Friday, December 30, 2011

Kick Out The Grouch and Go On A Negativity Diet!

A new year is upon us and folks around the globe are making efforts to lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking and improve their finances. In a more cynical moment I thought New Year’s resolutions were created by the weight loss companies. I was wrong.

More than 4,000 years ago the Babylonians used the beginning of the year (and the advent of a new farming season) to return borrowed farm equipment. I can almost hear Amytis saying, “Nebuchadnezzar honey, don’t forget to return the neighbor’s ox and hoe. Oh, and thanks for the hanging garden. It’s awesome.”

Fast forward a few years and the Romans had a custom of counting the previous year’s stock and making a goal to accomplish more in the coming year. On the other side of the world the Chinese went on a cleaning spree and made sure the home was in tip top shape for the new year.

In modern times most New Year’s resolutions revolve around self-improvement goals. Losing weight is always a top priority. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, everyone knows that it is unhealthy to be overweight. However, there is another type of diet that even skinny folks can benefit from – going on a negativity diet.
For example, did you know that…

• The average person has 40,000 to 65,000 thoughts a day and 95% of those thoughts are negative.

• Developing a happier mindset can increase chemical reactions that can calm anxiety, relieve depression, promote alertness and increase enjoyment.

• Happy people are 35% less likely to get a cold and produce 50% more antibodies in response to flu vaccines than the average person.

• Individuals who score high on happiness and optimism scale have reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and infections.

• People who maintain a good sense of humor (an indication of inner happiness) outlive those who don’t. No wonder so many comedians live well into their 80s and 90s.

If you are interested in shedding some unwanted negativity, make a small investment of $12.99 and purchase a copy of my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. The book is available through Amazon. For an autographed copy contact me through our website, If you cannot afford a copy, please consider contacting your local library and requesting they purchase a copy. Jackie and I are also available for talks and workshops.

Life is too short to be a grouch. Take action today and order your own copy of Erase Negativity. I suppose you could borrow your neighbor’s, but then you’d have to return it.

If you are still unconvinced, here is a description of 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.

Have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Sally and Jackie

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Believing in Holiday Miracles

This is a time of miracles. Hanukah begins tonight. The word Hanukah means “rededication” and celebrates Jewish heroes who rededicated themselves to faith and principles in spite of a religious oppression. Christmas is the annual celebration commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. Both holidays remind us of miracles – both past, present and future.

I grew up in a home where we celebrated both holidays. My dad’s side of the family is Jewish and my mother’s is Christian. So Jingle Bells could be sung along with Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel. I find myself listening to holiday tunes and singing songs with my granddaughters. Since the tots are only 4 and 2, they do not mind my off key voice or the “la, la, las” I croon because I can’t remember the lyrics of the songs.

It seems after five decades of singing these holiday tunes that the words would be forever etched in my memory. Of course they are not. Even more fun are misunderstood lyrics or “mondegreens.”

Here are a few Christmas favorites:

From Silent Night there’s “round young virgin.” Perhaps she needs to attend weight watchers?

Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer’s “Olive the other reindeer.” I just assumed she got mad at Popeye and morphed into a different species and cartoon.

Joy to the World’s lyrics showed gender equality with “He rules the world with Ruth and Grace.” Sounds good to me. Why not spread that power around?

When my children were young I took a geology class and became very interested in rocks. My daughters assumed “Solid as a Rock” was “Sally has a rock.” Because I would only rarely let them chew gum (but I did not deny myself the chewy substance) the lyrics “What You Gonna Do When I’m Gone?” became “What You Gonna Do With Your Gum?” They were not above retrieving my ABC gum and giving it a recycled try.

The point of listing these mondegreens is to show how easily we can misinterpret things based on our expectations. Of course this is true in life as well as musical misunderstandings. We can start out with the best of intentions but often it can morph into something that we never expected.

That is one of the reasons I love the holidays. We intend to go through the year being kind and generous, but life can become so busy that we forget. Christmas and Hanukah remind us that miracles can – and do – appear if you allow yourself to be open enough to believe.

Whether it’s refreshing our memory of song lyrics, or simply trying to infuse a little more happiness into our lives, we need to practice the things that are important to us or they will lose their meaning and the joy it brings will disappear from our lives.

