Thursday, December 31, 2020

#HappyNewYear - My Wish for You

To wrap up 2020 and send you marching bravely forward into 2021, it seems only reasonable to write about toilet paper. 

When Harry and Eva and I were kids, most of the annual family vacations were spent hauling our tent trailer around the country -- we had some great trips with Mom and Dad. On those travels, we typically parked the tent trailer at a KOA or state park. We packed toilet paper among our necessities; you couldn't count on a campsite having a decent supply in the outhouse. 

Yeah, it was fancy. 

As we got older, there were times when we could afford a nice hotel. I will forever remember Mom's thrill when she walked into one hotel room, inspected the bathroom, and squealed with delight -- the toilet paper had been folded into a point, welcoming us with style. 

Now, that was fancy. And, by extension, we were fancy. We were special. 

Harry and I live fairly close to each other -- Eva lives out of town. To this day, for any overnight visit, she and I still fold the toilet paper for each other. 

It only takes a moment.
But every moment matters.  

My Wish for You
In 2021, may you share your life with people who make you feel special. May you feel seen, heard, and supported. May you look forward with hope. May you look back with love. May you find new hobbies that bring you joy -- or reclaim old hobbies. May you set a goal, reach it, and celebrate. May you lose the right weight. May you stay safe and healthy. May you take small steps and applaud the progress. May you laugh often. May you breathe easy. 

May you accept that it's not all about you. May you realize that sometimes it is. May you know, wherever you go, that you are necessary and appreciated and loved. 

May you learn that starting and stopping are one and the same. May you never be afraid to stop. May you always be eager to start. 

Here's to old times and new years. Happy 2021, dear heart! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

B7, Go to Heaven

Two years. That's how long it's been. 

It was fairly early on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. I was sitting on the couch, sipping my morning coffee. I wasn't thinking about Mom -- I knew I'd see her in a couple of hours. I took her to the bingo game at Village Shalom, most every Sunday. 

Then the phone rang and life changed. Her life was over. 

In the two years since Mom died, I've missed her every day. I've also made approximately 104 Sunday dinners, written a book, made international presentations, gained new clients, joined a book club, reclaimed my yoga practice, laughed a lot, and discovered the joy of watercolors. 

Simply put, I've kept going. I've gotten up and put one foot in front of the other, even on days when grief felt stronger than gratitude. Even on days when staying in bed felt like the better option. Even on days when the pandemic and politics and life in general made me want to not only stay in bed, but pull the covers over my head and hide. 

That's what we do, peeps. We keep going. You know why?

Because, we can. Because along with those dreadful days, and sometimes in the midst of them, there's unexpected joy and welcome laughter. 

We keep going because we're here. Because every single day gives us a chance to do something that makes our lives -- or someone else's life -- a bit better. 

When Mom died, the hardest moment for me came after the Jewish whirlwind of death and almost immediate funeral. The hardest moment was after we cleared out Mom's room at Village Shalom, and I went back up there the next day -- by myself, by my own request -- to wait for the facility management team to move her furniture out to our waiting truck. 

The almost empty room was heartbreaking enough; Mom had filled that room the way she filled my life -- with laughter and love and songs and silliness. With joy. But the emptiness didn't break me. It was the sympathy card the Village Shalom staff had left on Mom's bureau. 

More than a dozen people, including staff members I didn't even know, signed that card, sharing their love for Mom in special remembrances like these:

"I am going to miss Lillian and the way she sang thru life. I feel lucky to have known her."

"I looked forward to seeing Lillian every day coming to work, because she always sang songs, made up poems constantly & told many cute stories. She spoke in the sweetest manner & was always so encouraging. She was the kindest senior person I've ever met &. knew how to cheer everyone up."

"I will definitely miss Lil's smile, laugh, poems and saying, 'Delicious and nutritious!'"

"She was one amazing woman. I loved visiting her and listening to her stories. She encouraged me to visit the Golden Gate."

"I will greatly miss her. She was a bright light to my days."

Mom was 97 years old when she died. Nearly blind. Hard of hearing. Her memory was scattered and her mobility was limited. She still managed to get up every day and make the world better. 

If Lillian can do it, we can do it. 

In keeping with Jewish tradition, I have a yahrzeit candle burning for Mom today. But her bright light shines year-round. I see it in my brother and sister. In my daughters. My best friend. My husband. I see it in readers, who discover Lillian in my book, and take her life lessons to heart -- the emails and reviews and notes I've received in the year since the book was published mean more than I can say. 

