Wednesday, December 10, 2014

O Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree How Broken Are Your Branches

It's time to put the Christmas tree up again!


For many of you this may involve schlepping an aromatic pine or spruce into the living room. For others it might be a trip to the garage to haul out the annual plastic model. For me, it means it's time to re-post my favorite Christmas tree story.  So once again for it's annual airing, here is my story about the ugliest Christmas tree. Please feel free to share this others.

I was relaxed, taking in the stereo when a commercial interrupted my listening pleasure.

"Make this Christmas one that she'll never forget," droned the announcer. "Yeah," I thought. "Spend big bucks and everyone will love you. Spend enough and we may even have peace on earth."

Christmas commercialism, it seems to get worse ever year. Do not get me wrong. I enjoy Christmas. It just bothers me that everyone thinks you have to spend a lot of money to have a merry one. I thought back to the commercial, "the best Christmas ever." It took my memories back to the Christmas of my 10th year, my most unforgettable holiday.

My family and I had moved to Arizona from Chicago four years before. Arizona was in a serious recession. My father, who had always provided a healthy paycheck for his wife and five children, could not find work. We got by on unemployment checks.

Jobs were plentiful in Chicago and my father's former boss was anxious to take him back. However, after four years of quiet, safe and sunny Arizona living, my mother refused to return to the Windy City. If my father could not find employment he would return to Illinois, send money, and the rest of the family would remain in Arizona.

It was a sad time - the bickering about money, worrying if my dad would have to move away. Christmas was an added burden. Money was tight enough without the added expense of the holiday. My mother explained the financial situation to us and we knew not to expect much in the way of presents.

Of course the brightly decorated evergreens we had enjoyed in the past were out of the question. We never even asked about one. Instead we pulled a three-foot aluminum tree out from the garage. The cold tinsel stalk inspired about as much Christmas spirit as a box of Reynolds wrap.

While everyone else decorated the tree, I decided to take a stroll. As I walked toward the end of the block, I turned right so I could investigate the bowling alley parking lot where they had been selling Christmas trees. I loved the scent of the pine in the cold air, another of many reasons I hated our artificial tree. As I neared the lot, I saw that it was bare. I kicked at the fragments of broken branches. In the corner, lying on its side, was a long misshapen evergreen.

It was easy to see why the tree was discarded. However, something inside of my brain clicked. The poor tree needed a home. My home needed a tree. I grabbed the trunk, but I was not strong enough to move it. I ran home to fetch my younger brother, Terry, who I was sure would assist in my plight. As it is so often the case with brothers, Terry lacked my enthusiasm.

"I don't even think a dog would use that tree," he laughed.

"Maybe so, but it would make a fine fort," I replied. With that in mind, Terry helped me transport the tree down the block and into our back yard.





My mother looked up from washing the dishes as we walked up the driveway, and warned us against bringing that "filthy thing" into the house.

"Its for a fort!" Terry exclaimed. I just smiled.

Once the tree was in the back yard, I sent Terry on another mission. I had no intention of turning the evergreen into a fort - at least not yet.

My dad walked up and looked at the tree. It was long, sparse on the top with heavy branches on the bottom. I was sure I could win him over, so I explained my scheme to him.

"You could chop a foot off the bottom and cut the branches off and drill holes where the tree is bare and do a little transplanting," I said.

My older sister, Diane walked out and spied the tree. "Father, you are not going to let her bring that thing in the house are you?" Diane shrieked.

"I don't see why you don't like it," I said. "It looks just like you. Not enough on the top and too much on the bottom."

Diane walked off in a huff.

Whether dad was bored, liked my idea, or was caught up in my enthusiasm I cannot be sure. But soon a drill and saw were out and "Ernie" the unwanted evergreen became a beautiful Christmas tree.

