Category Archives: Daily Thought

huzzah

The Best Advice So Far - huzzah

I use the interjection “Yay!” a fair amount, though mostly in text messages.

Then there’s “Hooray!” which I say as well as write.

But far and away, my favorite exclamation is this one:

HUZZAH!

It just … sounds right (pronounced huh-ZAH, with the accent on the second syllable).

It looks right.

What’s more, it feels right, what with that buzzing double ‘zz’ and all.

It’s the kind of utterance that stirs speaker and listener alike, all but demanding a rousing stir of fist.

Aw, go on — say it. (You know you want to.)

HUZZAH!

I believe the first time I heard the word — or at least the earliest association I’ve made with it — was in an early film version of A Christmas Carol. Scrooge turns down his nephew Fred’s invitation to Christmas dinner with his telltale “Bah! Humbug!” After his ghostly change of heart, however, Scrooge shows up after all, upon which Fred exclaims, “Why, Uncle, you’ve joined us! Huzzah!”

And so, Huzzah feels Christmasy to me as well.

Need I further explain my penchant for using it?

Well, today I offer up a hearty Huzzah!

On New Year’s Eve of 2016, I set a goal for myself: to… [click the button below to continue reading this post at the main site]

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candy canes

The Best Advice So Far - candy canes

I finally got my tree this week.

The front lot at Hanson’s Farm up the road glistened with new-fallen snow. They had fewer than a dozen trees left, having started with nearly two hundred just three weeks ago. This actually worked in my favor, given my longstanding tradition of choosing the Charlie-Browniest tree I can find — the one least likely to be picked due to some flaw or other.

Some I had to rule out on account of their being too tall or too fat to fit in the space, nestled between a window, the bookshelf and the low pitched ceiling in that corner of my second-story farmhouse living room.

Yet even with the further reduced selection, they all seemed perfect. Too perfect.

I gave them a second looking over and then a third, before deciding on the only one that appeared to have any gap at all in the branches — a little Fraser fir.

The owner, a kind-faced farmer with weathered skin and calloused hands, sold me the tree for just twenty dollars, including trimming the trunk by half an inch and settling my purchase into the trunk of my car.

It started to snow again on the drive home — that kind of gentle snow that looks like tiny perfect circles and falls straight down.

Once home again, I hoisted the tree onto one shoulder and edged my way up the narrow, steep stairs, seemingly without losing a single needle. As I settled the base of the tree into the heavy cast-iron stand, I noticed that the trunk was actually bent. I’d have to work a bit to get it to stay upright. I smiled. I’d chosen the right tree after all.

Lying on my back, branches outspread above me, I steadied the tree with one hand while turning the three keys bit by bit.

Check.

Tighten this one three times.

Check.

Loosen that one twice.

As I worked, my face mere inches from the stand, something rather magical happened. So cold was the tree still that, though the room was plenty warm and cozy, I could see my frosty breath.

At last, the tree was standing plumb.

I gave the frigid tree a day for its branches to settle. And by the next morning, the house was already permeated with the rich scent of evergreen. All of the water I’d poured just the night before was gone, having slaked the thirsty tree, and so I added more.

It was time to string the lights.

My lights are white, never the colored variety. No LEDs. No blinking. No fading. Just the old-fashioned, steady white bulbs — the kind where the whole strand goes out if one of them fizzles.

It’s very important that the lights wind deep inside the tree as well as to the tips of branches, as opposed to simply wrapping them round and round the outside. It gives the tree depth. And as much as possible, wires should be strategically hidden, since they break the magical effect.

Once the lights were in place — with just the right number remaining to weave into the wicker star on top — I gave myself an evening to enjoy the tree in that simple state.

Friday night, serenaded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, I decorated the tree with ornaments spanning a lifetime.

A set of six intricately painted Fabergé-style eggs, unpacked from their rectangular, satin-lined case.

Cookie-cutter shapes — a holly leaf, a stocking, a gingerbread man and others — each made by hand with nothing but applesauce and generous amounts of cinnamon, and smelling exactly as you might expect them to.

Classic glass bulbs, their crackled gold paint casting multiple reflections.

And, of course, the candy canes.

Actually, the candy canes are the first to adorn the tree. There are only five left from the set of twelve that first decorated the tiny tree in my dorm room during my freshman year of college.

That makes them exactly three decades old this year.

And, yes — they are real candy canes.

When Chad was still in high school, I had a group of his peers over around Christmas time. The crowd was bigger than anticipated, so I ran out quickly to grab some more food. When I returned, Chad told me, a look of comical disgust on his face, “I think something’s wrong with your candy canes. I ate one of them. It tasted gross and…[click the button below to continue reading this post at the main site]

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fake: part one

The Best Advice So Far - fake: part one

Due to a lack of sound sleep over the past couple of days, my brain is in a strange, swishy sort of place. Rather than fight it, I figure I’ll just ride the wave of weirdness and see where we land.

