Friday, December 30, 2011

The Glad Game

"You're so Pollyanna, Peggy," a colleague exclaimed at a meeting a few months ago. Apparently she didn't agree with my optimistic solution to a problem.

I sat back in my chair and smiled. On the surface it appeared that I took this comment lightly, as I'm sure it was intended, but on the inside I wondered what being, "so Pollyanna" meant. The way it was stated sounded a bit insulting, so when I got home I looked up Pollyanna on Wikipedia. Here's what the mastermind of the World Wide Web said,   

"Pollyanna is a best-selling novel by Eleanor H. Porter (1913) with the title character's name becoming a popular term for someone with the same optimistic outlook. Eleven more Pollyanna sequels, known as "Glad Books" were later published. Pollyanna has been adapted for film several times."

What's it about?

A young orphan girl, Pollyanna, goes to live in Vermont with her wealthy, but stern aunt. Pollyanna's philosophy of life centers on what she calls, "The Glad Game," an optimistic attitude she learned from her father. The objective is to find something to be glad about in every situation. With this philosophy, and her own sunny personality, Pollyanna brings so much gladness to her aunt's dispirited New England town that she transforms it into a pleasant place to live. 

I felt better after reading about Pollyanna. I hadn't been insulted at that meeting, I had been complimented. After all, don't lots of people spend money on self help products and many hours in therapy trying to be "Pollyanna."

And does it work? Can being positive actually result in feeling positive? If you Google that question, you'll find people who say, a positive attitude = a happier life and those who argue the point. I figured the Mayo Clinic was a relatively unbiased source so went to it via my search engine. Here's what they report:

"Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:
  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
It's unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body. It's also thought that positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and don't smoke or drink alcohol in excess." For more click here:

So maybe Pollyanna was on to something with her "Glad Game." She explains it below (sorry about the marginal audio):

If it works in the movies, it can work in real life, right? You bet. Over the next two weeks we'll focus on true stories about how a positive attitude made all the difference, even saved lives.

Kick Back Book of the Week:

Let's go with Pollyanna by Eleanore H. Porter. It's a classic that if you haven't read, you'll be glad you finally did. If you've read it before, read it again. It'll be a good reminder of how to play The Glad Game.

Kick Back Song of the Week:

Ordinary Miracle sung by Sarah McLachlan from the movie, Charlotte's Web. This simple song is about the "glad" that surrounds us everyday. 

A Little Something Extra:

Watch how Laverne and Shirley play the glad game without even knowing it.  


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays!

No matter how or if you celebrate during this holiday weekend, I wish you the best. I'm taking a few moments to enjoy friends, family and a blessed year. Thanks to all you pingers who have dropped by to visit my pinpoint on the blogosphere. I'll be back on Tuesday.

 Don't forget to look for those spaces in your day where a bit of fun can be found. It'll make all the difference.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Light a candle for an Immediate Kick Back

Candles light up a birthday cake, illuminate a dark room, add romance to a dinner table and are used as a sign of remembrance and celebration in different religions around the world.

Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah is a ritual that has been observed since the destruction of the Temple in 332 BCE when the Jews refused to acknowledge the deification of Alexander the Great of Macedonia ( The menorah symbolizes the ideal of universal enlightenment. The branches allude to human knowledge and the central lamp represents the light of God..

The ring or wheel of the Advent wreath of evergreens decorated with candles was a symbol in northern Europe long before the arrival of Christianity. The circle symbolized the eternal cycle of the seasons while the evergreens and lighted candles signified the persistence of life in the midst of winter. Christians now light one candle on the wreath each Sunday as a part of the Advent services. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ.

The way religions around the world use candles warrants a blog of their own and I'm guessing there are hundreds.

What is it about a formation of wax with a flickering flame that makes humans feel at peace and gives them hope?

Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., and Lawrence Robinson ( tell us that, "The speediest way to stamp out stress is by engaging one or more of your senses."

Think about the senses a candle ignites...a kaleidoscopic light in the dark, an aromatic scent, soft warmth and a whisper of sound as the flame dances.

The only way you can feel the calming effect of a candle is by lighting one and staring at it for a few minutes. There is no way you can experience the full sensuality of a candle over the Internet. Your eyes may water a touch when you first gaze at the flame. You may even see double, but as your focus settles in you will escape to a faraway place.

