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.

Candy

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.

Sunlight

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

Sunlight2

Underglow

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!
2015-01-24

This is what January looks like

As much as I love the holidays with all of their festivities, food, time off from work and extra sleep, there’s always a major buzz-kill in returning to the realm of alarm clocks, rush hour traffic and typical work days. And the recent dose of extreme winter only added to the challenge of this annual adjustment.

20150110aThis week’s below-zero temps caused school closings around the state and contributed to the development of black ice on our roadways. And then there was a pretty good snowfall to boot. My typical half-hour commute twice turned into a two-hour adventure, once on the way to work, and again the next day when trying to get home. Thursday evening’s commute saw something like 300 accidents around the metro area. My white-knuckled, teeth-clenching drive exhausted me. When Friday morning arrived, I just could not drag myself out from under the piles of blankets. And the cold was beginning to get to me.  I couldn’t convince myself to go exercise before getting ready for work. I did the thing I said I’d stop doing and snoozed the alarm for an extra hour of sleep. I forgave myself this once. Sometimes you’ve just got to listen to your body.

During this point in the winter, I’m so grateful we have a warm home and a cozy beds to sleep in at night. One morning upon hearing that a major school district remained open while many others closed, I questioned the sanity of the district officials. I thought of children standing on bus stops or walking to school, knowing many would be under-dressed while a very real danger of frostbite and hypothermia existed. And then I was reminded that a large number of that district’s students are homeless. My sense of righteousness went straight out the window once I understood that school might have been the safest place for those kids during these days of life-threatening weather.

So instead of griping about the weather, I’ve tried to remind myself how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head, food to eat when I’m hungry, and the luxury of a vehicle with all-wheel drive and a remote starter.  I can drive to and from work in comfort with an added measure of safety on snowy roads.

While tempted to wonder yet again why we choose to live here, I instead made a conscious effort to remember that I am lucky enough to be able to look for the beauty in all this frosty scenery from a safe place.

Morning Moon - January 7, 2015

Morning Moon, January 7, 2015

View from my parking spot - January 8, 2015

View from my parking spot at work – January 8, 2015

Weekend Sky - January 10, 2015

Weekend Sky – January 10, 2015

This week also meant enjoying the company of my daughter at home during her last week of winter break before returning to classes. I love the conversations and laughter she brings. I love seeing her across the table from me as we enjoy family meals again. That made for a pretty good post-holiday week in spite of all the extremes.

The cold and snow may have arrived a little too soon, but

… if we look closely enough, we can find reasons to smile about it.

It was really cold all this past week. Colder than it should be for November. And we got some snow, though not nearly as much as some other places around the country! I wasn’t quite ready to stop taking my lunch-time walks around the pond behind the office. Word has it that the walking path, even if cleared of the snow gets too slippery to safely walk it, so I didn’t walk last week. But so far, I haven’t succumbed to the desire to stay burrowed under the blankets when the alarm goes off, so I don’t feel too bad about missing my mid-day walks. And I keep reminding myself that some morning exercise gives me a huge energy boost for the day. Plus Florida is only 84 days away. There’s motivation right there to keep that extra layer of winter fat from appearing.

So the furnace kicks in daily. We’re wearing winter jackets and gloves and I’m making good use of my new car’s remote starter and seat heaters. Oh man, I love those seat heaters! They work fast! I can totally deal with the time it takes for the car to really warm up, as long as my butt is hot while I’m waiting!

I’ve been working hard to keep my focus lately only on that which is right in front of me. I’m so done with that tight feeling in my chest that I now realize comes from worrying every moment about what’s next, and how difficult it might possibly be. It’s amazing – truly amazing – how much calm I now feel when I refuse to disaster-fantasize about events that might (or might not) happen, or about how to deal with certain people.  I’ve done this my whole life, and now that I’m starting to know better, I’m constantly wondering why it took me so long to figure it out. I guess I can appreciate that it took me all those years and experiences to be ready to understand this concept.

I think the winter will be a good test of this new mindset. I think it’s a matter of constantly finding reasons to smile. Like when Mark looked out the window and said, “Logan’s been over here.”

After spending so much time with Logan this summer and feeling really great about how comfortable he’d become with us, we worried about seeing our little toddler-friend over the winter. We wondered if we’d lose all that ground we’d gained with this once painfully shy little guy. I wondered how Mark knew Logan had been over when we weren’t around. “Look out the window and see,” he said.

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If not for the snow, we wouldn’t have known that Logan still plays out in the front yards, even when it’s this cold. I think maybe Logan and his dog, Gracie were here. And it did make me smile.

Farm Fashion, Belly Fat and Food on a Stick

Yesterday Mark and I made our umpteenth annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair.

