Thought for Tuesday

It may be hell to live in fear, or it may be hell, as we fear it

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All of us are welcome — Fear not!

Franklin Roosevelt is famous for saying, in his first inaugural address, that the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. The affable and optimistic president of old, the leader who led us in war and peace is unlikely to be mistaken for Robert Schuller, the Pope or even Yoda. But he had a point.

Fear. People who arouse fears. And people who nurse fear in others. All should be met by skepticism and reservation, because you can understand more about a person in what angers them than in what they profess to truly love.

Fear – whether you’re FDR or Yoda – is often at the root of our own anger. Our own anger – even our righteous indignation – has roots in our fears, our failures (whatever that means) and our own sense of weakness. What is it that we fear so much – being found out; death; having something taken from us/loss; being unworthy?

We can fear it all. But do we have to?

When one of my children doesn’t do what I’ve asked or told them, I often find it ignites my anger. But why? If I tell them to clean their room … or not play in traffic … or that they should fear [whatever], why does it make me or any parent upset?

If you take the first level of responses – disrespect, paternalism, impatience – you might find people who will justify your reaction (and I’m not judging since I’m using myself as an example). You can also see that this first blush of reaction poorly obscures deeper motivations – I’m belittled. I don’t want you embarrassing me. I don’t want you hurt. And then some even deeper ones – I’m not completely in control. I don’t want to be blamed if … I don’t want to be responsible or lessened if … to even the understandable, I don’t want to lose you

We just have a hard time of seeing fear – in the moment – for what it is and at the same time, even when justified, our anger. And if FDR was correct – and other wise ones have spoken the same truth – when we live a life primarily motivated by fear (and fear-based anger), we exchange that fear for our joy, our richness of life and our search for peace.

I’ve seen and believe, as we grow spiritually, that fear is the black hole/vacuum of our existence. It may be hell to live in fear, or it may be hell, as we fear it … The black holes of quarantine aren’t for the sick; they are to ensure that the sick do not infect the unafflicted.

The truth is that fear/anger is a virulent strain – infecting not just one person – but spreading to those we love and eventually to those we do not know. Prejudice, judgment, anxieties, and the things we are unable tolerate – they are the things we should fear, especially when left unexamined and unchecked … for ourselves and those around us.

To reduce and paraphrase what one catholic priest/monk has said on the issue of forgiveness may make it sound too much like a magic bullet, an unlikely cure-all. But consider this, in light of fear: If you have forgiven yourself for being imperfect, if you have reconciled your own view of your failings and grown to see your creation as exactly as it should be, in you is also created a greater capacity to love and forgive everybody else, because you exercise compassion and understanding on yourself; you reap what you sow.

This isn’t some spiritual narcissism; it’s recognition and appreciation of your own complex, perhaps divinely-inspired, nature – that you are like all others and unlike them, at the same time. Deeper appreciation of others has its roots in appreciation of yourself – and while I admit that sounds all wisey, and self-helpy, it’s also backed by research-y (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201508/love-someone-do-you-really-need-love-yourself-first) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/30/love-yourself-science-study_n_5900878.html

“All of us” are welcome at the table. That’s not simply each of us … but also, all that makes up who we are. At the bottom of who we are – and at the bottom of creation itself – is an insurmountable goodness, and you’re part of it!

Mooyah (UAB): An Overachiever with some Shakes and Bake.

Mooyah isn’t the best burger in Birmingham. It’s not likely the best burger in Southside. But for reasons I’m not sure I can express, it has one of the burgers that I find myself drawn to in times of need. I’m positive – alert Alex Jones and the rest of the conspiracy theorists – that there is something mildly addictive in some part of what they serve. There is nothing, outwardly, that should make the burger served at Mooyah’s as enticing as it is. They do tout the quality of their beef – Mooyah is a bit proud of its Certified Angus beef. Great fries – they hand cut and then cook ‘em until they’re crispy. And more.

But any burger place worth its bun is going to do similar stuff (or at least claim them). Even the true fast foodies tout fresh ingredients.  So, it’s not that the stuff in Mooyah’s burgers is necessarily “fresher” or more authentic. It’s just, better.

