The Right Way to Give a Compliment

Their well-meant praise landed with a thud.

My 50-something girlfriends and I were walking along the beach one day when a group of 20-somethings passed us. They looked back at us, smiling, and said, “You guys look great for your age!” 

It was a beautiful compliment that boosted our self-confidence…until they added that bit about age. 

We had been having a perfect time, soaking up sun, cooled by a perfect breeze coming off a sparkling ocean. But our spirits slumped. The sun seemed to darken, the breeze grew cold, the sea dulled.

“How old do they think we are?” we wondered aloud to each other. Fifty? Sixty? Who knew? Maybe they thought we were seventy or eighty. The flattery had fallen flat.

We finally figured out we were putting too much store in what others think. When we got that straight, we bounced back. We look good for ANY age, we agreed assertively as we walked briskly on, shoulders back and heads high, keeping in shape and enjoying the once-again beautiful day.

When you give someone a compliment, you have to stop when you’re ahead. Especially if it involves a group of 50-something women who look great. Period. 

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Grace shows up in clever disguises.

Trees are cherished friends. They shade us, produce oxygen, shelter tender baby birds. Their green beauty relaxes us. Our grapefruit tree went above and beyond to help me. It saved my ear.

I was picking up fallen grapefruit from under our big beautiful tree one morning. When I was done and stood up from my crouching position, my head bumped a branch and I caught my ear on a nasty thorn. There was a lot of blood. I never knew how large a grapefruit tree thorn is until I looked at it after it attacked me. Huge! And nasty.

I washed, disinfected and bandaged the wound. A few days later I removed the bandage and it seemed fine. But over time I noticed little spots of blood on my bath towel after drying myself. Then it started seeping and I went to see my dermatologist. The doctor couldn’t take a biopsy of the sore because it was too contaminated with blood and ooze. (Sorry for the gore.) I was very careful not to wet or touch it for a few days and it dried out.

The doctor then did a biopsy, and it turned out that the source of the blood was a basal cell cancer growing under the skin where the thorn pricked me, tucked into and following the curve of my outside ear rim. It wasn’t yet visible to the naked eye.

Two weeks later a surgeon removed the cancer. He put it in a jar and showed it to me. It was more or less the size and shape of a medium-size garlic clove, although it was longer and more slender which was why it hadn’t been obvious. 

If that thorn hadn’t snagged and wounded my ear, the cancer might have gone undetected until it grew large enough to be noticed. And then I would have been in trouble. A large part of my ear might have had to be removed.

In noble beauty, that tree has graced our backyard for 30 years. It has serenaded us when the wind rustles through its leaves, and yielded the lovely gift of its fruit to us. Now it has saved my ear from being ravaged by cancer.

I am deeply grateful. I thank the tree, I thank the thorn, I thank God, and I wear a hat and sunscreen when I’m outside.  

Grace

I woke up grouchy one morning, still tired. I pondered skipping my morning aerobics. Commitment! I told myself, then dressed and headed to my workout room. That was my first mistake.

I do an online aerobics routine on the British Institute of Health website. I turned on my computer, clicked on Chrome browser, waited…and what came up was “no internet service.” I restarted, went to Chrome again, got the same message. On my third try, the same thing happened so obviously it was not a temporary fluke. I was going to have to call my internet service provider technical help number, and spend a long time on hold then a long time doing the troubleshooting steps, but it would have to wait. I was barely awake. I couldn’t face computer troubleshooting without a shower and a cup of coffee.

I decided I would get my exercise in with a brisk walk. My neighborhood provides a good aerobic workout as there are some pretty steep uphill stretches. But when I looked out the window, I saw it was raining heavily. No walk today, I thought.

At a loss, I went into the kitchen and popped a Keurig pod into my coffee maker. Then I remembered I had a chocolate hazelnut croissant from Starbucks with my weekend treats in the freezer. Even though it wasn’t the weekend yet, I took it out and thawed it. I knew it contained 400 calories and 50 percent of my daily saturated fat allowance. I went for it anyway. I would double my aerobics routine when my computer was back up. 

I added Italian sweet cream to my coffee and sat down at the table. Savoring the chocolate hazelnut decadence and sipping my coffee, I started to feel pretty great. What had started as a growing list of frustrating problems had turned into the perfect morning.


Grace: the freely given, unmerited favor of God.  

Heavenly Help in Disguise

Hernias are not usually thought of as being from heaven. They’re usually thought of as coming from the other place. But my husband’s was different. It saved his life.

Frank’s hernia showed up last year. He was 78. The hernia wasn’t very big and it wasn’t painful. The doctor said it might remain relatively harmless and that if Frank preferred, he could leave it be and they’d just keep an eye on it. But of course he could have it surgically repaired if he wanted.

