If you’re like me, you’re always looking for a fresh and affordable way to exercise. Changing your routing every now and then is a great way to keep the fire going and get you on the path to health and well-being.

Well, today is your lucky day, because I’m going to share with you my new workout routine. It’s called the SNO workout, which stands for the “Shoveling is Never Over” workout.

The SNO workout is free from about November (and sometimes October) until about March (and sometimes April) if you live in the great Northeast. Who needs a gym membership when you have the SNO workout? What a great day it is when you find you have something so effective available to you that is free and always there (during the winter, at least).

The great thing about the SNO workout is it’s so easy to fit into your schedule. Wait, you were planning on going to work today? No, no, no, not before you get a SNO workout so you can get your car out of the driveway. This is truly the only workout that plans the schedule for you. How easy is that!

The SNO workout is a total, full-body exercise. You name it — legs, arms, shoulders, and especially lower back. After the SNO workout, your whole body will be quivering as your well-worked and totally depleted muscles beg for mercy. Try getting a workout this good at the gym. No can do!

Don’t think because you have a snow-blower or a plowing service that you can’t take advantage of the SNO workout. There are always the walkways, that narrow space between the house and the fence, the deck, around the cars, and plenty of other places were the SNO workout is the best way to remove snow accumulation and get your exercise in.

Trust me, if you live in the Northeast, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the SNO workout.

But, Frank, you ask, how can I be sure I’ll get the SNO workout each and every winter? Glad you asked. It’s so easy. You only have to remember two things:

— Stop complaining about the cold while threatening to move to Florida; and

— Stop complaining about the taxes while threatening to move to Florida.

If you can do these two things, you can have the SNO workout every winter! Yay!

I know, I know, you still don’t believe the SNO workout can form the basis of an effective exercise program. You want to make sure you get in enough work to burn a lot of calories and really look and feel your best.

That’s the great thing about the SNO workout — you never know how much snow accumulation there will be or how long it will last. Trust me, sometimes you can get the SNO workout for days and days at a time. How great is that?

Then, just when you think your exercise is over, the town plow comes by, and instantly you’re exercising again at the bottom of the driveway and by your mailbox. Just when you thought your SNO workout was over and done for the day, you’re now getting your second round of calorie-burning workout goodness.

Feel the burn, baby! Thank you, Mister Town Plow Man!

Still haven’t gotten enough exercise? No problemo! Go to your neighbor’s house and do the SNO workout there. Heck, come over to my house and do the SNO workout right in my driveway. I won’t mind.

I’m old and I need a break from the SNO workout every now and then. Don’t let me stop you from getting into the best shape you can!

What kind of an investment do you need to perform the SNO workout? Not much, really. All you need besides your normal winter clothes are a couple of snow shovels.

The first should be one of those “pusher” shovels for when we get only a couple of inches of snow. This shovel works the hamstrings great. Get into a rhythm with this shovel and you’ll really explore the aerobic aspects of the SNO workout.

The second one should be a regular snow shovel. This is the one you use when it drops so much snow it’s just a sea of white outside. Now you’re working your entire body, especially your arms and lower back.

Keep up the SNO workout during this kind of snow accumulation and you’ll be the muscle king on the beach when summer finally comes. Try not to kick too much sand in the faces of all those wimpy guys who don’t live in the great Northeast like you do!

Is this the greatest exercise program ever or what? The fun literally never ends during our wonderful, long, drawn-out winters. So if you live in the great Northeast, don’t worry about how to stay in shape when the weather turns cold. Just remember the SNO — Shoveling is Never Over — workout, and you’re good to go for months at a time.

They say: No pain, no gain. We say: No snow, go home!

P.S. Keep a lot of Advil on hand. You’re going to need it.


I came across three things recently that made me question whether I’m living in the same universe as everyone else. Maybe you can make sense of them. My brain still hurts from trying to figure them out.

The first one was a video I saw. On the left side of the screen was a picture of a mature woman, like someone’s grandma. She was attractive in a matronly way, like someone you’d see in church or in the library.