By and large, the word “fake” has a negative connotation:

Lucio’s new girlfriend is so fake.

The masterpiece was somehow stolen and replaced with a fake.

The newscast was decried as fake news when it suggested that the news about fake news was fake.

But I’d like to suggest that being “fake” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Case in point: fake teeth.

Let’s begin with some fun facts about fake teeth. The original version of the wind-up toy teeth was released in 1949 as “Yakkity Yak Talking Teeth.” H. Fishlove and Co. was the first to market the toy, and Fishlove remains a division of Fun, Inc., where the toy is still manufactured today.

They’re fake. But they’re apparently good enough an idea to have retained popularity for nearly 70 years. (I feel obliged to point out that it’s doubtful wind-up real teeth would have fared so well.)

Speaking of fake teeth, I’ve got two in my mouth right now.

About 25 years ago, a kid I was mentoring had a PTSD flashback and head-butted me in the face at close range. The blow broke a jagged corner off one of my two front teeth and snapped one of my bottom teeth clean in half.

Regarding the lower damage, even the slowest of breaths in and out over the exposed nerve was enough to make a lumberjack drop his logs and run crying for mama.

And it happened on a Friday evening going into a long holiday weekend, which meant I wouldn’t be able to get to a dentist until Tuesday.

Well, the nub of it (pun intended) is that I pretty much ate minimally through a straw, nursed two bottles of Anbesol and cried until I could get to a (very mean) dentist that Tuesday. The bottom job was a terrible match, but stayed in. And the top repair fell out in just a few months. I decided that I couldn’t afford to shell out the money on account of vanity, so I sported that chipped tooth for over two decades.

Last year, while on vacation in Florida, I made a new friend at the gym. We got talking about stuff that matters in life, and before I left, I gave him a copy of my book, The Best Advice So Far. Well, as it turned out, Houman is a dentist and noticed my chipped tooth, and I told him the story of how it had come to be. He kindly invited me to stop in the following year and let him fix it. It was a kind gesture.

Well, this year was “the following year.” I saw Houman again during workouts at the local gym. True to his word, he once again invited me to come let him fix the tooth. (And, no, I wasn’t smiling extra wide just so he’d notice.) I did go to his practice where I got V.I.P. treatment as well as the gracious gift of his skill and care in fixing that long-broken tooth.

As I walked out of Houman’s office, I couldn’t stop running my tongue over the smooth surface of the tooth. I took pictures and sent them around. I found myself repeatedly looking at it in the rearview mirror. And I immediately became aware that, for nearly 25 years, I’d been smiling in such a way that the top of my lower lip covered the jagged corner of that front tooth. Since that day, however, I’ve found myself smiling bigger than ever.

My real tooth was great. But part of it has been gone — the shards somewhere in the carpet or under the baseboard heater of a long-vacated apartment — for more than half my life. My new tooth … is fake. And yet it’s awfully good. What’s more, if I’m being honest, it makes me feel loved that a new friend would go out of his way for me for no reason at all.

In a further effort to be fair to “fake” (and because, as I pointed out, my brain is on its own little roller coaster) let me share with you a few more of my favorite fakes … followed by a few that foster frowns.

Fake Things I Like

Flavors

Fake banana flavoring (which my best friend, Dib, refers to as “breathy banana”) is definitely good, particularly when it comes in the form of a banana Popsicle.

And while I know it’s basically made of Vaseline and sugar, I do love me some Cool Whip. I don’t buy it myself, but my mom does; and when I’m visiting, well … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t maybe eat a spoonful (or two) of it, right out of the tub when no one was looking.

Medicine

In 2002, after three years of mounting health problems that finally had me sleeping as many as 18 hours a day, unable to work, I was officially diagnosed with…


hear! hear! (the story behind the audiobook)

The Best Advice So Far- hear hear

I still remember the first time as a mentor that I had to turn someone away.

Until then, no matter how many others I was committed to at the time — no matter how strongly I debated with myself that I couldn’t stretch any further — I found a way for “just one more.” But then there it was: the first I’m sorry, I won’t be able to.

As someone who believes in the difference one person can make in the life of another, and who is deeply empathetic, it was like a punch to the gut.

About the same time, years of “kids” I’d mentored, past and present, along with their families, secretly organized an appreciation dinner in my honor. I have to say, not only was I shocked, the timing was uncanny.

As part of the evening’s events, I was given a seat in the middle of the crowd. I remember meeting eyes around the room, one by one. For more than an hour, people spoke word of affirmation or thanks, expressing what I had meant to their lives. Tears welled up (just as they are even now, as I recall the day). Even being a writer, it’s be hard to put to words what that was like.

