Sunday, March 25, 2012

Poor Me

I was having a bad day. I didn't get enough sleep on the previous night. I had a crunched work day that went from 8:00 a.m until 6:00 p.m. A neurotic colleague caught my ear for 20-minutes and complained to me about something to do with animal crackers. Don't ask! And, I didn't make it into the final round of a writing contest, I really hoped to place in.
By the time I got to the grocery store that evening to buy food for our empty refrigerator, I was in full self-pity mode. You know how the monologue goes, "I'm tired. I'm bored. I can't afford an iPad 3. I'm sick of my life. I need a change." Each statement igniting another poor me thought.

After I put a carton of strawberries on the check-out counter, I turned my head and saw the person waiting behind me. She was a midget with short orange hair. She needed to carry a basket as opposed to pushing a cart because she wasn't tall enough to reach into it. When she pulled a box of cereal out of the basket, her hands shook and her fingers were misaligned. She wobbled back and forth as she stepped closer, and it looked like she had some type of neurological impairment.

Reality slapped me right out of the, my life sucks, attitude. This woman had to walk through life being noticed because of her difference. It was hard for her to move and she was handicapped from doing many simple things that I take for granted; like being able to get a glass from a high kitchen cabinet and peeling a potato without her fingers shaking. Then I thought about the reasons for my glum mood: being a little tired when a warm bed was waiting for me in a beautiful home. Working a long day in a professional career when many people are unemployed and college graduates can't find jobs. Having to listen to someone drone on about something stupid when many can't even hear; and losing in a contest. Was I really upset because I didn't win a contest? At that moment, I kicked my wounded outlook to the curb and decided to turn it into one of gratitude.
Although I don't want to sound like a talking self-help book, I do have so much to be grateful for. I'm not disabled in any way. I have two healthy sons, a good marriage, food when I want it and on and on.
I left the grocery store feeling much different than when I entered. That night I re-started an old ritual. It's not a new idea, but it's one worth mentioning no matter how many times it's been discussed. I'm taking a minute before drifting off to sleep to be thankful for ten aspects of my life. And it really only does take a minute. Even on the worst of days, something positive can be rendered, whether it be a smile you receive if you're sick, a neighbor who helps in a disaster, a teacher who aids your child if they're having trouble learning.
It's often hard to remember just how good we have it, especially when we're feeling disappointed and sad. Let's share some statements that just might turn a sour attitude around. I'll start:

I really need new office furniture and I can't afford it. There are people in this world who don't have any furniture.
Picture Taken from The Guardian Weekly
"I come from a village in Rutshuru District and I am here living in this school with my children because of the war. I have absolutely nothing and have been living in such terrible conditions for more than two months." Jacqueline from East Congo, Africa


No Greater Love by Mother Teresa--the teachings from a woman of our times who I'm sure didn't think, poor me, too often. 


When I'm feeling down, this classic song always lifts my spirits. We can't have a kick back song list without Louis Armstrong's: What a Wonderful World:


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Say Something Nice

I'm attending a writing conference that involves really long meetings--like all day. Yikes! You see, I'm a person who has to move and find sitting for hours at a time stifling. As you can imagine, I need my morning coffee before these sessions begin, even more than usual. So prior to the the workshop, I go to the nearest Dunkin Donuts to get an extra large cup of energy. When I arrived on Thursday, I winced. The line stretched from the counter to the door, and I hate long lines (almost as much as long meetings), but I had to wait. If I didn't drink my coffee, I would risk being rude and embarrass myself while the participants read excerpts from their stories that they had spent many months creating. You know the feeling. When you're trying to pay attention, but your eyelids feel like they're packed with lead and just want to shut. When your head keeps jerking back and forth because it really wants to rest on the table. When you have to swallow more than a couple yawns. It's not that these readings are boring, it's just the reaction I have when I have to sit still for too long.

