And the Oscar goes to…. (My first Academy Awards picks column. Ever.)

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For almost my entire life, I had no interest in movies. Whatsoever.

This, even though I lived a decade in Los Angeles, rubbed elbows with lots of people in “the industry,” and even met a few celebs along the way – at parties, on dance floors, even in the young adult support group at the Orange County Center for Gays and Lesbians.

I wrote a LinkedIn column a while back about my first (and best) roommate and friend in Los Angeles, Dale Mayeda. Dale, once a cog in the wheel at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, went on to win an Oscar for special effects in “Frozen.” As I said in that column, that is just how true the idea is that with hard work and determination comes fame in Los Angeles.

And maybe that is the reason so many people are predicting “La La Land” will be the big winner on Oscars night. It is that quintessential L.A. story, and it is portrayed by two quintessential L.A. beauties.

But hasn’t it been done? About a million times?

To be honest, I nearly walked out during the first 10 minutes. Singing during a traffic jam on the freeway? Could it get any more cliché? It’s sort of like the saying, “L.A. is a caricature of itself.” Which is true.

I’m glad I didn’t walk out, if for no other reason than to stare at Ryan Gosling (and Emma Stone, too) for a couple of hours and enjoy the incredible music and cinematography. And a cute story.

But ladies and gentlemen, if “Hidden Figures” does not come out the big winner of the night, the Hollywood libs should have their toaster ovens revoked! Not only were they criticized to kingdom come a while back for the annual milky whiteness of the Academy Awards, but they remedied it – and in no small fashion.

“Hidden Figures,” to me, not only is an incredible story, but it’s being told at a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Never has it been more important for us to remember the struggle that African Americans faced all those years ago. Never has it been more important a time in our nation’s history to remember that even rocket scientists faced that struggle.

Never has it been more important for us to remember that once we were a relatively cohesive nation of hope, of pride, and that the space program played a big part in that.

This is the right time for “Hidden Figures” on so many levels.

With that, here are my picks for the 2017 Oscars winners:

Best Picture: Hidden Figures. No further explanation needed.

Best Directing: Hidden Figures. It’s brilliant. You’ll want to leap out of your chair, burst into laughter, utter “hell, no” out loud, and cry. Many times.

Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land. She really is that cute girl who goes to L.A. to become a star, who sometimes you think is gonna make it, other times you think doesn’t have a prayer, and when she does make it, you say, “Of course she did.” And that really is how it works out there.

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea. Hands down. In the first five minutes, I said, “That guy has PTSD.” And his character in the movie obviously does, even though a diagnosis never is discussed. You find out why soon enough. And the story is so compelling, that even if the end isn’t the end you were hoping for, it is the end that makes sense, for everyone. Brilliant writing.

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea, for all the above-mentioned reasons.

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures. She’ll help you understand that the way African Americans were treated so many years ago, was so wrong. On so many levels. For those of us who did not live through that era, and grew up in the northern U.S., it’s difficult to comprehend. But you will, after seeing this movie.

Best Supporting Actor: Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea. He’s the popular kid in high school who is popular because he’s truly a great kid. We all knew that kid. At least one.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Hidden Figures.

Best Animated Feature: Moana. I must go with that because it’s the only one I actually saw on the list of “Best Animated Feature” nominees and because my above-mentioned friend, Dale Mayeda, has a prominent credit at the end for special effects.

Best Cinematography: La La Land.

Best Film Editing: La La Land.

Best Production Design: Arrival. I liked this movie a lot, but not necessarily because I found the story all that interesting (too complicated and far-fetched). I liked it because it had a unique wow factor on the big screen.

Best Costume Design: La La Land. They both were so darned cute.

Best Original Score: La La Land. That one should be a gimme.

Best Original Song: “City of Stars,” La La Land. Another gimme.

Best Sound Mixing: Arrival. Watch it. The sound is one of incredible things about the movie, in addition to the overall viewing experience. But the story? Again, not so much.

Best Sound Editing: Arrival.

Best Visual Effects: Deepwater Horizon. Not only did the leaking well look real, but it has happened, and in that regard, it’s a wakeup call. The movie did a public service. It’s also just incredibly cool to see what life living on an oil rig is like. Every ounce of it is believable, yet horrifying.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Star Trek Beyond. Lots of interesting peeps and things, for sure.

And I must stop there, because I don’t proclaim to know a darned thing about the other categories.

But I sure am proud of myself to have written my first ever “Oscar picks” column. Where did my ADD go? I don’t know, but going to the movies at least once a week is a part of my routine now, and probably is the most enjoyable couple hours of my life each week. I love it.

Hooray for Hollywood!

Going to ‘The Show’ each week recalls QC movie memories, history, milestones

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I saw “Passenger” today. It was stellar.

Last week I saw “La La Land.” And despite a rather slow start that leads you to think it’s just going to be just another cliché movie about Los Angeles, it turned out to be very entertaining.