Dad brought the tree inside and we placed the few ornaments we had on Ernie. To help fill in the uncovered areas, we strung popcorn and pyracantha berries and cut out little ornaments from paper. Even my 18-year-old brother, Dennis, who was fond of imitating Scrooge and saying "Bah Humbug" to any mention of Christmas, helped to get Ernie into shape.

We did not have any Christmas lights, so Terry and I pooled our money, about 90 cents, and we got the rest of the cash from "Jack rabbit," my little sister Tina's bank. I am ashamed to say it was an unauthorized withdrawal.

One string of lights did not cover much, so we pushed the tree into a corner and decorated only the front. Despite the circumstances, I was happy. We all were. Never before, and unfortunately never afterward, do I remember my family working together so joyfully. For a short while, we were happy to be together and share what we had, each other.

That was the last Christmas we celebrated together as a family for a long time. Shortly afterward, my father returned to Chicago, unable to come home permanently until I was 16.

Except for my nemesis, Diane, my siblings and I still live in Arizona. Most holidays, we get together to exchange insults and presents. Our Christmas trees are always magnificent and the presents are plentiful and brightly decorated. You will not find strings of popcorn or pyracantha berries anywhere.

Christmas carols, if they were sung (and they are not) would be drown out by the big football games that are always scheduled in honor of the birth of Jesus.

I still think back to my childhood and that yuletide of my 10th year, and I know a truckload of presents could not match the happiness I felt that day. It was a special time when my father listened to me and made a small dream come true. And it all happened because of a poor misshapen Christmas tree that nobody else wanted.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sock it to Me!



I remember the phrase “sock it to me” from my childhood days in the 1960s. I was a big fan of the television show Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh In.” Now that I’m older I have a different “sock it to me” tradition. Shortly after Thanksgiving I don my Christmas socks. I don’t know why, but this annual event makes me happy.

Last year my holiday stockings were so full of holes that I had to send them to sock heaven to live with all the other socks that disappear from the clothes dryer. Before I let my little tootsie warmers move on to that great sock and underwear drawer in the sky, I bought two replacement pairs. One is black with a red and white leaf design (holly?) and the other is decorated with white snowflakes against a blue sky. 

Of course living in sunny Arizona I rarely see holly wreaths (unless they are plastic) and spotting snowflakes would be a rare occurrence. But I don’t care, it’s officially the holiday season and my Christmas socks are out for all to behold. In fact, due to our warm weather (80 degrees) I’m wearing my socks with shorts making them even more visible than usual.

There would’ve been a time when I would have been too embarrassed to show my socks off to the world. They usually hide under a pair of khaki pants or jeans, but the older I become the less I worry about wardrobe rules. I can just let the world think I’m a golfer. That is the one sport where it is almost a requirement to wear odd color combinations. And what is up with putting  the equivalent of stuffed animals on your clubs? Just saying.

But back to my sock saga.

My love of socks goes back for decades. Maybe it’s because it was one of the few things that were not hand-me-downs from my older sister Diane. I inherited her clothes, but mom drew the line at making me wear Diane’s old socks, underwear and shoes.

When I was in high school I conducted a sock celebration of my own -sockerjacks. My mom packed my lunch and sometimes I would get a box of cracker jacks. Algebra was the class after lunch. I would have the guys who sat near me show off their socks (the girls didn’t participate because we had a dress code and they all wore nylons with their dresses.) Anyway, whoever had the loudest socks would win the crackerjack prize.

Even my algebra teacher, Mr. Reid, participated. In fact he even won the prize on occasion. He was the golf coach and almost always wore a white shirt, tie and dark slacks with white socks, but occasionally  he would show his wild side and don a pair of bright yellow or lime green socks. I never did figure out if he wanted to win the prize or his wife hadn’t gotten around to doing the laundry.

