Overeating Can Be Good For You

“We never repent having eaten too little.” – Thomas Jefferson

squirrel eatingJefferson knew of what he spoke. If Monticello was anything like my house, the overeating started at Halloween. First, there’s all the candy (and folks in my neighborhood have been improving their hand-outs over the years. No more generic lolly pops. They are giving out Kit-Kats, M&Ms and Snickers! Yum.). Then comes Thanksgiving, a time when we give thanks for all that we have by snarfing down all that we can find in the kitchen — turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and pies. All the pies! And whipped cream. Then before you know it, Christmas is upon us with cookies, hot chocolate and every kind of high fructose cornsyrup-laden gift and goodie sure to make even the most sugar-resistant adult bounce off the walls. It’s no wonder gym memberships skyrocket in January.  But by spring, we’re at it again. Chocolate bunnies and malted milk ball eggs in the Easter basket.

This is good for us? No. Not really. But this is not the kind of overeating I’m advocating. You might pay attention to the rumbling in your stomach, but frequently you forget to FEED YOUR SOUL.

Hyacinths, To Feed Thy Soul

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

Moslih Eddin Saadi, Gulistan (Garden of Roses)

So how to we do that? Last I checked, there were no Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig plans for souls.

Here are a few suggestions for some hearty soul food:

  • Spend more time with loved ones. Even if you don’t think you have a minute to spare. Your child, parent or friend will remember that you stopped what you were doing to devote attention just to them. Those minutes or hours just might end up being some of life’s most memorable.
  • Volunteer. There’s nothing better to give than the gift of your time. And you will probably find that you get back more than you give.
  • Laugh. Read the comics. Listen to a joke. Or if you have a warped sense of humor like I do, then go to these websites:  www.engrish.com, www.damnyouautocorrect.com. (Warning, there may be some material on the websites not suitable for children, but it’s still hilarious nonetheless.)
  • Hug people. You’ll be feeding your soul…and theirs.
  • Do something nice for yourself. Watch a movie or read a book. But none of that high-brow stuff (unless you’re really into that). We’re not talking about feeding your brain. Indulge in whatever genre makes you happy.  Me? I’ll take a great sci-fi filmfantasy thriller or chick flick any day.
  • Bring beauty into your home. It could be flowers or something gathered on a nature walk. Or maybe a cat or dog from a local shelter.

I know we all get busy,  and it’s tempting to skip breakfast or lunch. But don’t do that–either with food or with your soulful meals. Your spirit needs a regular infusion of healthy nutrition. And in this case, snacking between meals is definitely okay. When it comes to fortifying your soul, there’s no such thing as overeating.

Leave a post and let me know what’s on your menu to feed your soul.


Advice on Letting Go

Letting go has never been my strong suit. From my childhood, I’ve been a collector:  rocks, feathers, glass bottles, sea shells, trolls. I still have many of these collections in various old cigar boxes and zip lock bags around the house. In many cases, I can’t remember where I discovered these treasures. At the time, I thought they would be indelibly burned into my memory. But now, one sparkly rock tends to look very much like the next. Still beautiful. But  too bad I never thought to label them with their origin.

There is copious advice on how to let go of negative things: stress, past relationships, anger, toxic behavior. But I’ve found little help in letting go of things I don’t want to.  One of my favorite poems is Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata.  He says to “Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrending the things of youth.” I’ve tried to heed his words. Gone are the high heeled stiletto shoes (my back can’t take them any more), eating anything and everything filled with sugar, and the sky blue eyeshadow of my pre-teen days (thank goodness). But I still try to keep my youthful sense of fun. Our entire family recently had an all-out battle with Nerf guns. It was a blast — literally and figuratively.

The thing I find most challenging is letting go of people. Last week, we spent Spring Break driving hundreds of miles to visit colleges for our son. As each school got farther and farther from our home, I began to feel a squeezing of my heart, secretly hoping that he might not choose the college farthest away. But of course, that was one of his favorites. My husband reminds me that this is how it’s supposed to be. We raise our children to become independent adults, and letting them go is part of the process. I know he’s right, but I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. I’m open to all suggestions. But I’m still a Mom, and my children will always be my babies.