Then on the right side of the screen was a picture of another woman. This one is made up to the hilt, with shaded long hair and a shiny complexion, the very definition of glitz and glamor. You could imagine seeing her on “Dancing with the Stars” or in a nightclub at 2 a.m., partying hard.

Well, guess what? The grandmother and the dancer are the same woman.

When you play the video, time-lapse photography starts, and slowly the grandmother turns into the dancer through the magic of makeup. I’m using the word magic here for a reason; the transformation was that amazing.

Now I’ll admit I know very little about makeup. I grew up with two brothers. My mother as far as I could tell didn’t use much makeup. Neither does my lovely wife. But if makeup can do a transformation like this, it truly is amazing.

Here’s the thing: About halfway through the video, all the deep wrinkles on the woman’s face just go away. It’s like time travel, like she suddenly got 30 years younger. My wife tells me this part was done with “foundation.” If you’re like me and know nothing about that, let me put it into terms you might understand.

Say you’re doing bodywork on a car. You bang out the dent or weld it up and now you have a solid but rough surface to work with. You then get out the Bondo and the sanding sealer and, after careful application and a lot of sanding, you have a silky smooth surface ready for paint.

That’s what this woman’s foundation thing reminded me of. The wrinkles, or dents if you will, just go away, and all of a sudden everything is smooth with no blemishes. I’ll never again be able to go into the bodywork section of an auto parts store without thinking of this woman’s face.

While it’s great that makeup can make you look decades younger, I have to question whether it’s kind of false advertising in a way. I mean, if you met the woman on the right side of the video — the glamorous dancer — you’d be thinking she’s one kind of person.

Then, if you saw her without the makeup, you’d think she was collecting Social Security. My wife tells me there are women who never let their husbands see them without their makeup on.

Imagine that. It’s like being a superhero: Do you wear your costume and display your magical powers or not? What a way to live.

I know, it’s different for women. They always want to look nice. The guys I know look the same whether they’re fishing, riding a motorcycle, or attending a wedding. Only the clothes change (and for some of my friends the clothes don’t even change that much). Hey, no matter who you are, it’s what’s on the inside that counts anyway.

Then next thing I saw that made me scratch my head was a TV show about recreational vehicles, or RVs. I’ve owned a couple of these over the years, and I may be interested in one again if extended travel becomes one of my retirement priorities.

The show focused on a family with two high school-age daughters. The parents wanted to buy an RV so they could have some quality time with the girls before they went off to college. Sounds totally reasonable. Then the salesman asks the father what his budget is for a new RV and, without blinking an eye, he says, “Around $250,000.” Yikes!

Remember, this is not a case where a family is selling their home and using the proceeds to buy an RV to live in. This is a totally discretionary purchase to do something fun with the kids, like taking them to the beach or to an amusement park. I don’t know about you, but I doubt I’ll ever have a quarter of a million dollars for a totally discretionary purchase.

Do people really live like this, with that much available money to play around with? I see a lot of RVs on the road, and the RV stores around here are acres large and packed to the gills with fancy rigs.

Maybe everyone has a great stock broker or a rich uncle, but that show still left me shocked. I know money is not worth what it used to be worth, but that is still a lot of cash for something that can leak oil or get a flat tire and may have a clogged toilet at any time. Been there, done that.

The third crazy thing I saw recently was a TV commercial. It shows a young woman meeting with her investment adviser.

He asks her how long she plans to work, and she responds with a big smile, “Around 70.”

Wow. I know I’m a little long in the tooth at this point, but it wasn’t that long ago that working to age 70 was only done if you had absolutely no other options to pay the bills.

Here’s the kicker: The investment adviser asks the young woman what she plans to do when she finally retires, and she says, “I’d like to run with the bulls.”

So, let’s see if we have this right: She’s going to work to age 70, and then fly to Pamplona, Spain and enter the semi-controlled madness called “running with the bulls,” where wild animals and throngs of out-of-control people run for their lives down narrow, crowded streets like drugged rats in an endless maze, screaming, ranting and raving while trying not to get gored, run over, or crushed.

This is what she is looking forward to do when she retires. At 70. Right.

