Thursday, April 28, 2016

LAUGHFEST INTERVIEWS—PART 10

The Laugh-Fest is almost upon us (May 13-15) and the excitement keeps building! (register here) We have an impossibly wonderful group of presenters this year who will be bringing our YES! theme to life. I've been highlighting many of them here at the blog. Today, I would like to introduce you to the incredible Judith Hitt.


Judith Hitt has a background in Nursing, Music and the healing arts. In 1995, she hosted Patch Adams to come to Vermont to give a presentation on the role of humor in  health and healing. From that time on, she was hooked and is a firm believer in bringing humor and joy into our lives, on all levels. Judith is also an ordained Buddhist Lama and Director of Saraswati Bhawan, a Buddhist organization in Lansing, Iowa. She teaches workshops and retreats on meditation, yoga and healing worldwide, and is on the faculty of the International Harp Therapy Program. She will lead a "Yes Breath" meditation on Friday night. Here's my interview with her.

LAURA: Judith, we are enthusiastic about the fact that you’ll be joining us for the Laugh-Fest. You are the first ordained Buddhist Lama to teach at this event and we think this will officially make you a Laughing Lama! Tee hee! So how did you decide to get involved this year?

JUDITH: I love the idea of being a Laughing Lama! When you invited me to participate and lead a meditation for the LaughFest, I just felt it was a great opportunity to connect with others who wish to bring joy into the world and in other people's lives. And—it is in my own backyard! How could I refuse?


LAURA: You and your husband lead retreats at the Saraswati Bhawan, a Buddhist organization and retreat center in the hills above the Mississippi River in Lansing, Iowa. Through this work, what have you learned about the importance of retreats?


JUDITH: In our tradition, retreats are an essential part of our practice and training. There are many kinds of practices and many levels of training. In a nutshell, retreat gives us a chance to look deeply at the inner workings of our minds—which includes our thoughts and emotions, and the repetitive habit patterns that keep us bound to this cyclic existence. In retreat, we are better able to connect with our true nature, which often becomes obscured in the stress and busyness of our daily lives. By learning how to tame the 'monkey mind,' as we like to call it, and untangle the deeply ingrained habit patterns of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; we become freed from our repetitive negative habits, and are better able to respond to life in a way that is beneficial to ourselves and others. Rather than just 'reacting' out of unconscious habit patterns, we can respond with wisdom.


LAURA: Indeed, learning healthier thought patterns is a goal of this laughing retreat. I understand that you have designed a creative “YES-BREATH” meditation for us to play with following the gigantic Laughter Yoga session we’ll enjoy on Friday night. What can we expect from this experience?


JUDITH: It will be a wonderful opportunity to integrate and settle all the beautiful laughter energy from the day. Breath is  life—we say 'yes' to life every time we inhale. We will breathe in the connections, love and joy that we experienced during the day, and bring it deep into our inner being, holding it like a treasure. We will use movement and sound with our breath to settle the energy into our inner being as a way to conclude our day and prepare for rest.


LAURA: It sounds truly magnificent. What fun it will be to share this experience with one another. As you know, the theme of the Laugh-Fest this year is “YES!” It is about affirming life, living joyfully and saying yes to all the things that bring us into that space of abundance. In your own life journey, how has saying yes been important to you? What insights would you like to share?


JUDITH: 'Yes' means to have confidence. It is the ultimate antidote to fear. It is our fears and hesitations that hold us back from experiencing our lives to the fullest and from living our true potential. By saying 'yes' to life, to what comes our way, we more readily enter the present moment—free from past conditioning and fear of the future unknowns. By saying 'yes' in any given moment, we enter the flow of the divine, the universe, as it unfolds before us. We become fearless, joyful, and open to new possibilities.


LAURA: YES! And now Judith, can you tell us what your hopes for the Laugh-Fest are?


JUDITH: To have fun and to connect with others in a meaningful way!


LAURA: Me too! I know we will do so. HA HA HA!



Judith Hitt (front row left) at the Lansing Laughter Club

Please join the Laughing Lama and the rest of the fabulous presenters and laughers at the 4th annual Laugh-Fest  of the Midwest May 13-15, 2016 in Ferryville, Wisconsin. You can register here! Remember that you can do Saturday only or choose to stay in the Frontier Village should you wish to attend at a discount. We are want you there! YAY!



Saturday, April 16, 2016

LAUGHTER & THE VOICE WORKSHOP

Exciting news: On the day the Laugh-Fest begins, May 13, you can come early and take a full-day workshop with Celia! She will be offering an interactive experience called Laughter & The Voice.

Your voice is an amazing instrument. It is always with you. Come and uncover your “consistent instrument” through vocal games & discovery. Celia will guide the group through imaginative play  & exercises that will leave you with a new appreciation for this incredible expressive part of you called your voice. Expect to become more present in your body & vocal singing or speech expression whether you want to lead singing circles, audition for American Idol, or simply rock out behind your steering wheel with the windows up. We will play & sing together. You might even have a fantastic time!