On that day, two years ago, Kansas City had a rare blizzard -- it took the funeral home hours to arrive at Village Shalom. Tom and the girls and I walked alongside the attendant, accompanying Mom's body to the waiting hearse. The route took us by the Social Hall, where the Sunday bingo game was in full swing. 

We had to laugh, because we could all hear it -- the rhyme Mom said at that bingo game every Sunday, often repeatedly. "B7 -- go to heaven!" 

Bingo! I love you, Mom. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday Fun: Highly Recommended

When was the last time you wrote a thank you note to someone?

When was the last time you took a stroll, purposefully looking for reasons to be grateful? (Think autumn leaves, friendly neighbors, sunshine.)

When was the last time you heard a podcast that could truly change your life?

Do something wonderful for yourself today. Take a break, take a walk, take a moment. Listen to my friend Terri Hale talk about her gratitude project on the Highly Recommended podcast. Terri has achieved something I struggle with regularly -- she's consistent. And, over the years, her consistent devotion to feeling and expressing gratitude has repeatedly demonstrated the power to improve her life, and the lives of those around her, from family and friends to her dental hygienist. (Listen. You'll see.)

While you're online, check out some of the other interviews with host Michelle Rubin! Her fun-to-listen-to podcasts are geared toward finding joy and amplifying it. 

Gratitude. Joy. Friendship. It's Highly Recommended

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Creativity Tips: Take My Hand

When I was little and had a nightmare, Mom wouldn't let me tell her about it until after I had breakfast. Superstitious to the end, Mom would remind me that, "If you tell a dream before breakfast, it comes true."

Let me assure you, before you read this post, that I have already had breakfast. 

Last night, I dreamt that I was taking a trip with Mom and we were running late for the plane. There was no way we were going to make it, and I couldn't find my shoes or my passport or something. The girls were trying to help, but they didn't know what to do. Tom had bought some special gift for me to take, and I didn't have time to look at it. 

We only had 20 minutes to get to the gate at the airport, we hadn't left the house yet, we still needed to pick up Mom. There was no way we could get there in time, and yet ... I was still determined to try. 

Earlier in the week, I dreamt that the current president had baked something, and it wasn't good. I was trying to fix it. I was pulling out all the baker tricks at my disposal, but nothing helped. The president was remarkably calm about my inability to fix his mistakes. And, suddenly it occurred to me that since I couldn't fix what I had, I needed to bake my grandmother's pumpkin bread. If I did that, everything would be OK. 

There are more, but I'll spare you. And, yes. I know Freud would have a field day with all of this. 

I also know that my dreams, my anxieties, aren't unique. Based on the conversations I've had with friends lately, tensions remain high. People are twitchy. The election is over but the political fighting continues, the pandemic numbers are climbing, winter is closing in, Thanksgiving will be different -- the reasons for our collective stress are real. 

Here's what I want you to do: Breathe. Really breathe. Deep breaths, in and out, throughout the day. Your brain has enough going on without being oxygen deprived. 

Once you're oxygenated, I want you to do a few more things:

  1. Back away from social media. "There's nothing to see here, folks. Nothing to see." Social media is a train wreck in motion, and it's hard to look away. Fortunately, you can do hard things. I'm not saying give it all up, simply back away. If you want to stay informed without being alarmed, I strongly suggest following Jessica Yellin on Instagram. Her #NewsNotNoise approach is insightful, factual, and reassuring. I've also become a fan of the Morning Briefing from the Associated Press

  2. Look Up. Focus on the people right in front of you. I recently had coffee with a friend I hadn't seen since the pandemic started, and had to remind her that, "Facebook will still be here in 30 minutes. I won't be." Our obsession with the news of the moment is completely understandable, but this news cycle will pass. And, even with masks, we can make eye contact with the people right in front of us, we can give each other the stress-relieving gift of attention. We can talk about the colors of autumn or the power of poetry, rather than politics. We can give each other a much-needed break. 

  3. Plan ahead for happiness. Thanksgiving is one of the best days of the year for our family -- it's the one time of the year we all gather together. I get up early to start cooking, and make the same recipes every year -- mashed potatoes, corn casserole, the Harness family dressing, Mom's Pepperidge Farm cornbread stuffing. (Stuffing goes in the bird, peeps. Dressing does not.) Canned cranberry sauce for me and my nephew Cary. Too much turkey. Too many desserts. Hot rolls.

    This year, the family won't get together because we love each other and there's a freakin' pandemic underway. Yesterday, I moped about that. Today, I'm planning ahead for a happy Thanksgiving. And that's where you come in!