The company has three locations in Alabama — UAB, in the heart of the 280 corridor and in Tuscaloosa. Mooyah, with origins in Plano, Texas, now counts 200+ locations — as far away as Dubai. And they’ve done this in just over a decade. They are — for the most part and at the expense of hearing back from their crack legal team — a lot like Five Guys, from simplicity of presentation, to the ways the burgers are prepped. They tout their freshness and the hand cut fries. Mooyah’s also makes a mean shake — Oreo, Chocolate, Vanilla, Banana and more.

As for their burgers, the menu is a lot of burger-pluses (burger and bacon, burger and mushrooms, burgers and A1), as well as non-burgers masquerading as burgers – chicken sammy, veggie burger, hot dog. You can dress them pretty much with whatever you want – free or with a small charge.

What you’re likely to get is a burger overachiever. It’s nothing too fancy – the words “aioli” or “heirloom” aren’t on the menu. There are no buried jars of pickles curing in the back, just the normal ones. Again, like its burgerian cousin FGs, it’s about a solid burger, good add ons, and excellent fries.

Each time that I’ve been, I’ve tended toward the cheeseburger with a couple adds. One of the things I particularly like about Mooyah is that the meat has almost always been cooked less, instead of moo-re. This tends to cause the burger, served on a baked-in-the-store potato bun (standard-issue), to begin to disintegrate in your fingers, and the relative napkin to bite ratio to get way out of whack.

It’s juicy. It’s typically a bit sloppy, even. But it’s cuddly, in a burger kind of way…

Let’s take a moment and talk fries, because talking about fries is something we don’t do enough around here. Mooyah has good fries. And it comes at a cost. Lots of places do fresh fries, hand cut or similar. But they can sometimes end up a bit limp and wilty, and there are few things worse than a limp stick of potato.

Go to the website and Mooyah will give you the 411 on how they make their fries, but I’ll cut to the chase — they cite “agitation” (why, oh why, do you have to bully the fries before you immerse them in oil?) and double frying (I’m going to focus on the double frying because I like extra crispy). And for this, I give thanks.

With a seat in the confessional closet, I can admit one additional thing. Just don’t tell anyone (no I’m not an investor, dammit). I’ve eaten at Mooyah, perhaps, five times. I’ve eaten at Five Guys probably twice as many times (mostly because they’ve been in the area longer). My body has been more than clear about its preference, given the sometimes violent gut reaction to one and the more muted, but still unsubtle, sugar-induced haziness and subsequent crash.

Explosions versus controlled crashes … which would you pick?

J & J Grocery and Deli (Bessemer/McCalla) – Chew on a gas station burger/It’s time for your yearly review

J&J GroceryJust 50 miles or so from Tuscaloosa is a piece of burger tradition, at least it is for people who live in Bessemer/McCalla. If you ask people from the area what the best burger is, you’re likely – sooner or later – to hear about the ramshackle gas station at the corner of Dickey Springs Road and Pocahontas Road — J&J Grocery and Deli.

You might call it a sight for sore eyes; or as some people I know also called it, “an eyesore.” But J & J has enjoyed moments in the burger lamplight of fame…  My friends at Yelp give it four and half stars. Like its university cousin to the west, it’s been honored and recognized … and possibly endorsed in some ranking by people as dead as Ears Whitworth.

The inside of J&J Grocery, near Bessemer.
The inside of J&J Grocery, near Bessemer.

Some people love J&J. It’s a place that impresses … someone. It’s just that I was more taken in by the place than the food. It’s kind of like Alabama … or Cirque de Soleil or REM. It’s transacted on hype and tradition so long you never know truth from the unreasonable exuberance.

So, in the spirit of doing a review, I thought that this review should be a review … like a yearly review.

So J&J, is it okay if I call you that? Thanks. We’re here for your yearly review. Clearly, you’ve done some awesome work over the last year and the folks upstairs are really pleased with what you’ve done, and so am I. 

Well, thanks boss. You know, I’ve been doing this for 15+ years now.  

I know, and that’s one of the amazing things. You’ve gotten quite a following over that time.  

