Sunday, September 29, 2013

Etiquette: A Lost Art Form?

Just the other day I took my mom to a local hospital for some routine blood work. I was pushing her in a wheelchair to eliminate a lengthy walk to the lab. When leaving the admittance desk I pushed her wheelchair away from the desk and immediately put the guest chairs back in their proper place. The admittance clerk responded with, 'That's so nice of you to put the chairs back. Most people don't even bother.' I replied, 'My mom taught me when I was growing up to always put things back the way I found them.' I guess it always stuck with me. I laughed and told my mom, 'Ha! And you thought I didn't listen to you.' It made her smile.

Growing up, my mom always insisted we learn and practice the most common forms of etiquette. We should say 'please' and 'thank you', never leave the dinner table until we'd either finished our meal or at least asked permission, and always try to write a hand written thank you note whenever possible. She used to say that if someone went to the trouble to pick out and give you a special gift for your birthday, then you should always acknowledge their effort with a proper thank you, otherwise she would say you were acting as though you thought it was owed to you.

More often than not I look around now and wonder if proper etiquette has become a lost art form. On a daily basis I witness people speeding through my subdivision at unbelievable speeds, people swearing in public, people zipping from lane to lane on the freeway without ever bothering to use a turn signal (as if we should all just get out of their way and read their minds about where they're going to choose to go next), and people vandalizing other people's personal property with graffiti. Don't even get me started about young guys wearing their pants down so low it's a miracle they don't trip themselves ... seriously I REALLY don't want to know or care about what boxers you're wearing.

Today my husband and I went for a leisurely lunch at a restaurant after church to watch the Lions football game. It was to be our hour to unwind, eat some lunch, and watch some football. Unfortunately the 2 ladies in the next booth carried on a conversation with voices so loud we could no longer hear the TV, much less concentrate on the game. My husband and I just looked at each other in disbelief. At one point one of the ladies was talking about something and saying, 'I just can't remember the name of the place. Gosh that bothers me. WHAT IS the name of that place?' It took every ounce of restraint for us not to get up and walk over to their booth to tell them the name of THAT place. There should be some proper level of volume that's considered acceptable in a public place, don't you think?

All is not lost though. Just when I think no one remembers what proper etiquette is I'll walk through a door that is being held open by a 10 year old boy with freckles on his face. I'll say, 'Thank you very much.' and he'll say, 'My pleasure.'
What do you think? Is etiquette a thing of the past or can it be salvaged for future generations to come?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Autumn: Enjoy The Reason For The Season

There's something to be said for having 4 seasons. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter ... they are all unique and each bring a splendor all their own. With spring you have the hope of bright colors; green grasses, leaves on the trees, and flowers in the gardens. Then comes summer; no longer a need for sweaters and jackets - just the warmth of the sun on your face. Next comes autumn (probably my favorite season of all); orange, red, and yellow leaves ... the trees resemble a midday fireworks display. Winter, for all the dreariness it can bring with slush and slippery driving, it can also bring pristine sparkling snowy days - a moment when everything is pure, clean, and untouched by mankind.
Today it was in the low 70s, blue skies with lots of sunshine, and just a hint of color change on the trees. A perfect day to play hooky and make a run by the cider mill; enjoy some cinnamon-sugar donuts hot out of the oven and some tasty cider, followed by a nice walk on the nature trail. It doesn't get any better than this.
Usually my days off are spent running errands and tackling mile long TO DO lists, but then a day like today comes along and you just have to throw caution to the wind and go for it. Just like the different seasons change our weather patterns, our lives also need change from time to time. There is a reason for every season, a time for snow and rain and wind and sun. Our lives are no different. We have seasons too. We have our youth, our young adult transitions with college and work, our married lives and careers, our parenting seasons, and then comes the season that I'm entering ... the one where you're still married, you're still working, you're still a parent, but suddenly you have a little more free time. That's the season when you give yourself permission to take up a new hobby, register for a class, spend an afternoon off working at the library, or taking a mid morning walk at the cider mill with your husband before you both head back to your real world of responsibilities. Like autumn, I think this is going to be a good season for me ... brightly colored and full of creative opportunities.
Embrace the seasons outside, as well as the seasons in your life. They all have purpose. What's your favorite season outside and why? What season do your see your life in right now?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

What Do You Make Of Your Challenges?

Life throws us many challenges, and as we all know, some can be difficult. Some challenges are tough, but when we achieve what we set out to do, we can be all the stronger for it. Some challenges are of our own making and choice, while others are dealt to us. Those are the toughest ones. Those challenges could be the loss of an income, the death of a loved one, a new job, or bad health. Some challenges are short term and others unfortunately are not.

