Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It's About More Than Chicken

This past week my husband and I celebrated 34 years of marriage. Our children are either married or away at college so we are still adjusting to the empty nest syndrome. We threw caution to the wind and left for one night away at Frankenmuth, MI (Little Bavaria as it's commonly referred to). If you've never visited Frankenmuth you really need to Google it and then go for a visit. There's the traditional homemade chicken dinners with yummy sides of buttered noodles, mashed potatoes with the occasional lump just so you know it's real, stuffing, veggies, soup, assorted salads and breads, and then finally you top off the meal with a small dish of soft serve ice cream, but always topped with a plastic camel, mermaid, or figurine rather than a cherry. It's a time-honored tradition.

On this visit we had a terrific waitress named Jan. She was strong (especially when she lifted the heavy trays), but a real people person. We were one of her final tables for the night so we weren't in any sort of hurry. We started chatting about life, people, problems with the world, and ways the world could be a better place. Jan is not just a waitress at the world famous Zehnder's restaurant, Jan is also an 8th grade U.S. History teacher at an inner-city school. She is passionate about her job and really wants to make a difference; one student at a time. As we chatted we discovered she'd had one student who was 15 years old and was being tried as an adult for murder. She also had a student who was finding his way out of his predetermined life and was receiving a full scholarship to MSU. Jan had seen the full scope of possibilities and downturns in this school district, yet she is still driven and passionate about making a difference; one student at a time. Along the way she teaches life lessons; what is acceptable and what's not, manners, and respect. You need to take pride in whatever you do and give it your all. You will never be given respect if you don't first respect yourself.

We couldn't help but ask why, after a long stressful day at school, she was moonlighting at a very busy restaurant in the evenings. The answer was clear; one that we hear way too often in today's society. The teachers in her school district had taken a 9% pay cut to help with a budget deficit. There are often many misconceptions about teachers. Sure there are some who've been in the system long enough that they are making decent money, but many teachers today (with both bachelor and master degrees) are not making a fraction of what they should. Of course, people will say it's an EASY job and you get summers off. Sure an average teacher has 6-8 weeks off during the summer, but many teach summer classes, continue to tutor, take on outside summer jobs, coach sport teams, teach driver's education, etc.
 
In Jan's case she took on the 2nd job year round as a waitress so she could still keep up with her mortgage. My son and daughter-in-law are also teachers. I know MANY teachers that attend my church. Teaching is a job that demands respect; they have a great deal of responsibility in helping to raise our children. We've been blessed to have had some amazingly devoted teachers pass through our children's lives over the years; teachers that made a HUGE impact.
 
So how did we leave the evening? We'd gained some insights into a common problem, we listened to someone else's perspective that we didn't know, and we left a sizable tip as a thank you (that sparred a whole new conversation). Jan didn't take anything for granted and was extremely thankful.
 
Not every blog post will have the promise of a hidden gem of intuition that is priceless, but that's life ... no guarantees. I write about real life ... my life. I write about what I know and what I observe and hope that others can connect to it. The moral of this post? When you take pride in yourself and your work, the respect will come. Do the right things first and foremost for yourself and hope that others recognize your diligence.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Autumn Is Upon us

It is that time of year when the yellow busses are out making the rounds in the early morning hours, some of the nights are getting a little cooler, holiday decorations are changing in the department stores, and football is underway.
 
So what are your favorite parts of autumn? The trips to the cider mills? The 'pumpkin' everything at Starbucks and Tim Horton's? The thrill of a touchdown and hopefully the marching band playing a high school halftime show? What about the change of tree colors that will arrive in the next 30 days or so? There are A LOT of great things about the upcoming season. I actually look forward to putting on a light sweater. I think I am just about done with wearing my shorts and showcasing my 'extremely white legs'.
 
Every season has it's downfalls though. For many the summers can be too hot, the winters are too cold and snowy, and the springtime causes too much coughing and sneezing. But what about autumn? I LOVE the fall! I love having the windows open again. I love the splendor of the tree colors. I love going for walks and hearing the crackling leaves under my feet. What do I not care for? Hmm ...
 