Frank had never had surgery and found the prospect unpleasant. He was inclined to leave well enough alone. But the doctor went on to tell him if he did remove it he could do it laparoscopically, with a recovery time of only 1-2 weeks and much less pain than with open surgery. It’s all done with a thin scope and instruments inserted through very small incisions.  

That made Frank was a lot more interested. He opted for the laparopscopic surgery.

Good thing. He had no idea then what an important decision that was. 

Routine pre-surgery blood tests were done, and a high white blood cell count was discovered. So different tests were done to find out what was causing the abnormality and eventually they did a CT scan.

That’s when they saw the spot on Frank’s pancreas. It was biopsied and turned out to be very early-stage cancer. Three-quarters of pancreatic cancer patients die within a year of diagnosis. But because his cancer was small and confined to the head of the pancreas, Frank was among the small minority of patients eligible for a complex procedure to remove the tumor. It’s called a Whipple surgery.

The Whipple surgeon said the cancer was early-stage enough that Frank could have his hernia repaired first, so he did. It was a piece of cake. He recovered fully in about a week. Shortly after that, he had his Whipple surgery. That was not a piece of cake. It was a long operation—about seven hours—and a lengthy, difficult and painful recovery. But it was worth it. It beat the alternative, no contest. The outcome was very successful, because the cancer had not spread to surrounding vital arteries or organs. The prognosis looks good for Frank to have a good number of quality years ahead of him.

It would be quite a different story if Frank hadn’t had that hernia, and if he hadn’t opted for the hernia surgery with its pre-surgery tests.

Life is mysterious. So many times, things happen that seem negative but when you look back on them you see that they were actually gifts. Precious gifts. In Frank’s case, the gift of years of life. And all from a lousy hernia, imagine. That has to be one of God’s cleverest disguises for a gift, ever.

Blogging is good for your health.

Maybe you think the above title is a mistake, that I meant to say jogging. Nope. I mean blogging. You’re getting healthier if you laugh while you blog. 

Everyone knows jogging is good for your health. It strengthens muscles, improves cardiovascular fitness, helps maintain weight…yadda yadda yadda. As long as you don’t ruin your knees.

But how in the world can blogging be good for your health? The answer is endorphins. When you laugh you increase the number of these “feel-good” hormones in your system. The trick is you need to write humor. I write a lot of it. At least my friends tell me my stuff is funny. My blog posts make me laugh, which is the important part. Writing humor increases your health only if you laugh at your own jokes like I do.

Two young bloggers ramp up their endorphin counts.

When I’m at my PC blogging, sometimes I laugh so much that my husband thinks someone is in my office with me. It’s very therapeutic for me because I’ve suffered from depression nearly all of my life. I won’t go into the details, which I’ve been boring my friends with for years, but some very dark things lurk in my family background: suicide, heroin addiction, crime, hellacious accidents, alcoholism, permanent estrangement…the list goes on, but as a public service I’ll stop here.

So when I write about campaigning for a tooth fairy who comes to seniors, or becoming a Victoria’s Secret reject because my bra band size is larger than their max 38 inches,  or trying to meditate at home with Judge Judy’s obnoxious voice blaring from the TV, I’m manufacturing endorphins. These happy brain chemicals also relieve pain.

In a scientific test conducted at Oxford, participants’ arms were wrapped tightly in a blood-pressure cuff and tightness was increased gradually. Some participants watched 15 minutes of comedy, and they were able to withstand 10 percent more pain than participants who didn’t watch comedy. There’s also a bonding effect in an endorphin rush that is important in our social lives, believed to be like grooming for certain highly social animals such as monkeys. Endorphins also reduce stress and create a positive feeling in the body.

So next time someone tells you laughter is good for your health, don’t laugh. It’s true. And it doesn’t ruin your knees.

This healthy resolution is a real hoot.

My New Year’s resolution is not about the usual things people resolve to do, or not to do. I’m not going to lose weight, although I should. The problem is I wouldn’t be able to eat all the foods I like. I’m not giving up coffee, even though I drink too much. I have to have my coffee. I’m not going to push my envelope and join Toastmasters and be more outgoing, which would probably also be good for me.  But most of them meet so damn early, before everyone goes to work. I’m not going to quit drinking and smoking because I already did, decades ago, so those resolutions aren’t available to me.

My resolution is to laugh, as often as possible! Out loud. Heartily. Disruptively. Indelicately. I’m going to let it all hang out. And all with the backing of the medical profession. Laughter is healing. Wise people have always known its positive effects intuitively, but in recent years scientists and medical professionals have been seriously—yes, you heard me right, seriously—studying laughter and performing experiments. They have scientifically verified its health benefits by measuring endorphin activity.