At the end of that week, I also learned that someone dear to me was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. This is letting go of a completely different sort. The news wasn’t totally unexpected, but it sets us on a specific path of action which includes learning as much as we can about the disease and how to make her life happy and comfortable for as long as possible. For her, the letting go is involuntary. Over time, she will be letting go of memories she has taken a lifetime to collect. And we will be slowly letting go of the woman we knew.

So instead of offering help in this post, I’m asking for it. Please post a comment on how you or others have learned to let go of things or people you love.

Are You a Red Shirt Guy?

I’m such a nerd and even took a quiz to prove it…as if my nerdiness needed validation. Worse yet, I’m a Star Trek nerd. I have faithfully watched Star Trek TOS (“The Original Series), TNG (“The Next Generation”), DS9 (“Deep Space Nine”), Voyager, Enterprise and all 11 movies. (I was prepared to loathe the 2009 cinematic prequel but found myself delighted with the casting.) However, I draw the line at the animated series.

expendable t-shirtIf I were a Star Trek character, I would probably be a Spock-like science officer clad in, of course, blue. Trekkies and Trekkers alike know the classic uniform colors are gold for Command personnel, blue for Science staff, and red for Operations, Security, and Nameless Dead Guys. Yes. There, I said it. The tragic Red Shirt Guy. Remember him? Every landing party or “Away Team” beaming down to a mysterious planet would include a guy wearing a red uniform shirt who inevitably got killed in some fantabulous way before the first commercial break. Even my favorite sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, which satirized space-themed TV shows, featured “Crewman #6,” a red-shirted ensign who feared for his life because his character didn’t have a last name. The Red Shirt Guy was the throw-away character who had no purpose in life except to perish at the hands (or sepals) of a poisonous pod plant, the Gorn, or a nebulous dikironium cloud creature.

He was expendable. But why? Surely he had a mother and father on Earth or some Class M planet. He had dreams and desires just like everyone else. He put on his little black capri pants one leg at a time. Maybe, he was just too much of a wallflower. He was content to sit back complacently and merely do what he was told. Never taking initiative. Never going that extra mile. Are you a Red Shirt Guy? Do you sit idly by, missing countless opportunities, moving through life as a subservient automaton? Hoping you don’t get picked for the Landing Party?

Maybe it’s time to change your shirt. Don’t let the world label you because of the shirt you wear, the job you have (or don’t have), or the company you keep. We all have worth. Show it. Make a difference in someone’s life, and you’ll never be expendable. “How do I do that?” you ask.

Contribute. We have a Help Jar in our family. Loose change we find on the street and in between couch cushions goes into the jar. At the end of the year (or whenever the jar is full), I let my children decide which charity should receive the cash donation. But even more important than giving money is giving your time. Volunteer (just not for an Away Team)…on a regular basis if you can, or as much as possible. You can always find someone who will welcome free help. It doesn’t even have to be a charity. Look around. Lend a hand to your neighbors.

Make a connection with others. Find something you’re passionate about, and teach it to someone. Foster a puppy or kitten, or if you’re up for it, a child. Or just be a better person, parent, friend, son or daughter, sibling. Give a hug to someone who needs it. Be kind to people…even strangers. They will appreciate and see your value. You’ll never be expendable again.

Karma-lized Onions

A couple of years ago, my son was walking down the halls of his school and found a twenty dollar bill on the floor. Most kids (and probably all adults) would have pocketed it and continued walking. Even though I  think I’ve done a good job teaching my kids right from wrong, sometimes even they astonish me. My son took Andrew Jackson and turned him in at the Main Office. He learned later that day that a fellow student had gone to the office frantically searching for her lost lunch money–a twenty dollar bill–and there it was–compliments of my son doing the right thing. That’s got to be worth some good karma points right there. But the thing is, he didn’t do it for a reward or even for the good karma. He did it because it was the right thing to do.