In honor of the candle, I'll share an award winning film, Lightheaded by Michael Dacko, which focuses on the journey of a flame. The animation is incredible. Click on the first link:
<iframe src=";byline=0&amp;portrait=0" width="400" height="225" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="> from <a href=" Dacko</a> on <a href=">

A Little Something Extra:

"Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." 
~Chinese Proverb~

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Instant Peace what is peace?  

"Peace is a state of harmony, the absence of hostility," according to Wikipedia. "To be at peace with one's self would indicate a sense of serenity, calm, and equilibrium."
People that experience inner peace say that the feeling is not dependent on time, people, place, or any external object or situation. It's keeping oneself strong in the face of discord or tension. It is the opposite of being stressed or anxious. Sounds good, but how do we get it?

Way to complex for this blog, but here's a link to the Peace Pilgrim that should help launch your journey:

What I'll give you are some moments that evoke a peaceful feeling, at least for me. It's not scientific, but I have felt a warm sensation in my core, which I interpret as peace, when I have experienced the following:  
  1. Giving - It can range from making a donation after a natural disaster, volunteering, and saying, "yes"  to the cashier at the grocery store when asked to donate a dollar to the charity of the month. It can be quite spontaneous too. This morning, while at the gym, I waited in line to get an exercise mat for class. The first woman lifted one out of the bin and instead of taking it to her spot on the floor, she started passing them out. Everyone smiled. This act of easy and unexpected giving generated that peaceful feeling.
  2. Breathing - Taking slow deep breaths and focusing on them almost instantly soothes sorrow or anxiety that you may be feeling. Formally, it's called meditation and it really does work. 
  3. Self Commitment - When I set a goal and accomplish it, I feel satisfied, at peace. It can be as simple as promising myself to make the bed in the morning, doing abdominal crunches before my shower or drinking eight glasses of water throughout the day. The bottom line is I valued myself enough to keep my word and it feels pretty good.  
  4. Creativity - Doing something you love. For me it's writing. When I write, especially fiction, the world around me seems to disappear along with problems. We all have a creative side that, when accessed, helps us escape to a peaceful place, whether it's making an awesome play list on an I-Pod, snapping photos or sketching a pretty scene.
  5. Smiling - Smiling is the true peace sign. If you give it away, you'll almost always get one in return too.
  6. A Candle - There's something about lighting a candle then gazing at the flame that ignites peace -- an instant calm. I'm not sue why, but we'll explore that in my next blog post.

These are a few things that have given me a glimpse of what peace feels like. Please share ways that foster a sense of peace for you.

A Little Something Extra: 

Here's a short story about a mean school photographer who tries to get 4-year-olds to frown instead of smile for their class picture. The last little girl just won't give in. Does the magic of a smile work? You'll see. Click the link below:

<iframe src=";byline=0&amp;portrait=0" width="400" height="225" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="/30133754">School Portrait (2011)</a> from <a href="/picopictures">Michael Berliner</a> on <a href="/">Vimeo</a>.</p>

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tis the Season to be Peaceful

The holiday season can be a wondrous menagerie of parties, gifts, culinary delicacies and glittering decorations. On the other hand, it can be a reminder of loss, loneliness, illness and financial woes. Aren't I a downer? Possibly, but it's true.

It can be annoying when people go around telling you to be merry and happy just because it's December when all you want to do is go into hibernation with the bears. I can recall a Christmas when my life was in the dumpster and the seasonal pressure to be joyful made things so much worse. What did I do? I stepped back from the holiday hoopala and gave myself the gift of peaceful reflection. I made time to meditate, took long walks, read books and cried. I spent less money and made up excuses not to attend parties. What was the result? A cleansing calm feeling and a sense of control in my life.

I'm pretty indifferent about Brad Pitt, but I really did like something he said this year, which is, "I think happiness is overrated, truthfully. I do. I think sometimes you're happy, sometimes you're not. There's too much pressure to be happy. I don't know. I know I will be at times and I know I won't be at times. Satisfied, at peace, those would be more goals for myself."