Celia has been performing for over 30 years with training in stage speech & vocal singing. She currently tours the nation as a singer/songwriter/comedienne and is also a recording artist with 13 recordings to date. Celia teaches vocal workshops as well as private voice in person or via the internet. She specializes in guiding singers to finding new tones & soundscapes they didn't even know they had. www.celiaonline.com.


Increase your fun & learning by adding this workshop to your Laugh-Fest experience! The workshop runs on Friday, May 13, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at Sugar Creek Bible Camp in Ferryville, Wisconsin.  If you would like to come early and stay over Thursday night at the camp, you can arrange that with me, Laughing Laura (email: laughinglauragentry@gmail.com).

Fee: $149 — Laugh-Fest attendees can register for just $99!
Contact Celia Farran to register:
Celia@Celiaonline.com

Pssst: Check out Celia's interview about the Laugh-Fest here.

Oh, and there is still time to register for the amazing Laugh-Fest of the Midwest! You will want to seize this incredible opportunity to gather with laughers from around the country for a rollicking good time in the hills of Wisconsin this May.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

LAUGHFEST INTERVIEWS—PART 9


Celia Farran is a singer/songwriter with 10 albums. She's also a comedienne and Laughter Yoga Teacher. Celia has written a Laugh-Fest theme song and will play a concert for us on Saturday night and at church on Sunday morning. Here's her interview.

LAURA: Celia, we are so excited to have you back at Laugh-Fest—this year as a presenter! First of all, I’d like to talk about the theme song you wrote for us and we are thrilled. Can you tell us about your creative process with it?

CELIA: Well, there I was about to do my yoga practice and I got a text from YOU asking if I had any songs about the power of saying “Yes”.  I gave it a quick think and realized that I didn’t have any songs like that but it sure would be great if I did.  Then the chorus came to me immediately.  I texted you back within a few minutes to let you know that I had written the song.  You texted back by saying “You are some kind of amazing.”  Over the next day I rounded out the song and recorded it and now we have a theme song titled “Yes to Life” that we can sing together at Laugh-Fest.  I think it is safe to say that this song happened because I said “Yes”! Click below to hear it.



LAURA: This song is going to be a part of our conference throughout. I’m sure everyone will return home after a rejuvenating weekend with your song playing through their heads. What a fun way to remember the experience! Tell me, what meaning does this theme of saying YES mean to you personally?

CELIA:  I am a firm believer in positive thinking and am a student of the New Thought material shared in Centers for Spiritual Living (I’m usually singing at a Unity or a Center for Spiritual Living somewhere every Sunday).  I believe that what I focus on increases.  I prefer to call in what I am desiring by saying “yes” to it rather than looking at what I don’t want by saying “no”. This opens me up to receive all the goodness that I can handle.  Laughter does this inherently without thought or analysis.  Laughter and Singing are my favorite forms of saying “Yes”.  

LAURA: You are going to be doing a short concert for the Laugh-Festers on Saturday night as part of our costume party. Tell us what we can expect.

CELIA:  I like to mix things up when I do a concert.  I like to combine the silly with the sacred.  Music & Laughter are perfect partners.  It might be best for me to include some of my “bio” info here to help folks get a sense of what I do when I take the stage:
Singer/Songwriter/Comedienne Celia has been described as “A cross between an Earthy Enya, Joan Baez, and Tina Fey.” She dishes up the most delicious concoction of the silly and sacred delighting audiences across the nation. In addition to having the kind of silky smooth voice often associated with classic Celtic Singers, such as “Celtic Woman”, Celia excels at comedy. She often transforms right on stage into one or more of her alter-egos-whose antics typically leave the audience howling with laughter. With powerful, heart-felt vocals and wacky comedic improvisations, the audience never knows what will happen with Celia on stage.



Celia often uses sophisticated “looping” technology to perform duets, trios, and even larger ensembles with herself. Nothing is pre-recorded. She lays down a track then using the looping technology harmonizes with herself — all live and in real time. The result is an amazing listening experience for the audience.

Celia has opened for notable authors: Neale Donald Walsch, Marianne Williamson & Dr. Masaru Emoto, provided live music for the Off-Broadway production of “Rum & Vodka, & has received a “Best Storytelling CD” nomination for “Irish Tales” by the International Just Plain Folks Awards (The Grassroots of Grammies). Her “Symbol” song has been named the “Anthem for the Veteran Pentacle Quest” in support of Religious tolerance & acceptance.

Celia is from Wisconsin and calls Prescott, AZ home. She is currently touring with her 10th album, “Letting Go". No matter how many times you think you’ve seen Celia, you can never predict what she will do and how deeply she can reach into the soul of an audience.  Celia’s range of styles and entertainment is far more than a concert. It is more like a full Cabaret.