So I took a deep breath and waited at that donut shop. To my surprise, the line moved quickly. The two women at the counter were organized, focused and served food like busy moms preparing breakfast for their kids before school. When it was my turn, I ordered my coffee with just a touch of cream and it was delivered as specified within a minute. I was pleased with this service and threw a dollar bill into the tip cup as opposed to my usual quarter, but that wasn't the best reward for snappy service. I stopped for a moment, looked at the woman who waited on me and said, "Wow. You're so fast."

Her eyes widened and a whisper of a smile formed on her face, as she said, "Thank you." For an instant, she took a break from her busy work day just to absorb the compliment. 

As I left the shop, I turned around and peeked at her. She was still wearing that slight closed lip smile that wasn't there when I ordered my coffee. It made me smile too and gave me a warm, calm feeling inside. After all, I was responsible for making this woman's day a little brighter with just a few words. 

Here's what E-How says about compliments, "They honor, elate and validate our efforts. Unlike flattery, a compliment is always socially acceptable if it is sincere and given in the appropriate context. Compliments can break the ice at work or at a party. They can diffuse stress, lift spirits or solidify a bond. Give compliments with ease to anyone. (Read more: How to Give a Compliment |

Think about how often you give compliments. Could you do it a bit more? I know I could. In fact, I almost walked out of that donut shop with just a simple and common, "Thanks." Those extra words made all the difference.


You Can't Take That Away From Me sung by Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers. This song is full of compliments, but the best part is how Ginger reacts. She can't help but smile even though she really doesn't want to.


The Compliment Quotient by Monica Storbel. This book discusses how compliments can improve the way you feel about yourself, your partner, your family, your job, your life through compliments. A great feel good read.


"I can live for two months on a good compliment."
Mark Twain

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beware of Road Sharks

I have a 30-mile commute to work on a congested highway. The distance isn't the biggest problem, nor is the traffic. It's the other drivers that are maddening. If I leave home by 6:45, it's okay, but by 7:00 the trouble starts. It's as if cruising dolphins suddenly turn into vicious sharks prepared to attack anyone who gets in their way.  

On Thursday of this week I was running late. I left my house at 7:10. The first twenty miles were uneventful. The sun was hovering on the horizon and excellent tunes were popping up on my I-Pod. Then it happened.  I veered into the left lane to make room for the hordes of vehicles that merge onto to the highway at Exit 8. As Coldplay entertained me with Viva la Vida, I peeked into my rear view mirror and saw her--a road shark. Lead Foot Lucy was charging toward me and within seconds was right on my tail. Maybe you've seen her before--bulging eyes, one hand flailing, the other hand gripping the steering wheel like it's the safety bar on a roller coaster. She looks a little like this:

Beware! Road Shark!

I looked to my right. No room to switch to the middle lane. Lead Foot Lucy was going to devour me. Several yards separated me from the car ahead and I thought about accelerating, but decided not to. I like being a dolphin and didn't want to catch the shark virus. I refused to be intimidated into causing an accident or getting a speeding ticket. Lead Foot Lucy didn't like my decision and inched closer. Why was she in such a rush anyway? Was she on her way to save the global economy? And if she was, maybe she should have left home earlier. She was really starting to annoy me so I took a kick back moment. Relax and enjoy the show. I cruised along a touch above the speed limit. After all, I was in the passing lane. (Sidebar question: Does the speed limit increase to whatever you want it to be in the passing lane, or is the speed limit the speed limit?) 

I looked in the rear view mirror again. Lead Foot Lucy's chin was almost touching the steering wheel and her teeth were clenched. I chuckled, but it really wasn't funny. She could have easily caused a multi-car pile-up and I'd be the first victim. Just then free space opened up in the middle lane. Within two notes of the song playing on my I-Pod, Lucy sped past, then darted in front of me.

The highway ended and I sat in my car waiting at a traffic light right behind Lead Foot Lucy. We ended up in the exact same spot at the exact same time. If I had succumbed to her pressure to speed up, we might have gotten through that traffic light a little sooner, maybe by three minutes, at the most. Is three minutes worth a blood pressure spike, heartbeat acceleration and an overall crazed feeling? When the green arrow appeared, Lead Foot Lucy zipped around the corner. I smiled and waved, but she didn't even notice.

