Saturday, November 18, 2017

Safe Thanksgiving Conversation Topics

Thanksgiving is less than a week away. It's a day packed full of traditions; turkey and mashed potatoes, watching football, a little competitive ping pong (usually dads versus the kids), and time spent after dinner scrutinizing the Black Friday newspaper ads.

It's a holiday filled with snacking and catching up with those we haven't seen in a while. The time comes when the food is laid out, everyone packs their plates, and then chooses their seat at the dinner table (depending on the size of the group there may still be an adults table and a kids table).

Then the moment of truth comes; everyone is seated across from each other without the distraction of people coming and going and a football game on the TV. So what do you talk about now? Here is my list of bad conversation topics and the tried and true 'safe ones'.

Don't start any sentence with 'When are you going to ...'

When are you going to set the date and get married?

When are you going to get a job?

When are you going to stop smoking or start exercising?

Never put someone on the spot. It's not like you pointing out the topic in front of a roomful of people is suddenly going to give them the answer that you want to hear. In general it's a good idea to avoid the topics of politics, increased healthcare costs, and whether or not professional football players should be kneeling during the anthem. Try to avoid the topics that you know will undoubtedly push someone's buttons. Remember that everyone has already had a beer or a glass of wine and is there to enjoy some down time.

Thanksgiving is a time for gathering and for being thankful. Bringing up conversation topics that will cause indigestion is never a good idea.

My advice? Stick with the topics that start with 'Remember when ...'

Remember when we went to that concert and stayed out too late?

Remember when we were kids and we broke the bed and tried to put it back together without mom noticing?

The 'Remember when ...' topics result in a lot more laughter and truth be told, the stories get better each time we tell them, even if they are exaggerated just a bit.

So this Thanksgiving be grateful for the food, be grateful for family and friends, and be thankful for the laughter. We'll try to solve all the world's problems on another day.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What do you notice?

Noticing something is a way of acknowledging that something or someone exists. We don't always do things to be noticed, but it's also nice not to feel invisible. Acknowledgements go a long way to establishing our level of self-confidence, building our character, and defining our personality. Sometimes a mere acknowledgment lets us know that we are on the right track and doing something right. We don't necessarily need a big, flashy billboard saying 'WELL DONE!' ... a smile or a gentle pat on the back works nice too. It can give us the encouragement we need to keep moving forward.

But acknowledgements can be tricky; sometimes they are positive and can build us up, just as sometimes they can be negative and tear us down.

What do you tend to notice?

Do you tell your children, 'I noticed you did a nice job making your bed' or 'I noticed you got a good grade on your book report'?

Do you tell your employee, 'I noticed you worked late last night and have been putting in a lot of extra effort'?

Do you tell someone, 'I noticed you got a haircut. It looks very flattering.'?

Or do you only seem to point out the negatives?

'I noticed you didn't wipe off the table after dinner.'

'I noticed you didn't cut the grass.'

'I noticed your bedroom looks like a tornado hit it.'

Sometimes I think that the things we choose to acknowledge and how we say it can say more about us than what or who we were noticing in the first place. I know someone who every time I get my hair done will tell me that it looks nice, but that they really didn't like it the last time. Ironic, because they said the same thing last time which either means I am always improving OR they never like it anyway, lol. I think it says more about the person than it does about my hair, but that's just my personal opinion.

So what kinds of things do YOU notice? 

Are you, by nature, a positive or negative thinker?

More importantly, what do you do then? How do you choose to share what you notice?



Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Dilemma of Gift Cards

Remember when gift certificates were all the rage? Restaurants, hair salons, clothing stores? It was exciting to give someone a day of pampering and a day of choices. Didn't know exactly what to give someone for a gift - let them pick it out themselves. Then technology and time moved forward and everything became more digitized. Now it's all about the gift cards. Some gift cards come in packages; dinner AND a movie, some are good for more than one restaurant or apparel store. Gift cards can make life easy (for the buyer and sometimes for the recipient).

A lot of places will offer incentives; buy multiple gift cards and get a coupon or small gift card for yourself, buy your gift cards in bulk at Costco or Sam's Club and get a discount, buy your gift cards at Kroger and you can earn gas points (sometimes even 2x or 4x the value). Yes, society makes it REAL easy to shop - what the heck, you can even purchase gift cards online and never leave the comfort of your laptop and pajamas.

