Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Finish 2013 With Grace

2013 is drawing to a close. I have to believe that we've all had some high points and low points this past year. Every year is similar in that way. It's how we handle the highs and lows that changes. 2013 has been another memorable year in an ongoing list of many. My youngest graduated from high school and went off to college and my oldest relocated back to Michigan for a teaching position, not to mention recently getting engaged. I'm thankful my children are doing so well in the changes life has presented them with. I'm proud to have another cancer-free year under my belt and happy to be married 30+ years. Yes, life has its ups and downs, but luckily more ups than downs.

There will always be the BIG things in life that occur, those monumental moments that create memories for a lifetime. Then there are those stresses that sometimes press our nerves and test us on a daily basis. Some are BIG, legitimate stresses like health and finances and some just gain momentum and seem bigger than they really are. A few days ago I drove out of my way on my day off to pick up some flowers for work. It was after Christmas and there was a lot of traffic. I got there only find the lights off and the front door to the florist locked. Bummer. I called and left a message for them. They called me back about an hour later with plenty of apologies. I went a second time the next day. The store owner offered me more apologies and a free bouquet of flowers (which I politely turned down). I know she felt bad for the mix up and my second trip, but the flowers were beautiful. She kept saying, 'What can I do? I feel so bad.' I told her, 'You've already done it, you apologized. Don't worry about it.' Things happen. That's life. It's how we handle it that matters. It was a minor inconvenience.

Two weeks ago my debit card was 'compromised' thanks to a certain merchant. My bank called me a few days before Christmas to give me the news. Talk about bad timing and a major inconvenience. Unfortunately for me my bank (unlike my daughter's credit union) canceled my debit card and issued me a new one ... that part was fine, but the part that included a new lost card and nearly a 2-week delay was the inconvenient part. Today I got my new card (woohoo) and my independence back. So what did I get with my new card? A few more apologies and a really nice 2014 calendar. Things happen. That's life. Again, it's how we handle it that matters. Inconveniences are just that ... inconvenient AND the past. The best way to handle them is with grace. Accept them for what they are and move on.
So, as we flip the calendar to a new year let's close out 2013 and begin 2014 the same way - with grace. It can make everything a lot easier to handle. Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Importance Of A Name

Today's blog isn't going to change the world or cure cancer or solve the national debt ... it's merely an observation on my part. But on the other hand, observations are what help us to keep our eyes open and perhaps look beyond our own 4 walls. There's a big world out there and believe it or not it doesn't always revolve solely around us.

So what's my earth-shattering observation? I've observed that we NAME the things we care about. We generally put lots of thought into the process or at least I hope we do. A name is something that once given should stay with you the rest of your life. It should have depth and meaning and be special. We name our children based on family traditions, different spellings, or sometimes just weird trends (just ask Kim Kardashian and Kanye West why they named their daughter 'North'). I have to wonder ... was she conceived on an airplane?

Names help us create our identities. They let the world know who we are and what we're all about. We create personalized license plates for our cars to promote our businesses or tell people what our passions or hobbies are. We paint names on boats that explain in less than 3 words what matters to us. We think long and hard before we name our pets. Their names have to be perfect and display their personalities.

There are probably many other things that we name that I'm not even considering. I know my daughter always named her stuffed animals when she was little, and now that she's older she continues the tradition - BUT now it's with her musical instruments. The names are carefully selected and chosen for very specific reasons. When she performs her music she is one with her instruments. They have a special bond. I think that's reason enough to deserve a special name.

Have you ever named something special? A cabin in the woods? A song? A painting or sculpture? A book or a poem? A mascot?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

There Is Hope ... A Rebuttal

A few days ago I wrote a blog entry about people hiding their identities. Some could say the entry was a rant about people taking a negative approach to life and gaining unwanted attention ... and they would be right. I was feeling a bit discouraged that day and in spite of my otherwise 'holiday spirit' I was feeling saddened. Then I heard a true story during a conversation with someone that renewed my hope in mankind.

It's the Christmas season and for many that means shopping and buying gifts for others. Presents are always nice, but some of the nicest presents you'll ever receive aren't shiny, technological, or even expensive. They're the gifts that come from the heart, the ones that are handmade, and the ones that are sacrificial. For many people the shopping season can bring a lot of stress; not to mention unwanted debt. The story I'm about to share may or may not have been a Christmas present, but it easily could have been.