Who is writing these commercials? Are they kidding or what? Someone should test the water over there. I knew there would be problems when they cut back on mental-health funding.

So there you have it: Women taking decades off their appearance, people spending 250 large on a discretionary purchase, and people working to age 70 before they go running with the bulls. All I can say is: Thank God for single-malt scotch.


— Photo from Facebook

Bill and Judi Yelton founded their restaurant, Will’s Grill, in Lawrence, Indiana in 1998, and named it after Bill’s son, Will Yelton, who died in 1995, barely in his thirties.

My lovely wife and I had the luxury of taking a long car trip in the summer. We got to see a lot of sites that were on our bucket list, visit a lot of friends, and overall just have a nice relaxing time.

The budget hotels we stayed in weren’t the best, but then again you get what you pay for (if you’re lucky). Maybe an RV is in our future. We’ll see.

So often when traveling it’s the unexpected occurrences or places that become the big highlights, the kind of things that memories are made of. Stumbling onto a great beach, park, or restaurant is always fun.

These days, with computers and phones, it’s no problem if you want to ultra-plan everything, squeezing in the maximum number of activities and experiences possible. There’s certainly something to that, and I admire those people who have the skill and persistence to pull it off, but mostly I like to just take things as they come. Surprises (when they’re good ones) help make traveling worthwhile.

One day during our trip, it was lunchtime and I was getting hungry. We were in the middle of nowhere and just for laughs I had my wife do a search on her phone for a White Castle restaurant.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure, White Castle serves those delicious but gut-busting tiny burgers known lovingly as “sliders,” “belly bombers,” “murder burgers,” and other colorful names. They have this reputation not because there’s anything inherently wrong with them.

Like most fast food, they are high in calories, fat, and salt. The problem is they’re so darn good you tend to eat way too many and then get sick after. (I’ve eaten 20 at a single sitting several times — ouch). Truly, too much of anything is not good.

So she finds a White Castle location in Indiana of all places and just like that we’re in the parking lot and I’m drooling. Now my wife has a more discerning palette than I do, and, if she never saw another white-and-blue White Castle building with the big yellow “The Crave!” sign in her life, she’d be fine.

So, as usual, I was at a crossroads. I really needed a White Castle fix but I wanted my wife to be happy as well. Then I looked across the street and there was this funky combination café-restaurant-trucking company there. It had a real “down home” look to it, to say the least.

It reminded me of the place in “The Blues Brothers” movie where John Belushi asks what kind of music they like, and the waitress responds: “Both kinds — Country and Western.” So, just like that, White Castle was out, and a new adventure was about to begin.

As soon as we sat down, the cozy, down-home atmosphere indicated we’d made the right choice. Picture a snazzy black-and-white tile floor, a high lofty ceiling with bicycles hanging upside down, a huge American flag on the wall, and all kinds of wild memorabilia all over the place.

Despite the busy decor, the atmosphere was relaxing: tables filled with ordinary working folk just having a good time. They even have actual Blues Brothers mannequins in the corner, singing and dancing at the mic! There’s something about the heartland that inspires people to create places like this, and I for one am grateful for it.

Before you could say “yee haw,” we had our drinks and the owner was sitting with us, chatting us up. The place is called Will’s Grill & Restaurant, and the owner, Bill Yelton, is a character straight out of a “Prairie Home Companion” radio show.

Before we knew what was happening, we were regaled with all that was going on in the area, how the business was doing, and what was wrong with the world, but not in an obnoxious or complaining sort of way. Rather, it was done in that small-town American way where everybody knows everybody and a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.

I’ve always been a fan of small businesses and the people who make them run, because these kinds of shops are the backbone of our community and our country. Hardworking, taxpaying people like these really are what make America great. We had such a good time at Will’s Grill that, when we left, after saying cheerful goodbyes to everyone, I took a business card and stuffed it in my wallet just in case I ever get back to that neck of the woods.

Months later, I’m doing a wallet purge. This is where you find your wallet getting so big it’s causing physical pain so you’re forced to finally clean that sucker out lest you develop an even worse posture than you already have.