Raise Your (Turkey) Hand
Since my extended family won't be together at Thanksgiving -- and therefore won't be drawing on the traditional turkey hands -- I hope you'll play along! Trace your hand, cut it out, color it in, and send it to me! Tell me what you're thankful for, what makes you happy. Tell me how grateful you are for ... whatever. 

Taking a moment to be creative, to proactively reset a few synapses, to share joy and gratitude, is a healthy step forward. 

You've already helped, by reading this post. I'll sleep better tonight, imagining us holding (turkey) hands and moving forward, together. 

From Amber, 2017! Yep. I keep them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Happy Anniversary!

Want to know the secret to a long marriage? Fall in love with someone who makes you laugh. 

Happy 35, Tom! Here's to all the years -- and all the laughs -- still to come. 

Time flies, whether you're having fun or not, peeps. 
Have fun!

Monday, October 26, 2020

#Creativity Tips: Share the Love

As I write this, the first snow of the season is blowing down outside my office window. You know what that means: The holidays are almost here!

Let's wrap up this one-of-a-kind year with a one-of-a-kind holiday giveaway. For every two copies of Look Up: Your Unexpected Guide to Good that are purchased from now through the end of November, I'll donate one copy to a Little Free Library. 

Who on your gift list could use a pick-me-up? Look Up is filled with stories that make you smile, along with immediately doable creativity exercises. But why take my word for it? Listen to what readers are saying:

"I laughed, I cried, I sent quotes to friends. This was exactly the book I needed right now. I already know I'll be picking it back up when I need a fun creative exercise or pick me up."

"With images, graphics, and sweet, sweet surprises, Look Up brings unexpected good to life in a very real way."

"If you want to read something that will simply make you feel better, read this book. Read it in pieces, read it all at once. I recommend it highly!"

"Delightful, encouraging, uplifting & a joy to read."

Share the joy this holiday season! For every two books purchased between now and the end of November, I donate one to a Little Free Library! Find your copy/gifts at:


Barnes & Noble

And at the Junque Drawer Studio in my hometown! If you live in the KC metro area and you haven't visited the Junque Drawer, do yourself a favor and go. Immediately. So many fun gift ideas, in all price ranges. Lots of good stocking stuffers. And don't forget to buy yourself a treat!

 Super fun to see the book
in one of my favorite stores!

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Creativity Tips: You are a Marvel

A thought for you, from the brilliant Pablo Casals:

"Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again -- and what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two is four, and that Paris is the capital of France. 

"When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to them, 'Do you know what you are? You are a marvel! You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child like you. And look at your body ... what a wonder it is. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work -- we must all work -- to make this world worthy of its children.'"

(Thanks to JewBelong for bringing this quote to my attention.) 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Creativity Tips: Connect

Feeling down? Concern shifting into panic? Never fear. The cure is here. 

Well, maybe not a cure, but I do feel better now that I signed up for President Obama's texts. Having his smiling face in my iPhone list of contacts makes me happy. Maybe it will cheer you too?

If you can't read that ... people in the U.S. can send him a text at 773-365-9687. 

P.S. Is this really a creativity tip? Absolutely. The people we choose to connect with can spark all kinds of creative ideas. And, for some of us, happiness is creativity inducing. (I do know people who are their most creative when miserable. I ain't those people.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Creativity Tips: Lessons from the Loaf

Over the weekend, I baked a circular loaf of challah for the Jewish New Year, and posted a photo on Facebook and Instagram. I was understandably proud of the finished product; it was the prettiest loaf of bread I've ever made. 

Then, I cut into it. 

Sad to say, the challah looked a lot better than it tasted. Apparently, I measured the sugar wrong. Or the honey. Either way, it was bleh. Not sweet enough to be yummy-delicious-get-in-my-tummy challah. 

On the bright side, that gives us two creativity lessons to "challah" about!

1. If something doesn't work as planned, change the plan. I cut the challah into slices and used it for French toast. My French toast recipe includes honey in the batter, and cinnamon on the slices, so I figured that would take care of the lost sugar. The results? SCRUMPTIOUS. Possibly the best French toast I've ever made. 

2.  Don't believe everything you see. It's easy to create images on social media that reflect our lives as we wish they were. I want you to think everything I bake is delicious. You want me to think that vacation was one long sunny day at the beach. 