Still…just last week, he thought he had misplaced his school-issued calculator. We learned that a fellow student “borrowed” it without his knowledge and dumped it in a different classroom. One of my son’s classmates found it (we had labeled it with his name) and returned it to its rightful owner. The “borrower” had messed with all the settings and formulas, but my son had his calculator back and wouldn’t have to pay the fine for a lost item. “See?” he said. “Remember that twenty dollars I returned back in Middle School? It’s good karma that I got my calculator back.”

Karma is simple. It’s the concept of action and reaction. Or in other words, you reap what you sow. It’s not so much reward or punishment, but rather just cause and effect. Sometimes, the results of our actions are not readily spotted. It’s like an onion with many layers. We might do something on the top layer, but the results may not show themselves for many more layers, or years.

So one might ask, why do bad things happen to good people? For example, why did the people of Japan have to endure the devastating earthquake and tsunami? Surely they did nothing to deserve nature’s wrath.

I prefer not to think of the earthquake and bad experiences as karmic results, but rather as starting points. An opportunity to rise above and bring goodness into the world in response to tragedy. And that’s just what the Japanese people have been doing…helping each other, sharing, showing kindness. Facebook and news sites are full of stories from Japan that demonstrate the good that shines through in dark times.

  • When I was walking home for 4 hours, there was a lady holding a sign that said “please use our toilet.” They were opening their house for people to go to the restroom. When I saw that, it made me cry feeling the warmth of people.
  • Last night when I was walking home (cause all traffic stopped), an old lady from the bakery shop which was totally passed their closing time, was giving out free bread. Even at times like this, people were trying to find what they can do and it made my heart warm.
  • When I was waiting at the platform, so tired and exhausted, a homeless person came to us and gave a cardboard to sit on. Even though we usually ignored them in our daily life, it was so warm.

Another story tells of a man who donned his scuba gear to swim through the debris to find his family then rescue others. The dog who wouldn’t leave his injured canine companion has become the subject of a viral video. And we will not forgot the 180 brave souls who are risking their lives to try to prevent a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and as one worker’s wife encourages, “do your best to save the nation.”

My mother has always said, “Everything happens for a reason.” I believe everything that happens gives us another opportunity to simply do the right thing and send goodness out into the cosmos. And who knows, maybe tomorrow or years from now, that goodness will find its way back to us.



Someone Needs a Hug

I’m a big hugger. Just ask my kids or any of my friends and family. And thank goodness they are big huggers, too. After a week like I’ve had, working well into the wee hours of the morning to meet a crazy business deadline, learning of the sudden passing of someone dear, and the usual day-to-day stress, a hug is the miraculous salve for a weary soul.

Not everyone is into hugging like I am. My Dad’s military career relocated us all over the world, and the salutations varied by location. In Germany, a firm handshake was a must. In France, the double-cheek kiss was de rigueur. In Japan, the stately bow. In New York, the air kiss  (and with so many people crammed into limited space, it’s probably better not to be sharing more germs than necessary). But maybe if more New Yorkers hugged, they wouldn’t be so cranky. And in Texas, where everything is bigger, so is the greeting, and hugs are welcomed.

babies rescuing hug

"Rescuing Hug"

There have been documented cases on the power of human touch and the hug. A study at the University of North Carolina demonstrated that hugging decreases blood pressure, heart rate and the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. My favorite story tells of premature twin girls in a neonatal intensive care unit. Lying in separate incubators, one baby was thriving while the other struggled with breathing and heart-rate problems. At a critical moment when it seemed that all was lost for the smaller twin, a nurse tried an innovative technique of placing the babies together in one incubator. The stronger baby snuggled up to her little sister, and the tiny girl’s blood-oxygen levels and breathing became normal. Big sister hugged her sibling while they slept, and both children were able to go home with their parents after a few more weeks of co-bedding together.

