gratidue-a-thon day 98: laughter as medicine


When the chips aren’t just down, but strewn all over the damn place, all I can ever think to do is laugh. I mean, I cry, and I whine too, but at the end of the day, I always find that laughing and making fun of a bad situation is probably going to get me to the finish line in better shape than clearing out my tear ducts.

Apparently, my love for a good guffaw isn’t all in my head, either. There are a bajillion articles on how and why laughing is good for us. For instance, the famed Mayo Clinic reports that laughing has both short and long term effects. Short term benefits include, stimulating organs (no, not THOSE organs), like your heart, lungs and muscles by increasing oxygen intake. Also it increases endorphins released by your brain (think runner’s high, without all the exhausting running).

Cracking up also turns on your stress response. A good harty har har, increases your blood pressure, resulting in a relaxed feeling. And it tames tension, by stimulating circulation  and increasing muscle relaxation, which can reduce those nasty and annoying physical symptoms we know of as stress.

Long term, watching the comedy channel can improve your immune system and actually help with fighting stress and potentially serious illness. A chuckle can ease pain because it causes the body to produce its own natural painkillers. And your funny bone can actually make it easier to deal with situations you’d rather not be in. Not to mention, have you ever met someone who doesn’t love to laugh–it helps you connect with people–and that’s always a positive thing. There are even laughter clubs and laughter yoga. Yup, laughing has become a serious thing.

I was raised in a family that had an exceptionally good sense of humor. And I am always drawn to people who could be professional comedians in their spare time. Maybe it’s some intuitive way that I take care of myself? Anyway, I am grateful for the ability to chortle at even the worst of it. It sure beats the swollen eyes I get when I cry.

gratitude-a-thon day 97: May and June

In May and June, there appear to be less hours in the day. I know it sounds impossible, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

It’s about to be May. This is when it happens. Time is about to speed up and go faster than pack of cyclists at the Tour de France. And this year, this sci fi time warp thing is going to go even faster and be even crazier. This year Jake graduates from high school. You see the countdown is on. The time we have left with him under our roof is about to end. And we’re all acutely aware of the fact that next year at this time, he will be in sunny California, approximately 2,000 miles and 6 hours away from us.

This is of course what we want, what we hope our kids will be able to do, what we think about  in the middle of the night when they are nursing and we are bleary eyed and psychotic from nights on end without adequate REM sleep. And yet, the poignancy of the moment is bigger in its reality than when Neil Armstrong put his gosh darn foot down on the moon.

But I digress.

Back to the time thing. Ok, so really, this is what happens when May strikes. Time is actually reduced in some totally and completely other worldly way. First of all, there are the “end of year” events. When the kids were younger, there was a celebratory picnic for everything they did.  EVERYTHING THEY DID. It was like if you walked by the fountain in the cafeteria, there would be a picnic. PICNICS. PICNICS. AND MORE PICNICS. Festive, but endless, tedious and exhausting. And, most importantly, TIME STEALING. Then there are all the spring sports. We barely had a family dinner that did not consist of pizza at 8:00 during May and June for the entirety of my children’s youth. I mean how do you show up at a game, or two games, AND cook a meal. You don’t. And I decided, early on,  showing up at the game was a far better use of my time. And then, there’s the weather. For some reason, the spring, the GORGEOUS, GORGEOUS SPRING, WHICH I LOVE LIKE A BIG HUNK OF CHEESE, speeds up the proceedings, making May and June whiz by like the now defunct Concorde. Add weddings and graduations, a couple significant birthdays, and you’ve got yourself a a few months that feel like a few days.

I know it’s all perception. I know that May and June do not really go faster than the rest of the year, but they feel like they do, and as I get older, I see sometimes that’s all that really matters. This year there will be a lot of graduation parties, and my close friend’s 50th, and athletic celebrations, and I’m working on a large scale party for after the prom, and we will have relatives from out of state come for graduation (which you know, means I will have to clean and cook a lot), and I am trying to figure out how to create a meaningful album to send Jake to college with that reminds him of where he came from, and oh yeah, I’ll be fitting work in there somewhere.

Here he is on his way to school (dressed up because of lacrosse). I like this photo because somehow it reminds me of him as a little kid. Which he most definitely is not any longer.

Anyway, this May feels like a bit of a magic time, although rather chaotic, and much like a long race that you’ve trained a lifetime for, and that you are finally in the last leg of. This May I will have to prevent myself from sobbing at all the end of year festivities. Jake is not dying, but the end of something is. The end of our time with him in his messy (this is the absolute understatement of the year) room is waning. The beauty of him flying off to sunnier pastures is thrilling and exciting and absolutely unbelievable. And it’s making me hold close all the Mays and Junes we’ve had with him as he’s grown up. I’m grateful to be aware of this window. I’m going to try and slow it down. Take it in. And enjoy the picnic.

gratitude-a-thon day 96: Pierce Trivia Night

Here we are, the Nerd team. With our taped up MIT glasses, all we needed were some pocket protectors to at least look the part. We lost, but we did have some inspiring moments ( Peter’s Cape Cod Canal answer won him MVP).

