#11 Driving through your old hood and stopping to see the house you grew up in

When my friends Chris, Ty, and I went on our cross-country road trip a few years back, we managed to stop in the small, hardscrabble dirt town of Paris, Texas.

In addition to visiting the Kimberly-Clark diaper factory, miniature Eiffel Tower, and famous Jesus in Cowboy Boots statue, Ty insisted we drive through his old neighborhood to see his old home.

Pulling down curbless sidestreets on our way out of town, Ty was already in that cloudy nostalgic dream before we even got to the place. “Sure is a lot shadier than I remember it,” he commented quietly. “Trees a lot bigger.”

We pulled up to Ty’s old house and his eyes popped as his brain flash-flooded with piles of distant memories rushing back all at once. He got out of the car and started walking around the yard, slowly taking it all in.

Because even though it was just a nailed-together stack of wood, bricks, and shingles to us, for Ty it was so much more. And, you know, there is something profound about driving through your old neighborhood and visiting an old home.

Depending on the time and place, you might notice some strange things.

Maybe you wonder if the new family discovered the side fence door made a perfect backstop for pitching practice. Do they know if you hit a chalk-square between the outermost boards the tennis ball almost always bounces back to you?

Maybe you notice somebody trimmed the old, jaggedly sharp evergreen with the tiny, rock-hard berries on it, which was always the best spot for Hide and Seek and the perfect burial ground for He Man action figures when you moved on to Transformers. You remember the soft needles jabbing your forearms and dirt sticking to your elbows when you were down there at dusk, and you remember it was worth it.

If you’re bold enough to ring the doorbell or take a quick peek in the backyard, you might see a new glass door replacing the rusty screen one that always slammed and had that thin sliding metal lock that never lined up properly. Or maybe you notice the same wobbly patio stones that remind you of birthday parties spent eating hot dogs and playing Frozen Tag in bare feet on the dandelions and crabgrass. Photos flash and flip through your brain: sun setting over the fence, everyone licking frosty popsicles, mosquitoes coming out and buzzing in your ears.

Oil stains from dad’s truck still dot the driveway and the little handprints you made in the corner of the sidewalk still sit there. And you wonder: Does the dog next door still bark when someone jumps in the pool?  Do they still leave the Christmas lights on until January? Do the kids dunk on the basketball net off the hood of the car?

But whatever you wonder, whatever you see, it sure is a sweet head-trip driving down those old roads leading to the home you grew up in. You smile and remember summer nights, holidays with your cousins, and couch cushion forts on Saturday mornings. Maybe you’re lucky and your old home is close by or maybe it’s torn down or far away, but if you haven’t done it in a while and can still pull it off, take that sweet Sunday cruise down memory lane.

AWESOME!

Wow!!!

The Happiness Equation is still #1 on The Globe’s Canadian and International Bestseller lists! Three weeks since debuting — and counting! Thank you!

Neil

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#12 Your sister

My sister’s name is Nina.

She was born sixteen months after me and we were tight from the beginning. When my parents brought her home from the hospital I couldn’t stop marveling at her thick chock of black hair, tiny smudge of a nose, and tightly closed eyes.

We traveled together a lot from those early ages. Now, our family never went anywhere too exotic – leaving elephant safaris, ancient trail hikes, and exotic reef dives for other families – but we did cover our fair share of the Northwestern, uh, quadrisphere of the Earth. Yes, we owned that quadrisphere. It was like our quadrisphere.

For a long time we rented a cottage for a week every summer. One big year we splurged and went to Disneyworld and then another year we went on on a Caribbean cruise. And we always did it together. The four of us. As a family.

Vacations as a kid were a bit of a mixed blessing. You got to spend time with the fam, catch up on your Fear Street novels, and master the art of calling trump in Euchre with a Queen and a Ten. But you also left your friends, your Nintendo, and the safety and stability of Life Back Home. The world didn’t seem as small when we were kids so traveling – for me at least – was a bit daunting.

Fortunately, I always had Nina. Some of my fondest memories growing up together were on these trips – sharing John Grisham novels, talking day and night, and inventing games to kill time like ‘Who Can Do the Best Brother Love impression?”