Yesterday was my anniversary (30+ years). My son called me in the morning to wish my husband and I well. In the afternoon our daughter called from college. Her anniversary well wishes surprised me, to say the least. She said, "Thank you for staying together all these years. It means a lot to me." I suppose it surprised me because we'd NEVER toyed with the idea of a divorce or separation. I reiterated this to my daughter and she responded with, "I know, but so many of my friends and kids I meet ... well, their parents aren't together anymore."

Marriages and relationships take work. I'm not one to judge whether couples should stay together or not. I came from a divorced family, so I understand that sometimes it's the right thing to do. But marriages and relationships (with spouses or children or friends or co-workers) take work. Like life, they can be challenging. I'm glad I've learned to take the good with the bad, and the lucky with the unlucky. It's all part of life. While we don't always have a choice with regards to the challenges we face, we do have choices everyday as to how we will respond, what we will make of the journey, and what we will learn from the experience.

What have been some of your toughest challenges?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Social Media: Is It For You?

Today I attended a workshop at the Macomb Regional Community Media Lab in Clinton Twp., MI, hosted by the Macomb Daily. Sometimes, no matter your age, it can be overwhelming and nerve wracking to go back to school; whether you're in high school, starting college, or attending a media workshop at the age of 50. Today's topic of discussion was 'Contributing Community Content'. The first 20 minutes or so focused on preparing press releases for businesses, non-profits, fundraisers, events, etc. I do this all the time in my job as a church administrative associate. We constantly host community events like vacation bible school, CARE parenting series', and health and wellness workshops - which I've promoted for nearly 12 years. For a moment I listened, got some great ideas on how to better convey my messages AND thought I was pretty tech savvy. That feeling of confidence quickly diminished as they moved on to the next topic of social media.

Yes, I am active on Facebook; I actually have two Facebook pages - one personal and one for this blog. I may not use Twitter or You Tube, but I do know that when you 'tweet' your followers are called 'tweeps' and there are various kinds of videos you can post like Vines that run for 6 seconds. Then my head began to swim as they started dropping big words like RebelMouse, Tout, Hoot Suite, and RebelMouse is a site that allows you to bring all your social network feeds together in one place. I don't think I'm ready for that since I only use Facebook and have my blog. Tout, on the other hand, fascinates me. Tout lets you create 15 second videos; great for giving a shout out to a reader, introducing a new blog entry, or sharing a quick review of a product you just tried. The good part is I can create Tout videos right on my laptop using the web cam (since I don't have an IPhone). Hoot Suite is another site that allows you to schedule your posts to your social sites, kind of time saving if you're only available to work on your sites in the morning but would prefer that your posts showed up at various times throughout the day. Then there's It's a site that lets you shorten your URL addresses so that when you post a link to articles and photos your URL is more direct and catchy.

For me, the great thing about the Macomb Regional Community Media Lab is its convenience and the free professional instruction it makes available to the community. What a great concept. They offer one-on-one sessions, as well as a variety of workshops. They've been a life savor to me as I've been learning about the different options that are available. When you consider using social media you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. How much time do I want to invest in my social networking? What do I hope to gain by using the various sites? 

There's a old saying that talks about 'picking your battles', for me social media is about 'choosing my challenges'. My plan is to attend as many workshops and one-on-one sessions as possible and take away at least one goal from each session. It's important to keep growing, no matter what your age is.

What's your favorite source of social media and why? I'd love to know. Is it You Tube, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat? Perhaps you use something I haven't even mentioned.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What A Difference A Year Makes

Today I had one of those 'light bulb' moments, the kind that make you sit back and say, "Wow, I never thought of that before." I was speaking with a parent who was trying to make a difficult decision about which youth group at church to enroll her child in. Her child is the right age for one group, but has friends that are in a younger group. Her child was nervous and thought they might feel more comfortable in the one where they already knew some people. I told her I understood how difficult of a decision it was. I shared a situation with her that I'd experienced 13 years ago.

My daughter was then in preschool. Her teacher was required to give all of the students the Giselle test. I'm not sure if that is something that is still used today or not. Basically the test helped the teacher evaluate the student's skills and readiness to move up into kindergarten. I remember her telling me that my daughter placed high in every single category except for one. She had a high level of separation issues (she never wanted me out of her sight The teacher was concerned with her moving up into kindergarten because she was on the very young end of the age scale. So I did what every concerned parent would do - I asked questions like 'how many days a week would pre-kindergarten meet if I were to hold her back' and 'how many hours would she be gone in a day'. The teacher said, "Well, actually it's not any different. She'd go to school 3 hours a day, Monday through Friday." I stopped and thought about it and had a sort of light bulb moment. Wait ... let me get this straight. Her teacher was worried that my daughter couldn't handle being away from me 5 days a week, 3 hours a day for kindergarten BUT would be better placed if she went to pre-kindergarten 5 days a week, 3 hours a day? I went with my gut instinct and placed my daughter in kindergarten. Either way she was going to have to get used to me not being there. The parent laughed and said she'd think some more about her decision.