So, I’m getting a raise … 

Well … we have a couple of opportunities – growth areas — we need to discuss. 

Opportunities? Growth areas? What do you mean? 

Well, it’s actually … it’s the food. 

Everyone loves my food! I’m ranked as one of the best. The people who work at my place are nice. They are fun. The place is just down-home, redneck goodness. 

Yes. Yes, if we can stick to our agenda, everyone loves the people. Everyone loves the homey-ness. But we’re here to talk about the food … there are some very good qualities to your food. The meat is fresh (80/20). The bacon, nice and crispy. But … 

Burger at J&J Grocery
You better watch the next words coming out of your mouth … You say anything about Allison … 

We’re not being personal here today, J&J. We’re talking about your performance. Your food. I gotta be honest. Maybe a few years ago it was top notch, but it’s just good … ish. The bun. The fixings with it. And the fries. They may be unique and the may be thick. But I’d never come just for the fries. 

Now, you’re cutting me. You’re just being mean. I’ve worked for this company … I mean, I’ve been slingin burgers there for … 

Now let me finish … I really like the vibe there. You’ve got something. And while it’s junky inside, it’s cool at the same time. It’s a gas station and cracker barrel-lite. I get it. I like it. And I’ve noted that on the review. Extra cool points for locale. 

But you hated the burger.  

I didn’t say hate. I said, in not these words, that it wasn’t exceptional. I could see all the stuff you use to make it in the freezer in front on me. While transparent, it doesn’t obscure that mountain of fake cheese staring at me. Or the gallons of mayo. And then there was the bun … grilled but with grilly goo on it.  

That’s my signature move. People eat that up. 

Well, they kind of are forced to, since that’s what you do to them all. 

Menu at J&J Grocery.Come on, man. I’m an award-winner. I’m bona fide. I even got my menu done up on a white board with different colored markers. 

A nice corporate touch. The HR folks loved it. Screams of irony. Just like the actually active and used cigarette ash trays lying around. 

But people think that’s cool, counterculture. Giving it to the man. 

Give it to the man, then. Just don’t give it to me. 

I bet you didn’t like the fries, either. 

Let’s try and keep the rest of this discussion productive. Okay. As I said, I think you have some opportunities this coming year. 

I’ll show you opportunities! 

You’re still getting your normal raise. 

No more free ketchup packets for you. And no more taking my forks, either! 

And you’re still authorized to charge $7-$9 for a burger, just like places that have an equal or better burger. We still think you’re an important part of this team and we want to help you. 

I still get to be country-cool? I still get to dedicate 14 percent of the gas station to odds and ends and the rest to being a grill? 

If you want. You’re still an important part of the team. You’re still a winner … just like the all those NASCAR glasses on top of the air duct. Thanks again for your service and remember that what we discuss here is strictly confidential. 

Unless you put it in a blog …  

Overall – I see why people really like it; I just didn’t love it that much. Nice people. Friendly. Fun neighborly place. Definitely good, but not the best. But if you’re in the neighborhood, give it a whirl.

 

7 Tips for Better Burgers

Burgers are a lot like music; there are a million ways to make it. You’ll know when you’ve got it right. You’ll know, just as well, when you have it wrong.Some things go with burgers

I’ve eaten many a burger, and the experience is everywhere from the spiritual to the “spat-ual.” A good, home-cooked burger is just as awesome as the best trip out for dinner. For those of us whose cooking training has been “on the streets” or as a result of children claiming that death was nigh, sometimes a little help is a nice thing.