At the cottage Nina shuffleboarded and threw horseshoes with me – games which, I’m pretty sure, wouldn’t have been much fun on my own. That wasn’t it though: Nina also encouraged me to swim, which is not my strongest suit. I was afraid of fish touching my legs and she’d front crawl to the dock way out in the lake, encouraging me to make my way out there as well. I can still remember my five, six, seven year old kid sister helping me learn to swim. There are photos of us building sandcastles, fishing with twigs and string, and cheering my mom from the dock as she tried water skiing.

At Disneyworld Nina encouraged me to go on some of the “moving” rides, since all I was prepared to do was play mini-golf and talk to the Funnel Cake Guy about his business model. Nina never said she was sick of hanging out with me, even if I forced her to play chess on my Traveling Chess Board or quiz me on Blue Jays trivia. She was always there, always supportive, always up for anything.

On the cruise ship, Nina accompanied me to the casino, when as pre-teens we gambled on international waters and walked away with a cool thirty bucks in slot machine winnings. She was more than my partner and alibi in that heinous crime — later dubbed Ocean’s 2 by Interpol.

She was my friend.

Nowadays all these far-off vacations, long drives up north, and full days with each other aren’t really gone to me — they’ve just grown from Things I Did Last Summer into reasons I am who I am.

Another thing about Nina is that she’s got a huge heart. Hey, life is short, after all. We live, we die, we give it our best shot. Life is a lucky little marble of a thing and Nina enjoys it fully. When you’re around someone so into life, so into putting a lot into life and taking a lot out of it, well…that makes your life sweeter. One of the best traits anybody can have is putting a lot in and taking a lot out. Their ability to live a big life. And Nina does, she sweetens life with her genuine nature, and her unrelenting love for it.

I mean, I can still remember…

Nina’s sixth birthday party! It was at our old house and she invited every single kid in her class. Every single kid! There were thirty sweaty, corduroy-wrapped knee-highs with side parts and drippy noses running around the house. At this birthday party, against all pleas for sanity, Nina ordered a giant bubble gum ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins. I can still see all the kids, in their best clothes, running around screaming, with bright pink Bubble ice cream smeared across their faces… and our furniture and walls.

That Big On Life attitude also came out at school when she ran for Vice President of Student Council and hired me as her Campaign Manager. Well, we ran a gutsy campaign that made people think. And Nina nailed the speech – dressing up, putting on a show, and getting the whole school rolling with laughter. Well, she lost the Vice-Presidency by four votes, but seeing how she gracefully handled defeat and seeing her go on stage inspired me.

That’s a little bit about my sister but I know you’ve got your stories, too.

So let’s hear it today for sisters!

There’s so much beauty in those connections, memories, and long lives lived together. From setting up skits in basements to inventing new languages to knocking secret codes on bedroom walls … well, sisters are with us from the beginning and sisters know us best through it all.

AWESOME!

The Book of (Even More) Awesome is now out in paperback! Buy it on Indigo, Amazon, or Barnes&Noble.

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#14 When there’s a good turnout on your birthday

Everybody gets born.

One day you popped into the world a tiny ball of crying wet nakedness and every year since then we’ve all stopped to celebrate your big day. Birthdays freeze time as you stare back at last year and get ready to celebrate what’s coming around the bend…

When you’re little…

There’s a buzz in your bones as your entire class revs up for the Saturday afternoon screamfest at your place. Flashy invites are handed out, RSVPs are phoned mom to mom, and loot bags are filled with plastic jewelry as the day approaches.

Soon doorbells bing bong and your basement becomes a rowdy room of snot nosed three footers playing duck-duck-goose, usually with a little girl in baggy thick white stockings and a boy with a huge root beer stain on his crotch.

Next it’s time to unwrap presents and everyone stares with wide eyes as you shred wrapping paper to unveil a new red truck, some video games, and authentically pooping dolls. Mom swings around the corner with a glowing neon green cake and everyone screams Happy Birthday under paper party hats and dim lights…

When you’re growing…

Online invites fly around to help plan a big night with your friends. Flashy outfits are yanked from the closet, loud music starts banging, and drinks are poured at the bar…

Suddenly you’re a rock star flashing smiles, kissing cheeks, posing for blurry photos with toothy grins and icy model stares. Tiaras are placed on your head, shots are stuffed in your hands, and your ass gets slapped by old friends and new as all your circles mix together in a boozy dish …

When you’re older…

Dressed up and surrounded by family you  smile and blow out a cake full of candles before staring up at a banquet hall full of everyone you know clapping and singing before your sharply dressed son gives a passionate toast to your life…

When you’re going…

Staring at a flickering candle in the center of a cupcake your brain washes past grainy images of six-year-olds at bowling alleys, smashing pinatas in parks, and dancing till the lights come up at the bar. You remember unwrapping a new bike, swapping secrets at sleepovers, and stealing kisses with new flames. You remember breakfasts in bed, your first birthday as a family, and getting socks from the kids every year for a decade…

Then you weakly blow out the candle before lying back in your flimsy nightgown in the white hospital bed. You stare up at your wife who has tears in her eyes and she smiles as you rest one of your fragile hands in hers … and the other in your grandson’s, who stares up at you with wide eyes and a brand new red truck in his hand.