While I do enjoy college and professional football and having a game on in the background while I do something else I don't care for the attitudes and showboating of many professionals. Players get paid A LOT of money, most of them anyway, but when some score a touchdown they showboat with a ridiculous little sidestep or salsa and (in my mind) look completely ridiculous. Okay, so they got a touchdown ... isn't that in their job description? Isn't that what they're being paid to do? I understand being caught up in the moment and being excited; that's the sport, that's adrenaline. Showboating with a rehearsed dance, to me, makes them look immature, cocky, and kind of dumb. Now there's a roll model, huh?
 
Maybe when the cement worker finishes laying a seamless new driveway he should break out into a waltz or a gliding side step to show everyone how 'smooth' his moves are. Maybe when a college student aces a midterm they should start a line dance down the hallway. We don't see baseball players choreographing their celebrations when they hit a homerun. A basketball player will execute a slam dunk and maybe high five his teammates. So why do football players (guys who will mostly only play 16 actual games in a season) feel the need for the hype? Why do they need to capture the attention of the nearby cameraman? Is it because they only play once a week? Is it because their seasons are so much shorter compared to other professional sports? Does it give them less time to attract sponsorships and fans?
 
I may be a suburban housewife who works full time, writes a blog, has raised her children, adores her granddaughter, does a great deal of fundraising, and takes dance classes on the side but I do know that I find it annoying to watch a grown man prance around like a peacock displaying his colorful feathers. Will it ever change? Most likely, not. Most likely neither will my opinion.
 
What do you think? Does it bother you? Do you enjoy watching it and learning a few new dance steps? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Going Back To School

Flipping the calendar from August to September represents more than just the start of a new school year for kids, their teachers, and bus drivers. It's also the start of a new season for parents; funny thing is it doesn't matter if you're the parent of a 2nd grader or a college student. My youngest packed up last week and headed back to college for her senior year. As the parents of a last child going through the process there are a lot of things that will change; some we're glad for, others not so much.

My husband and I were thrilled that we did not have to tote a mini-fridge or microwave this year; especially since her campus apartment does not have an elevator and she's on the 3rd floor (that's 35 steps up and 35 steps back down, but who's counting). We're certainly not saddened that we'll never have to complete another FAFSA form. There has been a realization this past week, though, that while the routine has seemed extremely familiar it also seems a bit nostalgic. It's a big year; for her and for us. She has a lot on her plate this year with musical performances, classes, internships, a pep band job, and being the president of a new school club ... oh and just to add more into the mix she's hosting her own radio show once a week. 

For my husband and I, we have another 2 semesters to help prepare us for our empty nest (good thing we really like each other). Of course, she's more than welcome to come back home after graduation (at least til she's ready to start the next phase of her life). So what did we do this past week? We helped our daughter move back to school. Once in her room I did, once again, what I've done for her and her brother on move-in day each and every year at college ... I unpacked the linens and made the bed, then took her to the grocery store and bought her a bag of groceries. For the first week, at least, I have complete peace of mind that she has a comfy, clean bed and food to eat for breakfast. From here on out it's her responsibility to remember to eat and make her bed (fortunately she is a neat freak and always keeps her room organized and clean ... proud mom moment).

I remember when my son had his first move-in day at college (back in 2004). We pulled the car up to the curb and were given 10 minutes to unpack EVERYTHING onto the lawn, then move the car. We could take as long as we needed then to transfer everything to his room. I stood in awe and watched some parents unpack their car, hug their child (young adult), then drive away and leave them standing there alone with all their stuff in a giant pile on the lawn. I can't tell you how many 'piles' I supervised for kids I didn't know just so they could start making trips to their room. It was their first clear moment of panic. I always believed that the responsibilities of being a parent didn't end when the child turned 18 or you dropped them off at their college, but maybe I am old-fashioned.

Next spring when our daughter graduates she will walk across the stage and receive her diploma and afterwards we'll hug and look at each other and say, 'We did it!' Okay, maybe 95% of the credit will be hers, but the other 5% will go to my husband and I (for the packing, the unpacking, the carrying of mini-fridges and microwaves, the financial assistance, the pep talks, the Sunday dinner leftovers packed in Tupperware containers, the mailed cards with encouraging words, and the homemade treats - enough for her AND all the roommates.)

So here's to another year. May it be an exciting one full of good challenges and lots of memories.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What do you do when you're disappointed?