As I’m doing this, I come across the Will’s Grill business card. I was just about to toss it on my stack of saved business cards (where it will just lie around for years before getting tossed so why not just toss it now but that’s another story) when I happen to flip it over and notice there is printing on the back, which is unusual for a business card. Here is what it said:

“He is nothing, he can do nothing, he can achieve nothing, fulfill nothing, without working. If you are poor — work! If you are rich — continue working! If you are burdened with seemingly unfair responsibilities — work! If you are happy, keep right on working! Idleness gives room for doubts and fears. If disappointments come — work! If your health is threatened — work! When faith falters — work! When dreams are shattered and hope seems dead — work! Work as if your life were in peril. No matter what ails you — work! Work faithfully, work with faith. Work is the greatest remedy available for mental and physical afflictions.” — Bill Yelton, Will’s Grill & Restaurant, Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

As I stood there reading this screed over and over my jaw literally dropped. It’s like Bill Yelton read my mind and said what I’ve always felt but in the most heartfelt and eloquent way, in that good old boy country style that I could never do.

What I mean is: He nailed it, like a basketball player sinking a three-pointer to win the game with no time left on the clock and the ball going swish as the buzzer blares and the fans go crazy. Game over!

My first job was delivering newspapers after school and I’ve been working straight through ever since. I’ve worked part-time while going to school; I’ve worked two jobs at time; I’ve worked while raising a family; I’ve worked while maintaining a home and rental property and fixing my cars and everything else around the house; I’ve kept working while the house slowly becomes an empty nest; and I have no immediate plans to stop working even as I edge closer and closer to retirement.

I’ve worked long and hard and never even thought twice about it because work is just second nature to me. Some people play the lottery in hope of getting out of working; I, on the other hand, play the lottery only when I can remember to buy a ticket, which isn’t often. Even if I won, which is doubtful as you know, I’d still work at something.

Work is life, life is work. It’s as simple as that.

That quote from Bill Yelton hits home with me because I recognize the value of work. Work gives you purpose; meaning; and, of course, remuneration for your hard effort. That’s a great deal if you ask me.

How serendipitous to wander into an out-of-the-way country restaurant and have it stated so simply and effectively. Indeed, if you have the good fortune to work as if your life is in peril, you can go to bed at night happy and fulfilled knowing that you’ve contributed to society.

Just by the simple act of your daily sweat and toil, you become part of the solution, not part of the problem. It doesn’t get any better than that. Thank you, Bill Yelton, for so beautifully capturing the essence, value, and meaning of hard work.


Lately I've had more contact with those over age 85 than I've ever had in my life. It has been an eye-opening experience in many ways.

This contact has truly given me the utmost respect for all those involved in elder care: family members, nursing-home employees, doctors and nurses — all of them. It takes real patience and, of course, love when dealing with the age group that we all hope to join someday.

Everything changes significantly when dealing with seniors. Take something simple like planning an outing of some sort — shopping, concert, picnic, whatever.

First you must consider what the parking situation will be like where you’re going. Will I be able to drop the person off close while I park? Will there be someone to watch them?

Then you have to gauge how much walking will be involved. Will it be far, will the terrain be difficult, will there be stairs?

Of course, you need to consider temperature as well. It seems people get colder as they age. In their defense, some venues (offices, meeting rooms, stores) are as cold as meat lockers for some reason, so jackets and sweaters are always involved no matter what the actual outdoor or indoor temperature is.

Probably the biggest consideration when traveling with seniors is access to bathroom facilities. Seniors may have to go often, and it may be an involved procedure when they go for all kinds of medical reasons, so this is a prime consideration.

A friend of mine booked a tour bus once and at the last minute the bus company informed us of a one-hour delay. My friend got chewed out royally by a senior who had spent months timing his bathroom procedure for a time that was now off by an hour.

Especially since this change was totally out of my friend’s control, it really hurt to see him get abused like this. That’s why it’s so important to consider bathroom access anytime you are dealing with seniors.