Sometimes, even a hug from a stranger can be a healing force. Juan Mann created the Free Hugs Campaign at a time in his life when he felt lonely and disconnected. Instead of hoping and waiting for someone to come into his life, he took matters into his own hands, created a “FREE HUGS” sign and stood on a busy street corner offering hugs to others. Juan writes on his website that “for 15 minutes, people just stared right through me. The first person who stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and told me how her dog had just died that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt most alone in the world, was a hug. I got down on one knee, we put our arms around each other and when we parted, she was smiling.” Before long, his campaign took flight and many worldwide were embracing his cause –literally and figuratively.

So if you need a hug today (and even if you think you don’t), reach out to a friend, a child, sibling, spouse, neighbor, pet, or perhaps (very cautiously) a stranger. You never know who else might need a hug, too. The best way to get a hug is to give one. I’m sending you a great big, virtual bear hug right now.

How to Remember That Thing You Forgot

We had yet another winter storm this morning. The skies had opened up during the night and glazed the car, the driveway, and the mounds of already accumulated snow with an icy shell. My feet were slip-sliding on the sloped driveway as I tried to make my way to the car. I just couldn’t get… What is the word? It’s not commonly used. It has two syllables. Sounds like something a British person might say. I think it starts with P.

I’m finding this happening more and more. I’ll have a word on the tip of my tongue, but sometimes I can’t spit it out. I can barely drool. I’ve always had the ability to remember even the most trivial things like phone numbers from my childhood and titles of obscure movies. I can also retain important things like names of my clients’ children, birthdays of friends and family, and what time to pick up the kids. So when words start to elude me, all I can think of is my great aunts who have lived into their 90s and are all currently suffering some type of dementia or memory loss. I think it would be torture to live for decades but not remember any of it. So I’m determined to flex and tone my brain muscles and keep these hereditary memory issues at bay for as long as I can.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • First, know your learning style. I’m a visual learner, which means I retain information better if I see it or read it. I remember what I write down, so I tend to take detailed notes and use lots of colorful highlighters. To me, everything in the world can be better organized with a great spreadsheet. Take this quiz to find out what kind of learner you are, and read some tips relevant to your learning style.
  • Take a walk.  A study from the American Academy of Neurology suggests that older adults who walk between 6 and 9 miles per week cut their risk of developing memory loss in half compared to their sendentary counterparts.
  • Feed your brain and improve your memory. Eat  your veggies–dark, leafy greens, tomatoes (some might say they are a fruit)–and colorful fruits (berries and melons) to get a healthy dose of B vitamins and antioxidants. Remember your Omega-3 fatty acids, too. You can get them from salmon, tuna, walnuts and flaxseed.
  • Play games. Brain games. One of my favorite brain game sites is luminosity.com. I also love the free app Word Warp.
  • Do Neurobic exercise–think aerobics for the brain. Brush your teeth with a different hand or get dressed with your eyes closed. Take a new route to work or shop at an unfamiliar grocery store. Break out of old habits and work those neurons!
  • Use tricks like stringing together words that start with the same letter of each word you need to remember. For example, I learned the nine planets in order from the sun using “My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” (or “…Just Served Us Noodles” when poor Pluto was stripped of its planetary status). I learned the preamble to the U.S. Constitution by singing the Schoolhouse Rock song.
  • Get enough sleep and keep stress levels low. I know. Easier said than done. But try.

So when you can’t remember that word, or where you left your car keys, just relax and take a breath. The retrieval process is like looking through a filing cabinet of memories. Your brain will continue subsconsciously rifling through the folders until the memory is found. 

The word I couldn’t remember?  “Purchase” (noun: firm foothold or grasp). It popped into my head three hours later.

Judging a Book by Its Cover?

