Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Let The Season Begin

This time of year can be difficult for many; for a lot of reasons. Some people will be dealing with their first holidays after the loss of a loved one. Some people will be financially stressed. Some people will be battling an illness. Some people will be working on troubled relationships. Most everyone is dealing with 'something', but most people will try to keep their troubles and stresses covered and to themselves.

It should be the season of hope, of families, of good will, and of miracles. Yet, many will be overcome by the commercialism of the season, the self-imposed stress of wanting to buy and give too much, some sleepless nights, and the To Do lists that require writing on the back side of the paper. Many people will have long overdue lunches with friends they haven't seen, many will rush in traffic, and many will become short-tempered for no good reason. Some will treat the wait staff  and the department store cashiers well and others unfortunately will not.

Before you accuse a seasonal worker of not being 'fast enough' or 'friendly enough', stop for a moment and put yourself in their shoes. They may be taking on extra seasonal work to help make ends meet. They may have already put in a 10 hour day on their feet trying to help crabby customers. The transmission on their car may have gone out that morning. They MAY be doing a great job and the attitude adjustment needed isn't theirs, but YOURS

Someone read a devotion in a staff meeting the other day about how 'hurt people hurt'. This analogy works all year long, not just during the busy holiday times. If you run across a cashier or waiter or mechanic or postman (or whatever profession) who seems to be having a frazzled day, stop yourself before you react with judgment or a criticism. Stop and find out their story. Ask them about their day. Tell them you appreciate their work and their effort. You have the ability with a few words to turn their day around. Sometimes it is even the other way around. YOU could be the one having the bad day and some one's kind words and a smile turn you around.

Grace is a beautiful thing. It can be life-changing AND it costs you nothing. Often times, it is easier to show kindness and grace to a stranger, rather than a family member or friend. I'm not sure why that is, other than perhaps we are too connected to the situation to be as objective.

As the holiday season gets further underway, make the most of it. Be the one who holds the door open for a stranger, the one that says thank you, the one who lets the person with only one item in front of you at the check out line, or gives the tired waitress an extra $5 in her tip. You have the ability to make this holiday season one filled with positiveness, kindness, generosity, and good cheer.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Is It Too Early?

You'd have to be living in an isolated cave somewhere to not notice that Santa is already in some shopping malls, lights are being hung, ornaments are festively being put on display, and sales are already happening. Is it too soon? This is and always has been a controversial subject for many this time of year. There are valid arguments on both sides. Some don't want to feel rushed and quickly feel stressed that they won't be ready in time. They will argue that they don't want to hear Christmas music on the radio before Thanksgiving; very valid points. Others LOVE the Christmas season and simply cannot wait for it to get started. I would venture to say that I am some where in the middle, but leaning more toward the tinsel side.

While I do enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday; a wonderful meal, football, and time with family and friends ... I am a multi-tasker and can enjoy Thanksgiving Day and still get a little pumped about the Christmas season. I look forward to the decorations, the lights, the Hallmark movies (which I am already watching), the store displays, shopping for those special well thought-out gifts, wrapping, and even sending out Christmas cards. The month of December goes by so quickly as it is that I don't mind stretching it out a little longer. My theory is that if I get started earlier in November then hopefully I won't spend my December feeling as anxious. The sooner I check things off my proverbial 'list', the more time I will have to take walks in downtown Rochester to see the light show, meet a friend for hot chocolate, or curl up with a cozy blanket to watch a Christmas movie.

During the last 10 days our country has endured a controversial presidential election, Facebook has served as a sounding board for hatred and meanness, and my family suffered the loss of a great woman. Needless to say my emotions (as well as many other people's) have been on an unpleasant roller coaster ride. Next week we will gather once again for Thanksgiving and be thankful indeed ... for family, for good health, for having food on our tables, a roof over over our heads, and abundant love in our hearts. At the same time I will look forward to the future with hope and anticipation; a hope for a more peaceful world and anticipation that people can learn to unite for the common good.

