Reasons to Smile

I stumbled across a bargain last Sunday while out shopping – a winter jacket, marked half off the original price, and another fifty dollars off if I text-messaged the word coats to a designated number. I’ve been keeping my eye open for a new jacket since last year and couldn’t pass this up. It was a really warm one, and simple in style and color. Perfect for me. When I brought it to the register along with a couple of other items, the cashier who rung up my purchases offered some of the worst customer service I’ve ever received. She didn’t greet me or respond when I attempted to be friendly. She scowled as she worked, and when finished, silently handed over my receipt without even looking at me. Clearly, this was a woman unhappy in her work. If I hadn’t been so eager to purchase my things at such bargain prices, I might have just walked out without buying any of it.

On Tuesday, I stopped by my parents’ place to drop off a meal to put in their fridge for another day, and to get a shopping list from my mom so I could pick up a few of their necessities. Mom complimented my new jacket and mentioned she really could use a new one. I told her what a bargain it had been and offered to take her to the store where I’d bought it so she could pick out one for herself. She said she really wasn’t feeling up to leaving the house, much less walking around a department store, but asked if I would just go pick one out for her.

Knowing that winter clothing starts disappearing quickly from the store racks this time of year, I decided to go straight there in the hopes of still finding something for Mom. I was lucky to find one jacket still available in her size, but I didn’t see the sign that was there on Sunday for the text-message discount. When I went to pay, I thought I’d just ask if the offer was still available. The cashier very kindly apologized and said it was not, but let me see what other offers might be available.

I was pleasantly surprised at her attempt to go the extra mile, especially after my experience on Sunday. This very friendly woman asked if I wanted to open up a store credit card that would earn me something like forty-five percent off my purchase. I politely declined, not wanting to take a hit on my credit score for a one-time discount.  That’s okay, I said. I’m still going to buy this. The price was still a good deal and within the amount Mom was willing to spend.

Well, let me just check something else, the cashier offered. Here, she exclaimed, pulling a clipped coupon from her register. Here’s a coupon for twenty-five percent off. She was holding it up to show me. Do you want to use this? We both knew darn well that hadn’t come in with that coupon, but she was offering it to me, simply because I had asked about another discount.

Um, sure! I said. I was a bit astounded at how hard she was working for me, especially knowing I was willing to pay the higher price. I thanked her, explaining that I was purchasing the jacket as a favor to my mom and that Mom would be thrilled and grateful for the lower price.

She smiled and proceeded to ring up the jacket. Thank you so much for doing this! I said to her.

You’re so very welcome, she offered back with a huge smile. Have a good night!

I like that store, and my experience with the crabby cashier on Sunday wasn’t typical, nor likely to keep me from shopping there again. But my experience with the much friendlier employee that Tuesday evening sure made me feel great, and I found myself letting go of any frustration I still felt when I thought back to my prior visit. I regretted not taking note of her name so I could let the company know how well she represented them.

I left with a big smile on my face and then headed off to go buy the things on my parents’ necessities list. As I wandered through another store’s aisles, finding each item, I looked down at the cart I was pushing and had to roll my eyes slightly at the things my seventy-four year-old parents consider necessities.


Between what shopping my parents manage on their own, and the errands my sister and I do for them, I know they don’t stand a chance of the candy dish running dry before one of us ends up at the store again. They absolutely didn’t need this much at one time. But they love to keep a variety of treats on hand so that every one of their kids and grandkids can find something they enjoy when visiting. Besides, I know they buy the kind in the yellow bag especially because it’s my favorite.

The rest of the week had its ups and downs. I had both work-related challenges and successes. While immersed in a project one early afternoon, I heard my phone vibrate with a new text message. I picked it up to take a look and following is what ensued.

Mark Text

I was totally surprised and wondering what he really wanted, but it seems he just wanted to connect with me. That is absolutely not typical of Mark and me. I know he loves me. He knows I love him. But we never just randomly stop to send messages like this one. This past week, he had been working second shift, so he was sleeping when I’d leave for work in the mornings and gone when I’d come home. By the time he’d get back home, I’d be sleeping. Guess he just decided to let me know he missed spending time together.

The weather early this week was warm, but gloomy. We had fog one day and gray skies several days in a row. Late in the week, the temperatures dropped and I was able to put my new jacket to good use. The cold weather brought a slight break in the clouds, just enough to  provide some relief from that dreary feeling. It’s funny how different the same sky can look depending on where you see it. Here was the view just a few blocks from home while I waited at a red light.


And only a half hour later, as seen from the office parking lot.