“Go out of your way to see her. You won’t be disappointed.” Rick’s CafĂ© Magazine

“Celia’s music calls women to their glory and men to their hearts.” 
Marianne Williamson, Author “A Return to Love”

“Celia is an ambrosia of vitality flowing from sweet to sass with the utmost of grace.” Gemma, “A Million Voice Choir”



LAURA: Incredible! We are so fortunate to have you at the Laugh-Fest. Additionally, you’ll be playing music at the church field trip to Lansing, Iowa on Sunday morning. What is that performance going to entail?

CELIA: I have a great deal of Peaceful, Spiritual, and Meditation Music that I typically share at churches.  I expect I will probably play our theme song “Yes to Life” for sure as well!  I hear your services are filled with play…so I might get a bit playful too.  

LAURA: Celia, you are also a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher. How did you decide to get into Laughter Yoga and what has it done for you in your life?

CELIA: As a singer and comedienne I have witnessed the powerful healing transformation of laughter on rooms of people who don’t know each other when they walk in.  It is a magic I can’t even begin to describe.  When I heard that there was this thing called Laugher Yoga I decided that I wanted to become a Laughter Yoga Leader.  I manifested an awesome opportunity to get my training right in my own living room when I was living in Santa Fe, NM in 2009.  I was certified by Khristine Baker and exchanged the cost of the training for providing her a venue to teach in!  I then started combining my Laughter Training with my Vocal training and began offering workshops called “Laughter & the Voice”.  I will be offering this workshop on Friday before the Fest begins.  

LAURA: That's right! And this is new news so blog readers, please take note of this exciting opportunity! Oh, and Celia, I understand you do a Laughter Party on the phone. What's that all about?

CELIA: In July of 2014 I started a Laughter Party on the Phone and during one of those calls I got inspired to become a Laughter Yoga Teacher so that I could certify others.  In December 2014 I did my Teacher Training with Jeffrey Briar in California.  Dedicating myself to a daily laughter practice has resulted in many positive changes including raising my immune level (I never get sick anymore), raising my emotional intelligence (I’m a much happier person-very little bothers me), and building laughter friendships with people all over the country.

If anyone is interested in joining us for Laughter Party on the phone the call in information can be found at the Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/LaughterParty/
It is FREE!

LAURA: Yes, it is free! How awesome is that! What are some things that inspire you?

CELIA:  I have to say that everything inspires me.  I get creative ideas all day long every day.  I have more songs wanting to get sung and recorded than I can count.  I love creating funny material as well as peaceful spiritual material.  I also feel moved to write songs that make a real difference and I have had the unique opportunity to offer up the art of the song to literally change history.  I feel it is the responsibility of creative artists not just to entertain but also to pull the truth (as we see it) from our experiences and bring it through to our art.  I’m a big fan of what Woody Guthrie says…(Paraphrased)..”It’s not how good a song is…it’s what good a song DOES.”.

LAURA: What are your hopes for the Laugh-Fest?

CELIA: I had such a fantastic time last year at Laugh-Fest.  It’s a truly remarkable experience to spend a weekend with adults who are ready and willing to Play!  Just thinking about the good times to be had makes me smile!  I look forward to staying on site this year and making deeper connections with new and old friends.  I hope I get to have as much fun or more than I did last year!

LAURA: I can't wait!!  Thanks, Celia. 



For more information about Celia or to find out how you can register for the pre-conference workshop with her, please visit her Web site: www.celiaonline.com.

Tomorrow (April Fool's Day) is the last day to get the early bird special for the Laugh-Fest! If you mail your form in (click here for that), just make sure it is postmarked by April 1. Otherwise, sign up online with Paypal at the LaughFest Page. YAY!



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

LAUGHFEST INTERVIEWS—PART 8



Teddy Widdel was an art educator for 24 years then became a healthcare and wellness coordinator, weight watcher leader and a certified Laughter Yoga Teacher. She is a marketing director for Bickford Assisted Living where their motto is "enriching happiness" through which she is able to spread laughter all over the state. Teddy enthusiastically teaches laughter to ages 9-90 and provides them with the tools of laughter so they can reduce stress, relieve pain, exercise mind and body, and heighten energy!  She is a motivational speaker who has a unique program which gives you the "HAPPY TOOLS" you will need to laugh every day and through every circumstance! Here is my interview with her.

LAURA: Teddy, I’m soooooo elated that you will be back for the Laugh-Fest this year! You were a part of the Laughter Yoga Teacher class, which was held five years ago at Sugar Creek Bible Camp that decided to start the Laugh-Fest. Thanks for the inspiration! It sure was a wonderful time, wasn’t it? Now you are a Laughter Yoga Teacher offering classes of your own. What’s it been like to teach Laughter Yoga and offer professional programs of laughter?

TEDDY: I have trained and certified people in Laughter Yoga and I speak to people from all walks of life.  I teach at the YMCA, children and seniors. I laugh with people at Senior Centers. I even made the auditors and accountants at the three major universities in Iowa laugh and “spray” laughter on one another!  They reminded me that everyone needs to laugh and can if someone gives them permission!

