Category Archives: Family

Make the Holidays Meaningful

Before and after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I get calls from folks who are agonizing over whether or not to invite someone who has been terrible to them and/or others – whether it’s a friend, parent, or child.  Generally, the explanations about the problems with that friend, parent or child are horrendous!  Ferocious drug abuse, violence, severe betrayals….they call because they want the “pretty picture” for the holidays regardless of the dramatically ugly issues that would have to be ignored.

I tell them all – each and every one – to make the holidays meaningful and not fantasy recreations.  I tell them to go to orphanages or senior citizen homes, children’s hospitals, cancer wards, and make someone smile, instead of agonizing over fantasies unmet that frankly, should stay unmet.

Here’s an example of what I mean:  Kansas City, Missouri has a Secret Santa, Part 2.  Secret Santa Part 1, Larry Stewart, gave away more than $1 million to strangers each December, mostly in $100 bills.  He died in 2007 at the age of 58, and another (still anonymous) Secret Santa has taken up the reins.

The new Secret Santa walks about with an elf – another tall man in a red cap – who asks people questions, and then provides them with the gift.  The recipients?  A police officer with terminal cancer, a homeless man pushing a rickety old shopping cart, an 81 year old woman who had recently told her 27 grandchildren that she wouldn’t be able to afford Christmas gifts, a 32 year old mother of two who lost her job because of the recession, and a woman whose husband and children died, and who has been having a tough time paying for the funerals.

Charitable donations have dropped off drastically, because people are watching every penny due to the sorry economic situation of the nation with 10% unemployment and taxes, taxes, taxes.  When Secret Santa was asked about continuing his gifts during these tough economic times, he said “The recession, unemployment….this is the time you don’t want to stop.  You don’t want to back off.”

Giving to the needy and less fortunate is always in season, especially when it is more difficult to do.  That is what gives it meaning.

So, fuhgeddabout your disappointment that your family isn’t all sweet and adorable.  Kindness in giving creates love.

How To Be Happy

People seem very confused about happiness.  Most folks believe that having all they want is the way to be happy.  I don’t think so.

When I was on the radio evenings in Los Angeles over two decades ago, I reached a “24 share.”  That meant one out of four people listening to Los Angeles radio was tuned into me.  I got a substantial bonus.  We took that money and paid off all financial obligations and had some left over.

I had always wanted a tennis bracelet – that’s a bracelet made of tiny or huge diamonds.  I had enough money for a bracelet with tiny diamonds, but a tennis bracelet nonetheless.  My husband told me to treat myself, and I did.  I felt a swell of joy every time I looked at that bracelet.

I did not feel joy because I had a diamond bracelet on my wrist.  I thought that would be the case, but it wasn’t.  I felt joy because I had “busted my buns,” worked very hard, and built something special.  So, the happiness in looking at the bracelet was not because of the metal and carbon; it was because it symbolized the hard work doing what I loved to do.

It is the experiencing and working that brings happiness.

Years later, I became more successful, and “upgraded” the tennis bracelet.  I liked the new bauble, but it never brought me anywhere near the thrill of that first one.
What comes easily does not have the emotional significance of hard work, sacrifice, and risk.

Once, when my son was small, and we were visiting Las Vegas, he wanted to put money in those machines at each dining room table and place a bet in the hopes of winning lots of money.  I wouldn’t let him do it.  I told him that money wouldn’t mean as much as money hard earned.  He (at seven years of age) didn’t quite “get” that.  It seemed to him as a child that “found”  booty is booty nonetheless.  He’s now finishing up his military service and has learned up front and personal about hard work, sacrifice and risk, and he’s enjoyed every moment he’s earned.

So, don’t wish for “clearinghouse” checks or for winning the lottery.  Wish for the opportunity to do something meaningful, something you love, something with hard work, sacrifice and risk.  Believe me, you’ll be happier.

Working from Home Worked for This Family

We all hear and do too much complaining about our circumstances and how we MUST compromise our values and the well-being of our families in order to survive. 

Truthfully?  That’s rarely true, if at all.  But it requires a commitment to a goal and a commitment to family that will not be compromised.  That means another way HAS to be found.

I’ve recently gotten “hot and heavy” into polymer clay work.  I love it.  There are so many techniques and possibilities that I am seriously enthralled.  I like the look of cameos – those raised pictures on a stone surface.  I’ve been looking around for cute little molds that would be easy to use with minimal or non-existent failure rate.