Both movies were intense love stories. I think I need to start watching more love stories. They’re great for healing from trauma, at least for me.

But I would have to say both of the above-mentioned movies probably fall into the category of “B Movie,” a term my dad LOVED to use.

Dad, what are you doing? “Watching some B movie.”

Or we would go to my brother’s for Christmas or Thanksgiving, and John always was thoughtful enough to rent a movie. Dad would say, “What God damned  B movie are we watching this time, Johnny?”

To my dad, everything was a “B Movie.” He never was much of a “glass half-full” person. But he sure did watch lots of movies on TV. I wonder if, just as they are for me, they were an escape for him, and the dreaded disease he always said he had, but no one believed him.

I find myself becoming more and more like both of my parents every day. When I look in the mirror, or gauge how I come off to friendly strangers (or conversely, people who cross me), I see my mother. And let me tell you, she could flip a switch and be two radically different people. My mother was very strong. She was friendly, bubbly (they even called her “Bubbles”). But if you crossed her, she never let you forget it.

Dad, meanwhile, always just seemed to be looking for peace. And I can relate to that feeling, too. I’m finding it at the movies, which I write about a lot these days. Just two weeks ago, I saluted all my Hollywood friends for the hard work they do in this piece I wrote for LinkedIn. I love bragging how my first L.A. roommate, Dale Mayeda, won his first Oscar for “Frozen” last year (special effects). He was renting cars for Enterprise when we moved in together. L.A. really is a magical place for people who work hard.

The Capri in downtown Rock Island: All shows, 99 cents

Another thing about being a born-again movie buff is that it has brought back some very pleasant old memories. The very best memories I have of my mom, dad and I, together, was going to see a movie now and then at the Capri Theater in downtown Rock Island. All shows 99 cents, all the time.

As a kid, I remember thinking, “is Terri Garr in every movie?” Because I remember seeing “Close Encounters” with mom and dad, at the Capri, and really liking it. Then I remember the night we drove up to the Capri, and the marquee said, “Otsi.”

I said, “Otsi. Sounds like science fiction. Let’s see it!”

And dad screams, “Tootsie! Barbara (my mother), it’s ‘Tootsie!’”

Capri marquee “Wheel of Fortune.”

So, we watched “Tootsie.” The three of never laughed so hard, together, in all. Our. Lives. Such a movie was quite groundbreaking back in those days.

Another great movie memory was my friend Shannon Keatley’s birthday party. Her grandma took us to a movie, “Breaking Away,” roller skating at Skate Ranch, and then, Happy Joe’s. Milan was the birthday capital of the Quad-Cities back in the 1970s.

Another unforgettable movie for me was “View to a Kill.” It was my first date. I kissed a girl. I was maybe a junior in high school. I was so nervous. But we had a good time. I won’t embarrass her by name.

Showcase Cinemas, the Memri, the Semri

I remember the Showcase Cinemas in Milan, which is now a Hy-Vee. On the side of the building it said, “Showcase Cinemas 1-2-3-4-5.” Soon, they added a “6 & 7.” I think by the time they shut it down there also was” 8-9-10.”

In the Quad-Cities, we always called seeing a movie, “Going to the show.”

A Showcase Cinemas scandal circulated through Rock Island High School once. Supposedly a guy who got fired from there peed on the popcorn before he left. No idea if that was true or not. Not sure if it made the gossip column of the high school newspaper, the Crimson Crier, called “Herd in the Halls.” Yes, my high school newspaper had a gossip column. No. Idea. How we got by with that!

And who can forget the drive-in theaters. The Memri and the Semri. Supposedly, Memri stood for Milan-East Moline-Rock Island. And the Semri for Silvis-East Moline-Rock Island.

These days, Rave Cinemas 53 in Davenport is “the place” to see movies. Of course, Great Escape (is it still called that?) is on the Illinois side, next to WalMart. But do you know, I NEVER have been inside there. I like Rave so much I just can’t imagine that it could possibly compare. But I will have to check it out.

Rave, to me, is one impressive mega-plex. How many screens do that have in there? Fifteen? It’s a beautiful facility with state-of-the-art everything and the most comfy seats ever. It reminds me of walking aboard a spaceship when I walk in there.

There are so many good movies out right now. I Just love my movie time. It truly is an escape from the troubles of life, if only for 90 minutes or so.

Five famous people who once lived in the Quad-Cities

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(Photo courtesy Pixabay)

Our community’s obscure name makes us an easy target for jokes. And the fact that many of us talk through our noses (whether we realize it or not) makes people laugh even harder because of the way “Quad-Cities” sounds when we say it.

But start ticking off a list of our most famous residents and even the harshest bi-coastal residents (who view us as flyover country) will say, “I didn’t know that!”

Here are five famous (or infamous) people who once called the Quad-Cities home.