Teddy laughing with seniors

LAURA: That’s awesome! Teddy, you are such a joyful person. Can you tell us about your own personal journey to become the person you are today? How has Laughter Yoga helped, healed and empowered you?

TEDDY: The week I was going to get certified in Laughter Yoga my husband of 26 years asked me for a divorce and I lost my job. Little did I know it, but Laughter Yoga the tool God had for me to get through the next two years of my life! It has not only helped me survive—it has helped me thrive! Now I have a whole new career in Laughter Yoga and I am married to the funniest man ever who actually proposed to me after attending his first Laughter Yoga event.  He joined my Parkinson's support group and sprayed laughter on them like an elephant and he was a hit!  

LAURA: I understand you just got back from California where you trained as a motivational speaker. Can you tell us about that?

TEDDY: Yes! Arvee Robinson is a professional speaker trainer and I went there to be trained after meeting her at an event in Waterloo, Iowa.  She gave me direction and guidance to perfect my speaking and I have templates and DVDs to incorporate my speaking to any topic I need to present.  I am now a Professional Speaker—a dream I have always wanted!  

LAURA: And you are such an engaging speaker, Teddy! Congratulations on taking your speaking career to the next level. At the Laugh-Fest you will be sharing your “HAPPY TOOLS” lecture with us. Would you give us a sneak preview of that presentation?

TEDDY: The secret tool I will teach is HAPPY.........that's all I can say for now...shhhhh it is a secret.

LAURA: Ha ha! I guess you have to come to the Laugh-Fest to learn the Happy Tools from Teddy. :) But can you give some advise for someone who is out there who might be really struggling—wanting to laugh but not having the motivation or strength to do so? How can you turn the corner and learn to laugh again?

TEDDY: Just laugh. It changes everything. Lay in bed each morning and burst out with a “ha” then a “haha” and then a “hahaha”! By laughing intentionally, you are making a choice to get up and be powerful NOT pitiful!  No one will join you on the pity pot but they will join you on the party pot! Haha!

LAURA: As I’ve said, I’m over-the-moon that you’ll be coming back to the Laugh-Fest this year. What are your hopes for this year’s event?

TEDDY: I expect to eat, drink and be merry with my laughing friends from the past and my new friends I will soon meet!  I can't wait to share the laughter and become the best the person I can be. YES!

Teddy at the Laugh-Fest two years ago (back row, second from right)

Laugh with and learn from Teddy and all the other amazing presenters/leaders at the 4th annual Laugh-Fest of the Midwest May 13-15 in Ferryville, Wisconsin. Register before April 1 and get the early bird discount! Click here to learn more.



Monday, March 28, 2016

LAUGHFEST INTERVIEWS—PART 7


Lynda Tourloukis is one of the Certified Laughter Yoga Master Trainers in the world helping to grow the movement of Laughter Yoga for health, happiness and world peace. She engages individuals, groups and organizations as a Life and Laughter Development Specialist helping each to find their own sense of balance and peace with themselves and others. Her belief is that when we take ownership for our individual sense of well being and peace, we create it in the world with better performance, with a better outlook resulting in engaged actions.

Lynda's years in leadership and professional coaching invite transformation with ease in a gentle manner that appreciates every individual. Her years as a laughter professional have given her insight into the inner spirit of joy that optimize breathing and put the fun in function. As a result any experience with her makes your performance rock and your potential come alive.

Drawing from a variety of tools and techniques Lynda blends her experiences with the joy of laughter so that what might seem impossible can become possible... and enjoyable. 

Lynda will be leading the opening ritual of the Laugh-Fest of the Midwest this year with a special labyrinth exercise she has developed called "A Piece of the Peace." We are delighted to welcome her back for her second Laugh-Fest. Let's get to know Lynda better. Her's my exclusive interview with her.

LAURA: Lynda, you are all kind of awesomeness! We are so honored that you’ll be returning for your second year the Laugh-Fest. You have long been a YES-WOMAN! You know all about the power of saying yes. Let’s start our conversation with that. What does “YES!” mean to you?


LYNDA: Yes reminds me always that I have a choice and while it is change that keeps us in the uncomfortable stages sometimes, choice is the decision to move up or drop down. Yes signals a move up and reminds me that it always opens the door to so much more beyond the sheltered and comfortable, yes says you’ve got so much more to explore. 

LAURA: You are one of the early pioneers of Laughter Yoga in the United States. After having been a professional in this field all these years, what have you learned? And moreover, how has the practice of Laughter Yoga transformed you?