Other participants included Robert Respass and Lynn Sterling, two burly men from the football team, and Curt Hall, who I believe was a wrestler. We had a lot of jocks in this class. Curt was pretty conservative and didn’t win the cracker jack prize too often. I had a big crush on him, but he never asked me out. One of my friends, Julie Heasty, asked him about this. It was obvious to her that he liked me. He admitted to her that he did think I was cute, but we were different religions and that was too big of a bridge to cross in the early 1970s. But I remember feeling better that it was that and not me personally. 

Anyway, now and again I wonder if any of these guys remember my colorful sock contest. It’s a silly thing, but it was a small effort to brighten the day in algebra class. And who doesn’t want a cracker jack prize?
Another sock story is an excerpt from Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, a book I wrote with my friend, Jacqueline Howard. This snippet is from Chapter Two - Reversing the Downward Spiral of Anger, Alcohol and Abuse.

“We were at a meeting and everyone had to say one thing they were grateful for,” said David.  “One guy was living in a half-way house.  He had been living on the streets.  When it was his turn to share he said he was grateful that he had a clean pair of socks in his drawer.  And he wasn’t kidding.  Having clean socks was a luxury to this guy.  It really made me stop and think about how many things I have in my life to be grateful for.”

Having an attitude of gratitude is a crucial step in developing an optimistic mindset. For those who find it hard to think of something they are grateful for, imagine the opposite - how you would feel if you didn’t have something – or someone in your life? Then turn it around to create an example of something you are grateful for. 

For me, as odd as it seems, I don’t need to experience a sense of lack to feel grateful. I think about my happy socks. For those of you who need more help, here is another excerpt from the book on how to prepare for daily optimism-enhancing exercises. 

EXERCISES 
Before you begin these exercises it always helps to engage spiritual help. Close your eyes and ask God, angels, spirit guides or another divine source to help you maintain calm and in control.  Even if you do not believe in celestial beings, create the image in your mind’s eyes as a tool to help you regain a sense of calm.  Whether real or imagined, these protective beings will always be there to assist you whenever you ask.
If you want to read more, I hope you will check out my book. It’s available in paperback through Amazon and the e-version can be purchased through the smashwords website.

Either way, I hope those who read this will share it with others. And one bit of advice, it is better to share words of wisdom than someone’s smelly socks. And if that isn’t cracker jack advice, I don’t know what is.
 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Don't Let Negativity Gobble Up Your Thanksgiving Dinner



Thanksgiving is next week. Many of us will have the opportunity to dine with family and friends for a special once-a-year meal. Many look forward to this event with anticipation – some with dread. And I confess, in my life I have approached this holiday with both mindsets.

I have seen the confidence of the strongest, most confident men and women become mushier than a bowl of mashed potatoes at the thought of facing the snide comments, comparisons and cruelty that some of our relatives bring to the holiday table.

How ironic that a feast that is supposed to be a celebration of gratitude and harmony can churn out more negativity and drama than a soap opera marathon.

But there is hope. We cannot change other people, but we can work on our own reaction to them. Last year I posted a short video on you tube on three simple steps on how to erase negativity. It’s not a cure all, but it can help us reduce our own negativity, which in turn can have a ripple effect on others.

Please check out this video and share it with your friends and family. Heck, share it with your enemies too. They probably need it worst of all. You can view it at
As an added bonus, I will offer a free ebook with the purchase of every paperback copy of the book. The catch is you need to contact me directly through this blog or my website www.EraseNegativity.com. The book is $14.99 or two for $25. You can also purchase the book at various independent stores as well as Amazon.


For those of you who are not familiar with the message in the book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within is a practical guide on how to reduce negativity and embrace happiness. From meth addicts to multi-millionaires, the book offers powerful experiences of individuals who have faced dramatic challenges, but did not lose hope. Using these compelling biographies, as well as practical advice and simple exercises, the reader is guided on an internal journey toward adopting a more joyful way to live.

We pay a heavy price for our negativity and I want to combat that with a free tool that provides a more optimistic alternative. I’m really hoping folks will spread the word and use this window of time to read the book and suggest it to others who are interested in embracing a more hopeful message.