John Deere. John Deere is a household name not only in the U.S, but around the world. While the global tractor maker was founded in Grand Detour, Ill. in 1837, it moved to Moline 11 years later. Today, John Deere World Headquarters remains in Moline.

Ronald Reagan. Not many people know that “The Gipper” got his start in show business at WOC Radio in Davenport, Iowa.

“Reagan’s first assignment – for $5 and bus fare – was the University of Iowa’s homecoming game against Minnesota,” The Des Moines Register reports in its online archives. “In the spring of 1933, partly because he had covered the Drake Relays so skillfully, Reagan was chosen to become chief sports announcer for WOC’s sister station, WHO in Des Moines.

Reagan, of course, went on to become the 40th president of the United States. He arguably was the most popular U.S. president in my 46-year lifetime.

Roger Craig. NFL legend Roger Craig of San Francisco 49ers fame grew up in Davenport, Iowa. Craig is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. He has three Super Bowl rings.

Otto Frederick Rohwedder. Who’s that, you say? Well, while “The greatest thing since sliced bread” may be a common catchphrase, few people know that Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented it – in Davenport, Iowa, no less. You can’t get much more Americana than that.

John Looney. John Looney was a notorious Prohibition-era gangster who ruled the mean streets of Rock Island, Ill. The home from which Looney controlled booze, prostitution, and illegal gambling, still stands. It is rumored that it connects to tunnels that sprawl throughout the city’s downtown, which is how illegal goods were trafficked. The notorious criminal owned the city’s newspaper and threatened to blackmail people if they didn’t do as he wanted.

Paul Newman played Looney in the film adaptation “Road to Perdition” in 2002, co-starring Tom Hanks.

Some might say that the “less than above-board” (criminal?) style of Rock Island County power-mongering hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years.

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Jennifer Morrison of ‘Once Upon a Time, House’ shines spotlight on migraines

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Originally published April 25, 2016, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

She’s Dr. Allison Cameron on “House” and plays the “Savior” as Emma Swan on the hit ABC fantasy series “Once Upon a Time.” But when a migraine comes on, it’s a reality check for actress Jennifer Morrison.

She is one of more than 37 million Americans who suffer from migraines, which are super-sized headaches. Scientists believe the headaches are brought on by the temporal artery enlarging in response to a variety of triggers.

For many people, like Morrison, certain flashes of light bring on the wicked, debilitating pain. For others, it can be food, or a certain smell.

“For me it’s almost always a bright flash of light, such as bright sunlight, or the light hitting the side view mirrors on a car, when you get that quick glare,” Morrison told me Monday during a telephone interview. “Strobe lights will do it, too. I was recently at a theater production, and there were these unannounced strobe lights, and I just had to leave.”

Read more: Why bacteria could be triggering your migraines

As one of Hollywood’s busiest actresses, she splits her time between Los Angeles, New York and Vancouver, where “Once Upon a Time” is filmed. Morrison said she suffers from migraines about twice a month, and sometimes they come on during a shoot.

The saying, “The show must go on” applies to recorded television, too. Production schedules are tight, especially when you’ve got as much work as Morrison, who in addition to her acting career recently began her own production company.

Migraine stigma and why you can’t just ‘Get Over It’

Morrison has teamed up with Teva Pharmaceuticals to promote its More to Migraine campaign. Teva has created a website featuring Morrison’s story as well as information for migraine sufferers.

While most of us have heard of migraines, the sad truth is that many people view them with a skeptical eye. How many of us have seen a co-worker who repeatedly complains of migraines being accused of “just faking it,” making a mountain of a molehill, or just being a hypochondriac.

What’s worse, many people who suffer from migraines don’t pay close enough attention to what’s triggering their headaches, leaving themselves confused about what’s going on. They are not sure whether they are just stressed out, dehydrated, or any of the other things that can bring on a “regular” headache.

One of my followers on social media, a parent, described to me the story of a teenage girl who regularly suffers from migraines at school. Her peers and other teachers aren’t always understanding, the David Heitz Health follower said, saying she often is just told to “Take (acetaminophen) and get over it.”

Morrison said that the young woman should get a note from her doctor explaining that migraines are a very real neurological condition.

Related Healthline Content: Migraines More than just a Headache

“She should tell her teachers also to go look at MoreToMigraine.com,” Morrison said. “The key is to communicate with your doctor. Be aware of your triggers.”

Bright lights a common trigger, followed by blurred vision, nausea

Morrison’s story of the headaches being brought on by bright light reminded me of a friend of mine who for years complained of her migraines. I never truly understood (or even bothered to look up) what migraines are all about until one day when I was driving her to meet her daughter at school.

We were in the midst of a mid-winter deep freeze. Snow and ice were everywhere you looked, and the bright sun reflecting off of it was so intense it made driving difficult. My friend told me she was about to get sick (nausea commonly comes along with migraines,) and she did, all over the side of my car as she stuck her head out the window.