You can’t go home again, but you can go back to your old school. And last night, I went to Jake and Ally’s elementary school for Pierce Trivia Night, with our close friends who still have kids there. The place still doesn’t have walls (it’s an open classroom set-up), it’s filled with loads of people and teachers I no longer know, and the bleachers in the auditorium can still cause back spasms, but the 12 years we spent there are still alive and well. In my memory, anyway. I hope the parents in that audience have as incredible an experience in that building as our family did. Best school in Brookline? Pierce. I win.

gratitude-a-thon day 95: boston magazine cover


While we Bostonians are back at it, we’re still reeling from the effects of marathon week. You’d have to be  made of non-human materials, if you’re not moved by what happened on Boylston Street April 15. I usually pick up Boston Magazine because the cover offers a promising read, but it never seems to deliver the in-depth news I want it to. But I’m giving it up for this cover. It’s really beautiful. It hits the perfect note, at the perfect time.

gratitude-a-thon day 94: the downright smarty-pantness of NPR

I only listen to it in the car, but I wouldn’t mind listening to it all day and all night. It’s just so dang smart.

While I am partial to belting it out with my current celebrity crush Adam Levine, or full on pretending I am Rihanna, or  Adele, while I’m in the car, I’m  also totally captivated by the over-the-top intelligence, sensibility, and downright smarty pants-ness of NPR, or in my neck of the woods, WBUR. The news is apt, and in-depth. The news reader is a friend who possesses all the stuff I like about NPR. Her name is Sharon Brody, and she is now not just reading the news, she is also writing for Cognoscenti, the station’s blog. She’s brilliant, and funny, and my neighbor, to boot. (She is also a really good mom of two totally stellar kids, plus a talented photographer–she even did me the favor of taking my son’s yearbook photo).

Sharon is really awesomeness incarnate.

I love anything that takes me suprises me, makes me think broadly, differently, or intensely. I like to be challenged by thoughtful insights, studied opinions, passionate views. NPR often takes me off-guard, while making me feel understood. What I mean by that is, it feels like it reaches a hunger deep down, that sometimes I don’t even know I have.

One of my absolute, hands-down favorite SNL skits. A dead-on parody of NPR.

I am partial to Fresh Air with Terry Gross (and even more partial to SNL’st parody of this show, “Shweddy Balls”). Tom Ashbrook has a smart and compassionate voice, and although I’ve never laid eyes on him, I’d trust him with my life. Robin Young has a lovely measured intelligence, with a soothing sound, and reminds me of my early days in Boston, when she hosted  Evening Magazine, a local entertainment/news tv show. (Ok, whoever REMEMBERS THAT is old).  And of course, who doesn’t love the party that is “Wait, wait, don’t tell me?” I am a fan of Radio Boston with Anthony Brooks and Meghna Chakrabarti, I listen to the BBC World Service, just for the accent.

If only the real world could all be as intelligent and thought provoking as NPR always is. It’s so smart, sometimes I don’t even sing anymore (which, if you heard me, you’d know, is actually a really good thing).

gratitude-a-thon day 93: obituaries


I have an odd hobby. I share it with my husband. We’re not morbid folk, but we love ourselves a good obituary.

Its origins date back 22 years, when my otherwise healthy mom died at 73 of lung cancer. I was 32, just found out I was infertile, and was as close to her as a shoelace is to a sneaker. My grief was the size of the galaxy (and then some). I trudged around for a year, my only aim each day,  not to break into tears while grocery shopping. Anyway, that was when I started to read obituaries. The people who got to die at 95 made me mad. My mother had so much less time. Oh, the unfairness. The people who died prematurely, and way too early, made me feel better that my mom had at least had a somewhat long run. Anyway, my husband got into the act, too. And pretty soon, we obituary surfed for laughs. We tried to ourfunny each other.


For instance, take this New York Times obit for Selma Koch:

“Famed brassiere maven: Selma Koch, a Manhattan store owner who earned a national reputation by helping women find the right bra size, mostly through a discerning glance and never with a tape measure, died Thursday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. She was 95 and a 34B.”

Or how about this one:

Louis J. Casimir Jr. bought the farm Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004, having lived more than twice as long as he had expected and probably three or four times as long as he deserved. Although he was born into an impecunious family, in a backward and benighted part of the country at the beginning of the Great Depression, he never in his life suffered any real hardships. Many of his childhood friends who weren’t killed or maimed in various wars became petty criminals, prostitutes, and/or Republicans. Lou was a daredevil: his last words were “Watch this!”

