida with a woman he met on Facebook who shared his love for fishing and Jimmy Buffet. Or maybe on a more serious note, a loved one is going through serious health issues and everyone wants to act like nothing is wrong because the alternative is too scary. Or perhaps there’s always a relative or two who tips the wine a bit too liberally and then opens up old wounds.  Like how Aunt Beth talks about how her brother Edwin stole her red Schwinn from the family porch and sold it to fund his baseball card collection but denies it all these years later.

Maybe none of what I’ve written so far pertains to you or rings a bell, on a Schwinn or otherwise. And, maybe it does. We’re all the same on this Earth. We all have pain. We all want to feel loved, safe, warm and happy! So let’s do our best to wrap up in the warmth of the fellowship we have on Thanksgiving and appreciate it for what it is. And if you are without family or friends, my wish for you is that you can share your gifts with others within the community or maybe you can just celebrate how wonderful YOU are.

However you celebrate Thanksgiving this week and whoever you are with, I hope you do it with a smile and some great laughs. I know that I will be doing my best to use humor as I always do. I have some of the fondest memories of my family Thanksgivings from the time I was dressed as an Indian at age six (something that would surely seem politically incorrect today) to the year I was Aunt Beth (just one year Jeannine, really?) drinking X number glasses of wine and fighting the liberal fight defending Rosie O’Donnell, France and Democrats in general. With some tears and lots of laughter, what I felt most was love!

Whether you’re the turkey or the turkey carver: I hope you forgive, forget, love and most importantly: laugh, laugh and laugh some more.