I won’t soon forget it.

Another of my Facebook followers told me her migraines are brought on by chocolate or peanut butter. A Reese’s would cause her to be in pieces.

Related Healthline Content: 14 Common Migraine Triggers

“You need to be specific about your symptoms from which you are suffering when you discuss them with your doctor,” Morrison advised. “You may think, ‘Oh I don’t want to bring up this or that,’ but you have to.”

You may be uncomfortable discussing medication overuse, alcohol, lack of eating, or hormones with your doctor, for example, but all of those things can be triggers.

“Many people are not aware that was is happening is a migraine,” Morrison said. “The blurred vision, the nausea. But with more awareness, people are starting to get it.”

Morrison says prevention is often the best medicine when it comes to migraines. “Breathing helps. I do yoga and I try to take care of myself preventatively,” she said. “I drink tons of water, eat healthy, get enough sleep. Exhaustion is a big part of how sensitive I am to my triggers.”

On her new production company and playing Colin O’Donoghue’s love interest

Exhaustion would be a challenge for any television actor, but with as much work as Morrison has, she has to be really mindful not to overdo it.

Morrison’s latest venture is her own production company, Apartment 3C Productions.

She’s directing her first feature film, called “Sun Dogs.”

It’s part casino scandal, part terrorism, part overzealous misfit. And it’s a comedy.

The film is written by Anthony Tambakis, who also wrote “Warrior,” which Morrison starred in. “It’s magnificent, thoughtful, literary, and beautiful,” Morrison said of Tambakis’s writing. “This is an original story that he came up with that he had been sitting on for a long time, waiting for the right director. I was very lucky.”

She said Tambakis saw a short Morrison directed called “Warning Labels” that is currently airing aboard United Airlines flights and will be on iTunes later this year. “I was lucky. He wanted a certain tone and style that he saw with me. There are four great characters (in the film) looking to find purpose in life, and they have some fun adventures.”

So what does Morrison do when a migraine comes on when she’s on the set? You just have to push through as long as you can, and then seek rest.

“I find a dark room and lay down,” she said. “I’ve been lucky in that I am surrounded by friends and family who know I never exaggerate something. I’m a trooper who pushes through and finds a way. If I’m a man down, I’m really a man down.”

Speaking of men, I did ask her what it’s like having Colin ‘Donoghue, “Captain Hook” in “Once Upon a Time,” as a love interest on the show. Is he just as sexy as in person?

“The most amazing thing about Colin is that he is just as good of a person and as good of a man as he is good looking,” Morrison said. “I’m very close with his family, his wife and son. They have sort of taken me in since we are shooting so far way.”

(Photo courtesy of Teva Pharmaceuticals)

NCIS’ Shalita Grant: She’s not vegan. Read more in my meaty interview with her

 

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This piece originally was published April 15, 2016, on Healthline Contributors. That site no longer is live. Reprinted with permission.

By David Heitz

What’s not to like about Sonja Percy (Shalita Grant), the sexy special agent on “NCIS: New Orleans?”

She hasn’t even hit 30 yet and is quickly amassing a large following. Schooled at Julliard and having already appeared on Broadway, stardom came quick after a guest appearance as an undercover ATF agent when “NCIS New Orleans” debuted in 2014.

Now a regular cast member, it’s clear why America likes Grant. She’s smart, she’s fit, she’s down to earth, and she’s fearless.

In fact, she does everything you see on that show without a stunt double.

Healthy mind, healthy body, as they say. I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to speak with Grant when her publicist reached out to me a couple of weeks ago.

After getting sober two years ago, and after caring for my dad for many years before (and after) that, and then after going through some heavy trauma leading up to dad’s death from Pick’s Disease in September, I’m all about me now. From working out at the gym every day, to eating healthy, to seeing a therapist twice a week, I’ve been “work, work, work working on my sh*t,” as Iggy Azalea sings. And I knew Grant would have lots of tips for me.

“First of all, congratulations,” the bubbly but no-nonsense Grant told me when we began our 45-minute telephone conversation on Wednesday. “My manager has been sober 16 years, and I understand what she goes through and what that’s all about.”

What’s great about Grant is that she does not believe in one size fits all for getting fit (which is what I always say about getting sober). She readily admits that when she got to Hollywood, she wasn’t getting parts because she had a few extra pounds on her. It was so disheartening, she got rid of her television set. She didn’t want to see all the new shows premiering that had passed her over.

That said, she wasn’t going to go on some fad diet and become a bag of bones either. Grant is proud of the muscle in her body. “I wanted to be strong.”

Why ‘poor people food’ is now $5 a bag

Shalita let me in on a secret. “A lot of people, even people I work with, think that I’m a vegan because the character on the show is vegan, but I’m a serious carnivore,” Grant said. “I’m trying to do more vegetarian options, but my body craves beef, or meat, maybe the week before my period. And I really listen to my body.”