My mother always had a problem giving gift cards as gifts. Sure, she loved the whole wrapping and presentation process of the package, but truth be told I think she also liked picking out the gifts. She would put a lot of thought into it and often start months in advance. Unfortunately, sometimes what SHE thought was the perfect gift for you wasn't necessarily something you would like or want to be seen in, lol. But the thought and the gesture were there. Eventually we would convince her that it would make her life a little easier and people could get what they wanted. After all, you can still find creative ways to wrap a gift card.

But, then there is the issue that recipients can lose the gift cards or just put them something place and forget that they have them. Or they have them at home, but not with them when they are shopping or out when they could actually use them. Sometimes, gift cards are received with enthusiasm and spent the way they were meant to be spent. Other times they are re-gifted. Other times they collect dust and sit in that special place everyone has, because for some odd reason some of us feel like we are being too frivolous when we use them, lol. Silly huh?

Yes, human nature can be just as unpredictable as gift choices sometimes. But since we are now in November and 'pre-' Black Friday sales are already starting to show up it's just one more thing for us consumers to contemplate.

Thoughts? 
Any stories of gift card mishaps that you can share with the rest of us?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Are You Evolving?

I never pretend to be an expert on anything and I am ALWAYS open to suggestions, whether that's on how to best prepare a recipe or how to be a successful parent. My husband and I have been married for 35 years, a great accomplishment (we think). We've both grown A LOT over the years. We've made mistakes and we've done a few things right. We've been supportive and we find that we are always evolving.

Together, over the years, we've built a home. We've had careers (a few different ones along the way). We've battled a disease. We've cared for our parents and we've suffered some loss. We also managed to establish a strong family unit. We have two amazing kids and have supported their interests, their hobbies, their goals, and their relationships. We served in school PTOs and marching band organizations. We've coached roller hockey and science olympiad. We've chaperoned field trips and we've transported mini fridges and 'stuff' to multiple dorm rooms and apartments. We've encouraged our children as they found their way and established careers. Being a parent has always been a big part of our identity.

We enjoy celebrating their milestones; the graduations, their musical performances, their jobs, a wedding, our 2 beautiful granddaughters, when the son who is a high school chemistry teacher by day and a woodworker by night sells a custom dining room table, and when the daughter who is establishing herself in her first big post-college job gets a box of personal business cards and can't wait to show you.

Yes, we love our kids, our daughter-in-law, and our granddaughters. We love encouraging them and watching them navigate life in their own way. We've also discovered a few things about ourselves and where we are in our own journey in life. We've gone from being a young married couple, to being parents, to being caregivers for our parents, to being almost empty-nesters, to being grandparents. All along we've run households and businesses. My husband and I love where we are in our lives and wouldn't trade it for anything.

We also try to keep a balance though, which on many days can prove to be challenging. We make our choices and we're happy with them. We also try to remember what our own hobbies and interests are. It's not that we've given anything up, we've just rearranged our priorities. Family and responsibilities will always come first; always have. I'll admit, some days we find it is harder to be selfish and more difficult to carve out time for us and our own interests. Don't get me wrong, I will always find a way to plant flowers in the summer and in the winter months when there is less outdoor projects I will make sure my husband finds time to work on his train layout. 

Sometimes, we just need to remind ourselves that it's just as important to make time for us, so that we can be in a better place when we make time for others. My husband and I belong to a small group. There are nine of us who gather once a month for dinner and conversation, we've done this for a number of years. Truth be told, it's one of our best nights of the month. We share a meal and stories of our kids, our grandkids, and remember back to how it used to be when we were all a little younger, lol. Just this week, one of the ladies in our group came home from teaching school that day (bless her for teaching kindergartners!) and fighting a cold and feeling a little worn out and opted to go back out in the rain to meet us for dinner. She said she reminded herself that she needed to 'make an effort to be social', but in the end was glad she did. She made a choice, one that was healthy for her.

Yes, I will never pretend to be an expert on anything (because I am not). I will readily admit that I am a work in progress and most likely will be for many years to come.