The truth is more complicated than that: Our lives aren't picture perfect. But, with a bit of imagination and creativity (and syrup), we can make them better!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Creativity Tips: Simple Self Care

These are crazy times, peeps. That makes it the perfect time to take better care of yourself. How? Start with one of these five simple ideas:

  1. Buy yourself a bouquet. This cutie cost me $3.99 and it's still fresh, beautiful, and smile-inducing a week later. 

  2. Sleep in. If you don't have an early meeting, go ahead. Hit snooze on the alarm. Grab an extra 30 minutes. 
  3. Luxuriate. Whatever that means to you. Long nap. Long bubble bath. Long ... whatever. 
  4. Unplug. Go without social media for an entire evening. One evening. That's all. You can do it!
  5. Look up. There's something you love and have ignored at home. Could be a book. A hobby. A human. Whatever, while you're unplugged and all relaxed, focus on the goodness right at your fingertips. 

    Do it for you. Because you deserve the best!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Creativity Tips: Get a Grip

Look at this! I went to Trader Joe's for some of life's little necessities. You know, flowers and wine. Unexpectedly, I found two of life's big necessities: creativity and kindness. The woman who was bagging my purchases gave me a grin, grabbed a nearby carton, pulled out her box cutter, and quickly made handles on both sides so I could carry everything with ease. 

Genius. Creative genius. Took her about 15 seconds. 

Look around you, peeps. What "little" thing can  you do today that would make someone else's life easier? Do it! 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Let's Play: Create a Holiday

It's September! Prelude to the holiday season. But why wait for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, etc.? Create your personal holiday today -- and all the falderol that goes with it. Are there decorations? Special foods? A signature cocktail?

My new holiday is Walloween. It's the  one day of the year that I get to wallow in whatever bad mood I choose. I celebrated Walloween early this year, and went full self-pity mode. So far, Walloween doesn't have decorations (I'm open to suggestions), but there is a costume: ratty old sweats and fuzzy warm socks. Naturally, the traditional Walloween foods include chocolate. And more chocolate. Wrapped up with a potato chip chaser, because Walloween is, after all, a salty holiday. 

Your turn! 

Don't you love words?
I forgot that "wallow" can also be a physical depression.
Think of happy, happy hippos in their wallow. 
Hmmm. Now I'm thinking mud pits. 
That opens the door to completely different Walloween traditions ...  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

#CreativityTips: Happiness Hacks

 How are you doing? No, seriously. How are you doing?

It has come to my attention that a lot of my friends/peeps/readers are struggling, and the end of summer isn't helping. Some of you are doing your best to cope with heartbreaking grief. Some of you are grumpy from too much time inside, too much uncertainty, too much solitude, too much together. Too much. 

Whether your reality is grief or grump, telling you to, "Look on the bright side!" isn't going to help. Fortunately, I have more than platitudes up my sleeve -- I can share a few happiness hacks, double-dog guaranteed to stir up the chemicals that accompany happiness, including serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. Heck, with these hacks, you might even get the old endorphins going. 

  1. Be more like Milo, the pup. Snuggle up. Get your rest. Hug someone in your circle -- I read a story that said hugging might be safer than shaking hands. It's certainly more fun. If you really want to feel better fast, pet a pup. Cuddle a kitten. Have a baby nearby? They're almost as good. ;-)

  2. Refocus. Get your mind off your life. Watch something on TV that makes you laugh. Go for a walk and look for something you've never seen before. What could that be? You tell me. I tried this on my walk Saturday, and noticed a design on a political sign that indicated the candidate was a doctor. I had walked by the sign dozens of times, but never really saw it before. (Does it matter? No. But my mind was happy to be searching for something new and not focused on ... whatever. And that matters!)

  3. Do something for someone else. Mail a postcard to a friend. Bake cookies for the neighbors. Tell that masked clerk at the grocery store that you really appreciate all she's doing. 
When Mom used to tell me and Harry and Eva to Look Up, when she encouraged us to always find the best in a situation, she wasn't dismissing reality. She was reminding us that we have the power to choose our response. 

If you can, dear heart, choose happy. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Friday Fun: Toy Story Drop

How have I maintained my sparkling sense of humor throughout the 9,435,672 days of the pandemic? Every night -- and I do mean EVERY NIGHT -- I block out all reality, including my dear husband, and play Toy Story Drop, a free game undoubtedly designed for 6-year-olds. 

Roll your eyes if you will, but it's fun. The graphics are gorgeous. Woody congratulates me when I make a good move. "That was pretty brave, partner!" And there are absolutely no politics involved. 

Ahhhhh. You're starting to see the appeal, aren't you?