While she says she mainly eats a lot of fish and shrimp, she will eat red meat the week before her period. Otherwise, “Typical dinners include some salmon, with the skin nice and crispy, I love that.”

She stressed that when prepping meals, even when eating healthy, “You still want it to be delicious, flavorful and done well.”

One of her favorite dishes is kale. “It’s poor people food and immigrants have eaten it for years,” she said. “I didn’t grow up with any money. Collard greens, that’s the same thing. But people have found out how healthy it is. Now that stuff can cost $5 a bag!”

Read More: Why Kale is a Superfood

Grant likes her kale cooked in the oven at 350 degrees for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, or sautéed in the skillet with garlic and olive oil. “It’s so tender, it’s easy to prepare, but very hearty and fills you up.”

She said dandelion greens also are delicious and “not as spicy as arugula, which I think is just too much. It’s sort of a mix between that and Chinese broccoli. You can get it cheap at the Chinese market. A real bargain.”

Other nights she will have ground turkey, ground beef, with bits of tofu and onion, some pepper, and half of a sweet potato.

She likes to have two large eggs in the morning with sautéed mushrooms and Amy’s vegan chili, she said.

And when she craves carbs? Go with rice, she said, instead of bread. “Get Japanese brown rice, she said. It tastes a lot better.”

Working out: Beyond the BS and the asterisks

When it comes to working out, she said fad exercise trends need to be avoided as much as fad diets.

“My journey to fitness was plagued with trying a bunch of different things before finding what works,” she said.

“I’m black, so I already had a booty. But I don’t want it to sag! I want a booty that makes me proud of myself. I want hamstrings that go into a nice booty. So I did dead lifts. I wanted curvature in my legs, so I did weighted squats.”

She said she tries to strike a balance between cardio and weight lifting. “You can’t do just one exercise in one area and think you’re going to kill the fat, no, not even in the tummy area. It is scientifically proven that that is complete BS. That’s why people who advertise that always have to use an asterisk.”

Grant uses kettle bells for working out, which she describes as “the new rage in fitness,” adding, “It just keeps it interesting.”

Read More: Kettlebell workouts for men

For tracking what she eats, Grant finds My Fitness Pal useful, she said. “It’s great, because if you want to lose weight it tells you exactly how many calories you need to be taking in to lose weight. You can scan the barcode of different foods and it will give you all the calorie information. You also can connect with other people and publish a diary.”

She may be a 28-year-old actress with a hot body and a hot television show, but Grant likes to talk about more than just diet and fitness.

Think racism is a thing of the past? Think again, Grant says

Shalita is passionate about keeping the conversation going about racism. She wants to make it clear that racism is not a fringe issue, or a passé issue. Racism is alive and well.

“As a country we have crippled ourselves with even trying to grapple with it,” Grant said. “The explanation of what racism is has become so murky. We as a country are often shortsighted. When it comes to democracy, world peace, hunger, we will say, ‘This is what we need to do. This is what we have to do.’ With racism, it’s more dubious. It’s, ‘Well, I don’t know.’”

Grant describes racism as “prejudice plus power,” adding, “We’re only just now starting to understand the power element. Our brand of racism is wholly systemic: In the Constitution, in state legislatures, in health, we are stymied with racism.”

She said social media has given rise to voices on the fringe, voices that for years have been pushed to the margins but now are being heard. The voices of women of color, for instance.

“Our voices can be heard now and we can hold the mainstream accountable in terms of where we have failed our citizens,” Grant said, adding that she is a proud supporter of The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

The institute puts on anti-racism workshops and educational programs to teach people what racism is.

She said that our country needs only to look at its past to make sense of the present, including some of the ugly racial clashes that have been seen in the current environment of the presidential campaigns. “This isn’t new. Slavery was abolished, we went through reconstruction … and we heard the same rhetoric on both sides,” Grant said. “This is what we were talking about in 1865.”

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My Chat with Shawn Achor of Oprah Fame about Happiness, Gratitude and Sobriety

 

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This piece originally was published Aug. 8, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

Oh. My. Gosh. What a terribly stressful week.

I have been so very crabby. So I’m glad I was lucky enough to land an interview recently with Shawn Achor. Shawn is nothing other than the happiness guru to O.

As in Oprah Winfrey! I’d be lying if I did not admit I enjoy speaking with celebs, and to me anyone who has appeared regularly with Oprah is a celeb.

So just as I almost had a complete and total meltdown this week, a few times, actually, including one just about an hour ago, and another a few hours before that, the tide turned once I decided to make it turn. And here I am writing about sobriety and gratitude.

 From the home office in Rock Island, Ill.

Let’s get started with a “Top Five” list. 