C’mon, they’re funny, right?

Anyway, I worry about my own obituary when the time comes. I went to a funeral a few years ago, and the deceased was so accomplished, I started to panic, feeling like a Junior in high school, who suddenly realizes they better do some volunteer work, learn to play the ukele while water skiing, try to break the world’s record in shoe tying, and create an organization for homelss rodents, in order to beef up their college applications. What would my obit read? “Toni Lansbury, She wrapped a nice gift. She could really make a poster.”

As bizarre as it sounds, I am grateful for the solace, giggles, and most of all for the perspective that obituary reading has given me. They always remind me that yours can be written at any time, so you’d better take a big bite out of the world each and every day. Because hey, nobody  knows when exactly your life will be summed up in a paragraph.

gratitude-a-thon day 92: spring


I am always like a child tasting candy for the first time, when, after a brutal New England winter, the trees start turning a verdant shade of green, tiny crocuses start to show themselves, deep yellow daffodils, and tulips follow, and magnolia trees, magnificent in their white and pink and maroon clothes, begin their fashion show. I’ve been doing this thing for a lot of years now. It never fails to happen. It’s as reliable as Drano. And yet, I am shocked to see the world go from the dullest black and white to a full on box of Crayolas. Shocked, like I’ve never seen such a thing. Shocked like when I watch a magic show and I know there is a trick to it, but I just can’t figure out what it is.

There’s such a feeling of hope in Spring. In New England, of course, we are mostly hoping it’s really here. Spring can be a coquettish young girl, flirting and playing hard to get. Just when you think it’s safe to put away your monolithic coats and fur lined boots, Spring decides to drop back, and you wind up looking silly in your short sleeved shirt, not wearing any socks, and worse than that, cold. “I hate you, Spring,” you shout, with chattering teeth. But you don’t. You don’t hate Spring.

Because you can’t hate Spring. You can’t hate what it offers, what its agenda holds. You can’t hate the fever it brings on, or the days when it’s in the mood to show off. You can’t hate the girls in their new dresses, or the guys busting out their shorts, or the faces looking skyward dotting park benches, in hopes that the sun will brown them and warm away all of winter’s harsh treatment until it’s a faded and forgotten photo in a drawer.

I am always stunned, mystified, grateful for Spring. I wait for it all winter long, with the same fervor and anticipation that  kids wait for the last day of school. I battle with allergies, and worry about spring cleaning, but the newness, the hope that Spring brings, like a gift at the feet of a king–it’s perfect. It’s one of the best parts of life. A gussied up package of hope, with a big fat beautiful bow of all that can be.

gratitude-a-thon day 91: finding gratitude

Mike Hughes. He has taught me a lot about advertising. Now he’s teaching me something about life.

I just found out that a truly brilliant creative director that I revered when I was learning about advertising, is battling with a potent foe and is in the last stages of living with lung cancer. He is only 64. He is not someone I ever met in real life, just in award show books. His work was beautiful and smart and it taught me a lot when I was trying to understand what good work was. I have dealt with lung cancer before. My  mom had it. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now.

But what I was clued into today, at the same time I learned that Mike Hughes of the Martin Agency was dying, was that he is very much alive on a beautifully written blog that is called unfinishedthinking. I have been reading it all morning. There in black and white are the words of a man who is at the end, and has some very interesting stuff to say. It’s a sort of gratitude-a-thon all by itself. He’s cool. I wish he were hanging around. He is one of the guys in the white hats who work in this loco business.

The city is singing Kumbaya right now. But how long can we sustain it? It’d be great to think it could last forever.

I also read an article in yesterday’s Boston Globe called Disaster brings us together by Ty Burr. that resonated with me in my deepest parts. It’s about the marathon and the feeling of loss and sadness and how we are all more connected when we experience a tragedy together. I have always known this to be true. That a death, or horrific event brings out the very nicest parts of people. Every time I’ve had a health scare, or sick parent, or been in the middle of an awful circumstance, I become more acutely aware of life’s smallest moments of beauty. I have been at my clearest after loss and grief, understanding fully the simplicity of living. Your eyesight is clearer, your appreciation of the sun making its way to the center of the sky is bigger, your taste buds are pressed to the “on” button. And people are nicer. There is a camaraderie that only a soul searing tragedy creates that mimics a shooting star, amazing and short-lived. In the “post-anything-that-rocks-your-world” state, you are able to open an invisible door that allows you the cliff notes of what is really important and special in your world. And how very simple all of it really is.

But it only lasts for a minute. Or at least for me, I have never been able to sustain, what really amounts to living a 24/7 life with gratitude, for very long. Pretty soon the annoyance of grocery shopping merges with the need for Tide, and the 12 soccer games that will require you to sit in a wildly uncomfortable chair, pair up with the unseasonably cold weather, and you’re once again right back in the minutiae of the day to day. We have a short memory, it seems. In the time it takes to turn from MSNB to HBO, we are back to our old ways.