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  That’s what “they” say all the time. But the reality is that that is precisely what I do in book stores and libraries. It’s just good marketing: the bold imagery, eye-catching typography. Who would ever pick up a classic novel with an uninspiring, vanilla cover and Times New Roman title? No matter how enriching the content might be, we pass by a potentially great read because the cover made a negative impression, or worse, made no impression at all.

girl with blue mohawkWe do this with people, too. We generate instant first impressions often by what we see. I’ve noticed some of the friends of my teenaged kids experimenting with their appearance as they struggle to figure out who they are in this world. Some of the kids have been dying their hair colors that can’t be found in nature. One boy thinks he’s Neo from The Matrix, and another looks like he might be dressing for a bank robbery with a flowing trenchcoat. All he is missing is the sawed off shotgun. A few have pierced their faces — this one kills me because unlike hair color that can grow out or be reversed, facial piercings will leave a scar that they will have to look at long after they have come to their senses.  A little judgmental of me? Perhaps. But I have three decades of life experience on these kids.

My children have brought some of these teens home and introduced them to me as their friends. I’ll admit that I was initially taken aback at their appearance, but after spending time talking with them, I found that they were frequently delightful, intelligent, thoughtful kids who are just trying on different looks like I might test drive a car. 

I get the whole playing-with-one’s-appearance phase. In my early 20s, I bleached an almost platinum blonde streak in my black hair. At the time, it was age- and vocation-appropriate.  I played in a new wave band by night…but I worked in a corporate office during the day.  Not ready to come out as Cruella Deville to my co-workers, I only bleached a piece of hair that I could conceal at the office. Moderation in all things. Now as I get older, I try very hard to keep the “blonde” out of my hair.

It works both ways. People make first impressions on us, and we on them. If you want to make a positive impression — maybe it’s during a job interview, first date, new client, new school — here are a few things that might help:

  • Be yourself. Don’t try to act the way you think someone else wants you to act. Relax and be you. People will recognize and appreciate that you are genuine. And if they don’t like who you are, then it’s their loss. Not everyone in life is going to like us. It’s most important that you are comfortable with who you are.
  • Act and dress appropriately for the situation. Wear proper attire and pay attention to grooming. Remember that your actions and your choice of words paint a picture of who you are. Always be respectful of others.
  • Make eye contact. Not creepy or vacant staring but an engaging look that shows you are confident and paying attention to what the other person is saying.
  • Smile. It will put the other person (and yourself) at ease. (And while we are talking about smiling, be sure to brush your teeth, use your mouthwash, and check for stray spinach salad between your incisors.)

This month, we commemorated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose dream was that we would live in a nation where we would not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. So while it is perfectly okay to judge a book by its cover, let’s try to keep an open mind and not judge people by outward appearances. Maybe they are just taking a new look for a test drive.

Do Something, Even If It’s Wrong

“Do something — even if it’s wrong!”  That’s a phrase I’ve often heard my husband utter, frequently directed (under his breath) at people who stop suddenly after disembarking an escalator or moving sidewalk. It applies to people with shopping carts who obliviously block the entire aisle while agonizing over which brand of shampoo to buy. (Oh wait. Sometimes that’s me.) It could also be used for drivers who slow down to a dangerously low speed debating which street to turn on as countless impatient drivers pile up behind them.

Why is it so hard to make a decision? In the past, I’ve been counseled not to make snap decisions, but in some situations (like which direction to walk when exiting an escalator), a quick choice is mandated. Some say a person’s character is defined not by their carefully pondered decisions but by the ones that are made in an instant:

  • Seventy-four-year-old retiree Bill Badger tackling the gunman who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, even after Badger himself had been shot.
  • Wesley Autrey jumping into New York City subway tracks to protect a fallen stranger from an oncoming train.
  • My son demanding we stop the car to rescue an abandoned dog.
  • First responders running into the World Trade Center while everyone else was running out. Sure, you could say that it was their job. But they still had a choice.