I found a website,, and purchased a bunch of molds with faces, flowers, bugs, and more.  I placed my order and got an email from the owner, parts of which I’ve excerpted below.  This is a mom-and-pop business – my favorite kind of business:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you so much for your order.  Our little mold business started in 1981 because I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.  I just had to write to tell you how tickled I am that you have ordered our products.  How they came about is right up your alley.

In 1981, we were transferred to Oklahoma.  In our previous home, I had been a stay-at-home mom…raising our kids and loving it.

My mother had to work from the time I was 3, as our father and mother had divorced.  Times were extremely tough….Mom struggled to keep us fed and warm, but her parents and an aunt helped to raise my sister and myself.  As you can tell, so many of the stories I hear on your radio show…ring true to me….From the time I became a mom, I was determined to stay home with my kids and I did. 

When we moved to Oklahoma, it was a tough time for the economy.  Houses were expensive, loans had double digit interest, and my husband had to take a cut in pay to keep his job.  We did all we could to allow me to stay home.

In a miniature club meeting [that year], I found polymer clay and fell in love with it.  Turns out, I could sculpt!  Who knew?

A few months later, I signed up for a small, local craft show, to try to sell my hand-crafted miniatures to earn enough for new winter coats.  To my surprise, I made $700!  You could have knocked me over with a feather.  The kids had warm coats and we paid some bills.  It seemed that I was in business.

For the next seven years, I stayed at home with my kids while making miniatures, sculpting doll house dolls, and [creating] a signature line of tiny teddy bears called PenniBears.  I taught polymer clay classes in my home, at conventions (the kids went with us), local stores, and eventually had a few dealers who sold my miniatures and PenniBears all over the country.  Soon our kids were back in Christian school and I had a decent car.

[Then] my skill as a miniaturist came to the attention of [a design firm], and I was offered a position of designer/sculptor with their company.  Since my husband worked nights and I would be working days, there would always be someone home with the kids when they came home from school for the next two years, when they would be grown and gone.  For the next 15 years, I was a master sculptor designing giftware…home décor, and animal figurines for home and garden.  Eventually, the company was sold and moved out of Oklahoma, so I started a design studio in my home.

After retiring, we decided to market our line of rubber molds.  I sculpt, design the project, write the tutorials, measure the clay and make the pictures.  Hubby Joe makes the molds, creates and maintains the website and ships the orders.  We are having a great time, staying busy and enjoying life.

And it all started with me trying to find a way to stay home with my children.  Ain’t life grand?

Penni Jo Couch

When Someone Disappoints You

People have, do, and will disappoint you.

Simple fact of life.

Ask yourself two questions:  did they intend to do damage, and what are you going to do with the disappointment?

Let’s look at the first question.  People are deeply involved in their own lives.  That doesn’t mean they don’t care about you or others, but they are first motivated to deal with their own situations and personal emotions.  The more mature, considerate, and less self-centered will also shift gears back and forth to consider the consequences of their actions or inactions.

Personality styles, however, are consistent.  Those who shun confrontation because they don’t want shrapnel of any kind aimed at them will probably never stand up for you, watch your back, defend you or come to your aid during that particular moment of need.  That’s who they are.  They might gossip to you later about it, tell you “tsk, tsk, tsk” this happened to you, or just ignore it completely like it never happened.

These people will disappoint you often only if you maintain the irrational hope that they will change some day and be there for you in a big way.  As I’ve said many times, most hope is simply postponed disappointment.

So your disappointments mostly do not come from ill intent.  They generally come from individuals whose number you now have, and this is when we get to the second question:  what do you do with your disappointment?

Personally, I have told several people over the years I was disappointed I couldn’t count on them to stand up for me when I thought it counted.  Some of these folks loved me dearly but just didn’t have it in them to become a target or focus of that kind of attention.  Some people simply are weak and frightened, although they’re basically decent.  I put these people in a more distant circle of love and affection, but they are still there at all, because I know they care.  They’re just supremely limited.  Others who have disappointed me have been relegated to the back of my mind, and I am just polite to them.  Still others – well, they become invisible, especially if I have put myself out for them when it mattered for and to them.

The people willing to put themselves in the line of fire for your friendship or your principles are the people to embrace the closest in spite of any other quirks that might annoy you at times.  People who will watch your back and/or stand in front to shield you are special people.

Special people should not be taken lightly.  They should be cherished and rewarded with your affection and respect.  It is not typical in the animal kingdom for critters necessarily to put themselves in harm’s way to protect another.  It takes a special form of human being with moral choice to do that.  Those are our everyday heroes.