For many, Christmas is a season filled with hope and love and goodness. That is something I can wrap my head and my heart around. If I could start celebrating it in July or September or any other month I probably would. It's not about the gifts or the material things (my shopping list actually gets smaller every year), it is about the spirit and the hope.

So is it too early to be decorating, or looking at lights, or buying Christmas cards, or listening to holiday music that makes you smile? I say no, but that's just me. Sure, I will have my days when I feel a bit overwhelmed and anxious, but truth be told that also happens in February and April too, lol. 

The holidays (any of them) are what we choose to make of them. Yes, department stores will continue to set up displays earlier and earlier ... but so what. If it bothers you, then do your best to avoid it or simply don't let it get to you. But don't be a scrooge to those who look forward to it. Many people are lonely or sad or simply looking for more positiveness in their world. If they can find it in a store display or by looking at the twinkling lights on the trees, let them. It doesn't mean you have to hang a wreath on your door or a stocking on your mantle just yet. You can wait til the time is right for you.

I hope that all of us can embrace the goodness of the Christmas season, as well as be thankful for our blessings (but we can be thankful EVERY day - not just on the fourth Thursday of November).

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Turn Over A New Leaf

Happy November 1st! We've made it through the summer months and are cruising smoothly right through autumn. We are almost to peak color here in Michigan due to the rains, chilly days, then warmer days. As of last night Halloween has come and gone. Depending on the children traffic in your neighborhood, many adults will be running on a sugar high today as they've been sent out the door with the leftover candy.

With the seasonal change comes lower temperatures, the colors on the trees are now reds and oranges and yellows, and there's a certain sense of calm in the early morning hours. The air is crisp, there's a covering of frost on the grass and the rooftops, and there's a feeling of peace and quiet. And then another ten minutes goes by; the sunrise is just a memory and the traffic and noise begins once again.
 
For me, autumn is the season of leaves; they're colorful, they're crunchy when you walk through them, and there's the sense of peace and adventure everyone experiences when they drive down the road and the wind swirls all the leaves up into the air and around your car. For that brief moment you can just take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty of the moment for what it is.

Many people associate New Year's Day with the day you set a new goal and focus on the changes and opportunities that are presenting themselves to you in the upcoming year, BUT why not take advantage of November 1st and the glorious autumn season to TURN OVER A NEW LEAF? Why wait another two months to begin fresh and make a needed change? Why not get a jump start on improving your life by beginning today ... right now?

In another seven days the election will take place and life, as we know it, will change big time. No matter WHO you vote for and no matter which side you're on; someone will win and someone will lose. Someone will have a less than desirable moral character and someone will be considered corrupt. Both candidates will continue to bash each other and then act surprised and hurt and violated when the tables are turned. Some voters will be thrilled and others will be devastated. I will always be entitled to my own opinion and beliefs, as will you; but I can still hold firm to my own values and hope that my vote will still make a difference. Early polls and phone surveys will still try to sway potential voters and predict a winner a week before the election (which always fascinates me because in all my years of voting no one has EVER asked me who I plan to vote for; although even if they did I would tell them that was my business and not theirs, lol).
 
Yes, our country is at a pivotal point for all of us. History is about to be written and added to the books. Either we will have our first woman president or our first non-politician president. Future decisions will be made for us (supposedly with our interests being considered, but I have yet to see any real proof of that). Right now the ONLY thing I can do is cast MY vote. I will continue to listen and observe and think and ponder and HOPE that my vote and yours actually matter.
 
I am choosing to honor today by turning over a new leaf. I will hope and pray that by honoring my civic duty and voting - I will be making a difference. Yet I have the peace of mind knowing that while I may not be able to make a noticeable difference on the larger scale I CAN make a difference in my own life by living my days based on my morals and values. I can choose to live MY life by the standards I deem are important. Government may be in a position to tell me how much more I will pay for my required healthcare, how much my taxes are going to cost me, and what the economy will look like ... BUT they can never tell me not to still be nice to my neighbor, to not be a courteous driver, to not continue to try to make a difference at my job or as a parent. While the characters of most politicians may be questionable, I still get to decide my own. Whether I'm doing a good or bad job of that just shows that I am human and clearly a work in progress. It also means, on a good day, that I get to sleep at night with a clear conscious.
 