You would think a thermostat is a pretty simple device. There’s a heat-off-cool switch, a temperature control, and a fan control.

Yet I've literally run out of ways to explain how this device works. I've tried everything and I just don't know how to make it any simpler.

Same thing with trying to explain a new cell phone (and I'm not even talking about a smart phone). I guess. when you consider this age group grew up when outhouses were common and radio was state-of-the-art, it’s understandable.

Still, it’s so frustrating for me that I can’t seem to be able to explain the operation of these relatively stone-ax simple devices in an understandable manner. Good thing I didn’t decide to become a teacher. I apparently would have just stunk at it.

Speaking of training a senior, my cousin posted this online: “I should be made a saint for teaching my mother how to use Facebook.”

Next time you see the library offering computer training for seniors, you might want to go in and pat those trainers on the backs. They must have all the patience in the world. I’ve done a lot of training and I know that seeing a bunch of blank stares is never fun.

Now that the internet is ubiquitous, more and more organizations are using web-based contacts for all kinds of thing. This burns me because many, if not most, seniors cannot or will not use a computer.

So now caregivers have to pretend to be the seniors, but that doesn't always work smoothly if it works at all. For example, sometimes you need power of attorney when advocating for someone else.

What’s frustrating is seniors are often alone and isolated. They would so much enjoy receiving the many forms of social contact that the internet provides, like email, pictures, family updates, and more. Until computers become as easy to use as a toaster, that just isn’t going to happen.

Let’s say you have an event where sound is very prominent — a concert or some other kind of show. Seniors often don't have good hearing.

Even those who wear hearing aids may have trouble, because the hearing aid might not work correctly, or the batteries are dead, or they simply forgot to or decided not to wear it that day. Imagine how you’d feel if you couldn’t hear the melody or understand the jokes.

So, before you spend lots of money on show tickets, be sure the people you plan on taking actually have the ability to enjoy it. It will only be a frustrating experience for all of you if they don'’.

Seniors are unfortunately prime victims of all kinds of scammers and crooks, both in person and online. The classic example is a guy with a truck who looks legit, takes a deposit for home improvement like driveway sealing or roofing, and is never seen again.

The few seniors who do manage to get online are prime targets for all kinds of internet scams as well: the classic Nigerian prince who needs some funds to unlock his fortune, a fake contact from the bank or the IRS, etc. I find these kinds of crooks, who prey on our most vulnerable relatives, friends, and neighbors, to be truly despicable and deserving of maximum punishment.

Dietary restrictions are a fact of life for many seniors. They might be sensitive to salt or fat or something else, which means you need to either adjust your cooking or cook something special for them. Sometimes they may have dental issues as well.

Of course, these days more and more people have nut allergies, gluten allergies, and the like, so it’s not only seniors, but it does give you one more thing to think about anytime you are planning a gathering where a meal is involved.

One curious thing I've noticed with seniors is their tendency to repeat the same stories over and over and over again. What’s fascinating about this is each time they tell it, they act like it’s the first time they’re doing it.

When my wife and I meet one of our kid’s new boyfriends or girlfriends, we share the same funny family stories each time, but, once we tell them the first time, that’s it. We don’t repeat the stories each time we see them again.

Could it be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or some other geriatric disease? I hope not because all, and I do mean all, of the seniors I know do this a lot.

It’s to the point where, if there’s one takeaway I hope to receive from my close interactions with seniors, it’s to not repeat the same stories over and over. We'll have to wait and see how that goes.

Note that it’s not all seniors who have these issues. My friend’s dad is 92 and he still hunts, takes care of his own home, drives, has a circle of friends, goes to Florida each year, and makes it a point to fit in a good, long nap each day. Heck, he’s having more fun than I am.

Here in Guilderland, we have lots of senior services with lunches, classes, bus trips, and more. There are senior centers and senior programs all over the place, which is terrific.

The thing is, you have to reach out and take advantage of them. For a number of reasons — some physical, some emotional, some cultural — not all seniors can do that. That’s a real shame because there is no reason why everyone, no matter what their age, shouldn't have some fun now and then.