After I hung up the phone I had today's light bulb moment. My daughter is currently a new college freshman studying music education and pursuing her passions and dreams. But what would have happened if I'd held her back one year? Her entire plan for her future might have been different. My daughter started playing a musical instrument through her school when she was in the 4th grade. Ironically the year after she left her elementary school the district cut the strings program. She was in the LAST class to have it offered to them. In junior high she was in the LAST orchestra class before it was cut. In high school she was in the LAST orchestra class before it too was cut. It finally happened. There is no more orchestra or strings program of any kind in any grade in our school district. What a difference one year could have made for her. What would her college major look like now if things had happened differently? I have to believe she was meant to be in the LAST class. She was meant to withstand the challenges that faced her. She was meant to persevere. So now that she's living in her college dorm and attending all her music classes and playing in the university's chamber orchestra, who's having to adjust to the separation issues? Not her ... lol, but don't worry ... I'm doing much better this week than last week.

What was the last big decision you had to make? How did things turn out in the long run?

Friday, September 6, 2013

When Do You Get Involved?

Today I encountered a situation that made me stop and question myself. I was walking through a Kroger parking lot back to my car when I observed something that made me feel uncomfortable. There was an SUV parked about 4 spaces past me. There was a young boy (age 10 or 11) standing on the back bumper waiting as his mother conversed with a toddler in the back seat. The toddler appeared to not be too happy by the sounds of the screaming and crying coming from the vehicle. I put my bags into the back of my car and yet found myself drawn to the situation just a few yards away. As I rolled my cart to the cart coral the mother and young boy walked past me toward the store. The toddler could still be heard crying from the SUV because the windows were half way down. As the mother walked by she told the boy, "If they're going to scream and carry on like that they can just stay in the car."

My heart was suddenly in my throat. Did she just leave her toddler alone in the SUV? Should I confront her or mind my own business? I walked back to my own car, all the while listening to the child's cries. I started my own car, but couldn't leave. I drove down the four short spaces and pulled in to the empty space next to the SUV. I was so relieved to see a young girl (maybe 11 or 12) sitting in the front passenger seat. The toddler was not alone!

Did I have a right to judge the mother without speaking to her or knowing fully what was happening? Should I have left and simply minded my own business? Did I do the right thing by discreetly checking on the toddler? There may not be any right or wrong answers, but I knew (as a mother) what 'I' needed to do. Just a few days ago a 2 year old boy died in my area because he was left in a car with the windows rolled up. I have to wonder if anyone knew he was there before it was too late. What if someone had seen him and thought not to get involved? What if his death could have been prevented?

By me sharing this story you, as the reader, have every right to judge me and my actions. I'm fine with that, because my conscience will be clear tonight and I'll be able to look at myself in the mirror. When was the last time you were in a situation when you questioned whether or not you should get involved?

Monday, September 2, 2013

It's A New Day ...

Today is a new day that in essence begins a new chapter. I've always thought our lives were like the seasons; they seem to be changing constantly. Once you're getting comfortable with one, it changes right before your eyes. Just like the seasons when we get used to the summer sun on our faces, we switch over to the autumn colors of red, yellow and orange and the cool crispness in the air. Sometimes it sneaks up on us and seems almost as though it's happened overnight. Our lives as parents are very similar. One day we're making our kids lunches for school and buying their new sneakers and the next day we helping them set up their dorm rooms and trying to help them (by phone and Facebook) to be ready for their first day of college.

It's hard, perhaps harder for some than others, to stand back and give your children their space. You've helped them their entire lives; you've guided them, you've supported them, and you've loved them. Most of that will never change. We'll still love them and support them, we'll even try to guide them as much as we can and share our experiences and our wisdom; but now we need to stand back and let them venture out on their own. They'll succeed, they'll flounder, they'll have great personal accomplishments, and they'll undoubtedly make mistakes. Why'll in my head I know all of these things are perfectly normal, in my heart I still want to protect my daughter from any unnecessary hardships or frustrations. She'll make mistakes, but she'll also find her way and grow and mature.

Perhaps there should be a class for us parents, lol, that teaches us how to handle these moments. My son is now 27. Three college degrees later, he's doing great. He survived the process and so did we, as parents. So why am I stressing now with my daughter starting her first days of college? I know she is smart and capable and talented and full of passion. I know, by nature, she's an organized person. But I also know she is in a new surrounding, with new people, new expectations, and new distractions.

She'll focus and perhaps at times wish that her well-intended mom didn't hover so much, but I know she'll find her way and end up on top. In the meanwhile, I'll get back to blogging, I'll try to not meddle, and perhaps I'll take up Yoga to de-stress. lol
How did you handle it when your kids went off to college? I'd love some help here from my friends. I welcome your wisdom.