Where are you currently in your life journey?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Who Says We Can't Go Back?

Often I sit down to write a post, but I take a minute first to look back in my own blog archives. Sometimes I can find the answers in my past to the questions I ask today. What does that mean? Well, it could mean that I've experienced a certain dilemma before. Sometimes I can read something I've previously written and use my own advice now, but in a different way. We all grow and experience life differently and at different times. I can read a scripture verse one time and walk away with one message, but the next time I read it I may be in a different place and I grasp a whole new viewpoint. Blog posts, I hope, are the same way. Something I wrote six months ago may send an entirely different message to a reader today.

Just this afternoon I was in a meeting and we were discussing people's gifts and talents AND how they change and transform over time. I had a sort of deja' vu moment, like I'd had this discussion before. Sure enough, this same thought was on my mind just six months ago. I thought I'd share the post below with you once again. You may take something different away from it than you did before AND if this is the first time you're reading it, that's great too!

EMBRACE YOUR GIFTS 
(April 2017)


Have you ever noticed how different you are from other people? Have you ever wished you were more like them? Perhaps you wish you could sing like they do, or speak in public as easily as they do, or had relationships as relaxed as theirs? It is absolutely okay to observe other people and notice what you like about them, as long as you don't expect everything to be exactly the same in your own life.

You are a unique individual. Believe it or not, God made you exactly the way you are ... for a reason. We all have different skills and characteristics: some good, some maybe not. I am known for being organized and detail-oriented (sometimes to a fault). I see others who are able to 'go with the flow' and I often envy that. At times I wish I could be more easy going and learn to just accept things and let other things go, but that isn't always me. It's easy to feel a little judged when people tell you, 'Don't stress. Don't worry so much. Just let it go and hand it over to God.' Gosh, how I wish I could do that more. But guess what? God made me just the way I am. Maybe he wants me to over-think sometimes so that I don't miss the little details. Maybe he has a reason for giving me the skill set that he did. I may not always understand it, but I can hope that all my worrying and reasoning isn't all for nothing; that positive results will come in the end.

Rather than focusing on what we are not, we should focus more on what we are. We should acknowledge our gifts more; they have purpose and we shouldn't try to sweep them under the rug just because others don't agree or understand us. We should feel confident enough to be genuine, be true to ourselves, be proud of our gifts and talents, and OWN them.

The next time I see someone who is able to 'go with the flow' more than me, I should applaud them for being able to do that, but at the same time applaud myself for noticing the details in my own life. That's what makes it easier for people to work together. If everyone was all about the details, we would probably drive each other crazy. At the same time, if everyone just went with the flow some things might get missed. BUT if we all work together more and appreciate our differences and support each other, we will undoubtedly accomplish more.

Some people have the ability to dream the dream, but don't see all that it will take to get it done. Other people might not be equipped to imagine the vision, but are more than willing to help make it happen.

Which way do you see yourself? Do you embrace your gifts for what they are and run with them or do you stand by waiting for someone to give you permission? If we are being totally honest, I can admit that I've been on both sides of this scenario. If I am confident enough in a situation I will move forward with a vengeance. If I allow myself to be unsure then I am going to wait for someone to push me in a direction (often, their direction - not mine).

Just something to think about.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tipping The Scale

Life is all about balance, or at least that's what most of us strive for. We wake up in the morning and we anticipate what our day will bring. What will our To Do list look like? How much will we actually accomplish? What relationships will take center stage today and need our attention? What unexpected drama will we be faced with? Who will push our buttons and allow us to feel stressed? Or will we get through our day and feel accomplished and at peace?

Whew ... that's a lot of what ifs and scenarios that will most likely get played out in a 12-14 hour period of time. 

On our best days we think we'll be able to tackle anything that comes our way. Everyone faces unexpected bumps in their path, but it is how we are able to deal with them that matters most and defines our character and our strength. While I feel it is good to start our day with a general plan and a goal, it would be unrealistic to think that plans can't and won't be changed (whether we are in agreement with them or not). To ultimately get through any day we need to be able to go with the flow and tell ourselves that it is okay if we don't get through the daily list because tomorrow is a new day and we can try again.