I have heard the cynics say that it would take a miracle for things to improve in our world. I am not an economist, politician or even a philosopher. However, I am an optimist who believes in miracles. My holiday wish to all of you is to reaffirm what is good in your life and make a conscious effort to bring it to the forefront every day. With our combined efforts we can make the earth a better place to live and together we can work toward making Joy to the World and Peace on Earth a reality.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Skeptical Toddler's Christmas

It’s been a busy holiday season and rather than writing new articles, I’ve posted a couple of “rerun” stories. Here's one of my favorites.

As a child, there was definitely a magical feeling at Christmas time. Of course I looked forward to giving and receiving presents, but there was more to it than that. I think I was too young to analyze it. I just loved the way I felt during this joyous time.

Later, when I became a wife and mother, the magical feeling intensified as I had two daughters and a husband to share the holidays with. One memorable moment was when my daughter, Alicia was 6 years old and her little sister, Brittany was 2 or 3. Alicia had excitedly been chattering away about Santa Claus, reindeer and presents.

Even though Brittany was still in diapers, she had a healthy dose of skepticism. She did not like sitting on Santa Claus’ lap, I sensed she knew his beard was fake, and I think she thought her sister was pulling her leg about the whole Christmas thing. We weren’t poor, but we didn’t have a lot of extra money either. The idea of a bunch of toys under the tree seemed too much of a stretch. Brit knew we couldn’t afford to buy all the things she saw advertised on TV (I used this “can’t afford it” line a lot when they wanted stuff at the store.)

Still, I’m sure, she was hopeful.

Christmas morning I remember waiting in bed for the girls to stir so we could begin our holiday. John and I waited and waited. Why were they so quiet? “How could they wait so long?” I wondered. The truth of the matter was they were awake. Brittany had joined her sister in Alicia’s bedroom and they were waiting for us to get out of bed. They usually weren’t that considerate, but hey, who wants to take a chance of messing up on Christmas morning?

Neither girl had ventured out of the bedroom to peak under the Christmas tree in the living room. The night before there were a couple presents for Grandma and Grandpa and maybe a relative or two, but nothing from Santa Claus. At least not yet. We told the girls it was okay to get up and take a peak.

Alicia was ready for the festivities to begin and she slowly ushered her little sister toward the living room and the Christmas tree. I will never forget this moment. Alicia knew the drill. She knew Santa would come. Brittany, however, was skeptical. She didn’t remember last year’s holiday. She was only a baby. I could just imagine her thought process. “All year long we don’t get any toys except for our birthdays, why would we get a bunch now?”

The girls peaked around the corner and low and behold, beneath the Christmas tree were stacks of toys. Only the night before there were only a couple of presents and they were designated for others.

Brittany’s eyes were filled with amazement and awe. She seemed to be thinking, “Could this possibly be true?” She was filled with the magic of Christmas. Alicia had a more “knowing” quality as she took in the sight. She knew great things happened on Christmas, and now she had a little sister to share the holiday with – even if the little tyke was a bit skeptical.

What the girls did not know is there had been a Santa Claus of sorts. We had enough money for a few presents, but certainly not that many. However, my Aunt Liz and her husband Ernie, had a good year. The childless couple decided to give their struggling nieces and nephews an added bonus, a check for $100. We received it in time to buy extra gifts for the girls, including a few things that we knew our daughters wanted, but we could not afford to give them.

Of course I think the girls would have been happy even without the extra presents. I can safely say this because of who they have become. They are now grown women and are kind, loving and considerate human beings. Alicia is a school teacher, a wife to her husband Greg, and the mother of two children of her own. She still has that “all knowing/wise quality” about her. Brittany works as an interior decorator and is happily married to Jamie. Her children are her two dogs, Smash and Guinness. Brit is still a bit of a skeptic, but that magical moment of Christmas and hope still lives in her heart.

I don’t want to come across as a Pollyanna. I know this has been a difficult year for a lot of folks. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned, is that in spite of the difficulties we face, we must never harden our hearts. Both good things, and bad, will not last forever.

My Christmas message this year is to save a little space in your heart for hope and joy. Things may not always be perfect, but there is always the possibility of a miracle. Especially at Christmas.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Ugly Christmas Tree

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. After four years of quiet, safe and sunny Arizona living however, my mother refused to return.

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 are still living 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.