AWESOME!

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#15 Becoming a regular

Come on in.

We all know that being a regular doesn’t just happen overnight. No, it’s more like softly falling into a slow romance with a new friend…

Stage 1: The First Glance. There are plenty of fish in the sea but you slowly choose one. Maybe it’s the big coffee cups, the wrinkly newspapers on the counter, or the late hours keeping it open when you’re home from work. Something made this coffee shop stand out and you felt home right away.

Stage 2: They Like You Too. Slowly your favorite spot gets more of your time. You were a bit of a coffee shop tramp before this — dashing through drive-thrus and sneaking quickies from the vending machine. But without realizing you’ve started to give this new place your time… and they noticed. One day you see the server crack a little smile when you walk in the door and give a quick nod when you place your order, like she knew it was coming.

Stage 3: The First Date. Suddenly cold market forces heat into a cloud of connection. It’s the same guy behind the counter but this time a new opening. “Did you like the extra nutmeg I put in your cappuccino yesterday?”, “Blueberry scone, extra butter, right?”, or “I think I saw you playing guitar downtown last night. Was it Brian?” When your coffee shop puts itself out there make sure you accept her with open arms. “That’s what it was!”, “Yeah, not that I need it!” or “Oh sweet, do you go there much?” will do.

Stage 4: The Courtship. Now you start smiling and taking care of each other. You’ve got exact change ready to go, they’ve got your cappuccino with extra nutmeg. Head nods replace verbal orders and you smile together at other customers, kind of like you’re behind the counter too. There’s some nervous anticipation when you walk in the door: Who will be working the espresso machine this morning? Will they still have the Sports section? Will the cookies be warm?

Stage 5: The Living Together. You fall into a warm and cozy comfort that’s beyond words. Hellos and how-are-yous fade into chats about whether you should get a dog or advice on dealing with a new boss. You get your order your way, right away, every time, and sometimes even skip the line. You start sharing tables and newspapers with other regulars and making little jokes with them like “Oh, you always beat me on Saturdays!” You’re now in the cozy zone of the inner circle. Welcome to paradise.

Stage 6: The Almost-Breakup. The change happens quick and it jars you senseless. Your favorite cashier moves away for school or the shop closes for three weeks for renovations. The shock hits you hard but you resolve to get through it. Maybe you decide this is just what you needed to keep things fresh so you dig deep and resolve to change yourself. Suddenly you’re getting black coffee instead of lattes, getting to know the new cashier, and loving those new paper towel dispensers in the bathroom.

Stage 7: The Future. Time moves by and things change but your souls remain connected. You think about the past: Remember when they got new tables? Or the time the power went out and they gave away cakes? You’ve been through so much together that you’ve actually become part of the place. You’ve shared values, ideals, and suggestions — helping set up their Internet, fixing that wobbly chair, and co-inventing the chocolate chip peanut butter cookie.

In these anonymous days of big-box stores, gated communities, and rampant Interneting, there’s something special about becoming a regular and feeling that human connection in your human heart. When you visit your favorite joint it’s like welcome back to your corner stool, welcome back to your favorite table, welcome back to your perfect order.

Welcome back to being a regular.

Welcome back to love.

AWESOME!

The Book of Awesome has been a bestseller for over 150 weeks!

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#16 Staying out late till the place shuts down

Bringing down the house.

When your party spins till the disco ball stops and the lights go pop then you know you’re having a great time. Big toes peeking through nylons, tongues hanging out like dogs, bangs sweatglued to your forehead — you’re groggily stumbling out the door, itching for more, rushing till four.

Long nights, strong nights, going out till dawn nights — these are the moments you shrug off all worries, shake away the pain, and close your eyes and dissolve into the bright lights again.

AWESOME!

Wow!!!