We try to keep a handle on life and we try to keep our heads above water. Some days we are able to succeed better than others. Some days we are weary from treading. 

What tips the scale for you? What throws you off balance and challenges your strength?

  • a lack of sleep? (I totally get this one. I am an insomniac most nights.)
  • a crying baby in public that distracts you from your moments of peace? (The grandma in me wants to go and help, but sometimes it is wise not to butt in.)
  • a honking horn from an impatient driver while sitting in traffic?
  • politics and the media? (in general)
  • people who swear in public?
  • people who smoke outside, but directly in front of a door to a restaurant or business that you need to walk through to get to your destination?

Everyone has their triggers; the things that tip the scale for them and throws them off their stride. When that happens ... and it will ... what do you do to regain your balance? Do you choose to ignore whatever inconvenienced you? Do you immediately become defensive? Do you respond or choose to keep quiet and keep your feelings to yourself?

There is the old saying that we should think before we speak (sort of a take off of 'measure twice, cut once'). Always best not to react right away; but rather observe, then think, then decide if you want to fight that battle. I've always stressed that once words are out (good or bad), you cannot take them back.

The next time your scale has been tipped and you find yourself off balance, take a deep breath and think about the most constructive way to get back to where YOU want to be. Be part of the solution rather than a new problem for someone else.

Monday, October 2, 2017

I Don't Understand

Yesterday my pastor spoke in his sermon (with a reference to Matthew 21:23-32) about when 'we don't know why ...' You can fill in the blank with just about anything. We don't know WHY someone behaves the way they do, so we judge and assume. We don't know WHY one person works for a living and another steals. When we don't understand the WHY of an issue, we find ourselves looking for a valid explanation. The fact of the matter is that people make choices. Sometimes they are the only ones affected and others not. There are some simple explanations, but many explanations aren't to be found.

In today's society I find myself saying, 'I DON"T UNDERSTAND'. Very similar to wanting to know the WHY, but it goes deeper for me. I go to church regularly, I read my bible, and I pray ... daily. My faith is very important to me. I choose not to push it on other people. I choose to respect our differences, but it goes deep down to the core of my being. There are days when I read headlines and listen to people offer their non-expertise opinions on everything from why the sun comes up to why football players take a knee before a sporting event to why someone would wake up and decide to shoot hundreds of complete strangers they never met. Many people are more than eager to add needless fuel to the fire and site their right to freedom of expression. Yes, we do HAVE freedoms, but with those freedoms should also come respect and responsibilities. I will never get all the WHY answers that I seek, but I will still struggle with not understanding the motives behind the actions. I am always seeking the 'thing' that will make some sort of sense out of a situation.

Sure, some people will say that if there truly is a God WHY would he allow the bad things to happen; the hurricanes, the earthquakes, the tornadoes, and the mudslides. These are natural disasters and scientists will continue to argue their specific causes and effects. Then there are the human-related bad things that sadly take place daily.

I will never fully understand why there has to be war; sure I understand the need for laws, and rights and wrongs, and protecting each other and our country, our rights and our freedoms. But I struggle some days with how it ever got so bad. I see so many soldiers give their lives and their livelihoods for our country, for us; but am saddened when the respect is not there and when one task is accomplished a new problem always seems to arise.

I will never understand why there has to be poverty and sickness, and so much hatred.

What can I do? That is constantly on my mind. I want to be part of a solution, not part of the problem. I don't want to spread hatred, innuendos, false information, or gossip. I will continue to wake up each day, not knowing what it holds. I will continue to pray for peace, for less homelessness, for more practical solutions, and for hope. It would be so easy in today's world to live in fear; fear of being in a car accident because someone else chooses to text or drink while driving, fear of being a victim of someone else's random craziness for the day, fear of watching the world pit itself against each other, fear of getting sick, or fear of losing a loved one.

I worry enough about everything. I worry for myself, for my family, and for people I don't even know. I worry about a lot, but I refuse to live in fear of the things I cannot control. It is tough, especially with everything that is out there - but I try. I will get up tomorrow. I will continue to pray for myself and others. I will continue to try to be nice and accepting and kind to everyone I meet. I will lean on my faith and hope for better days.

What things do you find yourself struggling with and trying to understand better?