LYNDA: I came into this understanding something about laughter as I had created a whole program about it before I even knew about Laughter Yoga. Through my experiences with Laughter Yoga I’ve found there is always so much more to learn the longer you play with it and it has given me a broad perspective to appreciate. I find when their is a commitment made to practice and develop, in order to share it authentically and purposefully, there never seems to be an end to what we can explore. It is really quite amazing. A few of the things that are remarkable are the fact that I no longer seem to have asthma and where I was plagued by allergy, which would make me sick, it is rare for me to be ill.  One thing I think important to share, is that when I began I had a story from my experiences that I would share in the purpose and reasoning for my practice of it. Now while that story still has merit, it has greatly expanded to one of global proportions where I see a much larger implication for lessening aggression, the most plaguing problem of our time. It is a great remember of hope, that we were meant to be joyful. 

One of Lynda's Laughter Yoga classes

LAURA: Recently, you have made a number of incredible trips, including one to Laughter University in Bangalore, India. How has this expanded your thinking about Laughter Yoga as an international phenomenon?

LYNDA: I would call much of what I have traveled in as adversity, and laughter has been a wonderful tool that has expanded my travel and explorations with Laughter Yoga. The trip to India was designed to serve as a contribution as I among others were asked for our experiential knowledge to apply some thought and design around the developing university for Laughter Yoga. They spoke English as their are 29 different languages in India and English is universal, so my lesson among the contributors was to slow down and listen well. It has expanded my appreciation of Laughter Yoga in the world. I think it has touched so many and to see so many happy faces remembering their joy, I am both humbled and appreciative to be a part of something that can make that kind of differences. We are now in 105 countries and 21 years, that is more than half the world influenced. It brings such a hope for humanity to know we can get glad in the same pants we get mad in.



LAURA: Lynda, you are the Goddess of Play (at least that’s how I think of you). How did play take such a prominent role in your own life and work?

LYNDA: Ha ha… goddess. I would say it is more the goodness of play that reminds us about how good and right we really are. I love the concept of play because when we learn to be playful in life we can really get clear about what all the tough stuff is about. We stop seeing life as a problem and we get wonderfully curious. We find out so much more than ever before when we are in the midst of play. When my kids were young we played a lot of games and we made up a number of them. One I have to laugh about is the “Secret Asian Man” game I made for my nephew when he was young. He loved to sing the words to “Secret Agent Man” and being Philipino he naturally thought they were singing Secret Asian Man… so for his birthday I made him a special game that had all the things he liked included and that is what it was titled. We still laugh about that today. I also created a sense of play or strategies for it with two of my kids who learned a bit different. I wanted to know how to understand what they were absorbing and in play I could see their strengths come out and learned to help them to use those strengths. Now my focus is on Emotional Education, not the intelligence of emotion because I really think they miss the power of our emotion. In play you can apply what you know in a safe and fun way and then appreciate the message so much more, we aren’t in so much resistance. Saying Yes gets us in touch with that power a bit too. My games and workshops on play are fun, creative and engaging, yet behind it all their is some wonderful learning that goes on that 

LAURA: Why do adults need to play—and even re-learn to play if they have forgotten?

LYNDA: Einstein was a great proponent of play, calling it the highest form of research. People are stressed, overwhelmed and overworked, life has been handing us a boatload of unfairness and if we can play, we can release some of what’s pent up misunderstanding. Adults do play however,  in sports and athletics and they even refer to their big ticket items as “toys”, so it isn’t really all that forgotten.  You also have video games, and lets not forget the escape of a life time, Las Vegas. We have put grown up attitudes and titles on our play, though I think we get away from what play is all about. Adult play complicates things, where simple will do. It is often competitive and isolating so it has little of the good natured fun that nurtures curiosity and exploration like we had as a child. Where their is art, music and creativity, their is a sense of purposeful play, exploring and curiously questioning. Like laughter, healthy play creates a new perspective. Playing to escape is a temporary measure. 

LAURA: You have also been a long-time teacher of the labyrinth and proponent of laughing and playing with the labyrinth meditation. Why do laughter and labyrinth belong in the same sentence? And what can we expect from the labyrinth ritual you'll be leading to open the Laugh-Fest?



LYNDA: The labyrinth was what brought me into laughter. I was in France and got along famously with one of the participants in our 10 day experience together, we laughed a lot. One of the days we were in the sanctuary of the Chartres Cathedral walking the labyrinth and something amused me, as I met the eyes of the other participants they lit up too, yet the one I always had a considerable amount of fun with couldn’t keep it under wraps and each time we passed a little more mirth would spill out until we caught each other off guard in the center and soon everything came out. The other participants joined in and it occurred almost instantly that this was the answer for the over seriousness of our facilitators. It made sense and so I developed a program that helped individuals learn to breathe along the long lengths in more functional ways and to extend their laugh as they extended the exhale. I didn’t know then how on target I was, but found the labyrinth was a wonderful way to shift perspective or purpose at each turn. I have had a lot of enjoyment in creating much in labyrinth design and art over the years and created some marvelous workshops and explorative with the labyrinth and laughter. In the past few years I’ve created a trampoline labyrinth, pudding labyrinths, play doh labyrinths, the bubble wrap labyrinth and of course last year’s toilet paper labyrinth was the quick fix for Laugh Fest. This year I have a labyrinth of puzzle pieces asking how we are the happiness of humanity. It is called “A Piece of the Peace” and while their will be laughter, it largely speaks on the aftermath of the peace that we find when we interrupt the discord of our forgetfulness. It is the liminal space of laughter and a walk that questions and realizes and laughs about it all.  And participants get to write their pieces into the puzzle and it is traveling with me everywhere.