I know a woman who is retired, but still gives piano lessons. At any given time she has 8-10 students. She doesn't have a lot of extra income, so her gift of music gives her both pleasure and extra money. Students come and go, their interests change, they grow up and move on, and often times their circumstances change. This piano teacher spoke of one of her students that was very talented. The student's mother had a good job with good benefits, but like a lot of other people lost her position when the company she worked for was down-sized. For a while she couldn't afford her daughter's lessons. The teacher explained that if the circumstances are there she always allows for one 'pro bono' student. The student had talent and she didn't want her to lose her lessons. The teacher gave the student lessons for free. Some time went by and the student's mother was hired by a competitive company. One day the teacher received a check in the mail covering the cost of every single 'free' lesson the student had received. The teacher never asked for the money. Repayment was never discussed.

There's a saying that says 'what goes around comes around'. That saying can apply when someone does something bad or something good, but what a wonderful gift it was that was given. The gift of music was a true gift from her heart. It wasn't just a gift that was free, it was a gift that was sincere and one that offered hope (both to the student and her mother).
Unfortunately there will always be those people who just don't get 'it', those that are selfish, and those that are rude to strangers. For them I am truly sorry, BUT it's the heartfelt stories of people who sacrifice for others that continue to give me hope. I hope you'll use this true story as an inspiration to give of yourself to others. The gifts and talents that you alone have been blessed with are like no other. Whoever is on the receiving end of one of your heartfelt gifts is really the lucky one.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Why Do People Hide Their Identities?

In the midst of all the positiveness of the Christmas season it saddens me to first hear of a story of someone's untimely passing and second to read some people's reactions. I came across an Internet article today that shared the sad news of a young military man who died from a parachuting accident while on vacation with his wife in Australia. I have the utmost respect for veterans and the sacrifices they make for the sake of others. This young veteran had served on tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He deserved a vacation full of adventures and quality time with his wife. The part of the article that seemed to be a bigger deal than it should have been was the fact that the wife had won the vacation from the Ellen show. The fact that she'd won the vacation didn't change the fact that she'd just become a widow, nor did it cause the unfortunate accident.

Many of the readers showed sympathy and empathy for the new widow, while some of the readers (complete strangers) used the opportunity to make completely ignorant comments. Comments like, 'Will the widow sue the Ellen show? Because that's what everyone does these days.' and 'Well, that's what happens when you have a gay person with a TV show.' Seriously? That's the first thing that comes to their mind when someone they never even met dies? I didn't read through the balance of the comments because to be honest - they made me sick!

I made an observation though regarding the 10-12 comments I did read. The comments that seemed sincere with sympathy had actual photo IDs with what looked like legit names. The ignorant comments ALL came from people with cartoon IDs and made-up fictitious character names. So why do some people feel they can hide behind their cartoon IDs, their made-up names, and the freedom of speech amendment? Why do some people try to get their 5 minutes of fame by showing their ignorance?

When I blog I prefer to share uplifting and inspiring thoughts, but sometimes I suppose we need to point out the obvious in the hopes that it'll make us all a little more aware of the things we say and the things we do. Everyone's actions, including our own, have consequences. We can't always change other people's behavior, but we can choose to be responsible for ourselves. I realize I am human (as we all are) and by no means perfect, but if I ever do that PLEASE let me know so I can smack myself upside my head.

In the true spirit of Christmas, may we be more thoughtful of others, be plentiful with our good intentions, and more importantly with our follow-through.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Angels Of The Season

December can be a very busy (and overwhelming) month for a lot of reasons. Many people embrace the Christmas holiday that falls in December ... many will thrive on the true meaning of Christmas, rejuvenate their spirits with the lights and decorations, rekindle relationships with family and friends, and dig deep into their inner soul to focus on what REALLY matters. But don't be fooled... for many December is just another month on the calendar, a month that brings an earlier darkness to our days, colder temperatures, occasional snowy roads, and often a lot of sadness and feelings of being alone.