On my difficult Christmas (and I'm pretty sure, if we live long enough, we'll all have one) I wasn't happy, but I was at peace. I let myself grieve. Although sad, I felt satisfied -- and from there I was able to move forward. Along those same lines, Scott Peck starts The Road Less Traveled (which spent 694 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller List) with, "Life is hard. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."

It's sort of like, life is hard. I know it and I'm going to deal with it. When the hard comes along I'll accept it and that is where peace comes from. So if you're feeling lonely or depressed or lost this December, know you're not alone. It's all part of living on the planet Earth. No one can escape it. It's okay to step back from the merriment. Kick back, embrace your melancholy and know that a better day is on the way. 

Remember holiday celebrations are not prescribed. If you're into it, go for the festivity -- I know I am this year. But if you're not, shrug your shoulders and tell yourself  it's okay because it really is.

This week we'll look at ways to bring peace into the holiday season whether we're feeling happy or sad.

Kick Back Song of the Week:

Here Comes the Sun by the George Harrison. The earth's star may not always be visible, but it is always there. We can count on that even when it's hidden behind a cloud.   

Kick Back Book of the Week:

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a psychiatrist and a Jew who was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany. His parents, brother and wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. Although he suffered extreme torture, he discovered what he refers to as, "the last of human freedoms." He could decide within himself how all of what was happening was going to affect him. He chose to keep his basic identity intact. Although I don't imagine he was happy, he found peace. 

No one can say it better than Viktor Frankl himself. Here he is speaking about how to overcome suffering in 2009.  

A Little Something Extra:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bubblemania -- It's Not Just for Kids

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, bubbles are my favorite toy. There's something about these clear orbs floating around that makes me smile. An image of laughing children, sunny days and a peaceful feeling surfaces when I see bubbles. I'm not alone. Bubbles are the best selling toy in the world and have been around since the 18th century when mothers used to give children leftover washing soap to play with.

But they're not just for kids. There's a street corner in the art district of Berlin where adults gather just to make bubbles:

Bubble sections are featured in many museums around the world. Here's a scene from the Hong Kong Museum of Science:

Parents and preschool teachers use bubbles to calm and entertain active children:

There's even such a thing as bubble painting:

Why all this love of bubbles? Some things are meant to be enjoyed, not analyzed, but I do like the explanation given by Sir John Edward Millais who painted the portrait, "Bubbles" in 1886.

Millais stated, "Bubbles are fragile and have a brief moment of beauty before they burst." In the 1800s Dutch artists painted children blowing bubbles to convey the brevity of human life, the transience of beauty and the inevitability of death.

All this magic costs about 49 cents per bottle at most stores.

So the next time you're feeling stressed, blow some bubbles. See what happens. If you you don't have any around watch this video:

A Little Something Extra:

Bubble Recipe:

1/2 cup of dish detergent (washing up liquid)
5 cups water (soft water is best - if your water is very hard consider using distilled or bottled water)
2 tablespoons glycerin (available at the pharmacy or supermarket). You can substitute light corn syrup (not golden syrup!)
Mix the ingredients together very carefully, so that you they don't get too bubbly. Pour into storage containers and, if possible, leave overnight to blend.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shopping for Toys on the Internet

If we're going to start playing, we'll need some toys. Luckily, we're smack in the middle of the prime shopping season so there's lots to choose from. I did a little Internet browsing and found some unique items. Here are my top ten:

10. Skatecycle - I am certain I would injure myself just standing on this contraption, but I wouldn't mind watching someone with a touch of coordination try spinning around on this. I'd advise wearing a helmet and I'm assuming the "no driving while talking on a cell phone law" would apply.

9. L.L. Bean Snowman Kit - No more searching for carrots in the vegetable bin with this handy kit around. Does not include snow. 

8. Photo*opoly - Interesting, but looks like a lot of work finding and pasting photos to play a really long game. I think I prefer the version that Parker Brothers makes for you. 

7.  Lady Gaga Paper Doll Book - No. She doesn't sing and dance when you pull the tabs.

6. R2 Fish Training School Kit - I had to include a video for this one. Just click the arrow. I might just buy a goldfish to see if this works.