  1. I am grateful for getting to interview famous people like Shawn Achor and so many others, and to share what we talked about with others.
  1. I am grateful for my precious 20-year-old cat, LuLu, who is napping on the sofa in my office as I write this. (Editor’s note: Unfortunately, LuLu died last month).
  1. I am grateful for my sobriety. I’m always grateful for that.
  1. I am grateful to be living in the very house I grew up in, which brings tremendous comfort during even the most difficult of times.
  1. I am grateful for the DE-LISH ear of sweet corn I just had, smothered in butter, garlic salt and pepper.

One of Achor’s tips to staying positive, especially at times when it seems so terribly hard, is to list five things that happened in the past 24 hours that you’re thankful for.

Achor was “on the circuit” a couple of weeks back to promote Buick’s “24 Hours of Happiness Test Drive” campaign. When his people reached out to me and asked if I’d like to chat with him, I was very flattered and immediately said yes.

I asked him what tips he has for people struggling to stay sober, who find themselves without their old “friends” or their fix.

“When it comes to addiction and recovery, instead of thinking about what you’re giving up, turn that around,” Achor said. “Instead of letting your whole life become deficit thinking, things you’re not doing anymore, there is real power in seeing things you’re picking up.”

Read more: My interview with Shawn Achor for HIV Equal

For me that has meant more time to spend with my dad. (Editor’s note: My dad died in September 2015). More time to exercise. Above all, more time for my writing, which I love.

And I even am getting to the space of letting go of anger toward people who want to hurt me. I know what those people are going through. I’ve been there, and it’s not pretty.

I’m glad I no longer live in that space. (Update: I’m still angry as hell at those who tried to hurt me, especially a handful of dirty politicians who are just dripping with filth).

Hating yourself is a big downer

I really never was a very positive person before sobriety. Most people who hate themselves aren’t.

But today, even though my dad is dying a horrible death from a dementia-related illness, and even though I still struggle to make ends meet, and even though I don’t speak with hardly any of my relatives, I sometimes have to pinch myself about how good life is. (Update: My dad died well over a year ago, and his estate still is not settled, and the court battle between my brother, myself, and a third party also included in my dad’s will grows uglier and uglier by the week and by the month. I have spent about $5,000 with an attorney just to get what my dad left me in a very simply stated will. But I have a very successful career and no longer struggle to make ends meet).

Acknowledging life is better now that I am sober, even if it is much harder in some ways, really is what keeps me going.

While I’m not a fan of Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step to becoming a positive person was admitting I was powerless over alcohol.

Once I admitted that, I instantly was freed to envision a better life. My sponsor told me: “David, and I promise you, after one year, your life will be 10 times better.”

I believed him. I envisioned a better life. And today, 15 months later (update: now 30 months later), I have a better life.

I love my work. I have inner peace. I have good health.

That’s not to say I don’t get really stressed out. But with inner peace, I never blame myself for it anymore, because I know I am doing the best I can.

That’s not to say sober life has been easy. But it’s still better. And I’m grateful for that, and I know it will become less difficult over time.

How “I am an alcoholic” truly set me free

It didn’t take long after admitting I was an alcoholic before little signs of a better life began to sprout. Giving up the booze was like putting down top soil from which to sow new possibilities that come with living without drugs and booze.

I always have allowed my work to define me, for better or for worse. Many Americans are that way.

But when I was a drunk, I hardly could be proud of my work. When I was drinking, I didn’t show up for days on end. While my work always passed muster, I knew I wasn’t performing at even one-tenth of my ability.

Self-respect and good health are two things I never had when I was the town drunk. I spent each day feeling horrible about the dumb things I did the day before. So I drank to forget about it. It was an endless cycle.

In November 2010, I quit my job at the local newspaper. For three years, I tried to focus on caring full-time for my dad. But don’t kid yourself. I was drinking too.

But as I saw him decline and realized that he needed my help, I think I had purpose in life that I wasn’t getting from my job at the local newspaper.

Having purpose planted a seed for the sobriety. Suddenly life was about something bigger than myself, as they talk about in AA.

A fresh career start … so why not give up booze, too?

When dad went into a memory-care facility, I had the opportunity to start fresh in terms of my career. I lucked out when an acquaintance hooked me up with a freelance reporting gig for Healthline. Little did I know how much I would enjoy health reporting. I once again began to really feel like I was making a difference with my journalism.

I thought, “If I quit drinking, how much even better could things be?”

I was ready to quit. And after getting hammered and making an ass of myself in front of my neighbors and on social media Memorial Day 2014, I was ready to accept that booze made me do things I was ashamed of and that is was destroying my life, even as it was turning around after years of hopelessness.

So, to AA I went. A week went by without booze. Two weeks.  A month.

I worked hard to change my thinking to the positive from day one. It’s true that if you start each morning with prayer or meditation, or even list just three positive things about the past 24 hours, you can’t help but feel better about the direction your life is headed in.

The support you get from others when you become sober – friends on Facebook, professional contacts – is inspiring. After a while, though, the “attaboys” stop. And since I decided AA wasn’t for me, I don’t get any support “in the rooms,” as they say.