What about you? While I encourage everyone to vote in this upcoming election, I also encourage you to take the reigns on your own life. Stand back and look in the mirror. What are you happy with in your life and what do you think needs a little work? Where do you think you can improve and make a difference? Making a change requires effort and forethought; it's never easy, but definitely worth it.
 
Happy November 1st!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When Negativity Feels Like Quick Sand

DNA is an interesting thing. Our DNA makeup is unique to us alone. It defines the color of our hair and eyes, our height, the basic foundation of our health, and much of our personality. But even having the firm foundation that we each do, we also have a lot of areas in our life where our minds get to help us define who we are. We can choose how much we exercise, what foods we put in to our bodies, the words that come out of our mouths, how we choose to treat those around us, and what our daily outlook will be.
 
Everyone has 'things' thrown at them (unwelcome things) that can alter their mood and outlook in the blink of an eye. That's unfortunate, but a reality nonetheless. Many people are what I would term a 'Pollyanna'; they see everything with a positive set of eyes. They first look for the good. Others will be just the opposite. They will have an negative outlook ... about everything. They won't want you to lift their spirits or share a better approach with them. As sad as it is some people view negativity like quick sand. It's all they are exposed too and they can literally feel it pulling them in and under. Some will try to hold on to something positive, but it can be difficult.
 
Some people are a little of both; they'll have their good and bad days ... but holding on to the positive by the tips of their fingers is to be commended, because they have not given up and they are still willing to look for the light.
 
If you or someone you know experiences their life this way, as hard as it is some days, don't give up on them. Continue to try and help them focus on the good, on the possibilities, and on ways things could get better. The reality is YOU can never do it for them. You can't tell them how to feel or what to accept, but just because they are leaning toward giving up does NOT mean that they get to drag you down with them. Don't be sucked into a negativity that isn't yours.
 
Stay positive!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How Strong Is Your Passion?

I've been extremely busy with 'life' the past few weeks, but today I am attempting to take a well-deserved break. So what's on my personal agenda? Of course, some time at the library where it's quiet and the phone won't ring; although there is a tired three year old somewhere nearby letting us all know that he's done for the morning and would rather be somewhere else ... but hey, we ALL have moments like that. Then I'll be off for Taco Tuesday with my daughter for a quick lunch break and then perhaps a trip to the cider mill this afternoon with my husband (because I know if we don't go today another season will have gone by and we will have missed out on our chance once again). Sometimes we just need to put the 'lists' aside and savor the moment; I know, that's ironic coming from someone like me who always has a list with them. I guess you could say I am attempting to live on the edge today.

So what's been going on in my world lately? A lot. A fundraising project that included a dance performance recently wrapped up this past weekend, a few loose ends that still need tightening up regarding elder care for my mother, and then there's the ongoing election (something no one can seem to avoid).

Just last Sunday in church my pastor said something in his sermon about how 'you can't avoid the bad things, but you can prepare for them.' Unfortunately that is how many are categorizing this year's election. Good or bad, it will be one for the history books; the year a woman became the first female president or the year a non-politician did. There has been more mud-slinging in this campaign than with the pigs at an over-crowded 4H fair exhibit. Candidates aside, there are many voters who are disgruntled, many have become antagonistic, many have lied, many have shown their true character (or lack of it, depending on who you ask), and that probably goes double for anyone in the media or who is part of a campaign team. There has been more 'dirt' dug up on both sides that leaves many voters feeling they are left in a position of having to vote for the 'lesser of two evils'; which again will vary depending on your point of view.