5. Apples to Apples Board Game - There is always a non-electronic game under my tree on Christmas Day. My family plays it some time before dinner. My sons, at ages 21 and 23, tell me that they still enjoy this tradition. Of course, they could just be humoring me so I keep them on my Verizon plan and stay off their Facebook page. 


4. Air Swimmers R/C Inflatable Shark - Did anyone say air shark? For $30.00, I might buy the fierce predator. It could create quite a kick back moment as we watch it fly through my living room. With a 40 foot remote range, this toy could also come in handy if an intruder ever pays a visit.

Now, for my three all time favorite toys. I seriously would love to open a package and see these:

3. Silly Putty - I love flattening this sticky substance over newspaper comics and seeing the images that are copied onto it.

2. Crayola Crayons - When my sons were young they would be on to a new activity long before I was done coloring my pictures. Love choosing the various shades for my own unique design.

1. My favorite all time toy has to be bubbles. I really miss blowing these clear orbs into the sky and hated to give them up when my kids lost interest. Maybe I could start making bubbles again without looking too silly. You'll see why in my next blog post.   

Please share any unique toys that you come across while shopping this year. Always fun to see what's out there. I'd also love to learn about your favorite toy.

A Little Something Extra:

"Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities."

Stuart Brown, MD
Contemporary American psychiatrist

Friday, December 9, 2011

Come Out and Play

Sometimes a kick back moment finds us and says, "Come play." It usually occurs when we're buzzing around like this:

It happened to me this past week and I almost didn't see it. I wonder why???

I was rushing through my work day when a 6-year-old girl (I'll call her Annie) asked me to read her a story. You see, I'm a speech-language pathologist who conducts evaluations (among other things) for a school district. I see a lot of kids.The problem is I generally don't get to play with them. When I assess struggling students, I do it efficiently, so they don't miss what's going on in their classroom.

Last Friday afternoon, as I was testing Annie, her eyes kept shifting to a bookcase. I re-directed her to  task, but her attention consistently drifted back to that bookshelf. When we were finished, she gazed at me with hopeful eyes and said, "Will you read me a story?"

I checked the clock. I still had one more appointment scheduled. I looked at those eyes. Her class was in the library. I figured the librarian was right in the middle of an activity so Annie wouldn't have a clue what was happening. I decided to be 15 minutes late for my appointment and told Annie to pick out a book.

Annie jumped up and skipped to the bookcase. She browsed for a minute, tapping her finger on her chin, then returned with The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle. It made me smile. I'd read this book at least 100 times to my own sons who are now 21 and 23. Annie and I meandered through the pages meeting various animals and contemplated whether the spider would stop weaving his web to go play. Right in the middle of our own very busy day, Annie and I took a moment to kick back.

Was it a good thing? We enjoyed it, but did it make our work day more productive?

"Play is one of the top ways to develop stress resilience," explains Dr. Kathleen Hall from the Stress Institute. She goes on to say, "We cannot be stressed and play at the same time. When we play, our blood pressure goes down, our heart rate goes up; we produce endorphins. We get into almost this flow state of happiness."

Research points out that recess breaks at work increases productivity in the office up to 127 percent. Click here for more:

I have to agree. After the fun reading, the sense of urgency left me and I still made it to my next appointment. I was just happier when I arrived.

Am I suggesting you bring The Very Busy Spider, play dough and bubbles to work with you? Probably wouldn't be a good idea unless you work at a daycare center. But I, and research, found that taking mini-breaks at work to do something you enjoy will actually increase your performance and will make you a more content employee.

Stay tuned. This week we'll explore various ways to incorporate play into our life. Any ideas?

Kick Back Song of the Week:

Peter, Paul and Mary remind you to never grow up all the way with Puff the Magic Dragon.

Kick Back Book of the Week:

Find a child, if you don't have one of your own, and read him or her The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle. I guarantee you a kick back moment:

A Little Something Extra:

"Life must be lived as play."
Greek philosopher
427–347 BC


Saturday, December 3, 2011


"Would you like to try some wine?" a man wearing an evergreen sweater and a smile asked.

"Sure. Do you have Pinot Grigio?" I responded.

"Absolutely. Do you prefer a fruity or oak flavor?"

"Can you explain the difference?" I asked, a touch embarrassed. I never quite understood what that meant.