Anyway, I’m grateful to have found Mike Hughes blog, and Ty Burr’s article. They exemplify what I’m always after. Living with gratitude all the time, every moment, instead of just when times are tough. I really do believe that’s where the magic is. And while I’m getting better at it, I’ve still got plenty of work to do.

gratitude-a-thon day 90: we’re home

The view from Joni’s living room. It was beautiful to see the sunrise every morning, right before we got the computers, tv and phones going.

I need a 12 step program to stop watching the news.

I flew out of Boston with Ally last Monday to see my sister in Miami and cheer her up about her move there. We arrived and as if on cue, Ally got a terrible stomach ache that went from a “Mom, my stomach hurts,” to a “Moooooooom, I’m going to die,” in 10 short minutes. Joan and I were trying to remain calm, as Ally howled in the back seat. Good with pain, and not a crier, I knew, in the words of Miss Clavel, “Something was not right.” And yes, I know that is not exactly how Miss Clavel said it, but it’s close enough and how I felt, so stop with your preciseness. Meanwhile, we  get some Advil, but it has no effect and I call Peter, who was back in Brookline working, and ask him to google the best hospital to go to, because the writing is on the wall, Ally is telling me she is dying and she cannot move. “I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO GO,” he screams into the phone at me, while we are in a questionable part of Hollywood, with Ally in the back seat sweating, and bent over in pain. “What? Can you just google it?” I ask. Again, with the “I don’t know where to go.” Furious, I hang up, give into Ally’s escalating pleas of pain and call an ambulance FROM THE ROAD. Peter calls back a few minutes later and tells me he’s sorry, but that there has been a bombing at the marathon, and he didn’t know where Jake was, but he has found him. Relieved for a second that he has not completely lost his mind, I then let the words “bomb” settle in. But only for a moment, because I am flagging down the ambulance, and watching my daughter get carried away on a gurney. I am not allowed to sit with her, instead I must sit in the front. We are close to the Joe Dimaggio Children’s Hopsital. Oh, did I tell you that my sister’s GPS, which we initially tried to use to locate a hosptial on our own, was giving us the wrong directions. It had us in an entirely different place, so when it would advise us, there was no streets around that remotely resembled their directives. PART OF THE BOMBING PLOT TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD, PERHAPS?

At the hospital, a really beautiful place, we are immediately given a room, and several nurses. Ally is on an IV of fluids. I am giving the nurse all her vital statistics. They give her some pain medicine and she begins to sleep. Everybody who comes into the room tells us about the bombings because we are from Boston. Ally is still in severe pain. The nurse Helene is incredibly nice and predicts that Ally is about to vomit, but she is too late with little pink plastic catch-all and it appears that she throws up everything she has ever eaten since Kindergarten. She gets some nausea medicine and 10 minutes later, like someone flipped a switch on her head, she is totally fine. Perky, even. The pain is gone. And we are just left with the pain of the fact that a bomb has ripped through our city.

Here’s how Ally looked for most of the trip. She was always looking at her phone.

The five days we spent in Miami, were surreal. On the one hand, we were in a beautiful, sunny place with my sister, WHO I MISS AND LOVE, experiencing her new life. On the other, we were glued to the tv, the computer and our phones, hungry for any news of the bombing. Ally was terrified and couldn’t be away from media for more than the time it took her to take a shower. I tried to  limit her media consumption, but at 15, there’s only so much you can do. She wanted to go home from the moment she heard about the bombs. She wanted to be with her dad and brother. She was utterly terrified, and one night was convinced that an innocent guy was following us (he was not). I told her she could hop a plane and go home, because what was the point of her being there, if she couldn’t even have fun, but she said no, and just stuck to the Boston Police twitter feed, giving us news while we shopped, swam, ate. It didn’t help that Jessie, Jake’s girlfriend was at the finish line and had seen some horrific stuff. She was safe, but had stories to tell and both Ally and I were worried about her.

Although it was weird circumstances, Joni and I always have fun, and laugh. Here we are at a terrible dinner (raw meatballs and calamari that looked like a tick).

On Friday, our day of departure, our flight seemed to be on time. Of course, Boston was on lockdown, so we weren’t quite sure if we got to Logan, we could get home, but Jake and Peter said they would come and get us. Our 7:30 flight, was full and everyone had their tv tuned to the news. The police seemed to have cornered him in Watertown. I was glued to the set, flipping channels, and praying. Ten minutes before we landed, Dzhokar Tsarnaev was captured, and the streets of Boston and surrounding communities erupted in relief and raucous joy.

We’d been away for the entirety of the ordeal, but not really. Our hearts and souls remained in Boston.