As easy as it is to be connected with so many people these days, through text messaging and social media, I’m hyper-aware that many others are struggling daily with real difficulties in their lives. Some just seem to face one tragedy after the next. By the day, I see messages asking us to pray for successful job interviews, for healing of physical ailments, or to keep loved ones from the grip of death. We may sometimes be guilty of being too connected, but this same connectedness often gives me the opportunity to be grateful for all that I have and each new day I’m graced with. It reminds me to smile whenever the chance comes along, no matter how brilliant or trivial the opportunity seems.

Prize Winning Fisherman

I don’t care how old he gets, Brad will always be my “boy.” And my boy loves the outdoors. He has since he was old enough to don a life vest and hold a fishing pole. The minute he was old enough to dress in camouflage and tag along with his dad and uncles on their fall hunting trips, he was there. As soon as he reached the age when he could take a gun safety course so he could become a real hunter, he was in class.

The weather doesn’t matter to him. There’s very little that can keep him home when a hunting or fishing trip is on the horizon. So this time of year, Brad can be found out on the frozen lakes, with a fishing line dangling through a hole in the ice.

This past weekend, he entered an ice fishing tournament with a bunch of his college buddies. He called home early Saturday afternoon and said, Hey, Mom. Can you and Dad spot me the sales tax on a brand new pick-up truck?

Whaaaaaa…..? I asked, confused.

I won a truck in the fishing tournament, he explained.

You DID? I squealed.

Nah, but I am in third place at the moment, he admitted. I’ll probably win something.

It strikes me as ironic that there are tournaments like this, that offer prizes for doing the very thing my boy would do in a heartbeat, without any incentive. He just loves to fish. When all was said and done, he ended up in fifth place. He didn’t win a pick-up truck, and just missed out on a one week vacation at an up-north lake resort. But he won a very nice auger, which is now for sale. As any serious ice fisherman would, he already has one!

Turning the Corner

I had to pull myself out of vacation mode this week and get back into the swing of the usual routine. It wasn’t too painful, except for that first day back to work. My email inbox was overwhelming!

Kacey is home from school this week on spring break. She’s happy for the reprieve from homework and studying. Lucy is happy for the company and for having someone to play with and snuggle her during the day. And I’m happy to see Kacey’s smiling face when I come home from work. She’s kept me entertained with her stories and great sense of humor.

The weather is finally breaking and we can all actually tolerate being outside for more than a few minutes. Our walking paths are clear of snow once again and we can take Lucy for walks. The other night, she was so enthusiastic to be outside the confines of the yard, that she yanked on her leash, pulling Kacey along in her hurry to keep exploring ever further. We had to dodge some pretty large puddles, but it was worth it. The neighborhood seems to be coming back to life.

Spring 2014

Hell has frozen over… and I’m living in it

It started yesterday with rain. Then snow, snow and more snow overnight. Then wind.






storm6If one more person says, “You’ve got to admit it’s pretty though … ”

I don’t. And I won’t.

Really, I’m trying to maintain a positive outlook, but I’m quickly falling into the same camp as my friend, Alishea.



Weathering the Winter

I’m starting out by commenting on the weather. AGAIN.

This winter just seems to drag on, an endless cycle of cold and more cold. It gets to me. I wish it weren’t so, but I seem to be one of the many who are seasonally affected. I made a promise to myself to do everything possible to fight off the doldrums this winter and I’m doing okay with it. I’ve given in to the allure of hibernation a morning or two. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mopey and cranky now and then.  Old habits die hard, but I’m working hard to keep trying to change them.

breakfast cupsHaving a house full of family helps. Last weekend, all of the kids were here and we enjoyed the usual stuff – playing with the dogs, watching movies, eating food that’s so good, even if it wasn’t good for us! I tried out a new breakfast recipe while they were here and it was a hit! Eggs, sausage, cheese and hash browns – all in one. Yum!

Agg2There are lots of other ways to brighten the gray days, for instance, seeing a face I don’t often get to see in person. I had the pleasure of a visit from Agg last week! Agg’s work brings him to my vicinity now and then, so this is actually the second time we got to connect. Mark and I had a nice meal with him at a local place and we got to spend a couple of hours talking about work, football, kids, family, Agg’s travels and the winter Olympics. We had a great time!

And we booked a winter vacation to Florida. Mark and I have never taken a winter vacation in all the years we’ve been married. When the kids were younger, there was just never enough time or money. This year, we finally realized we were in a position to go somewhere warmer than here. Florida, here we come! It sure helps to have a change of temperature and scenery to look forward to.

It’s impossible though, to fill every day with big, exciting events to keep the blues at bay so I’m trying to remember to focus on the  little things that make a difference. Kacey signed us up for a color run in July, so I’ve got motivation to try to resurrect the runner in me, who was never a great runner to begin with. Maybe having a goal like the color run will help me improve.