And my old crowd? I left them behind a few months even prior to getting sober and never looked back. Which, of course, is what everyone getting sober needs to do.

But more than a year (now 2 1/2 years) into it, I remain positive even if I operate as an island these days, at least physically. That’s because I have made friends with myself.

 

Kellie Pickler Talks Allergies, the End of ‘American Idol’ and her own Reality Show

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Originally published April 21, 2016, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted with permission.

By David Heitz

What’s a country girl to do when she has allergies?

When you’re a hot country superstar like Kellie Pickler, allergies can be a huge problem.

“I’ll end up looking emotional on stage,” Pickler told me in a 20-minute telephone interview on Thursday. “I’ll be singing a happy song and my eyes are watering, my allergies would get so bad.”

Now, Pickler turns to Flonase. She says Nashville is one of the worst places in the U.S. for allergies, with pollen dumping down onto the town “like a bowl.”

“If you’ve got a black car, it’s soon to be yellow,” said Pickler, who undoubtedly qualifies along with Kelly Clarkson as one of the “darlings” of “American Idol.”

Pickler, Clarkson and a host of other “AI” alumni (include teeny-bopper heartthrob Scotty McCreery) performed a country medley for the ultimate “Idol” finale April 7.

Related Healthline Content: Nasal and Oral Corticosteroids for Allergies

Although Pickler did not emerge the winner of Season 5, like so many runner-ups in the show she has gone on to find great success.

She has her own reality shown on CMT called “I Love Kellie Pickler.” In one recent episode, she decides she wants to have some chickens for pets, much to the chagrin of her husband (who went along anyway) but who also is allergic to almost everything.

“Oh, he’s really stocked up!” on the Flonase, Kellie said, as she is known for bringing home just about every animal that crosses her path.

Related Healthline Content: All you need to know about Pollen Allergies

Flonase is an over-the-counter medicine that used to only be available by prescription. Pickler is traveling the nation this spring hopping from one itchy-sneezy-watery-eye town to another with the social media sensation the Eh Bees, a cutesy family that has gone viral on social media.

The road trip kicked off April 18 in New York City and will end April 30 in Austin, Texas, where Kellie will reconnect with the Eh Bees at the iHeartCountry Festival.

An American Idol Fan-atic Myself

When celebrities are on the circuit pitching a product, I don’t always say yes to an interview. But there is no way I could pass up chatting with Pickler. Back in my drinking days, I was known to “accidentally” trip over the juke box cord when someone dare play it while “American Idol” was on at the tavern.

Back in those days, I penned a regular blog for the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, called “Idol Chatter.” One year, after Season 6 (the season after Pickler), I got to meet all of the “Idol” finalists and conduct one-on-one interviews with them. Sanjaya Malakar (remember him, with the wacky hair?) and Melinda Doolittle provided particularly interesting color during our chats. The winner that year was Jordin Sparks, who gushed to me about Paula Abdul. You can read the story here.

“Idol” also has a connection to my hometown, the Quad-Cities, because “Idol” hair guru Dean Banowetz hails from nearby DeWitt, Iowa (no wonder Sanjaya’s hair had so much personality). Pickler said she also worked with Banowetz.

Related Healthline Content: What you need to know about Ragweed Allergies

The next year, a young man named Leo Marlowe from nearby Charlotte, Iowa, a tiny town, made it to Hollywood. He had a few minutes of audition fame but did not land in the top 50. Still, I enjoyed reporting his journey as well.

Drowsiness an unwanted side effect for a performer

Back to Pickler’s chickens, I explained to Kellie that my friends Jim and Joe had a couple of chickens, Little and Peepers, but they died. She said one of hers died too and suggested they don’t really have a very long life expectancy.

About then Kellie’s representatives on the conference call gave me a two-minute warning, so I asked a question drawing upon my own experience with allergies. As a performer, don’t other allergy medicines, particularly those in pill form, cause drowsiness?

Pickler said yes, they do. “I’ve never had a side effect from Flonase. Some nasal sprays can make you drowsy, too. I’d look funny falling asleep on stage!”

Nasal Corticosteroids do have some side effects, and you can read about them here.

I wondered what the final “Idol” finale was like. After all, “American Idol” had one of the most legendary runs in American television history. I told her I used to get goosebumps when Ryan Seacrest would say, “THIS is American Idol!”

She called the 15-season farewell special “a circus, but a good kind of crazy.”

And like me, she’s not convinced that “American Idol” is gone forever. “I just don’t know,” Pickler said.

Meanwhile, you can follow the Eh Bee Family on their trip to five allergy-laden cities at BeGreater.Flonase.com and discuss your own allergy issues on social media using the hashtag #BeGreater.

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Even when you’re ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ smoking isn’t sexy. How Mark Ballas quit

 

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Originally published Aug. 25, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted with permission.