Some people would do none of these things. Yet others would not hesitate. One could argue these were not even decisions at all because the people in these examples would never have considered NOT acting so nobly. Are we hardwired genetically to make certain choices? Is it our upbringing? Can we learn to be virtuous and selfless? Why is decision-making so hard for some — from the little things — what to wear today, what to cook for dinner — to the lifechanging alternatives? Where to go to college. Whether to marry your significant other, or even to determine if your other is truly significant.

I’m somewhat ambidextrous so I like to think I use both sides of my brain, the creative half and the logical, analytical half. Sometimes this makes decision-making even harder for me because I need to figure out if I will be led by my heart or my head. Ultimately, my heart wins. A decision has to feel right. And it is better to do something — anything — than to be paralyzed with doubt and do nothing.

Years ago, our children were blessed to have the most wonderful kindergarten teacher, Ray Lesch, who was also an astronomer. On warm spring evenings, he would bring his telescope to the school’s athletic field and host “star parties”  for his students and their parents to gaze at celestial objects. Some nights the parties were canceled because the skies were overcast. The little ones were disappointed because the stars weren’t out. He would explain that the stars were always there; you just can’t always see them. Decisions are sometimes like the stars and the heavens. The answers are there but sometimes we can’t see them because they are clouded by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of looking silly or stupid.

So I’ll leave you with Mr. Lesch’s favorite closing — wishing you “clear skies” — and a joke. A man prays to God to win the lottery. Every day he prays, and every day he doesn’t win. Finally, he implores God for guidance, and God tells him [wait for it…] “Buy a ticket.” As they say, you have to be in it to win it. So make a decision and do something, even if it’s wrong. At least you are moving forward toward a goal.

Who’s Your Daddy? Father Time.

As another year draws to a close, I am painfully aware of the rapid passing of time. Didn’t we just put up the Christmas tree yesterday, not weeks ago? And didn’t I just take my kids to the first day of school? Kindergarten, not high school.

The end of the year is always a little bit of an emotional struggle for me. I love the build up to Christmas. The anticipation of seeing my children’s faces when we’ve chosen the perfect gift. The Christmas cookies we painstakingly decorate. And the colorful, twinkling lights – my most favorite of all. Then, it’s over. All the TV stations run their year-end retrospectives and remind us all the famous people we’ve lost this year, and we remember our own personal losses and sadness. My hubby, always the clear thinker, points out that if every day were Christmas, the day wouldn’t be so special (there’s even a Nickelodeon Fairly Odd Parents episode about that). And he’s right. But it still doesn’t help with the inevitable doldrums that sink in this week.

I’ll admit it. I’m a time junkie. I always wear a watch. Even on weekends. I have some kind of time piece in nearly every room of the house. I get ancy when the mouthwash bottle blocks the clock in my bathroom so I can’t see if I’m running on time for work. I collect clocks — mostly cool, vintage clocks — but still, that should have been a red flag for me a long time ago.  The first thing I do when I wake up is look at the clock — especially if I wake up in the middle of the night. I want to know how much time I have left before I have to get up. The worst thing is waking up just minutes before my alarm is set to go off; then I spend time trying to quickly force myself back to sleep knowing that it probably won’t happen.

I set the clock in my car three minutes fast to make sure I arrive on time. Sure, I realize the clock is set ahead of time, but somehow it just makes me feel better knowing I’m early. (I can hear you: there are pills for that sort of thing…) Why do I need to always know what time it is?  I hate being late. To me, it shows disrespect for the people who have scheduled an event and others in attendance. I did some consulting in the Bahamas several years ago, and it drove me crazy that the local business people were always late to meetings — at least by a half hour. “Island time.” The cultural perception of time was just different in the Caribbean.