Here's to a lovely long weekend -- find time to play! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

#Creativity Tips: Look Down

 I know, I know. It's counter-intuitive and off-brand for me to encourage you to "look down" rather than "Look Up." 

But look! After a big storm blew through, I saw this on the deck -- raindrops captured in a spider's web. How cool is that? 

Life. It's all a matter of perspective, peeps. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

#MondayMotivation - Give Yourself an A

 Are you as kind to yourself as you are to others? Is your self-talk -- you know, all those words bouncing around inside your head -- anything you'd say to a friend? 

All too often, we tell ourselves what we're failing at, what we've done wrong, what we could have done better. For example, in my post on Happy, I suggested trying the "Anticipation/Gratitude" exercise. Well, that's what I typically call the "Anticipation/Appreciation" exercise.* Yep. I called my own creativity exercise by the wrong name.** 

Does it matter? Abso-freakin-lutely not. I get an A for showing up and blogging again! 

Give yourself an A today. You're up, you're moving, you're Amazing! 

Happy Monday! Here's to a terrific week.

*Why? I like the alliteration of Anticipation/Appreciation, and I think the word "gratitude" is overused and under-meant. 

**Truth be told, I've done the same with my daughters. Kate/Mary/WhoeverYouAre.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

How's that Happy Working Out?

Life is busy, so you may not have noticed this ... but I haven't blogged all year. It's true. Now, I've been writing for clients. Promoting Look Up: Your Unexpected Guide to Good. Doing Zoom sessions for Creative Mornings. Staying relatively sane, all things considered. 

But I haven't been blogging. 

Why? Excellent question, my friend. I thought publication of the book might be a nice wrap on the blog. I posted Look Up tidbits on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I wondered, once the pandemic hit, if I had anything encouraging to say. 

Then, some lovely woman on Twitter noticed that I hadn't blogged since December 2019, posed a question, and dang. Here we go again! 

YES. What I wrote at the end of 2019 holds true in 2020. Little happy moments are waiting for us every day. Unfortunately, they're a helluva lot harder to find these days, given everything that's happening to us and around us. 

So, before I launch into happy moments mode, let's pause for a second and pay respect to the unhappy truth: 2020 has been a year of loss. For all of us. 

First and foremost, some of us have lost loved ones. If that's the loss you're mourning, I'm so deeply sorry. Death in the time of COVID can be an intensely lonely experience. Please know: You are not alone. 

Beyond that deepest loss, some of us have lost jobs,  income, and insurance in the past five months. Some of us have lost friends to the shifting schedules and priorities of the pandemic. Weddings have been postponed, vacations cancelled. We've lost freedom and hugs and kisses. Smiles from strangers. Coffee dates and long lunches. We've lost our sense of normalcy, and it's hard to know when/what will return. 

We're facing an avalanche of losses, big and small. 

And yet ... those little happy moments await. Your happy will be different than mine, but in the extra time at home, I've enjoyed: 
  • Trying new recipes, experimenting with the ingredients, and eating the delicious results
  • Playing with watercolors, with no expectations of producing anything "useful" or "beautiful"
  • Reading a lot -- I even joined a Zoom book club
  • Getting back to yoga (Can we all just say a loud, "Thank you, Lord!" for Zoom?)
You know what else I've enjoyed? Embracing my inner introvert. As antsy as I've been at times to go anywhere, see anyone, it's been nice to have a valid excuse to simply put on my comfy shorts, a big T-shirt, and stay home. 

If you're having trouble seeing the little happy moments waiting for you, try the anticipation/gratitude exercise:
  1. Anticipation
    When you wake up, think of three things you're looking forward to during the day. They don't have to be major -- you could be looking forward to your first cup of coffee, a hot shower, and watching "That Girl" reruns on TV. 

  2. Gratitude
    Before you go to sleep at night, think of three things you're grateful for. Again, it doesn't have to be life-changing. For example, I'm grateful I can end a sentence with a preposition, because I'm not in college anymore. I'm grateful you're still reading the blog, despite the gap in posting. I'm grateful Mary is celebrating her 27th birthday today, and is feeling so much better (she was one of the millions who've had COVID).

    I'll even throw in an extra gratitude moment, based on something that happened while I was writing this blog: I'm grateful Kate drives an Audi and wasn't hurt when some guy rear-ended her this morning.
Healthy daughters. Now there's a huge HAPPY no matter what else is happening in the world.  

Stay tuned
I have a few ideas for posts, and I'm delighted to be back with you and our blog! If there's anything special you'd like me to discuss, explain, rant about, whatever -- let me know