By David Heitz

Even when you’re one of Hollywood’s hottest performers, smoking just ain’t sexy.

That may be why so many celebrities are closet smokers. That, and by now everyone should know better. Celebrities know that, too.

“A lot of people in Hollywood who use their voice and their body smoke,” said Mark Ballas of “Dancing with the Stars” fame in a telephone interview with me on Monday. “But I think that when you’re a smoker, subconsciously you know that what you’re doing is wrong. At some point I said, ‘I really need to stop now. This is getting ridiculous.’”

It wasn’t image that compelled Ballas to finally quit – it was his health. “It got to where

I was knocking out 20 (cigarettes) a day,” he said. “One day, I was in class, and I was running out of steam. It was affecting my breathing. That was a wake-up call, because

I need my body, being a performer, dancing and singing and doing what I do. I’m on stage all the time, and I need to feel good.”\

When I quit in February 2013, I had a similar epiphany. I had become completely disgusted with myself.

Related News: Are e-cigarettes a healthy way to quit smoking?

 Lighting up and fitting in as a U.K. teen

Ballas said he started lighting up at 16. “Cigarettes are super accessible (in Great Britain). My friends smoked, and so I picked up the habit at a young age. You think, ‘I’m invincible. It’s not going to affect me.’”

He said he tried to quit many times once he knew he had had enough, beginning at about the age of 25 or 26. But nothing worked. “I would smoke a little less, but I always came back to it.”

Finally, he tried NicoDerm CQ, and it worked for him. “I liked the patch because I’m dancing all day, and I didn’t want to think about it.”

Ballas said he declined to even consider being a spokesman for NicoDerm until he knew for sure that the product worked. “And it did work for me, so I decided I wanted to be an advocate and help other people.”

Also joining the telephone conversation Monday was Mark’s mom Shirley. Shirley is a dancing legend in her own right, who smoked for four decades. Ballas was raised by his mother and grandmother, and smoke was everywhere.

Related News: My interview with “WKRP in Cincinnati” bombshell Loni Anderson, caregiver for her parents with COPD

“I’ve had a special relationship with Mark for many years, and I saw him trying, so I said, ‘Let’s do it together,’” Shirley explained. She chose Nicorette to quit. “I tried the gum, because it keeps your breath fresh and I like the taste of it. It worked for me.”

 Quit in September: It’s all about you

Mark and Shirley are encouraging everyone to participate in what they’re calling SELFtember. What is SELFtember all about? “We’re coming out of vacation mode, coming out of summer. It’s time to get back to the gym, time to start work and school. It’s time to snap back to reality,” Mark Ballas said.

“We want people to be inspired to live a healthier lifestyle,” he continued. “In the summer, maybe you were smoking more than usual because you had more free time. Let SELFtember be a catalyst to quit, a catalyst for living a healthier lifestyle.”

Shirley also plugged an idea she calls “What’s Your Why?” The What’s Your Why? ™ campaign asks smokers to share their motivational reasons for wanting to quit smoking. It helps a smoker envision what the future could hold when he or she succeeds. It puts the quitter’s goals front and center, whether they’re big dreams or little victories.

Related News: Does switching to e-cigarettes make your body any healthier?

Mark and being around to spend time with her grandchildren are Shirley’s whys, she said. You can learn more about a day-long event being held at Santa Monica Pier in Southern California, where smoking cessation aids will be handed out free.

Save your cigarette money, buy a house in Beverly Hills

Being smoke-free is being good to Mark, who hopes to have a career as successful as Jared Leto’s. He admires Leto, an actor, singer, song writer and director best known for his role as Jordan Catalano on the television hit “My So-Called Life.”

“Jared Leto has had an amazing acting career, he’s had his band … back in the day, artists like Michael Jackson did more than just one thing,” Mark Ballas said. ”It’s OK to do more than one thing. I don’t like people to get pigeon-holed.”

Ballas also has a band, has written songs, has starred on Broadway and now has a new business venture. Ballas just opened his first dance studio, Mark Ballas Dance and Performing Arts, in North Carolina and hopes to open nine more by year’s end. His debut single, “Get My Name,” rose to No. 24 on the iTunes Pop Chart. A whopping 20 million viewers a week tune in to watch him on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

Has being smoke-free added to his amazing success?

“I feel like quitting has been a big help to my focus and my mental capacity and for targeting goals and reaching them,” Ballas said. “It’s great not to be wheezing and coughing. I feel way better. I do feel a huge difference, plus I was burning money with a terrible habit.”

That saved cigarette money adds up. He made headlines earlier this week for his purchase of a $2.52 million “fixer-upper” in L.A.’s esteemed Beverly Crest neighborhood.

He says if he can quit smoking, anyone can. “It’s OK to be outside your comfort zone. If I can do it, anyone can do it. You’ve got to have the balls to do it.”

Learn More: More tips for coping with nicotine withdrawal

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