LAURA: What are your hopes for the Laugh-Fest?

LYNDA: I love anyone that creates a gathering for resource, networking, support and overall learning new and different in the world of laughter, play and joyful well being. I think it is a necessary part of our growth because honestly we are left to linger by ourselves after our training for the most part and it is a great rejoining of purpose. I wish for greater connections, larger purpose to unfold and wonderful insights. I am sharing this from the west coast to the east as I travel because the Laugh Fest of the Midwest just rocks in the feel good of being down home and real with what we do.  It’s where you can hang your hat and be welcomed in and I so think the whole of our look at laughter needs this kind of retreat feel to rekindle and rejuvenate. I hope we fill to capacity and discover the more in each other well. 

Celia, Lynda and me at last year's Laugh-Fest costume party

Experience the wisdom and fun of Lynda's leadership at this year's Laugh-Fest of the Midwest May 13-15 in Ferryville, Wisconsin. The all-inclusive price for the entire weekend festival is just $225 including housing, meals, snacks and all programming. If you act before April Fool's Day, you can still get the early bird special of only $199. Learn more and register here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

LAUGHFEST INTERVIEWS—PART 6



Jeff Abbas—as it turns out—lives in my neck of the woods. I met him last year when we were both presenting at an event called “Women of the Wild” held at our area Girl Scout Camp. Jeff led a workshop on how to identify and prepare edible wild plants. It was absolutely fascinating and identifying wild plants became a new toy for me to play with! I discovered my whole property was teaming with wild foods (and I had previously though were just weeds!). I have gotten really good at making nettle pesto and mustard green pizza as a result. 

But I’m only just beginning. Jeff, on the other hand, is a guru in this regard. He has such wisdom. Jeff and his wife, Mary, run a Community Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) called The Kitchen Table.  Here's the Facebook page for the CSA.



Jeff a passionate conservationist and a very engaging teacher. I’m super psyched he’ll be sharing his knowledge with us at this year’s Laugh-Fest. Here is my interview with him.

LAURA: Jeff, I am happy you said YES! to the invitation to present at the Laugh-Fest. Tell me, how did you come to know so much about the natural world—it’s plants and animals?

JEFF: I’ve been fascinated by natural science since I was old enough to walk. I can’t explain it. When I was growing up in a little town called Denver near Waverly, Iowa , we’d go outside after a rain and there were these limestone rocks with fossils in them that that would pop up out of the ground. I was just so fascinated by them. From then on, I was hooked. I’d spend most of my time walking around and exploring the woods. I didn't do sports. I preferred time in nature.

LAURA: It is obvious how much you love nature. But how did your love of nature turn into wisdom about it? Who taught you?

JEFF: When I moved back to Iowa from California in 2001 I had a job with Ion Exchange, that grows native wildflowers and prairie plants. Howard and Donna Bright were my mentors there. Since I was their webmaster I compiled thousands of pictures and hundreds of pages of research. I learned so much about tall grass prairie edibles and medicinals. It was truly fascinating.

LAURA: This event is all about saying YES! to life and to new experiences. It is about freedom and joy and laughter and play. How do you think learning about wild foods furthers this goal?

JEFF: Gathering wild plants is such a joyful experience. It is an adventure! The moment I set food in the woods or on the prairie I look ahead at what’s coming and I say a little prayer: “Thank you, God!” and I smile and I start hunting. When you start finding things, it is really rewarding. That is a “Yes!’ for sure!

LAURA: You’ve have learned a lot about harvesting plants sustainably. How is that done?

JEFF: It is kind of difficult to harvest sustainably when you are in a wild situation but we’ve learned how to do it. When we harvest a patch of wild leaks or spring beauties, for example, we leave some behind in strategic places in the patch. This allows the seeds to spread so that next time we come to harvest, there are actually more plants than last time!

LAURA: It sounds like you have had a very interesting life-path. How have you cultivated the joy you exude today? What makes you such a happy person? We want to know your secret.

JEFF: Learning. Learning and applying that knowledge. That is what makes me happy. Somebody once called “phasey” because I go through phases in my life, like when I started stamp collecting. It was an intense phase where I went full bore for like six months and built a dramatic collection but then it tapered off. But I never really lost the enthusiasm. Well, after a lifetime of going through so many phases, I have acquired quite a bit of knowledge. I know a lot about history, archeology, botany, prairie botany…I love it!  I am a scientist without college!