What disappoints you?
The weather? The ending of a movie or book? Your finish in a race? A meal at a restaurant? Politicians; or just people's behavior in general?
 
How do you react when you're disappointed? If you're like most people you run through a whole mix of emotions. You may feel sadness, regret, anger or bitterness, or even a bit of guilt. The first reactions are to be expected, but why do we sometimes feel guilty? We may wonder if the person or situation that has disappointed us could have been avoided. Was it because of something we did or perhaps didn't do? Is the situation or outcome potentially any fault of ours? We'd be na├»ve to think that we're completely blameless in some situations. Choosing to eat that heavy dessert after dinner may not have been the wisest decision, so we need to accept some of the blame when we don't feel well later. But people are different, they definitely aren't a dessert that we chose to over-indulge in.
 
People are complex, and YES, people can make choices. If you feel disappointed by the behavior of someone step back and take an objective look before you start blaming yourself. It's fine to accept some of the blame at times, but I don't think we should automatically think their behavior had anything to do with us. Everyone has the ability to make a choice, but in doing so we should also accept responsibility for any outcomes related. If someone behaves poorly or out of character, maybe there's something else going on. Before we automatically think, 'Oh, I'm sorry. Did I do something to provoke their behavior?' perhaps we should take a deep breath and ask ourselves, 'I wonder what THAT was all about?'
 
It's normal to be disappointed; in others' behavior as well as our own. Maybe it would be more constructive and beneficial to find out the 'WHY something happened' rather than the 'WHAT happened'. We cannot change the choices people make, only our own. We may never uncover, or even understand the 'why'. We need to cut ourselves some slack. I know, easier said than done. It's hard not to want things to go smoothly or even nicely. It's disappointing when we witness people behaving in selfish or vicious ways. People will always do and say things they regret, but actions AND words have the ability to be hurtful and cannot be taken back. Someone can acknowledge what they've said or done or sometimes what they haven't (but should have). That moment can be crucial and life changing, but it's their moment to take ownership of - not ours.
 
Be supportive, be a good listener, but never allow yourself to be a doormat.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Don't Lose Sight Of Yourself

It's the time of year where when you run into someone you haven't seen in a while they ask you, 'How's your summer been?' Lately when asked that question my husband and I have been responding with, 'We're hoping next summer has a little less drama and chaos.' Our last two summers have been filled with a lot of good, but also a lot of 'life'. Primarily we've been dealing with the needs of our mothers; their medical care, their residences, etc. Needless to say, we've had a lot on our plates for two summers in a row.
 
When 'life' happens and hits you smack dab between the eyes you do what you do best ... you deal with it. You put a lot of yourself on hold and you take charge. You put in long hours, you handle the new responsibilities, you try to cheer them up when they need it, and you grab some sleep when you can.
 
It's easy to lose track of your own life when things like this happen. You tell yourself that YOU can wait; your laundry can wait, taking care of your yard can wait, grocery shopping can wait, and vacations can wait. But is that a good idea? Probably not. There's a lot to get done; a lot with deadlines. You get done what you can and add the rest to tomorrow's To Do list.
 
A few months ago my mother broke her hip, had surgery, and went into physical rehab. Unfortunately she did not get the outcome she had hoped for and made a move into nursing care. At the same time that all of this occurred I was approached to participate in a special project. I was barely keeping my eyes open during the day due to the lack of sleep and added stress, but the more I thought about it the more I still wanted to participate in this project. The timing may not have been the best, but timing has never been perfect or predictable.
 
This year marks my 10-year anniversary of being cancer-free. In the midst of everything else going on in my life right now I didn't want to miss out on this chance to celebrate. I didn't want to lose sight of the goodness. So I jumped in with both feet, literally.
 
I am participating in a 'Dancing With The Survivors' fundraiser on October 8, 2016 for The Pink Fund; a local non-profit organization that assists breast cancer patients currently going through treatment with non-medical expenses. Fighting cancer takes a toll on people physically, mentally, and financially. I'm stepping out of my comfort zone (and learning ballroom choreography no less) to raise funds for this event, help people I can personally relate to, and celebrate life!
 