I’m doing yoga a couple of times a week, as soon as I wake up. It makes both my body and mind feel good.

I have bowling with the girls every week and with other couples every other Saturday – always a fun time, even when my game isn’t up to par.

I’m also trying to remember to just live more. A friend posted an article on Facebook – 22 Habits of Unhappy People. I recognized a few of my own tendencies. One of them is not following through on the things I say I want to do or plan to do (using my camera, volunteering.) Another unhealthy habit was labeled loneliness. I don’t generally tend to feel overwhelmingly lonely, but because of the design of my life and my husband’s job, there are a lot of days, nights and weekends when I’m alone. I often appreciate the time I have to myself. It’s a good time to think, write, read or catch up on chores that need doing. But I also might sit alone in front of the television when I could instead connect with a friend or family member. I tend to find it easier to just stay home in the quiet rather than go to the effort of reaching out to a friend and planning something social. But when I go to the effort, I’m never sorry. I have to remember that interacting with others always lifts my spirits. And that lift seems to stick with me long after we’ve parted ways.

This weekend, I invited friends to come over and play cards after Mark came home from work Saturday evening. It wasn’t a late night, but we all had fun and lots of laughs. I’m cooking with real effort this weekend- an all day beef broth-making, soup-simmering affair. I’m rarely at a loss for words on this blog, but for some reason, tend to hang in the background when it comes to Facebook. I always appreciate those who post Facebook updates that are inspiring, funny or just invite conversation. I stepped outside my box this morning and posted something simple about myself and what I was doing today. I was rewarded with comments and conversation from girlfriends near and far. I need to do that more often! I’m going to go do some things for my parents today, take my dad shopping, and get out of the house for a while, even if it is still cold and more snow is on the way.

The winter days will pass, more quickly than it feels at the moment. Warmer days are coming. Life is good.

My Grandma’s Lasting Gift

My Grandma T made memories for her family. She made real, tangible memories with her own hands, loads of colorful yarn, her crochet hooks and a lot of love.

Birthdays and wedding showers brought stripe-patterned afghans meant to keep Grandma T’s loved ones warm on cold nights. Christmases were sure to bring new pairs of mittens, playful winter hats or long, bright scarves. My grandma was a product of the Great Depression and she found ways to use up or reuse everything in her house. Some of her creations were a crazy mix of colors because she wanted to use up all the remnants of her yarn supplies. Her gifts often came wrapped up inside empty cereal boxes or round oatmeal cartons.

When my siblings and I were growing up, there wasn’t a lot of money to go around in our family. New things came to us only on special occasions. We nearly crawled out of our skin with anticipation of birthday and Christmas gifts. And like all kids, our wish lists included many of the latest and greatest toys, games, music or clothing. If we were lucky, we might get one or two of those wishes. But Grandma T didn’t give the latest and greatest kinds of things when she gave her gifts. And that was just fine with us. We adored Grandma T’s  homemade creations because we adored her. Many cold winter days, we could be found fighting over which colorful hats and mittens belonged to whom.

Lately, it’s been hard to sit at a desk all day at work. The cold outside air seems to seep inside the office, under doors and through the windows. Sometimes I get distracted from my work by the chill I can’t seem to fend off. A few of my coworkers keep a sort of cape at work for this very reason. I’ve seen this kind of cape in stores. It’s a sort of designer blanket, made so that one can get away with wrapping up in a blanket in the office, without looking like one is wrapped up in a blanket. I’ve considered buying one. I’m just really reluctant to spend twenty-five, thirty dollars or more on something I’ll only use in the office. So I simply hope I’ll be absorbed enough in my projects that I don’t notice the cold. Or I try to remember to put on extra layers of clothing. Or I forget and suffer.

A few weeks ago, I was staring at all of the clothes in my closet, trying to decide what to wear. At the far side of the closet are things that are worn infrequently, or things that aren’t mine but couldn’t be parted with for one reason or another. Brad’s high school graduation gown is there. We had to buy it before the years when the school decided to just rent them. Kacey’s prom dresses are there too.

There was something else at that far end of the closet. It has been there for years. I’ve looked at it a million times and can’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before now. It was one of the many memories that Grandma T made for me while she was still here with us – a cream-colored, lovingly crafted cape. My memory might be fuzzy on exactly when she gave this to me, but I know I was young, in my grade school years, I’m sure. And I know I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I didn’t wear it often, either because I was pretty much a tomboy who would rather wear her Smokey the Bear sweatshirt, or because my mom was afraid I’d ruin the cape while in the midst of my tomboy pursuits.  Years ago, after I was married and living in a house of my own, Mom gave the cape to me to keep. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but Grandma T had made it for me. She was long gone by that time and I couldn’t stand the idea of giving it up. So it has hung in the closet, unused all of these years, until that day a few weeks ago.