The Happiness Equation is still #1 on The Globe’s Canadian and International Bestseller lists! Three weeks since debuting — and counting! Thank you!

Neil

The Happiness Equation - Cover

Photo from: here

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#17 The ability to think

“How often do you think?”

My eleventh grade English teacher interrupted class one day with that booming question. Until then we’d been having staple fights, passing notes, and half-assedly working on book reports about Brave New World.

“How often do you actually sit back and think?,” he prodded. “The reason I ask is because you’re lucky you have time to think and it’s really important.”

He paused for a minute and looked at us and we paused for a minute and looked back. It was clear he was done so we shrugged at each other and began chatting again. People leaned back on their chairs, some blew bubbles and shot air free-throws, and a couple kids in the corner rubbed glue sticks on each other’s sweatshirts.

It was a long time ago and I didn’t look back on it until last week.

I was just finishing up a speech about the 3 A’s of Awesome at a business conference and was gathering my things and stepping off the stage when a man rushed up to me.

“Hey, I’ve got an awesome for you,” he started urgently, and I looked up to see wild eyes darting through thick glasses, a weathered face with lots of wrinkles, and long shaggy hair rolling down his back.

“Thinking.”

He stared hard at me for a reaction and I paused for a second, not knowing what to say.

“Thinking,” he said again.

“Yeah, that’s true,” I slowly ventured. “Thinking is … pretty important.”

“No, I don’t think you understand,” he said sharply, slightly spitting, with his hands shaking urgency. “I mean the ability to think. See, I was in a big car accident last year and my head got hit pretty bad. I spent an entire year in a coma in the hospital … and I couldn’t think. I couldn’t process thoughts. I knew I was alive but I wasn’t able to have thoughts connect in my brain.”

I think I must have looked stunned so he kept going.

“I just got out of it last week and now I’m doing great. I can think again and it’s a gift. We aren’t always able to think… but if you can, if you can put things together, if you can figure things out, then you’re lucky. I missed an entire year of my life because I couldn’t think. Now I’ll never take it for granted again.”

My mind flashed back to my eleventh grade classroom and my teacher sadly trying to get our attention. I don’t think we understood it then, because how could we? When you’ve always thought, when you can always think, it’s hard picturing thinking about not thinking.

But thinking is what gives us movies, magic, and songs. It’s what gives us paintings, blogs, and books. Thinking results in businesses, theories, and games. It gives us inventions, conversations, and names. At the end of the day, thinking is what helped us rise, it’s what moves us forward, and what shapes our lives.

AWESOME!

Wow!!!

The Happiness Equation is still #1 on The Globe’s Canadian and International Bestseller lists! Three weeks since debuting — and counting! Thank you!

Neil

The Happiness Equation - Cover

Photos from: here, here, and here

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#18 Getting picked up from the airport

You know what’s the worst?

Trying to figure out how to get somewhere in a city you’ve never been before.

Yes, strange bus routes, new taxi systems, and mazes of complex maps welcome you to your business trip, weekend getaway, or family vacation. When you arrive you’re confronted by a sea of steaming faces — baggage pickups are packed, customs desks have lines, and you’re scrambling to get your bearings while worrying about the time.

That’s why it’s beautiful scene when someone you love picks you up from the airport. Yes, when your teenage grandson, old college roommate, or church choir pal shows up it feels like you’re getting airlifted out of the jungle.

When you spot them waiting for you make sure to drop that suitcase and run with your bouncy backpack into a big beautiful airport hug. For just a moment everything fades to distant background blur as you’re picked up by an old friend in a new place…

AWESOME!

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#19 Remembering all you’ve learned from old girlfriends and boyfriends

Your life is a pinball.

Shooting up high you start bouncing between bumpers and fly between flippers which smack you every which way. Your life soars and crashes in ways you can’t predict. First loves with teenage girls, secret kisses in college worlds, all shape your heart and who you are today.

Curled in shaggy basement carpets and cushions in front of the record player your boyfriend carefully drops the needle on a worn album and you listen while making out in front of the Lava Lamp. Big brown speakers crackle and pop with simple harmonies that never leave your heart.

Cramped in a rusty hatchback in an snowy parking lot at midnight you stall your girlfriend’s car for the sixth straight time. “Let go of the clutch a little softer … ,” she suggests, as you slowly learn how to drive standard, and slowly learn how much patience helps you along.