Time Perception Study

Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist and professor at Stanford University, conducted a study on how people perceive time and how their perceptions affected their happiness and success. He concluded that people tend to fall within a spectrum of six profiles:

  1. Past – Positively Focused (viewing the past in a positive light)
  2. Past – Negatively Focused (the opposite of #1)
  3. Present – Hedonism (a focus on the here and now with a preference for instant gratification)
  4. Present – Fatalism (a belief that one’s destiny has already been determined)
  5. Future – Goal Oriented (importance is placed on future success)
  6. Future – Transcendental (a belief in life after death giving less meaning to life prior to death)

You can take this survey to find out where you fall within the various time perception categories. (I scored above average on Past-Positively Focused and Future-Goal Oriented.) The six profiles, found in varying degrees in everyone, influence our decision-making and can impact our ultimate happiness. There are advantages and disadvantages to perceiving time in certain ways. For example, a Future-Goal Oriented outlook can provide the drive to succeed, but it can also make you a workaholic, sacrificing quality of present life in hope of achieving a bright future. Moderation in all things.

As I get older, time moves faster. There have been studies that show that as people age, they perceive time as moving faster to them than to their younger counterparts. I believe it. As a child, I thought adulthood would never get here. Now I want to put the brakes on time and keep my children young, innocent and nearby as long as possible. So as we count down to the end of 2010, and I attempt to shake off the holiday blues, I’m trying to enjoy every minute of my children’s holiday vacation, and cherish these moments together.

Happy New Year! May it be a year of good health and happiness, and may we appreciate each day as it slowly (I hope) unfolds.

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas

Bing Crosby Rosemary Clooney White ChristmasWhite Christmas. ‘Tis the season to watch this classic holiday film. So far this year, I’ve watched it four times. It’s our tradition to watch the DVD when we decorate our Christmas tree. The other three times, it was on television, and I just couldn’t help myself.  Maybe it’s the catchy lyrics and tunes that speak to me:  Sisters, Snow, Count Your Blessings, and the title song. Perhaps it’s the legendary cast of Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye (star of my other favorite musical from the ’50s, The Court Jester— if you haven’t seen it, it is so worth renting if you can find it), or the fact that renowned composer Irving Berlin and I share the same birthday, 74 years apart.

The movie follows the typical formula: boys meet girls, boys dress up as girls and do a song and dance number, one boy loses girl due to a misunderstanding. Boy regains his honor after the communication problem is resolved, and everybody sings a rousing finale.

Now here’s what gets me: the communication issue. If Rosemary’s character would just ask Bing’s character what he is up to instead of jumping to conclusions, none of the problems and aggravation would have happened. Of course the movie would be over in half the time, and we would have missed the other musical classic, Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me and the early choreographic stylings of a very young George Chakiris.

But does this actually happen in real life?  You betcha. All the time. (At least the communication problems do — I can’t vouch for the spontaneous musical productions.) We bring our emotions, assumptions, our own perspective and baggage to a situation instead of keeping an open mind or simply asking neutral questions to clarify circumstances. In sitcoms and movies, it’s entertaining. In real life, it can lead to heartache and frustration.

Here are some suggestions that can help us all communicate better:

  1. Don’t play games. Say what you mean – don’t make someone guess. If something is bothering you, don’t just say “No, it’s fine” and go off in a huff (what is a huff anyway?). If you don’t feel like talking at the time, just say so. People are more likely to respect an honest answer than a grumpy disposition.
  2. Listen. Really listen. As they say, we have two ears and one mouth so we may listen twice as much as we talk.
  3. Think before you speak. Take an extra breath before responding to something that offends you or gets under your skin.
  4. Be aware of your own tone. Try to keep questions and comments neutral.
  5. Use “I” more often than “You” to signify that you are taking responsibility for your feelings during a conversation.
  6. Make eye contact and pay attention to facial expressions and body language — your own and that of your conversation partner. Sometimes gestures and physical bearing are more telling than spoken words.
  7. Keep things light.  End conversations on a positive note whenever possible.

You may be surprised to find that a situation isn’t what you thought it was, and you wasted valuable time and energy on negativity.

So in the end, Bing and Rosemary cleared things up and wrapped up the movie with a “slam bang finish.”  Let’s just hope they learned from their experience: better communication. Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution to consider and a start toward peace on earth and goodwill toward all?  Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy, Healthy New Year.