I pulled it out and wrapped it around my shoulders. The cape had been made for a child, but it was still plenty big enough to wrap around my adult shoulders and cover my adult arms. I knew how I would keep warm at work whenever the chills set in from then on.

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

And it has "arm" holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

And it has “arm” holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

There are so many times I’ve been reminded of and missed my Grandma T. She loved her family so dearly. She was so quick to dole out praise and so generous with her heart. She was “home” to all of her daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Even as kids, the world could be such a difficult place, but when we were in the company of our grandparents, everything seemed simple and easy. How could we not miss Grandma T every single day? There are times I still hear her calling me Honey Girl and I still miss how she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me so tightly. Now I have a daily reminder of Grandma T to put a smile on my face. And I’ll bet she’d love the fact that her tomboy granddaughter is finally so happy to wear the beautiful cape she made.

A few of Grandma T’s mittens, hats and scarves still occupy space in the winter-wear bins in our front closet. They rarely if ever get worn. Some of her afghans are still folded up neatly in a cabinet in the family room. They are too short to cover our long bodies, so we opt for the newer, heavier fleece blankets instead. But all these years later, the cape is finally, happily worn!

And the sun came out

The weatherman was saying last night that a big snowstorm was on its way. Yesterday, we enjoyed the one “warm-up” we were going to see in January and already, he was telling us that the weather was going back in the wrong direction. He pointed at a map of the state that was dotted with colors. The big, blue blob moving over our area signified snow; lots of it. He said this morning’s commute was going to be a mess. I only half believed him. The weather has been a presence lately, but you just never know when it will decide not to live up to the hype. Figured I’d get up at the usual time and if a snowstorm was in progress, I’d skip doing yoga and just go straight to the shower. If there was no snow, I’d exercise and go about my normal routine.

When the alarm went off, I shuffled to the family room to look out the big front window and see whether the weather guy had been right. I couldn’t quite decide. Under the glow of the street light, I could see it was definitely snowing. The flakes were tiny but the snowfall was dense and it was coming down fast. Looking across the front yard to the street though, there didn’t appear to be much accumulation. But I knew it wouldn’t take much to mess up the morning drive. So straight to the shower I went.

Within the hour, I had showered, fed the dog, prodded Jake to get up and  get a head start on his own commute. I unloaded the dishwasher, drank a cup of coffee, blow-dried my hair and applied some make up. The last thing I needed to do was make a lunch and while I was doing it, I kept an eye on the falling snow. It was obvious. The weatherman had been dead-on.

I was in my car and on my way a good forty minutes earlier than usual. The roads were covered with snow, the division of lanes indecipherable. Traffic on the freeway crawled. It took me over an hour to get to work and the sky remained dusky; no hint of the sun. My windshield wipers struggled to keep the window clear of melting snow and ice. The defroster blasted on high but couldn’t keep up with the crusts of slush and ice forming on the other side. Several times, I rolled down the side window and reached out to wipe off the snow that kept building upward where the lower portion of the driver’s side wiper was failing. (I have got to get some new wipers!) Clumps of snow flung backwards beneath the tires of the cars that surrounded me.

Driving in these conditions stresses me out. This winter, I’ve seen more stalled vehicles, spin-outs, crashes and rollovers than I can ever remember. Earlier this week, there was a car in the ditch, upside down. The scene moved along outside the passenger window in slow motion while a state trooper pulled over to help. That kind of thing freaks me out. And there are always a handful of drivers that think they’re invincible, driving faster than the flow of traffic, cutting off others, zipping from one lane to another with little regard for anyone else. I’m so tired of feeling like I’m putting my life on the line every day just to get to work.

I couldn’t breathe easy until I was safely parked in my company lot. I felt worn out before I’d even begun my work day. So when I walked in, before I took off my jacket, I decided I was not going to carry that weight around with me for the rest of my day. I poked my head into my coworker, Lori’s cube and with more enthusiasm than I really felt, I smiled big and said, “Isn’t this a beautiful day? Don’t you just love these Minnesota winters?”

Playing right along, Lori exclaimed, “Oh, yes! The snow is so pretty! What a lovely day this is!”

And then we laughed and rolled our eyes and went off to work. But honestly, I felt lighter and brighter than I had just a few moments earlier. The snow continued to fall outside while I immersed myself in my job. And when it was time to go home, the sun was shining fiercely, casting dramatic tree shadows over a new, crusty layer of snow. And it was cold again. Really cold. But the sun was shining. Not for much longer. But it was shining. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask.

Sun 2