Making a great burger isn’t complicated; it CAN be. But at its core, burgers are common food, meant to be enjoyed by people of all walks of life. And to make a good burger, here’s my consumer advice:

  1. Fresh meat – Really, I’ll give you some places to skimp later, but DON’T skimp on the meat. Sometimes, corners must be cut. But keep the Platonic ideal in mind. Fresh, not frozen (80/20 mix … don’t go too cheap and don’t go too lean).
  2. Don’t Overcook – Be sensible. If you’re overly worried about food poisoning, get a thermometer or let someone else do the cooking. If you overcook the meat (no pink), it will be tasteless and boring, no matter how much stuff you add. And if you like it that way, more power to you and yours …
  3. Cheese – I’m always a fan. A good slice of cheddar or American (yes, the goopy fake stuff has a place… on top of a burger). Melted. On the grill. While I’ll do a blue cheese burger, the rest of the cheese is still holding a number.
  4. Buns – Quality and freshness are more important than type. A good plain bun works. So does a locally sourced, brioche or potato bun. Sesame seeds always please. The bun should hold everything together – and be noticeable in subtle flavor. Gentle, not loud or unnoticed.
  5. Condiments and the hangers-on – Skimp here, up to a point. No one has ever become Burger Maximus because they included lettuce, onion, pickles, ketchup, mayo and mustard … everyone does. My advice is if you can’t get good veggies, leave them off … a tasteless tomato in November adds nothing but cost. And while people get testy when discussing their favorite condiments, there are reasons you find restaurants that feature burgers … and steaks … and veggies … and I’ve yet to come across one that people flock to primarily to get “that ketchup plate.”
  6. Barber’s Party Dip – If you’re not going to make real fries and you don’t want to go frozen, Barber’s Party Dip and ridgy chips are kind of the bomb, you know. Just saying …
  7. Commune – Burgers are a food of the people, and for people — for families, friends, groups, etc. They are the foods of cookouts and sporting events and local places that invite you to visit and be a part of their world

So, go out good people, and enjoy life. Enjoy it with friends and enjoy it with the things that bring a smile to your face.

Jack Brown’s Lakeview (Birmingham) — You can take the boy to a burger place, but you can’t stop him from writing a glowing review.

The family went to Jack Brown’s Burger and Beer Joint in Lakeview (Birmingham) recently, and my oldest son, begggggggged to do a review. So, here it is…

Bouncy (i’ma use a codename because it’s cool) — Professional Undertale Music Listener, Competitive-in-training Gamer

First, let me say, it is an honor to be able to publish a blog post on this wonderful blog. My dad has decided that it was okay for me to write a blog post on a burger I had tonight.

Right of the bat, I knew I was gonna have a good burger, since the place itself was a burger joint, Jack Brown’s Burger and Beer Joint.

Being a minor, of course, I had no beer, save for a bottled root beer. But the atmosphere had a more adult-humor vibe, being partially a beer place, and all. There was a chandelier over the bar that my dad pointed out, which was covered in *cough*…bras…*cough.* There was a headless mannequin stuck to the ceiling, clothed of course, and across the place, there was a mannequin with her entire lower body missing and only wearing a hat.

As for the burger, it was FANTASTIC. I chose “the Elvis,” which had Peanut Butter, Applewood smoked bacon (how they turn Apple devices into a fuel for a grill is a mystery to me), and had a blend of cheeses. Now, even though my school is one of the best, I must say, if i was to even set foot in the lunchroom with anything that had graced the side of a jar of peanut butter, the lunch ladies, sounding the *unclean alarm,* would attack me — like a moth to an electric light — snatching up my sandwich in a sterile plastic bag and stuffing me in a human-sized hamster ball.

(If any of my lunch ladies read this blog, it’s a joke. Please do not ban me from the lunchroom … or do anything, unnatural to me …)

Anyway, here it was, in all it’s bacon-y, peanut butter-y tantelizingness. The moment I bit into it, I knew right away that the peanut butter was gonna drip down on my hand, which is my favorite part about a lot of burgers, because when you feel that drop of sauce on your hand, it just gives you a moment to appreciate the time and love that a lot of local places put into their burgers. If there are two things in this world that I can’t live without, it’s cheese and peanut butter. And because this burger has both, it’s the best of both worlds!

Plus, melty cheese plus peanut butter sauce is, like, #perfectlysalty.

The fries were fantastic, and all orders of fries come with a special secret sauce. I have no idea what’s in it. All I know is, it’s good, and it’s perfect for their fries.

The service is nice, the workers are polite, and there’s even a patio out back.

