Laughter: The Key to Any Child’s Heart

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(Nourishing Smiles, by Becky Johnson)

Sometimes words just get in the way,  especially when pictures tell their own story so well.  Here is a series of snapshots that my daughter (and co-author), Rachel, took one morning as we sat visiting and clowning  around the dining room table where our big blended family had played a rousing game of poker on New Year’s Eve, the night before.  To set the scene: I had been drinking coffee in the kitchen,  when Rachel’s three-and-a-half year old son Jackson hollered, “Hey Nonny, there are cup holders in here!”  (Meaning, “Come put your coffee in one of the cup holders around the table and play with me.”How could I resist?)

Rach happened to have her camera handy and here is what happened next.

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Victor Borge once said, “The closest distance between two people is a laugh.”  I  have discovered this to be unfailingly true.  Not just with friends, but also with my kids and grandkids. In the excerpt below, from our newly released book,Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness and a Full Night’s Sleep, I expound a little on the blessing of laughter to both grease the skids and brighten the joy of parenting and grandparenting.

 (Excerpt from Nourished…)

I’ve discovered that a kid will follow you to the ends of the earth if you make them laugh. And I will follow any child who makes me laugh to the ends of the earth as well. There’s something irresistibly contagious and fun about parents and kids who enjoy comedic repartee.

I read that comedian Billy Crystal used to wash and blow dry his two little daughters’ hair. Using the voice of Jose Eber he invented a flamboyant personality he called Mr. Phyllis. He would style their wet their hair into funny forms. Twisting it into a horn for example, he’d say, “This is a good look for you. I call it the unicorn.”

Let’s face it: there is no better audience in the world for adult silliness than children. As tiring as little children are, they give us regular endorphin boosts with their smiles, giggles, and funny antics. When my kids were young I scribbled the cute, funny things they did in a blank book. Over time, I began to look at everything my children did through the eyes of Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry (the 80’s & 90’s version of  today’s Jim Gaffigan), imagining how the latest maddening or messy event might be funny if I wrote about it later.

So the day I found my two-year-old pouring the contents of a large box of powdered milk on the head of his seven-month-old little brother, who sat on the floor blinking like a bewildered snow baby, I grabbed my journal and jotted notes about what I was seeing, before stepping in to clean up the mess. Those few seconds bought me time to think, and often to chuckle, before reacting. Over time, searching for the “funny” in the frustrating became a habit and not only helped me find more fun in mothering, but eventually led to a career in writing humor.

These days I try to “catch and keep” the cute things my grandchildren say and do on Facebook, knowing I have a treasury of their “adorable funnies” to re-read, enjoy and share. One of my favorite funny grandkid quips was when my oldest grandson, Nate, was young and asked me, very seriously, if I knew that TV could “rot your brain.”

“Oh, dear,” I said. “Should I turn it off then?”

He answered, “Yes.” Then, wrinkling his brow he appeared to be studying me with concern. Finally shaking his head slowly, he added, “I just hope it’s not too late.”

For awhile, our grandson Georgie lived with us and it like having a short, bright, happy Forrest Gump in the house. He never tried to be funny, his innocence was complete and sincere. Which made him endearingly hilarious. Even this day-dreamy six year old was impressed by how many things his grown-up grandmother could lose or forget in one day. So he was always on his toes with me. The first week I drove him to Kindergarten, I missed the entrance and had to loop back a couple of times. By the second week, he was sitting up in a state of alert as we neared the school. “Nonny! We’re almost at the turn-in place to my school! Stop! LAND HO!”

I cracked up, remembering he’d been watching a lot of Jake and the Neverland Pirates. “Georgie,” I said pulling over into the drop off zone, “I am sorry Nonny is so bad about forgetting things.”

Always looking for a way to encourage me he cheerfully said, “Actually, Nonny. You are really GOOD at forgetting. You are a GREAT forgetter!”

                        A good laugh is sunshine in the house.  William Makepeace Thackeray

Read more about our book, Nourished, and find ordering information by clicking the link on the picture below:

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Vegetarian Reubens

(Becky – The Butter Lovin’ Mama)

My Aunt Hazel once asked me if I’d like to know her theory of how a grandparent should discipline their grandchildren.  “I’d love to hear,” I said.  She leaned onto the kitchen table, her eyes twinkling over the cup of coffee she was sipping.  Then she set the coffee cup down and told me, flatly, “Give them everything they want. Never tell them ‘no.’”