He explained and went on to tell how the wine I was about to taste was fermented in Northern California. The man, who introduced himself as...gosh I wish I could remember, maybe Jeff, pointed to a platter of cheese and crackers set on a table adorned with garland. "Help yourself."

I did.

Where was I?

Not  a swanky holiday party...Not an expensive wine bar...Not a really good dream. I was shopping on Black Friday.

While other shoppers were stampeding to purchase $2.00 waffle irons and dodging mad women with pepper spray, I was being treated like a socialite in a small wine shop in Saratoga Springs. Thank goodness. I don't know about you, but I think the Black Friday craziness has gotten out of hand. Just look at some of the headlines:

The L.A. Times:   Wal-Mart's Unhappy Holiday Tradition: Black Friday Violence

Bangor Daily News:    Man Accused of Stabbing Tire Over Black Friday Dispute

Chicago Tribune:   Violence, Pepper Spray Mar Black Friday Shopping

Tis the season to be jolly?

Despite these disturbing headlines, I still believe holiday shopping can be delightful and I proved it at that wine shop. You're probably thinking, but how expensive? Surprisingly, not very. I bought a variety pack of six as a gift for $60.00. Plus, I received  a mini seminar, had questions answered, was treated to friendly greetings, conversation, music and food.

After placing the wine in my car, I continued shopping. I experienced a store front window frosted with snowflake etchings, bells that chimed when I entered a shop, a platter of cookies, hot apple cider and various scents like pine, chocolate and peppermint. I came home energized, cheerful and ready to delve into the holiday season.

I can count myself lucky. An informal survey conducted by Shop Talk found that most people do feel stressed about holiday shopping regardless of their budget. Reasons include crowded malls, outrageously chaotic traffic conditions, uncertainty of what to buy as a gift, and more gifts to buy than the wallet can accommodate.

Well, I believe for every problem there is a solution. So if one of these stresses is causing a frazzled feeling to accompany you while shopping for those perfect gifts, here's my "top ten" solutions to shoo it away:

  10.   With the exception of Black Friday, start early in the morning. Parking spots will be more abundant, crowds will be less and stampeders will most likely be sleeping off their spending spree hangover from the previous night.

  9.  Go to at least three small shops on a street as opposed to the mall. Chances are you'll be treated to delicious snacks, greeted by friendly merchants and offered gift suggestions for those hard to buy for folks on your list.

  8.  Enjoy the ambiance. The music, decorations and scents are amazing this time of year. Don't ignore them.

  7.  If you don't have small children of your own, spend five minutes watching other people's kids as they step up to greet Santa. Scenarios you may encounter are beard tugging, screams of apprehension and eyes filled with awe.

  6.  Buy a cup of hot chocolate and find someplace to sit. Watch the bustle pass by you.

  5.  Don't fret if you can't find the perfect present for someone. People love gift cards. They really do. If you think it's too impersonal, put it in a decorative gift bag along with an inexpensive universal favorite like candy, gloves, a book, lotion, a candle, gourmet coffee, etc.

  4.  Don't forget an important person who is often ignored during the holidays -- You. Treat yourself to lunch at your favorite spot when shopping is done.

  3.   Don't pull all of your hair out trying to find that special someone a "must have" item. If they are that special, they'll understand you did your best. Yes...even kids...especially kids. Remember his or her birthday is less than a year away.

  2.  Stay within your budget. The credit card bill that comes in January can be more frightening than trying to get your hands on a $3.00 towel at Target on Black Friday. Believe me. I've received one of these shocking statements before -- not a kick back moment.

1.  Enjoy that giving feeling. Don't worry about the actual gift. Most can't even remember the presents they received the previous year. What they can recall is the warmth that came with it. Don't lose it at the mall.   

Kick Back Book of the Week:

I'm going with a classic short story this week, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. No matter how you celebrate this season of giving and peace or what your beliefs may be, this simple tale tells how the best presents don't always come in a package. It begins:

"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies."

To read the entire story click here:

Kick Back Song of the Week:

If holiday shopping really does become horror shopping just start humming In My Mind I'm Going to Carolina. Hopefully it will take the edge off. Here it is sung by one of my favorites, James Taylor:


A Little Something Extra:

Saratoga Springs, NY
Happy Holiday Shopping!