Category Archives: Fun and Laughter

up

the best advice so far: up

I’m not a film critic—at least that’s not the point of this blog, though I do seem to have snuck a few reviews in from time to time (e.g., Beauty and the Beast, Singin’ in the Rain, Cinderella, and a few others) where they illustrate a best-advice-so-far kind of observation.

Well, as it turns out, it’s another movie—Mary Poppins Returns—that has me posting again for the first time in six months.

Why the absence? Well, I’m actually going to save that for perhaps another post. My mood is too cheery at the moment to relive the trials of the last half year through words. So allow me to “trip a little light fantastic” for now and simply tell you where my thoughts have been since Mary popped back into town.

And for those yet to see this gem of a movie, I’ll be careful not to drop any major spoilers.

Again, life’s been rather topsy-turvy (or, as Meryl Streep’s wonderfully quirky character puts it, “turning turtle”) since late August. On New Year’s Eve, I came down with a stomach bug on top of things—one more thing beyond my control. Yet I did have choices to make nonetheless (because, of course, “You always have a choice.”)

As it happened, I decided to go out with friends. After all, I could sit in a comfortable recliner at a move theater with a stomachache just as well as I could with it at home. And so it was that we headed off to see Mary Poppins Returns.

Now, I’ll admit—I was a little skeptical. The 1964 film starred the inimitable Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. I understand that it ran in theaters not merely for months, but for years. And the profits on this one film alone were enough to have allowed Walt Disney to purchase and develop the Florida property that today is Disney World.

How could a sequel released 54 years later ever measure up?

Well, color me surprised.

Not five minutes in, my spirits were already lifted, with “nowhere to go but up.”

Yes, the characters were on point. Every song remarkably managed to capture the spirit of the original. There are show-stopping dance numbers. There are plenty enough Easter eggs and references to the first film for trivia buffs. There are even a number of cameo appearances that are sure to delight Disney fans.

But none of these are what I want to write about here.

The truth is that the movie connected with me on a deeper level. It got me thinking. It restored a sense of purpose amidst hardship. And it inspired action—including breaking the blogging dearth.

Let me share just a few of those personal takeaways. Whether you see the movie or not, I’m hoping these reflections will encourage some of you who may be feeling stuck at present.

Perspective is Everything

The scene opens in the wee morning hours on a foggy, wet London street. Ominous clouds hang overhead as far as the eye can see. Everything is grimy and dark and cramped. Oily smoke rises from concrete factories. Bleak, bleak, bleak.

Have you ever been in a bad place so long—whether with health or finances, career or responsibilities, relationships or loss or fear—that you’ve forgotten what life was ever like before? …

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twenty-minute vacation

The Best Advice So Far: The 20-Minute Vacation - sunglasses reflecting palm trees over tropical waters

To watch today’s video post, just click the button below to hop on over to the main site. I’ll see you there to explain three simple tips for turning 20 minutes into a mini-vacation … any time.

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what to say (reprise)

The Best Advice So Far - what to say (reprise)

Back in the spring, I introduced you to my writer-friend Diana by way of a unique book review with a personal twist. (By the way, this four-book series, The Rose Shield, would make a perfect, no-fail gift for any choosy Fantasy readers you may know; and Diana’s also just released a beautifully illustrated children’s book, Grumpy Ana and the Grouchy Monsters, for the little readers on your list.)

Grump Ana and the Grouchy Monsters

Sally Cronin of Smorgasbord revived one of Diana’s previous posts entitled “Write and Change the World.” It was written nearly three years ago, before I came to know Diana. As I read it early this week for the first time, it felt current. It reminded me of important things. And I would have missed it, had Sally not seen the value in shining the spotlight on it again, these years later.

*****

A couple of days ago, I treated myself to a meal out. It’s second nature to me to ask the server’s name and give my own, and then to ask at least one others-centered question that has nothing to do with waiting ts.

Holly told me she was a Christmas baby … well, her due date was Christmas, but she’d been born on the 21st. My light non-server question was this: “What’s one thing you love to do in your life outside of work?” She smiled broadly and talked about spending time with her Long-Haired German Shepherd, including pictures of “her baby.”

You’d have thought I’d given her a $100 bill, the way she responded to that simple moment of exchanging names and showing even that little bit of interest in her as a person, outside of her role — of what she could do for me. She just kept shaking her head in wonder that anyone would think to do such a thing, thanking me at least three times thereafter when she came back to check on my table.

It struck me once again that what feels quite natural to me … isn’t, for many people.