Lazily lying in bed on Sunday morning with sunbeams softly shining across his sleeping face, you realize how much you needed to let yourself go … and start trusting someone again. Now it’ll be easier the next time.

Stop and give yourself time to flash back.

To all the relationships you were in … that ended before today.

Maybe your boyfriend went to college and stopped calling every day or your fiance got cold feet and suddenly moved away. Maybe he got drunk and kissed another girl or you got a passport and started seeing the world. Maybe filling the nest flipped your lives or emptying the nest flopped it. Or maybe you were in a relationship where you couldn’t really explain it but smiled sad smiles with weary wet eyes because you both just knew it was over.

But no matter where you were, no matter where you went, your life was shaped by those you met along the way. First loves may have helped you strive for a more optimistic life, helped you share laughs with strangers on sidewalks, or have kickstarted a lifelong quest for more and more passionate work.

There’s no papers showing how you look at love and no papers that say much about living. There’s no papers showing how you learned to pack a mean trunk, sing onstage at the bar, and make those over-easy eggs with enough drizzly yolk for dipping.

Lost loves, long loves, long gone … sometimes last forever in your heart.

And it’s okay to miss relationships. It’s okay to look back. Don’t be afraid of exploring that heart and flipping through that dusty deck of cards in your head as they photo-flash images from your beautiful life. Like they say, it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. So feel those memories of past loves, smile at the good times you’ve shared, and remember all the pieces of you that came from somebody who cared.

Those memories and those moments make us richer, make us wiser, make us better, and make us us.

This one’s for everyone who helped make you

AWESOME!

Wow!!!

The Happiness Equation is still #1 on The Globe’s Canadian and International Bestseller lists! Three weeks since debuting — and counting! Thank you!

Neil

The Happiness Equation - Cover

 

Photos from: here, here, and here

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#20 Scoring some Me Time

Get out of here.

Lights flash, bulbs blast, and twisted thoughts race around our brains. But handshakes and smiles tire after a while and sometimes all you want is chill time on your own. That’s when it’s time to trade dress pants for sweatpants, sweatpants for less pants, and screaming babies and bosses into reflection and peace.

Me Time is great for a few big reasons:

1. You are here. Did your music teacher having a tuning fork? Mine did and she’d smack that thing on a desk to get it singing. I remember sitting in the front row of the band holding my clarinet and getting mesmerized by that fork — with the prongs shaking back and forth so fast, like a hummingbird’s wings. Well, sometimes life feels like we’re shaking like prongs in the tuning fork. Me Time helps the music stop playing so we can slow down in a bath, on a couch, or at a show.

2. No holds barred. Okay seriously, what do you do with your Me Time? Listen to guilty pleasures, dance naked, or just scarf spoonfuls of mayo over the kitchen sink while snorting a lot? Well, you don’t have to tell us, because we’re not telling you. And that’s the point! Me Time is an escape from everything … it’s a place you indulge in your favorite activities with one person we guarantee will have a great time. (Note: Do not spend Me Time watching “No Holds Barred” starring Hulk Hogan.)

3. Getting to know you. I had a boss who said self-awareness was the most important attribute in people. He liked asking people their strengths and weaknesses in interviews — not because he cared what they were, but because he wanted to see how aware they were about them. Self-awareness only goes up when you have time to look under the hood. Me Time gives you a chance to figure yourself out. (And knowing you, that might take a while.)

Time zooms by so fast when everything is swirling but Me Time lets us hang on before the world sends us hurling. Because we’re not here forever, we’re not here very long, so give yourself a break, before the break time’s gone.

AWESOME!

— I Love You All Too! —

RT @SarinaTracy Oh, god. The countdown is getting smaller. I’ve been reading @1000Awesome for four years and I cannot believe the end is nigh. #SoMuchLove

RT @jsmoke180 theres only 23 things left on 1000 awesome things. i legitimately dont know how im going to survive when theyre done

RT @bcre8uv @jsmoke180 Maybe the last awesome thing will be 1000 more awesome things?

RT @paperdreamland Oh no@1000awesome is nearing zero. Wonder what will happen when he does? World implosion?

RT @KNiCKER_BoCKER There’s WAY more than #1000Awesome things people. Relax. There’s more where that came from. Start looking 4 ur own awesome!

RT @marcoverga86 @Ayyelle I hope he’ll start a new blog “another 1000 awesome things”

RT @gingerbeardman The #1 Awesome thing has to be the@1000Awesome fans. What could possibly be more awesome?

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