No matter where I visit seniors — in their homes or in facilities like nursing homes or retirement centers — I can't help but notice the overwhelming predominance of television viewing. I know for some folks this may be the only semi-actual human interaction they have.

This is sad because anything you see on TV is biased from some producer’s or director’s perspective by default. I always advise seniors I meet to get and use a library card.

The library is a grand gift no matter what the age, a place where ideas from many sources — newspapers, books, magazines, and so much more — are freely available to all. Keeping your brain active by actually reading and forming your own opinions — it doesn’t get any better than that.

A curious thing happens whenever I visit a senior in any kind of assisted-living or senior-care facility. I call it “the stare.” It works like this: As you approach the building from the parking lot, you first notice being stared at from behind the shades in the windows (sometimes I even wave to the people who are staring at me).

Then there is usually a crew, often sitting in wheel chairs, at the front door. They seem to have no problem staring you down quite forcefully, like they’ve seen you on a wanted poster or something.

As you get closer, you’re thinking, “Is my zipper open or what?” I don’t know if this is unique to me, and in a way I suppose it’s good that seniors want to know (apparently very much so) who’s coming and going, but it always gives me the creeps to have to go through this every time I make a visit to a senior facility.

One good thing about seniors is they often offer a wealth of knowledge about how things were done in the past. I never tire of hearing good stories (well, maybe after the 50th time), and seniors have plenty of good stories.

You see, kids, there really was a time when there was no internet, cars broke down all the time, there were only three channels on TV, there was no remote, and your phone was only as mobile as the length of its cord. Our parents and grandparents lived through those times and did their best so that we could enjoy everything we do today.

Let’s not turn our backs on these folks, because they certainly deserve our respect, patience, and admiration.

None of us can control the aging process or what it does to our bodies. We’re all delicate creatures that are damaged easily by so many things, both physical and emotional.

Having to face the vagaries of human existence with declining mental and physical powers can’t be fun I’m sure. The only thing we can control is our attitude.

If there is one tip I'd like to give to seniors, it’s to try, no matter how desperate or depressing things may seem, to look on the plus side. Any day when you’re not pushing up daisies is a good day, when you think about it.

The folks who work with seniors daily are real-life heroes. I know the work they do is not always easy. I just hope they have the same patience with me when I need their care.


Ralph C. Smedley was an education director for the Young Men’s Christian Association when he discovered the need for speech training. In 1924, the program he developed became known as Toastmasters.

Today, Toastmasters International is a global organization devoted to developing leadership and public-speaking skills. All these years later, the program Mr. Smedley invented is still going strong and working wonders.

I first became involved in Toastmasters years ago when I joined a local club. It was a lot of fun because everyone was there to help everyone else and you never knew what someone would decide to speak about.

One lady brought in stunning pictures of her hike through Europe. Another lady spoke about curling, that crazy sport where you sweep the ice with a broom to direct what look like giant bocce balls. I even got to participate in a very spirited debate, which was a lot of fun.

Then my kids got to the age where they needed to be ferried to various after-school activities all the time so I had to give up the program. Lucky for me, I’ve got a little more free time these days so I joined another Toastmasters club and I’m having a great time. Who says you can’t go back again?

Over the years, I’ve read many times that public speaking is the number-one fear for most people, feared even more than death. That’s why a program like Toastmasters is so wonderful.

Everyone in that room is supportive to the max. No one makes fun of you if you’re not perfect. In fact, after any speech or other activity, you are always provided with constructive feedback meant to help you improve for next time. That’s a great thing if you want to learn how to speak better in public.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “I have no use for Toastmasters because I’m not a TV star or running for office so what do I care about public speaking?”

The thing, is you may not have to speak in a professional manner, but there are so many other public-speaking opportunities that the average person may encounter: at church, town board meetings, weddings, or funerals.

If you really think about it, you’ll realize that, any time you are speaking to anyone, you are engaged in public speaking, so anything that makes you communicate better has to be a good thing.

Here are a couple of examples of public-speaking failures.