LAURA: Ha ha! What’s your phase right now?

JEFF: Grandkids. We have young grandkids. I’m actually building a nature trail for the grandkids. There are a number of species of plants coming up. I’m restoring the goat prairie. It was originally an oak savana and I am bringing several acres back to its original state. I love teaching the grandkids about the land and what’s on it and about the people who were before us and how they preserved it for us. I want them to understand how to treat the land with reverence and respect because it doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the future and we have to do our part to preserve it.

Jeff hiking with one of this grandchildren

LAURA: So at the Laugh-Fest we will get to take short hike with you and learn about the wild plants and harvest some that are in season at the time. Will we actually be eating them?

JEFF: Absolutely! We are even going to work with the camp cook to provide some wild foods that will be incorporated into dinner on Saturday night. That way everybody will have the chance to taste some great things like nettle pesto pizza and watercress and wild leak salad.

LAURA: Mmm! That will be delicious. Nettle pesto pizza is my favorite. Most people think it sounds terrible but once you try it, you’ll be convinced!

JEFF: Ha ha! That’s right. That’s why Mary and I offer foraging workshops at our farm throughout the spring. People love to learn these things. It’s really exciting.

LAURA: There might even be morel mushrooms in season. Last year at the Laugh-Fest some of the hikers found some.

JEFF: Yeah, that’s the time of year for morels but it depends upon the weather.

LAURA: You’ll be joining us for the whole day of Saturday, along with your wife, Mary, who will be celebrating her birthday that day. What are your hopes for the Laugh-Fest?

JEFF: I take so much joy out of an attentive audience and the questions they ask. Sometimes the questions are challenging enough that I have return to the research to get a decent answer for them. It inspires us all and that’s really fun. And I look forward to laughing and celebrating Mary's birthday with all of you!

Jeff and Mary Abbas

Oh, and by the way, check out Jeff and Mary's blog. I just tried baking a recipe they posted: http://ktcsa.blogspot.com/2015/12/little-round-things.html. The are scones made into cinnamon rolls and they are out of this world!

Learn more about the Laugh-Fest of the Midwest to be held May 13-15, 2016 in Ferryville, Wisconsin by clicking on this link.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

LAUGHFEST INTERVIEWS—PART 5



Karen Misseldine has more than 20 years experience as a Master’s level trained Art Therapist. Karen offers a supportive person-centered approach and is passionate about developing innovated ways to strengthen an individual’s ability to navigate through life’s challenges.

Art therapy is a “doing” form of therapy that promotes self-exploration and contributes to cognitive, emotional and physical health, opening doors to new ways of communicating and being in the world. It provides positive outcomes for all different types of people, from children to the elderly. Karen is excited to be offering an Art Therapy "Playshop" at the Laugh-Fest so participants can experience this profound method.

LAURA: Karen, we are completely thrilled that you’ll be joining us for this year’s Laugh-Fest! You’ll be offering our first-ever art therapy workshop at the Laugh-Fest. Tell us, what is art therapy?

KAREN:  Art Therapy is immersing yourself in the lively creative process!  Art Therapy allows you to try new things, go in different directions, view a mistake as an opportunity to try it again…try a different approach…see it in a new light. It is the use of simple art materials to facilitate healing.  Through expressive and creative mediums participants are invited to explore strengths, feelings, ideas and challenges.   Art therapy is a doing and active form of therapy where the process is the focus, not so much the end product.  In Art Therapy participants have the freedom of knowing that there is no right or wrong way to do art and there are no art skills required!   Art therapists collaborate with their clients to develop both directive and spontaneous art experiences to fit each person's needs.  Art therapist work with individuals, families and groups of all ages in countless settings.

Art Therapy is a master’s level profession that is the marriage of psychotherapy and studio art.  The personal experience and first hand understanding of how art materials work are what makes art therapist unique in the therapy field.  To think like an artist can bring new light to a problem or challenge--knowing that there is never just one way to paint a cat!

LAURA: Wow, that’s fascinating but how—exactly—does it work? Can you give us some specific examples of how art therapy is helpful for your clients?

KAREN:  A woman with chronic pain and a long history of mental health challenges was unable to focus, moving from one struggle to the next without pause as she spoke with me in my office recently.  After a while, I gently redirected her away from her tangent and invited her to choose a colored pencil, letting the color choose her, and trace a circle on a sheet of paper.  Then I invited her to close her eyes as I sounded a chime and asked her to breathe gently and then to slowly open her eyes when the sound of the chime dissipated in the air.  Next I invited her to draw something that brings her peace, anything that comes to her mind.  She slowly drew a small yellow flower tilting to one direction with two very small leaves growing out of a green zigzag suggesting grass with a thin brown line for soil.  She noticed her flower was off center, seeing this as a flaw.  When I asked, “what is the flower facing?”  She said, "the sun!" and titled her drawing, "Flowers Save Me."  Her whole self was noticeably more relaxed and she had a soft smile on her face that radiated through the room.  Simple, yes?  Therapist and Client come together to form Relationship using the creative process as co-therapist.  In this session this woman went beyond the experience of relaxation to the development of a metaphorical statement of herself resulting in increased self-awareness and self-esteem.  She also was able to experience the extra benefit of reduction in psychological and physical pain at least for that moment in time.  