Whatever curve balls life throws at you remember to keep your eyes open and duck if necessary. There is a lot we cannot control on a daily basis, but there are some things that we can. We can keep a positive attitude, we can focus on the good, and we can try our best to make a difference.
 
If you'd like to support the 'Dancing With The Survivors' event please click on the link below.
 
 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

It's All About The Curve

When I was a young girl one of my best memories was going to the Detroit Tigers baseball games with my mom, my dad, and my sister. My dad generally travelled most of the week for his job, but if it was summer time you could bet that if the Tigers were playing at home we would pick my dad up from the airport and go straight to Trumbull Ave. to catch a night game. My dad insisted (no matter how young we were) that if we were going to go to a game, we were going to UNDERSTAND the game. He would buy a program and teach us how to fill in the stats; the number of pitches, the strikes, the fouls, the outs, the batting order, etc. He would teach us to watch for pitches; the slider, the fast ball, and the curve ball. The curve ball was interesting - the way the ball would seem to switch directions and turn back in.
 
A curve in baseball can change the game. A curve on an icy or wet road can be treacherous. We don't always see a curve coming, then we have a mere instant to react.
 
Life is sometimes no different. Every day 'life' has a learning curve attached.
 
  • Young children don't come with an instruction manual; we try our best with what we know but some days they will get IT right and other days they won't. There may be some tears involved and perhaps a few Band-Aids.
  • Teenagers present a whole new set of challenges. They suddenly become the age where they're convinced that you know absolutely nothing, you could never understand what they are dealing with, and they often feel like they are invincible and untouchable.
  • Life continues and we suddenly find ourselves trying to care for our parents. They may or may not have had a plan, but now it is up to us to work through their past, their present, and their future. Sometimes in a short amount of time.
Yes, life definitely has a learning curve. Some days we will find ourselves exhausted, a bit frazzled, majorly overwhelmed, and often talking to ourselves.
 
The moral of this little story ... don't give up, don't give in, keep on trying a new way to smooth out the bumps, and always continue to search for the calmness that will eventually come. Will we have all the answers? Probably not. Will we make mistakes and poor choices along the way? Undoubtedly. Will we survive to see a new day? That's my hope for you, as well as me!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Catch A Glimpse

There are days we look in the mirror and think, 'Who is that person?' We don't recognize them. We've changed. We've gotten older or heavier or thinner or maybe we look sad or tired. How 'we' see ourselves is often quite different than how others see us. We see ourselves mostly with our minds, by how we think and feel. We forget to use our eyes; well most of us anyway. We see what's in our hearts and in our gut. Some of us have forgotten how to just 'see'.  We'll meet a stranger who sees us for the first time and their perception will most likely be more accurate; they're seeing with their eyes. They don't see the baggage or the struggles or the accomplishments. They see what is right in front of them; pretty eyes or a warm smile.
 
Recently I've taken on a new exciting project (more details to come), but I can
tell you that this project will take me completely out of my comfort zone to a place where myself and others will definitely SEE me differently. For this project I needed a photo that could be used in promotions. I couldn't come up with any that I could use; I generally seem to be the one taking the photos. So what did I do? I engaged the services of a talented young lady who was beginning her photography business. Sometimes you just feel like things are meant to be. I was nervous to get my picture taken. I was nervous that I would feel awkward. I was nervous that even though I'd recently lost 20 pounds that I wouldn't look the way I wanted to. Then I met Sarah. Sarah Zick is a wonderful new photographer who has an engaging spirit, a God-given talent, and a knack for making her subject feel relaxed. Now, I am in NO way suggesting that I am quitting my day job as a Church Administrator and becoming a super model (yah, right, lol), but I am willing to admit that after looking at Sarah's pictures I am starting to see myself again perhaps the way others see me. Yes, I have flaws (plenty of them), but I'm more comfortable now about not hiding them. I am who I am and I need to learn to be proud of that.
 
It's a rare occasion that I endorse a service or product, but if I believe in it or them then I will. I would recommend Sarah's photography skills to anyone. She was an absolute joy to work with and I wish her nothing but the best in her growing career. She truly sees her subjects (both inside and out). She finds a way to make them blend.
 
If you would like to check out Sarah's photography you can find her on Facebook at 8:28 Photography or on her website at http://www.8-28photography.com/.