This interaction with Holly, on the heels of having read Diana’s wonderful post from yesteryear, got me thinking. I’ve been blogging now for nearly seven years. When I first started, I was posting daily (how I ever managed it, I really can’t fathom); and yet that first few months was when my readership was new and quite small. In other words, most current visitors to my blog have never read those early posts, though they were the foundation upon which the entire blog since then has been built.

Add to this the slate gray sky and rain that has presided over the last few days, and waking mornings to find the car encrusted in frost, and my mind was made up.

This week, I’m [click below to continue reading this post]

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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…


puzzles

The Best Advice So Far - puzzles

Many of you know that I just returned from the longest vacation of my life — a full five weeks on Florida’s West Coast.

Prior to the trip, I began concocting plans for all I wanted to do, see and accomplish while away:

Get the audiobook up and available online.

Visit Captiva and Sanibel Islands.

Spot a wild dolphin.

Start writing my next book.

The list went on.

And I’m happy to say that most of my goals were achieved, including each of the above.

But among my aspirations was one that may seem strange to some:

Complete a difficult jigsaw puzzle.

When I was a child, and into my teen years, I always had a jigsaw puzzle going. And as far as I was concerned, the harder — the better.

I did an all-black puzzle with only a tiny pinhole of light at the center.

One was just bubbles.

I enjoyed the square variety where the same picture from the front was displayed again on the back, only rotated 90 degrees.

I did puzzles where the frame was irregular instead of having flat edges.

And though finding room was a challenge, I often did puzzles of 4000 or 5000 pieces.

Still, as big a part of my growing-up years as puzzles were, it struck me recently that I hadn’t done a single one since high school.

As crazy as it sounds, setting into that jigsaw puzzle — whatever it would be — was cause for just as much anticipation as watching a tropical sunset. I’d been given a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas and had tucked it away in a special place, just the occasion.

Within 24 hours of arrival in Florida, I’d chosen a first puzzle. I decided to ease my way into it with a puzzle of a mere 500 pieces: a colorful underwater scene featuring sea turtles. (After all, I did have other things I wanted to be doing on this vacation besides puzzling.)

Working on the puzzle, I was transported back those three decades. I often became aware that I was biting my…


happy sad

The Best Advice So Far - happy sad

I’m writing mid-flight, on my way back from the longest vacation of my life — five weeks in Southwest Florida. After so long away, it feels more like a move than merely returning from someplace I’d been visiting.

Late last night, I drove to the beach for one last walk.

The main street downtown was still aglow, lit up like Christmas. I’d strolled the strip often during my stay, this year and during the five years of previous visits.

I’d eaten at that Persian restaurant on the right.

I’d sat awhile on a bench in that tiny garden park on the left.

I’d played gin rummy and sipped iced chai and written blog posts in that little coffee shop.

People sat at outdoor tables, talking and laughing. Music greeted me from the open doors of a warmly lit restaurant.

Just a few days ago, it had all felt very much like my street — like a place and people who knew me well. Last night as I drove, however, it felt … different. A bit foreign. Like I was a ghost passing among the living, George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.

A few zigs and zags and I’d arrived at my destination. I kicked my sandals off into the car. I’d walk the shore barefoot, as ever. The colorful ceramic turtle mosaics set into the cement pavilion that opened onto the pier seemed somehow to be swimming … away.

Caribbean music pulsed from the close side of the pier, a group of young Haitian boys having an impromptu dance party. They parted as I approached, smiling and turning toward me with hands overhead and hips swaying, a wordless invitation to join them if I liked. I returned the smile and dance-stepped my way over to the stairway that let down onto the beach, the small crowd closing in my wake.

Above, in the sky, silent lightning played its own complex rhythms, reflecting off the waves beneath. The water was warmer than ever, tumbling over and around my feet, then pulling the sand out from under them in retreat.

A perfect night.

I walked with the knowledge that, whether I stayed ten minutes or two hours, there would come the time when …


lemonade: for the ears

The Best Advice So Far - lemonade for the ears

At the end of February, I finished recording the tracks for The Best Advice So FarAnd at that time, I posted one of the audio recordings here on the blog —”Chapter 2: Negativity.”

Well, I had set a goal for myself to have everything mixed and mastered by June 1. It turned out to be far more than I had bargained for — over 100 hours altogether. Wearing headphones for hours on end, listening for “poppy” Ps and “tappy” Ts and “slushy” SHs, all while watching jagged sound waves on a screen. Listening to every facet of my own voice, up close and personal. Let’s just say it was no picnic.

But now I can have a picnic. Because I did meet my goal. At long last — it’s done!

And I am inviting you to my picnic…[audio link on the Main Site; click below to hop over!]