There are so many other examples, but this one has recently particularly touch me.

LAURA: I know you’ve been doing art therapy for a long time and you recently earned an advanced degree in it. Tell us about your educational path to this career?

KAREN: Yes.  I earned a Master’s of Arts in Art Therapy in 1991 from Vermont College.  Since then I served as a Family and Adolescent Therapist doing individual, family and group therapy.  I have spent the last 15 years developing and implementing art and expressive therapy in nursing homes.  I also offer individual, family and group art therapy through my private practice at Therapy Associates in Decorah, IA.  I have developed many therapeutic workshops for grief and bereavement and Mandala workshops to increase self-awareness and to help hone in and nurture a creative practice to help promote healing, wellness and well being.

I recently received my License as Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) after completing some Counseling Graduate course work to advance my degree and to become a licensed therapist.  This license is allowing me to fully practice as an art therapist and mental health counselor in the state of Iowa.  I am currently working part-time as a therapist at Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health in Decorah where I use art therapy with individuals, groups and families.  I also work one day at Waukon Good Samaritan Society with elderly people and part time at my private practice.

LAURA: A few years ago, you and I both appeared in a book titled How to Be Happy written by Joan Liffring Zug-Bourret (link to the book at Amazon). In it, you shared your journey through grief and cancer. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you’ve managed to keep your joy?

KAREN: Hmmm….yes, I have had the misfortune of losing two brothers and my mom in a relatively short period of time.  The loss of half my family was devastating and is a large part of who I am.  Those were some very intense years.  Through strong support of my father and sister and friends we keep my brothers’ and mom’s memories alive and pursue our lives in ways that we feel are very meaningful to us.  I am blessed to have a career that blends my love of art and creativity with helping others to heal from challenges and pain they have encountered.  

I am also a potter and am so fortunate to live in a community that embraces the arts.  I have been able to make pottery a part of my livelihood and joy.  Nary a week goes by without someone saying,  “Karen, I think of you every morning when I drink my coffee from the cup you made.”  I experience joy when I create the cup and I experience even more joy when I know I have brought joy to someone else.  

LAURA: You also facilitate a breast cancer survivor group called The Comfort Zone. Tell us about that.

KAREN: Yes.  I am a breast cancer survivor of 6 years!  When I was diagnosed it seemed like every time I turned around I was told about another woman, healthy like me, has also been diagnosed with breast cancer.  It seemed to be my mission to reach out and provide support so a support group happened.  We meet monthly to share journeys, lend support, and hold the space for those we have lost.



LAURA: You are also an artist. What mediums do you work in?

KAREN:  I dabble in lots of stuff like painting, drawing, and collage myself and with my clients, but mostly, I am a pottery artist.  My pottery is inspired by nature in color and design.  When I had cancer, trees grew on my pottery and I just could not seem to stop them!  I am intrigued by the design, movement and form of trees and also their strength, flexibility and ability to withstand change and transition.  I am also drawn to how so many others seemed to feel healing in the presence of trees and in the presence of my tree designs.  

Karen's jewelry designs

LAURA: Will Laugh-Festers have the opportunity to buy your pottery works at the festival?

KAREN:  Yes!  I will bring a collection of platters, mugs, cups and other items to sell with a variety of tree, leaf, and dragonfly designs and maybe some of my “happy” sangria inspired ware as well. 

Some of Karen's pottery works are pictured below.






LAURA: This will be your first Laugh-Fest so perhaps you don’t know exactly what to expect (HA HA!) but what are your hopes for the event?

KAREN:  Well, I hope to laugh a little, for sure!  Meet new people and share some healing and inspiring art experiences with those who are interested.  And I am quite certain I will bring back some new energy and inspiration from other presenters and participants.

Karen with her husband, Tom, and their kids

How does art therapy have to do with laughter? You may ask. Well, I believe they share the frontier of healing through creativity and somatic experience. This year's Laugh-Fest will be offering a wider array of healing opportunities than ever before and we are thrilled to have seasoned professionals like Karen who are willing to share their compassion and wisdom with us. We are seeking to have something for everyone so that all can go away enriched, renewed and more whole than ever before. I simply can't wait.

And there is still time to register for the Laugh-Fest of the Midwest at the rock bottom rate of just $199 for the entire weekend including meals and housing! We have done this to make it as affordable as possible so that no one would have to miss out. Please register before April 1 to get this rate.  We ask you to share this blog with anyone who might benefit from this opportunity.  Thanks for helping spread World Laughter. HA HA HA!