Now, some may choose to comment to this blog in defense of their candidate of choice which would be ironic since I never said WHO I plan to support; so if you do make that type of comment know that I may choose how far I will allow it to go (keep it clean, keep it appropriate, and keep it relative to THIS blog post). I don't support conversations taken out of context. Social media has been flooded with personal attacks against candidates, as well as anyone who states an opinion that may differ from their own. We are all empowered to have our own opinions, I fully support that, but even one politician must concede at the conclusion of an election and for the good of our nation at least claim that they will come together and support the country going forward (for the most part). It's sad, but I've come to expect politicians, campaign managers, and the media to choose sides, wage verbal battles against the opposing side, and try to sway us to their side. I suppose that goes with the territory, but when I start reading personal Facebook, Instagram posts, etc that have strangers slamming each other down for having a different belief I am even more saddened. Why are we allowing others to dictate to us whether our personal opinion is better or worse than theirs? People will always be passionate about their families, their causes, their religions, their political points of view, etc. But when people spew off their words without thinking first they can become something they can't take back. True ... you can make a media post and sometimes delete it if you rethink things, but once you've sent an email ... it's gone. Once you've mailed a letter ... you can't get it back. Once you've said or done something ugly there's no going back for a re-do; you can apologize later, but you can't undo it, and you can't change it. Seems logical that a little more thought put into ANYTHING beforehand could be beneficial. Choosing to gain your few seconds of fame at other people's expense will never be something I can support. You may have a few people say, 'hey, way to go!' and you'll be feeling popular and important (for a moment) and you may not even care about those you insulted or stepped over for your few seconds of notoriety, but it will be your sleepless nights and conscience that you'll have to deal with ... maybe not today, but some day. We've all been there; done or said something we've regretted. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Words do have the power to build people up, as well as tear them down.

Passion can be a beautiful thing. It means you care enough about something to not keep it to yourself. That's never a bad thing; it's how you choose to act on it that becomes important. Sometimes, though, when passion comes into play, logic and common sense can fly right out the window. Relationships will be damaged, jobs and reputations can be jeopardized, and opinions will be formed. Of course, opinions and what others think of you may or may not matter to you, but if you ever plan to do something in your life where you hope people will support you  -  you may want to be careful.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Why Didn't I Hear Back From You?

Communication is a funny thing. It takes a commitment from both sides. If you ask someone a question whether in person, by text, by email, or in a letter you hope for a response. That's seems pretty natural and not asking too much. Some people see the effort you put in to the question or conversation and respond accordingly; others will almost always leave you hanging. Why do you suppose that is?
 
I'll admit, by nature, I am a detail oriented person. Whether it's a personal email or a work-related one, if I make an inquiry or extend an invitation or even just start a conversation I hope for a timely response (I suppose it would be too pushy of me to expect it?). Some people I know see the effort that goes into things and they respond, others for whatever reason don't bother. I certainly understand the demands of busy schedules; my calendars and To Do lists would be mind-boggling to some.
 
To say that how people respond (or don't) could be correlated to being a generational thing, to me, is just an excuse. Some people (young or old) are quick to ask a question, but when you reply, they leave it at that. They don't comment, they don't respond; basically they leave you wondering if they even received your response or if they did are they upset or just being nonchalant about it. If you follow through on it you may eventually get caddy responses like: 'Sorry, I'm just so busy, you wouldn't understand' or 'I thought you'd know.' Really? Are we suddenly expected to be mind readers? I don't know about you, but my crystal ball is a bit cloudy. Perhaps we didn't give them the response they were hoping for so they've simply moved on.
 
Should we have to ask people to be courteous? Must we include disclaimers in our messages like, 'Please respond so I can get a proper head count for the event', 'Please respond so I know whether to keep time open in my afternoon for you', 'RSVP', or 'Please confirm that you received my response'? I can see some of those being appropriate if it's work-related or you're trying to meet a deadline, but on a personal basis it would seem petty. But then, if we're being honest, many of us wish we could be more blatant and say what we are really thinking. Of course, lol, if you're a blogger you've created a platform for yourself to be able to say things without really saying them. Kind of like a subliminal message that works IF the right people take the time to read it.
 
So what has been your experience? Are you good about responding to people in a timely fashion? Do you consider the value of the other person's feelings or schedule? Do you experience people not responding to you? How does that make you feel?

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.