Laughter increases endorphins. These are hormones produced by the central nervous system and pituitary gland that can reduce pain and produce a feeling of euphoria. They’re the groovy hormones, the feel-good chemicals produced by the brain. While it’s busy increasing endorphins, laughter is also decreasing levels of stress-producing hormones like epinephrine and cortisol. Laughter increases physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual health, says the Mayo Clinic. It is one of their twelve habits of highly healthy people. 

new-years-day-1090770_640The more you laugh, the easier it gets. You can practice. Go to funny movies, have funny friends (I’m available), read books that make you laugh. Read my blog. Have pets, a rich source of the best kind of laughter, which is affectionate laughter. Play with them, chase them around, rough-house with them, unless you have a 160-pound mastiff. Or just watch them. When I watch my two cats playing hide and seek and tussling and wrestling and chasing each other in the yard I laugh, unstress, and feel peaceful. I luxuriate in the feeling of my endorphins going crazy, flying around, crashing into and bouncing off of each other like bumper cars.

Laughter Yoga is gaining in popularity everywhere. It’s a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter and done in groups, with eye contact and coordinated movements as well as spontaneous playfulness. At first the laughter feels weird, awkward and forced. Dorky, actually, which was how I felt at my first session. But with persistence and regular practice it soon turns into real and contagious laughter. By the end of a session people are howling with laughter.  

It’s always been common knowledge that to stay healthy, you need to eat sensibly, exercise, and socialize, and now it’s established that you also need to laugh. Laugh every chance you get. Laugh your brains out. Laugh till you cry. Laugh till it hurts. Laugh till you get dizzy. LOL. FOFL.

Just try not to fart. Actually though, farting has its health benefits too. The Mayo Clinic says food that causes gas brings nutrients to beneficial microbes in the gut. The microbes gobble up food, create gas, and make molecules that boost the immune system…. Well, enough of that for now. I’ll have to do a separate piece on farting.

Happy New Year!

Following My Aerobic Bliss

We all know regular exercise is important. Ideally we should work out daily. It’s a real challenge to fit it into our hectic schedules, but there is a way! And it’s even more important now during the holidays, when our schedules are crazier than usual and at the same time our calorie intake is way up.

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Why drive to the gym, when you’ve got everything you need at home?

The solution’s simple. To begin with, forget the gym and jogging. Many gym fans like having people around to chat and share exercise notes with, and they are motivated by other people. But a lot
of time is wasted in driving there, waiting in long lines for equipment to become available, chatting, and people (not me) sneakily looking around for nice butts. The gym also costs a lot of money.  Jogging is good exercise, aside from knee injury from high impact, but it requires special scheduling, especially in winter when it gets dark early. Jogging in dark or deserted conditions is not recommended. That’s the woman/mother in me talking. Also, during winter you have to schedule around bad weather.

I now have an embarrassing confession to make. A big reason why jogging and going to the gym don’t appeal to me is because I’m mildly compulsive about being presentable when I’m out and about among people. I like to be showered, with my hair fixed, my clothes coordinated, and a little makeup on. Call it silly, but it is what it is. When I jog or go to the gym in the morning, which is my fave time for exercise, I have to fix myself up before and again after. I waste precious time!   

My perfect solution is a 45-minute aerobic walking session to a DVD in my living room, right after breakfast. I love Leslie Sansone. Her DVDs rock. She’s high energy and funny. It’s primarily aerobic exercise, but also includes some strengthening and toning with light weights. After my cereal and the first, life-giving cup of coffee, I just throw on my color-clashing, smelly, worn-out grubbies with holes in them and put on my cheap tacky walking shoes. My hair is uncombed, my face unwashed, my teeth aren’t even brushed. I am completely gross. But I only need to make myself presentable once all day, after I finish my routine. 

Other benefits include not getting rained on, not freezing, and not having to worry about off-leash dogs outside. And I don’t waste time driving to a gym, or pay a lot of money for dues every month. I’m comfortable in the privacy of my home. I always felt I was being sized up at the gym. A lot of people were surreptitiously peeking and judging everyone else’s physique while they lifted weights and ran the treadmill. I’m pretty sure mine was found wanting, nine times out of ten. I don’t have a nice butt. I’m still working on it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love getting outside and walking. I try to walk every afternoon or early evening. Right before I go I read a page from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “How to Walk,” which helps make this time a peaceful meditation, calming and soothing. But for cardiovascular health and strengthening, I do my vigorous at-home aerobic walking. I stay fit while I enjoy Leslie, and all those nice, attractive smiling people who walk along with her in the studio, and the fact that they can’t see me—the real me.