So there you have it. No more excuses. Discounted book and a free video. Kick that grouch out now. But lest I come off too brash or too self serving, I do have one last bit of advice for this holiday season. Try to take a moment and find the love in your heart and send those laser beams of love out to those family members around you – especially those who annoy you. While we might not think so now, there will come a time when they are out of our lives and we will miss them. And more importantly, we do not want to miss the opportunity to summon up a little love and shine a little light in the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Day of the Dead Things



Most of you have heard of Day of the Dead. Yesterday was Day of the Dead Things at our house. My spouse, CB, was rebuilding the outdoor waterfall of our pond and found a dead, desert rat. Periodically critters, like pack rats, try to build nests in our pond. CB tries to flush the varmints out, but very often, they come back. Ironically, this rascal looked like a rodent that had  infiltrated our garage, scratched our door jam, chewed a hole in a container of bunny food and left turds around our camping supplies.

I guess I can’t blame the rodent. He probably scratched the door jam in an attempt to escape, the bunny food was easy pickings – and while I have never been tempted to poop on our camping supplies there have been times I’ve wanted to hide it and opt for a vacation in a resort. But I digress.

CB started the pest-removal process by moving, cleaning and rearranging everything in the garage. And when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. It was a mountain of work. We have a three-car garage and junk – I mean stuff - lines the walls from floor to ceiling and we can barely squeeze two vehicles into the place. The third bay is a working area for CB’s projects and sports supplies. 

Fueled by irritation, my animal-loving spouse was probably thinking less than charitable thoughts about our new garage dweller.  We started out with a small, no-kill mouse trap and planned on relocating said rodent, but when CB spied the little invader it was obvious we were dealing with a rat, not a mouse. After hours of shuffling things around and trying to harass the varmint out of the garage and back to the wild, it became necessary to employ more drastic maneuvers. We were both opposed to poison and the sticky paper trap would mean a long, painful death for our uninvited guest, so we opted for bigger, faster, rat traps.

However, in an attempt to give the rat a chance to relocate,  CB fashioned a less violent trap out of a bucket in hopes that the rodent could be captured and not killed. I didn’t want any part of it.

Day one. No rat in the trap, but more turds. The rodent was still in the garage.  The next night CB kept going into the garage and trying to flush the little fink out.  Like a bad neighbor, CB was there, making noise, shining a flashlight at the rat when it scurried across the floor and doing whatever could be done to get the little varmint to head for the hills. Still, I could tell CB felt guilty. Neither of us wanted the rat dead. We just wanted it to leave.  

After the traps were set, CB came to me with a hang dog face and confessed guilty feelings about being a rat executioner. Not knowing what else to do, I chanted a Buddhist prayer (Nam Myoho Renge Kyo) for the critter to peacefully vacate the premises.

The next day the traps were empty, but the rat was gone.

It’s been a couple weeks now. I can’t say I’ve thought much about the rodent except I was thankful it didn’t return. But while rebuilding our outdoor waterfall my spouse found a dead rat. It had a wound on its side. CB continued working outside and uncovered another carcass. This time it was a hawk. The bird seemed to have a wounded leg and died while taking cover under our sage bush. After surveying the evidence we assumed the rat died as a result of the hawk dive-bombing it and the hawk hit a rock while in pursuit of its prey. 

And that was our Day of the Dead Things.

Today I was on the NBC Playground twitter site reading the tweets from my fellow applicants for the sitcom competition. You can view my pitch to NBC at

One of the contestants wrote that she had not received an email that the announcement of winners had been postponed until Oct. 31. I replied to her post to see if she ever received an email confirmation that her entry had been received. She had not. It would seem her entry was not successfully received. She was dead in the water.

Even though I want to win this competition, I felt bad knowing this young writer’s entry didn’t even make it to the judge’s panel.  It was no small feat uploading the information for the competition and had my daughter, Alicia, not helped me, I would have suffered the same fate.