One young man, Alex, said something that night that has not only stuck with me, but which has changed the course of things thereafter. Alex said…

 


sea glass

The Best Advice So Far: Sea Glass - light blue sea glass on sand against sunset

Winter is not quite over. But after a couple spectacular blizzards in mid January and February, New England has been enjoying some record-breaking warmth. Last Friday, the temperature reached 75° — beating the historical average for that day by a whopping 35°.

I donned shorts and a tank top, slipping into the sandals I’d dug out from the back of the closet. And for one glorious day, it was summer.

I love summer.

In fact, I chose one of the iconic symbols of summer time as the primary image for the cover of my first book, The Best Advice So Far. And it wasn’t just because I like the taste of lemonade. It’s more than that for me. It’s a symbol of hope, of childlike adventure, of making time for the important little things we so often tend to whiz by in life.

Button to Read Chapter 39 from The Best Advice So Far - Free

In my last post, I shared a sample chapter from the audiobook recording of The Best Advice So Far, for which editing is currently underway. Well, since my health, energy and focus have returned, I’ve also got my sights set on the next book.

Before I’d gotten very far into writing The Best Advice So Far, I knew that lemonade would be the theme. And here again, as I plan the next book, I’m already all but settled on the imagery for its cover: sea glass.

At the center of my mentoring, facilitation and everything I write is this statement: “You always have a choice.” And like lemonade, sea glass is about …

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making the cut (negativity)

The Best Advice So Far - Making the Cut (Negativity) - studio mic with audiobook cover

I finished recording the tracks for The Best Advice So Far this week, and I’ve begun the editing process. There’s a ton I want to share with you about the process itself — and about the number of times I’d have quit already, if it weren’t for advice from my own book and blog kicking my butt. However, I’ll save that for an upcoming post.

Today, I’ll be keeping it short (at least in the volume of written words).

You would not believe how different your own voice sounds day to day — even hour to hour. Tonight, I sent the first 10 edited tracks to my iPod and listened to them as I drove. I swear, it sounded like four different people talking, and that’s after doing a lot of work each recording session, trying to maintain the same sound. Some of the chapters, I think I can adapt with some EQ settings. But one — “Chapter 2: Negativity” — is just too different. Must’ve been one I recorded too early, because I’ve got “morning voice.” Alas, however sexy, it’ll have to be entirely redone.

This makes me a bit sad, because I felt the conviction in the original reading as I listened to it this evening. I guess the written page isn’t the only place writers have to be willing to “murder their darlings.”

Still, I thought I’d at least let the original find a temporary voice here on my blog. It’s perfect timing, with my having been up to my elbows in recording and editing this week. And it fits right into recent discussions here about giving in to complaining, along with the perceived gains that drive our negativity.

I’m hopeful that you’ll take the time to listen, and …

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little big things

little big things - scallop shell on sunny beach sand - The Best Advice So Far

My last blog entry was posted over a month ago. It’s not for lack of trying, I just haven’t been able to write. I don’t mean to say that I’ve been too busy to write; I mean that I haven’t been able to write.

Shortly after I wrote that last post, I was in a car accident. The short version is that I wound up being ambulanced to the nearest hospital with neck and back immobility, a skull-wracking migraine and loss of peripheral vision. I was terrified that it was going to be a repeat of 2007 and the accident that left me incapacitated for more than six months. Fortunately, after about five days in bed, my neck and back righted themselves and, though the headaches have persisted, they’ve been intermittent and manageable.

The aftermath of this particular ball of wax has also included fatigue, insomnia and a record-breaking stretch of nightmares. This morning, I woke up from my two or so hours of sleep with my heart racing. Some end-of-the-world-meets-mind-control number this time.

Do I sound like I’m kvetching? I’m not meaning to. I’ve tried to keep it to the basics, but it’s important that I set the scene.

As I said at the start of this post, I haven’t been able to write. I’ve set aside time to write. I’ve done all the right things to set myself up for success to write. But the sheer fact of the matter was that, circumstances being what they’ve been, my brain was just not able to focus, and no amount of discipline was going to change that for the time being.

If you’ve read my book, The Best Advice So Far, or have been making yourself comfortable here on my blog for any time at all, you’ll be well familiar with the central credo:

You always have a choice.

I use the word “credo” here, because I want to focus on a particular point: that this is more than a motivational platitude for me. It’s a core belief, a guiding force in my life. And it is at the heart of any advice I may share with others along the way.

best advice so far - you always have a choice - tweetable

However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  It’s a guiding force, yes, but a force to be reckoned with all the same.

As I sat again last week in front of an empty page for the third week in a row, I felt it happen. My heart was pounding. My chest felt tight, like I couldn’t get a full breath. An acrid tingle crept around the back of my jaw. At first, I thought it was yet another manifestation of general weirdness from the accident; but after a few minutes, I recognized it for what it was.

In a word, what I felt was …

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