The last week I've been busy with work, bringing my daughter home from college, a little Christmas shopping and gift wrapping, a staff Christmas party, playing cards with friends, hearing the news of my son's engagement, and regaining some physical strength after battling a cold for 2 weeks. Needless to say, blogging got bumped down a few notches on my list of goals.
I've had a lot on my mind and have felt the urge to blog several times this week, but choosing the right topic isn't always easy. I need to write from my heart. I can't force the words, if I do they won't be real and you'll know the difference. So what did I do? I asked my readers for suggestions. I got 3 responses. A) Weddings and about being a MOG (mother of the groom), B) How to stay calm during the holiday prep season, and C) Write about the angels of the season. I thought about each of the recommendations. I haven't fully come to the realization yet that I'll be a mother of a groom, so I'm going to take that one slowly. I'm certainly not one to guide others about how to stay calm, because truth be told that's a strength of mine that comes and goes with the seasons. So I opted to tap into the wonderfulness of the angels of the season.
Angels come in all shapes and sizes. They don't usually announce themselves and say, 'Hey, here I am! Look at me and what I can do!' No, they do the opposite. They do nice things for strangers, they don't want any attention, and they show up when they're least expected. They could be the stranger  that shovels your driveway for you without being asked, the friend that made you a pot of chicken soup when you were sick, or the neighbor you hardly know that invites to attend a holiday church service just when you're feeling alone and the pressures of the season. Yes, angels can be strangers or friends or even family. They're angels because they don't think of themselves, they think of the moment and what can they do to make someone else's day just a little brighter. Angels help us rebuild our strength, they brighten our spirits, and they warm our hearts. You can thank an angel when you meet them, but even better you can take what you've learned from them and pay it forward by being there for someone else. I had an angel once and her name was Laura. She was my Chemo Angel. She was special, an inspiration to me, thoughtful beyond a doubt, and an all-around nice person. I like to think I took some of what I learned from her and paid it forward. That's the BEST and most honest 'thank you' I think you can give someone.
Who has been your angel this season?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sometimes we need to slow down ...

I'm a creature of habit, a master of the 'list', a person who generally has a hard time sitting down, but sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to slow down and take a breather. It's the month of December ... a month long celebration of Christmas spirit, get-togethers with families and friends, a time for shopping and baking, Hallmark movies, and festive Christmas trees and lights. Many of us will 'go go go' for the entire month, but with the holidays comes crowds and unfortunately 'germs'. There's nothing like an old-fashioned battle with a cold to help me gain some perspective. My mind may be saying 'get up and go', but my body is saying 'I don't think so'.

Are my presents all wrapped? Nope. But my house is decorated and looks festive. I'll pick my battles for now. My advice to you ... take care of yourself now so you can enjoy the rest of the season. We can push ourselves all we want ... do more ... be more ... etc. But for what? For who? I've convinced myself that what's important will still get done. So, for today ... for right now I'm giving myself permission to put the list on hold. That's my gift for myself and the best part is it doesn't need wrapping.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Is it really all about the sale?

I like to shop, really I do. BUT I shop for the bargain, for the something different, and for that special gift that will make someone smile with pure joy. I don't like to shop just because there's a mega sale. If I don't need something specific it's rare for me to shop just to look. I rarely get sucked into the shopping mode because of a creative commercial or a colorful website ad. Sorry ... that's just not me. No one is going to convince me that I 'can't live without something.'

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving. We were thankful to sit at a table with family, to have a day or two off of work to relax, and time to kick off our Christmas season. Retailers, advertisers, and those in marketing might have forgetten about the true meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday, but it's not entirely their fault ... it's their job ... to boost sales and rack up holiday sales. I'm sure the cashiers were a bit disappointed with my purchases on Black Friday, since I didn't spend more than $20 in any store. I will admit that I did stand in line at Kohl's (from start to finish) for a total of 26 minutes, but they had toys on sale for 50% off, and I had a coupon besides. I was willing to stand in line to purchase the items that I did because they were for my children's gift bag for Lighthouse Outreach. I felt good about my purchase.

I wonder, though, what is next. I was very disappointed to see some of the retailers open early on Thanksgiving night ... some at 8:00, some at 9:00 p.m. I felt bad for the workers who had to leave early or skip their family dinners all together. I have to believe that the money the retailers made on Thanksgiving night would have been added to their Black Friday sales if they'd chosen to wait til early morning. I heard a report just this morning that overall Black Friday sales were down from last year, but Thanksgiving night sales were up. Duh ... even I can do the math.

So we've started with Thanksgiving Thursday sales, followed by Black Friday sales, followed by Small Business Saturday, not to forget Cyber Monday, which of course is followed by Cyber Week. Which means what? Next week will be 'Post Cyber Week', followed by the 'Week Before Christmas Sales', concluding with last minute 'Christmas Eve' sales?
In all the hype of sales, sales, and more sales how many people will remember that today is 'Giving Tuesday'? The day set aside to follow Cyber Monday where we can perhaps count up what we've saved and perhaps give to a needy charity. This is a tough time of year for all of those organizations who do such great service to our own communities. It's hard to compete with stuff that is new and shiny and popular. Here's my challenge for you today ... give a little something extra to your favorite charity today, buy that cup of coffee for the person behind you in line, leave some spare change in the red bucket at the exit door, or better yet ... just be extra nice to people today. Let that extra car out of the parking lot, if you have 2 good legs park your car in the further spot leaving the closer one for someone who may need it, or hold the door open for someone. It's really not all about the money ... small considerate gestures can be priceless!