My grandmother chose her son-in-law, my uncle, to give the toast at her fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. So my uncle stands up, raises his glass, says, “Salute,” and sits back down. Even as a kid watching that, I knew there was something missing.

Then I was at a graduation celebration. The speaker spent 15 minutes talking to the graduates, who were sitting behind her on the stage, rather than to the audience. It was like those of us in the audience were witnessing a locker-room pep talk. Both that speaker and my uncle most certainly would have benefited from some Toastmasters training.

Of course, when you start studying public speaking, you do become more tuned in to what speakers do and say. At a cancer survivors’ dinner, the very enthusiastic speaker, a survivor herself, did a wonderful speech that was very well received.

However, several times during the speech she said things like, “As I stand her at this podium” and, “I never would have believed that I’d be here today standing behind this podium.”

If you’re in Toastmasters, you know that when you speak you stand behind the lectern, which itself rests on the podium. After the speech, I tried to think of a nice way to tell the lady this not-so-subtle distinction without looking like a jerk, but in the end I let it go. She’s not the only one who makes this mistake; it happens all the time. So what can you do?

You can go to a Toastmasters’ meeting and just sit there if you want, but it’s much more productive to have a role at the meeting. Some of the roles are speaker, speech evaluator, timer, grammarian, and “ah counter.” This last one requires some explanation.

The role of the ah counter is to listen to each speaker and count each time he or she says some kind of a vocal “crutch,” like ah, um, you know, or some other vocal stumbling block. This is not done to embarrass the speaker.

On the contrary, it’s done because so many people aren’t even aware they’re doing it. It really is a positive thing, yet I spoke to a friend at a party recently and she told me the reason she dropped out of Toastmasters was because she didn’t like having all her “ums” counted.

I felt bad about that, because the feedback is always supposed to be done in a positive and constructive manner. I hope that’s the way it was done with her but I can’t be sure because I wasn’t there.

One of the best things about Toastmasters is the sheer creativity of the speakers. It’s amazing what an otherwise ordinary-looking person can come up with for a speech idea. One young lady at a recent meeting did a speech on pairing wine with food; her speech was as good as anything I’ve ever heard on the subject.

Another spoke of growing up in a different country and struggling just to go to school, often under the threat of starvation, bodily harm, or even rape. I about had tears in my eyes after that one. If you enjoy hearing heartfelt speaking, you will most definitely love Toastmasters.

A really fun thing at a Toastmasters’ meeting is Table Topics. This is where a random subject will be brought up and the speakers will have a minute or two to do a brief speech on the topic. This requires quick thinking and is a great way to keep you on your toes.

Some topics might be “who was your favorite boss and why” or “what was your favorite vacation,” topics that are generic enough that everyone should be able to come up with something interesting. Table Topics are fast and fun, give everyone a very non-threatening way to participate, and are always a highlight of any Toastmasters’ meeting.

As you progress in Toastmasters, you receive various achievements and distinctions. If you complete the speaking and leadership tracks, you can earn your highly coveted Distinguished Toastmaster award. There are folks who earn their DTM and then start the program all over again because they love it so much.

There are also annual speech contests, conventions, and leadership training. I tell you, had I gotten into Toastmasters when I first started working, I’d be a lot higher up in the pecking order than I am now, no doubt about it.

Practicing public speaking and learning how to run meetings and communicate effectively are skills that help you develop into a strong and confident leader. Those skills of course help you in all aspects of life, which is great.

If Toastmasters sounds like something you’d be interested in, just visit Toastmasters.org, put in your ZIP code, and you’ll find a list of local clubs. Some are closed like my current one where only members of an organization can join, but others are open to the public and would gladly welcome visitors.

There are clubs that meet at all different times and places so you can find one that works for you if you’re interested. There is no obligation to join and it’s a lot of fun so I encourage you to check it out if you can.

In these trying times, when it seems like so much of society has devolved into an almost constant us-against-them conflagration, it’s so refreshing to find a group that welcomes anyone who wants to improve their communication and leadership skills.

The fact that it’s so much fun as well is icing on the cake. Thanks to Mr. Smedley for creating such a great program so many years ago, and long live Toastmasters.