A winner will be announced in a few days. Until then, I have hope. If I’m not chosen, I will try again. It’s been a difficult month for me. I lost my biggest client, been rejected for jobs and I have to bide my time another month to see if the NBC Peacock chooses my sitcom or some other ratfink’s (only kidding.) But rejection is part of the process for a professional writer, and losing clients is a reality in business.  

But I have hope. I guess you could say it literally springs eternal in me. I can’t say it doesn’t sting when I don’t receive good news about an article, project, contest or job, but I know as long as I have hope, I will survive.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Starry, Starry Night



I sat in the hot tub and gazed at the stars above me. I smiled to myself as I thought how the celestial globes DID look like diamonds in the sky, just like the lyrics in Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

I savored the water jets as they pummeled my aching neck and shoulders. I relished in the simple pleasure of a quiet evening sitting, soaking and star gazing. “So what is the big deal about that?” you may ask. Certainly I have thought the same thing at times. I’ve had a hot tub in the backyard for several years. The stars have twinkled before my birth and will go on sparkling long after I’m dust. However, what was unusual about this encounter is not that I enjoyed myself, but why I hadn’t regaled in this experience more often?

When my spouse, CB, is home, the hot tub is not an overlooked box of water and heavenly bodies are never taken for granted. However, when my nature-loving spouse is traveling and I’m alone, I generally find something else to do rather than partake in the pleasures that exist in my own backyard. I thought about this odd behavior and decided that I cheat myself out of this available indulgence because ...

1. CB isn’t there to enjoy it with me.

2. My muscles aren’t sore so why bother?

So why did I finally enjoy the tub and stars? Did I have some magical moment of insight? Unfortunately I slipped into the tub because my muscles were sore and I was out of IB Profen. But the bigger question is why do I feel have to wait until I have a good reason to enjoy myself in my backyard haven? Is there some Puritanical edict that declares the hot tub is off limits if my muscles are not bound up in knots, my cupboards are stocked with pain reliever and my spouse is out of town?

Of course not.

However, somewhere in my misguided psyche I felt like I had to earn this luxury out of either medicinal or marital need. However, while I have the misguided notion that I have to “deserve” to sit in the hot tub, I do feel that I am free to enjoy a happy life. This has not always been the case. Just as I rationed my smiles and laughter, in the past I put limits on my happiness as well.

Fortunately, I learned that happiness is something we can all enjoy. There are no stipulations. We may put a few self-imposed restrictions on our happiness, but these are restrictions of our own choosing. There is no law that we have to punish ourselves first in order to experience joy in our daily lives.

That is not to say that you should quit your job, refuse to clean your bathroom and simply do what you want regardless of the consequences. Happiness isn’t about a life of hedonistic pleasure and debauchery. It’s about enjoying what there is to enjoy and reducing the unnecessary attachment to negativity that eats away at our souls.

So to reiterate, the first tip in this article is to debunk the notion you have to do the emotional equivalent of 50 pushups before you can smile, laugh or be happy. You earned the right to happiness when you took your first breath. Happiness is your right.

The second roadblock to a more cheerful existence is immersing ourselves in negativity. That is why my friend and co-author Jackie and I wrote Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. Remember, you wouldn’t cuddle a cactus, why would you want to hang on to negativity for dear life? Let it go. If you must hold onto something, embrace happiness.

For more tips, please visit our website, EraseNegativity.com or buy the book through Amazon. If you can't afford to buy it, ask the library to carry it. You can also enter “erase negativity” and find us on you tube. Here is a link on three tips on how to erase negativity


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=208XAm-x3R8

Also, if you are in the mood for a little laugh, please view (and hopefully "like") my video pitch for my pitch to NBC Playground for my sitcom pilot, Fish out of Water.






But enough happiness tips for now. There are stars and a hot tub calling my name and I’m ready to enjoy a starry, starry night.