So how do you drive when you're in a rush to get somewhere. Are you a cruising dolphin or a vicious shark?

Keith Urban's Days Go By reminds us to slow down as we journey through life. No road rage here.


The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. In this poetic memoir, a snail takes up residence on the author's nightstand while she recovers from an illness. It is beautifully written. A great addition to the,  I need to calm down, section of your book shelf. Take a couple of minutes to watch at least part of this video. I could actually feel my blood pressure decelerate.



Saturday, March 3, 2012

Everyone Should Have A Snow Day

I woke up before the beeping of my cell phone told me it was time to rise; wondering. Did it happen? Were the predictions correct?

I crept into the kitchen, turned on the coffee maker and reached for my favorite mug. While my pot of vigor brewed, I poured cream into the mug and heated it in the microwave oven. A slight impulse told me to peek out the window, but I ignored it. The surprise would be ruined. When the final puff of steam whooshed out of the coffee maker, I mixed the black liquid with the cream and watched the white froth rise to the top. After taking a sip, I went into the living room. It was time.

I turned on the TV. When the commercials ended and the news began, my eyes shifted to the bottom of the screen--the crawl area where all of the school closings are announced because of inclement weather. The alphabetical scan was on the "N's" and I had to wait for the "A's." My lips tightened and swallowing became more difficult.The names of school districts scrolled along and the newscaster said something about treacherous roads--a good sign.

Then, I saw it. My school's name in bright yellow letters. It was officially a snow day. I jumped up and shouted, "Yes." In that instant, I felt like a kid again. Nature had just handed me the gift of a carefree day. A day where everything I had planned was canceled--no primping, no commute, no meetings, no rushing around.

I pulled the sash on my robe a little tighter around my waist and clicked off the TV. I picked up my coffee mug and went into the den where there is a big picture window. I curled up on the couch and watched the dawn turn into day. A day where thousands of snowflakes flew out of the sky making the world seem like a peaceful place. No cars or people buzzing about, just a quiet, white, animated canvass. I stayed there for awhile.

View of my backyard at dawn during a snowstorm.

My husband grumbled a bit as he headed out the door to confront the slippery roads and traffic. I did feel guilty, snug under a blanket with my hands wrapped around my coffee mug, but it's not my fault. Yes. Snow days are one of the perks of working for a school system. I believe all companies and agencies should offer these lighthearted days to employees as part of their benefit package. Let all share in the joy of  an unexpected time out from "the plan." The result would be refreshed workers, less car accidents, unanticipated family time--you know, one of those win-win-win deals.

Start the buzz of implementing official snow days in your workplace. How do you think your employer would react?  If you don't get snow where you live, what type of weather causes everything to shut down?


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a beguiling story about love, loss and hope. It was selected by Amazon as the Book of the Month Selection in February 2012. I haven't read it yet, but will buy it. Watch the trailer below:


An oldie that will never die, A Marshmallow World. Here it's sung  by Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra - very funny:


An excerpt from The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards:

“On an impulse he went into the room and stood before the window, pushing aside the sheer curtain to watch the snow, now nearly eight inches high on the lampposts and the fences and the roofs. It was the sort of storm that rarely happened in Lexington, and the steady white flakes, the silence, filled him with a sense of excitement and peace. It was a moment when all the disparate shards of his life seemed to knit themselves together, every past sadness and disappointment, every anxious secret and uncertainty hidden now beneath the soft white layers. Tomorrow would be quiet, the world subdued and fragile, until the neighborhood children came out to break the stillness with their tracks and shouts and joy. He remembered such days from his own childhood in the mountains, rare moments of escape when he went into the woods, his breathing amplified and his voice somehow muffled by the heavy snow that bent branches low, drifted over paths. The world, for a few short hours, transformed.”