Tragically, Aunt Hazel would lose her only son before he could marry and have children, but I have never forgotten her advice.  Now that I am a grandmother of five little boys,  I have found that if you are truly creative with grandkids, and stay one step ahead of them, you really almost never have to use the “no” word.

When I was a new driver, I used to avoid left turns at intersections, preferring to take three right turns instead.  The same method works for the grandkids.  I try to find three ways to say a “yes” to avoid one “no.”  So tonight when my grandson Georgie asked to stay up and play and it was time for bed, I didn’t say, “No.”  I just said, “Yes, you can play with toys in the bathtub. And then you can play a Sesame Street game on the computer for ten minutes in bed, right after you get your PJ’s on. Then Nonny will read you three books. Won’t that be fun?”  I managed three “yes’s” instead of one “no” and Georgie was delighted to comply. And fell asleep in no time.

The “Three Yes’s” to “One No” always works great with food psychology.  I’ve learned that no matter what your special diet, whether imposed or chosen, it is much more pleasant if you give yourself lots of yes’s instead of a no.  “Can I have a milkshake?” you asked yourself.  Your Inner Nonny can answer, “Yes, of course you can have a shake! You can totally enjoy almond milk and a frozen banana, some strawberries and a little ice and agave whirled in a blender. It will be delicious.”

I’ve decided to try cutting back on meat, especially processed meat like cold cuts.  But as I was making my husband a classic Reuben with pastrami, my mouth started watering. How I wanted a Reuben, too. Then I thought of the flavors in pastrami: garlic, peppercorns, something salty and a little bit sweet. Something smokey. Within a few minutes I’d made my own “vegan pastrami” and was enjoying one of the best Reubens I’ve ever had.  I didn’t have to say “no” to pastrami, just yes to all the flavors in pastrami — infused into tofu.

Vegetarian Reubens

Becky’s Vegetarian Reubens 


Ingredients for Tofu Pastrami

1/3 cup Braggs Liquid Aminos (available at health food stores, or substitute lite soy sauce)

1  t. brown sugar

1/2 t. smoked paprika

1 grated garlic clove

1 T. crushed peppercorns

6  thin slices (about 2 by 3 inches) of firm to very firm  tofu

3 T. olive oil

1 T. butter (Earth Balance for Vegans)

1/3  c. Ranch Dressing or Mayo or  Greek Yogurt (Vegan Ranch or Veganaise if you are vegan)

2 T. Catalina Dressing (or your favorite French Dressing)

4 slices pumpernickel or rye bread

4 T. sauerkraut

2 slices Swiss cheese (vegan swiss cheese if you are vegan)


In shallow bowl, mix first 4 ingredients.  Lay tofu (sliced as thin as you can) in the sauce and let marinate about 10 minutes.  Sprinkle one side of each slice with some of the crushed peppercorns and press into tofu.

Tofu marinating in “pastrami sauce”

Make dressing for sandwiches by mixing ranch dressing or mayo with the Catalina in a small bowl.

Put 2 T. olive oil in a skillet (preferably iron skillet)  and turn heat to medium high.  Cook the tofu in the skillet until golden brown, turn, and do the same thing on the other side.   Set aside on a plate. Rinse and wipe out the skillet and add 1 T. oil and 1 T. butter, and turn heat down to medium.

About to assemble vegetarian Reuben for me, a classic one for my husband.

Put vegetarian Reuben sandwiches together by spreading four sides of dark pumpernickel bread with the sauce.  Put a slice of swiss on two of the slices.   Lay 3 slices of cooked, marinated tofu “pastrami”on each of two slices of bread.  Top the swiss cheese slices with 2 T. sauerkraut, each.

Carefully put Reubens together and lay in melted oil/butter in pan, cooking on medium heat on both sides until the sandwiches are golden on the outside and the cheese is melted on the inside.  Cut in halves or quarters and serve.

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook

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