Most years, we set aside an entire day and begin our journey to the fairgrounds first thing in the morning. Not so this year. The fair days just seemed to slip on by and here we were this week, heading into the final fair weekend without having yet paid a visit. So I took half a day off from work, extending my long Labor Day weekend by a few more hours.

We quickly learned that the first difference between being early-in-the-day fair visitors and later-in-the-day fair visitor is the parking challenge. All of the good parking lots are full by noon. And even though there are many free park-and-ride lots available, most of those were full too. After driving for miles around the fairgrounds, seeing nothing but Lot Full signs, we began to feel defeated. We then cruised the residential streets near the fairgrounds in desperation, now willing to pay some homeowner an exorbitant fee to park on his front lawn and walk to the fair, but we had no luck with that plan either. Finally, as we sat in Mark’s truck at a red light, waiting to make a right turn in busy fair traffic, with no idea where to go next, we noticed all of the park-and-ride buses zooming to and from the fair entrance. As Mark was finally able to make his turn, a bus moved ahead of us; one that had just emptied of a group of arriving passengers and filled with a group of departing passengers.

“I’m going to follow that bus,” Mark said. “It must be headed back to a place to pick up more passengers. When those people get off the bus, there should be room for more people to ride to the fair. We’ll see if we can park and ride from wherever that place is.”

I don’t often credit my husband with genius ideas, but I have to admit now, this was a genius idea. We followed the bus for several miles to a large church with a large parking lot. As departing fair-goers drove out of the parking lot, we were allowed in. We hopped on the bus and were delivered right to the main entrance of the fair.

Yes! We’d finally made it! The sky was overcast, but rain didn’t appear imminent and that made for really comfortable temperatures for an afternoon of walking around for hours with thousands of other people.

2014 Fair 03

The Minnesota State Fair was originally a celebration of the state’s agriculture industry. It was fun to see that we haven’t lost the agricultural draw. I could tell because of the farm fashion.

The state fair is also a celebration of food! There is SO. MUCH. FOOD! And as you might imagine, the abundance of food attracts people of all shapes and sizes.It seemed to me that there were way more rental scooters scooting around the fairgrounds than I’ve seen before. There are some whose health legitimately prevents them from walking at the fair. But it also seems that there were so many who rode scooters simply because their weight was too much to carry on their own two feet. We stood in the ice cream line in the dairy building behind a family of severely overweight people, both parents trying to squeeze through the crowds on scooters, their kids with chubby cheeks and protruding tummies waiting their turn for another state fair goody. And it made me feel bad about the kind of life that lies ahead for those kids. The state fair can be fun, but it can also be a sad testament to our tendency toward overindulgence in this country.

But the food is delicious! Of that there is no doubt. In the past, we’ve visited the fair with friends, or with our kids. And that makes it easy to try a variety of foods because when there are several of us, we can all try a bite or two of some food, and still have room to try a bite or two of some others. With it being just Mark and me this time, we found ourselves having to eat more of each thing than we’d like to, or throwing some of it away. Still, we managed to down a few favorites as well as taste some new (to us) foods.

There is so much to see at the state fair! In the Grandstand, you can buy kitchen gadgets and cookware, fitness equipment and clothing, purses and footwear, bird feeders and outdoor furniture. The vendors are skilled at convincing you that you simply cannot live one day more without this amazing stove top grill or smoothie mix. One vendor called me out as a runner, which I found amusing since I can only be considered a runner in the loosest sense of the word. She handed me a brochure and insisted I stand on one of her machines. It looked like a form of fitness equipment, but upon placing my feet on the platform and holding on to the handles, all I felt was vibration running through my body. She said that as a runner, my joints were being abused each time I pound the pavement with my feet. For a mere thirteen hundred bucks, (normally twenty-two hundred,) I could have this preventative health device right in my own home. Just fifteen minutes a day of standing on the vibrating platform would provide daily healing to my joints and improve my workouts by some percentage I can’t remember. I accepted her brochure and told her I’d give it some thought.

I think people watching is our favorite pastime at the fair, though. People are such interesting creatures. There were young and old alike visiting the fair, babies in strollers to the elderly. There were people dressed appropriately for trekking the miles of fairgrounds in comfortable clothing and footwear. And there were those who wanted to make some type of fashion statement. We saw crazy patterned leggings on legs, high boots and high heels. We saw drastically fashioned hair cuts and colors. And it struck me sadly that little girls stop being little girls at a much younger age than they used to.

And it also occurred to me, as we noticed babies in strollers and who was pushing those strollers, that parents seem to get younger every year. Or maybe I’m just feeling the effects of my age!

Even though we traveled among thousands upon thousands of people who had come from all over the state, we still managed to run into people we knew from close to home. Mark saw a coworker and we ran into friends from Kacey’s softball days. Of course, technology played a part in bringing us together with friends. My check-in on Faceb00k alerted my good friend, Rosie that we were in the area. After seeing it, Rosie texted me and said, “Where are you? Let’s meet!” We agreed to connect in 45 minutes. And in the meantime, Mark and I just took in the sites and enjoyed what the fair has to offer.