In short:

  • The food — ‘Nuf said.
  • Atmosphere — Just ‘cause i’m posting to an adult burger blog and i’m a teen doesn’t mean I have to necessarily get and enjoy those kind of jokes.It was ok, though.
  • Service — They were really polite and always came around when we needed a refill. No bored eye-rolling, which is a very good sign.

The place is fantastic. No putting otherwise.

Urban Stack, Chattanooga: Burger and City Surprises Abound

Sometimes, life imitates art. But can a burger imitate a city? In Chattanooga, it can. Chattanooga and the city’s Urban Stack on W 13th Street (near the Chattanoogan Hotel) were somewhat random selections (one as a grown-up/kid-free getaway and the other as a place to eat while there), but there was an unmistakable symmetry to the whole experience.

What kept striking me, as I cleaned my plate at the burger joint, was the relationship between the burger and the city experience, itself. At every corner in Chattanooga, there was something unexpected … from sculpture, to food, to Patrick at the Chattanoogan explaining how he’d nearly “run over a Wookie” or the couple we met who’d come together after not seeing each other for 20 years.

Delightful. My city expectations were turned on their ear, and I was rewarded with much more. My serendipitous visit to Urban Stack produced similar, tasty results.

Urban Stack’s building is swank-wank — cool, exposed beams, plants all around, hip. In the heart of Chattanooga, the outdoor seating is fun, covered and a great place to hang out. Unless you read their info, you probably wouldn’t know that the building was at one time, a railroad baggage facility (it’s not far from the Choo Choo).

Given my last, disappointing experience, I decided to keep it simple, safe: the Bacon Cheeseburger, their way. They asked how to cook the meat (and then did it, which is a plus). Nice and pinky, certified Angus and high quality beef that tasted like they put some effort into it.

The bun was local made and brioche-esque (awesome), a hint of sweet and not heavy. I was taken aback by the flavor explosion … The meat, with the bun … then add their chipotle ketchup (which borders on a barbecue sauce, but not so much that it’s annoying) and house sauce.

The balsamic onions were the bomb … and I don’t even LIKE the onion. And the pickles were clearly homemade, but I’ll admit to being mesmerized and not asking if they made them or if they buy them… in either case, I could have eaten them, without the meal.

Top that with some of the best bacon you can get – Benton’s, for my foodie noodle-heads – and it’s one of the best burgers I’ve had. Or to put it another way, this nothing-fancy burger, loaded just with its own goodness was fancy enough, just being its own unique bacon-burger self.

But wait, there was more … if you wanted, you could get … a lamb burger, turkey, chicken and a host of other “out there” burgers … or the 100% grass feed, served on plates that have only been touched by left hands and brought to you exclusively by people with the letter “J” in their name …

Check out their classic burgers (if you wanna include bologna, salami and/or remoulade as classics). Or their Specialty Stacks.

The fries were absolutely perfect, especially for hand-cut ones. Not greasy, cooked enough to be, primarily, crispy and not floppy. Who wants a floppy fry? These were some of the best hand-cut fries I’ve ever been served. Many crispy ones.

img_4344.jpgTo just keep the unexpected coming, I had a hot wing, and wow! The Grilled Chicken Wings (Smoking Hot U.S. Style) were absolutely fabulous. A ring of fire that’d make Johnny Cash smile and deep smoky flavor. These were as good as Saw’s in Birmingham, and that’s saying a lot. And for a first ever in my reviews, here’s extra credit, honors and benefits for an awesome bourbon selection.

And the burger experience was almost exactly like the “unexpected” visit to Chattanooga, itself. Such a cool town, with so many new, and unique places and so much history – all wrapped together? Who would have expected to have the Heart Ball in the same hotel, on the same weekend as Con Nooga?

It’s fun to stumble into things … like a great city, or folks dressed to the nines for a ball, or watching people – in evening gowns and tuxes take photos with a bearded man in a Sailor Moon costume … It’s wonderful … unexpected … and somehow, like Urban Stack, it works.

* And special cudos to Heidi Rowe, for coming up with the trip to Chattanooga and surprising me with it. Awesome!

A Mission of Musical Mercy — Earworms for your heart and soul

This is a mission of musical mercy. I don’t know how you stumble into new music these days, but mostly for me, it’s just pure luck. But the world is full of little musical gems waiting to be mined and shared. Hopefully these will brighten the day.

I’ll give you the song and a link (when possible), and also a little extra. This playlist is stuff stuck in brain recently

I’ll See You When I Get There – Lou Rawls 

You can have your Peter Coyote. Or James Earl Jones. Or Morgan Freeman. When it’s time for my biography to have its voiceover, I’m taking Lou Rawls. Heck, I’d give money to the UNCF and invest in resurrecting his silky-voiced person (my chances of getting Lou to agree to this are next to zero since he passed away in 2006…). But Sweet Lou could take some cheesy lyrics and turn them into soulful gold.

Any man who could turn, “When you’ve said Budweiser, you’ve said it all” isn’t your everyday pitchman.

But this song – I’ll See You When I Get There – is a testament to 70s cheese and soul. Let me hep you with some lyrics:

Candlelight, cold wine, soft music on the radio
And you got everything you need from the store
‘Cause I’ll be in for the evening
And I don’t wanna come out no more

Whoa, and I’ll see you when I get there
I’ll see you when I get there
And you be ready for good lovin’
You be ready for good lovin’
‘Cause I’ve worked hard all day
Now I’m comin’ home to lay and relax my mind

I wanna be this man!
Ain’t Got God – Heath Green and the Makeshifters

 

Heath Green has been kicking around the Birmingham music scene for at least two decades now. He’s cut from the bluesy, full band sound of Alabama-music. And while he’s not specifically credited with the influence he’s had on others in the area, you’d be right if you saw the roots of the success of bands like St. Paul and the Broken Bones in the various iterations of Heath Green.

He’s one of those guys who knows all the great players locally, and seems to have played with most of them. And he’s just a good dude. He’s a supporter of music all over Birmingham, and you can find him playing and attending a variety of shows, of all genres.

“Ain’t Got God” is exactly the type of simple blues song that allows for all aspects of the band’s skill to shine. Jason Lucia on drums. Jody Nelson on guitar and Greg Slamen on bass. Let Bro Green take you to church, my friends… Check out their website — http://www.heathgreenandthemakeshifters.com/

The version above is on a recent LP; the one below (lesser quality) comes from the singular McCalla Walla fest, which I was honored to be a part of.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xr0LDGSabR8

Blue Samuel – SWR Big Band

 

When people think of jazz, they usually think of the smooth, goopy stuff of easy listening. Sammy Nestico, and this version of Blue Samuel (a song written by him … but just as much an homage to him), should and can wad that idea up and shove it in your ear.

This song starts with an absolutely screaming chorus, repeated often during the song. There is no work up or easing into the song. The drummer does a couple clicks on the high hat, and the rest of the band comes in with a punch in the nose. But it’s a nice punch. Kind of just getting your attention.

Nestico (who is in his 90s now and still kicking) and his arrangements have been a staple of Big Bands for years, and he is and will be tied to his work with Count Basie and his orchestra.

Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man 

I’m putting this song here, as a type of therapy or a complete cry for help. For around a month, children in my home have been singing four bars of this song. Over. And. Over. It’s catchy, I’ll give you that.

And I actually like this song. In my mind, you aren’t coming out of left field yourself if you ask what good can come from Wasilla, AK. But the song’s deep lyrics and “appropriation” of “Please Mr. Postman” (something the band has not denied) have helped it become one of the most successful singles of the modern music era. Con. &*%&^. Gratulations.

Now, just talk to my kids and see if there is a way to reprogram their minds to teach them lyrics, other than:

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
Let me kick it like it’s 1986, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still

Not to kick it like it’s, whatever, but if I was the word “now” I’d be asking for some Benjamin love, like Martha and the Vandellas…

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=42791

Happiness will find a way or What I learned about being happy by just getting out of the bed

There’s a saying — maybe it came from Jurassic Park (who knows) — that “life will find a way.” Today, I was reminded that if we are open, look and savor what presents itself that happiness often finds a way, too …

A few years ago, I was part of a “Happiness Project” that had its roots, ironically enough, in some very unhappy and crappy circumstances. I wanted to revisit this, maybe for one day, maybe for 40, to look at happiness. The most difficult part was where to start, and how?

Happiness is tied to being aware, open and marking it when it happens… which, by the way, is a lot easier to write when you’ve written the column than when you haven’t. But today, that process begins with focusing on some small, happy wins (which I saw as an achievable goal for writing) … and ends with the something better than I’d unexpected:

Indulge yourself. Recently, I declared a random Friday a “Mel-a-bration.” Why? Why not is the better question. We spend a lot of time, most of us, doing for the people around us — family, friends, coworkers. But we shouldn’t forget (as I do sometimes) that we do and we live also for life that we were given. To enjoy it and embrace it ourselves. Buy yourself a cookie or a burger or whatever makes you smile. Sleep late. Say yes to the dress (or whatever). Take a day for you. For my Mel-a-bration, I tried a new place for breakfast and tamped down my guilt at buying a $9 biscuit.

Unplug. Social media is less the problem (it’s not all good or all bad) itself and more that it often provides unreasonable and ultra-dramatic outlets for people’s narcissism and anxieties. I’ll give you that it represents people’s true feeling, but social media ramps up our emotional outrage and burns us out emotionally in the long run. Just like a difficult situation, sometimes you just need a break … a few hours, days or whatever’s right for you. Avoiding the negative is almost like embracing the positive … almost.

Find ways to say yes. When it comes to be bedtime, I will do just about anything to get the kids into and headed to sleep. They, on the other hand, sense my desperation and unleash a barrage of requests/demands that would overwhelm an army of hostage negotiators … can I have a drink, can I have something to eat, can I buy a unicorn, can you lay with me … As a parent — and I think as just a member of the human race — we are barraged by requests: do this, do that, get mad about this, buy this, share that, enter this, eat here. It’s exhausting. And often, my reaction is just to shut it all down. But my kids have taught me something, a well timed yes — not to everything but to something — goes a long way to to preserving your sanity … but it also reminds you that saying yes, agreeing, is powerful. As I was writing this, my youngest was asking to sit in my lap as I typed. I told him that I couldn’t type with him there, but he could pull up a chair and sit next to me. He’s next to me now, singing a made-up song about “Twitter.”

Saying no to everyone and everything will wear you down. No’s are necessary but they also creep into becoming the default too easily. And if you’re not careful, the frequency of no will change you and the people asking, and not necessarily in a good way. So … play for five minutes, go to lunch with that friend, get a treat, call that person you miss…

Do. Move. Journeys move us. They are part of our collective memory, and are part of how we process life and stories. And they all depend on moving, starting … doing. Consider all the great journeys and adventures you learned about in your life. They don’t begin with the end. They begin with some step, one removed from where the person started. Marco Polo didn’t start in China. D-Day didn’t start in France. To correct the good folks at Nike, from years ago, just doing it can be overwhelming; why not just start?

Before the sun came out today, I was in the bed, hoping for a return to sleep (not an uncommon position). But this post was also on my mind … what makes me happy and why. I started it yesterday, but I wasn’t satisfied. Without a lot thought or direction, I got up. I made coffee. I turned on my laptop … eventually reaching the words I’m typing now.

For whatever reason, life has a tendency to drag us down, with the weight of responsibility and bad news and just the yoke of depressing crap around us. It makes you want to stay in the bed and hope it all just goes away. But it doesn’t. Instead, DO. Move. Do something, anything. One step begets the next one. Get up. Get moving and see what happens.

Watch and Learn. A few minutes ago, the recently agreed-with child stopped in mid-singing and mid-gaming, looked up at me and said, “I love you, Dad.” He was happy, himself … to play his favorite video games, to be with his dad and next to him … with the neurotic cat, Gus, crawling around him, too. He was safe and content and carefree.

I guess, no more than forcing a column about being happy, you can’t always plan “happy.” But you can — like visiting the ocean — let it happen around you … and accept it like the cat when it comes by in the morning or the child who just wants your attention … or a snuggle or cuddle.

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