Soon it was time to go find our meeting spot and meet Rosie. The sky had grown darker and I felt a few drops of rain on my skin. And then a few more. And then it was coming down! Mark and I took shelter under the awning of one of the food vendors and tried to wait it out.

It let up for a few minutes and we took our chance to travel once again toward our destination, but the skies let loose again. I had thought to bring a light rain jacket – but had forgotten to take it with me when we parked the truck. We ended up trying to wait out the rain again a few blocks later, but this time it didn’t appear to be letting up. And we did finally connect with Rosie, hiding out under an awning at the agreed upon meeting place. We chatted for a few minutes, but the intensity of the rain was only growing and we’d had enough. Mark and I stopped even trying to protect ourselves from getting wet and made a break for the bus stop to catch a ride back to our parking spot.

We weren’t the only ones with that idea. By the time our bus arrived and we were able to get inside of it, we were drenched! And I mean seriously waterlogged! I felt as if I’d just stood in my shower fully clothed. I sat uncomfortably as Mark drove us home over a partially flooded highway. As soon as we were back and in the house, I stripped out of my wet clothes as soon as humanly possible. It felt great to get into something dry and comfy again!

So, it wasn’t our most successful state fair trip ever, but we can say once again that we did it!

Grateful for Summer

Twice this past week, I’ve heard someone complain about the summer we’re having. I guess it’s not measuring up to expectations. In fact, just yesterday, my friend and coworker said, “We’ve been cheated out of summer.”

I thought, “We have? No we haven’t!”

It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. My friend has a cabin on a lake up north where she and her husband spend their time every other weekend. It seems that while we may have had some beautiful, sunny, warm days, they haven’t typically happened on the weekends. Since I haven’t spent much time on a lake these past couple of months, I guess I haven’t noticed.

What I’ve noticed is that I don’t have a chill in my bones. I don’t have to put on extra layers before going outside the house. I don’t have to warm up my car before I’m willing to get in and drive it. In fact, I really love the wave of heat that hits me when I get in the car after work, a welcome change of temperature from the chill of the office air conditioning.

I can let Lucy run around the back yard for as long as she likes without worrying that her paws will get frostbite. I can take her for runs out on the path behind our house. Instead of worrying about the cold, I need to be careful not to take her out when the heat may be too much for her. Between her morning run and chasing squirrels in the back yard, she often wears herself out by the end of the day.

Sleepy Lucy

During lunch breaks at work, every day unless it’s raining, I go outside with a few coworkers. There’s a pretty, peaceful pond right outside our doors and it’s surrounded by an asphalt path. We walk the mile around it, sometimes twice, and get to breathe the fresh air, share space with Monarch butterflies, watch little mice and toads scurry in and out of the tall grass that borders the path. We see turtles sunning themselves on logs in the water and watch flocks of geese float lazily around the middle of the pond. We are graced with the beauty of pretty wildflowers, dragonflies and bumble bees. We blow off steam, laugh, and have serious conversations beginning with questions like, “I wonder if there’s an online poop translator.” (A large poo was seen on our path for two days in a row. We debated whether it was left by an irresponsible dog owner, or something wild.)

I don’t think we’ve been cheated out of summer. No, we haven’t had long stretches of ninety degree days. If we did, someone would be complaining about that too. We’ve had a steady pattern of rain, enough to make it so we don’t have to run sprinklers to keep the grass alive. The trees are lush and flowers gardens are full and colorful.

See these?

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Those are my sunflowers, planted from seed as an afterthought in a back corner of our gardens, next to the shed and our back fence. They’re growing so tall, they’ve risen above the roof of the shed. So I would guess they are somewhere around ten feet tall? Look at how they’re all reaching for the sun! (They’re so tall, and in such a position that I can’t quite get a picture of one of the flowers head-on. Maybe when the flowers get a little bigger and heavier, they’ll drop their faces low enough for me to see them.)

Here’s a look at one from last night, facing west, as the sun was getting ready to go down. Do these seem like sunflowers that have been cheated out of summer? I don’t think so.

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While we may not have had great “water weather” so far, the past winter is still way too vivid in my mind. I’ll take this kind of summer over that any day of the week! I am not complaining!

Weather or Not

Over the winter months when I’m dreaming of summer, I always imagine a nearly cloudless sky, rays of sun that brown the skin and sidewalks too hot to walk barefoot on. I think of how good it feels to come into an air-conditioned house after sweating in the sweltering heat.

We haven’t really had a lot of that kind of summer yet, although according to the local weather girl, those days are just around the corner. I am ready to welcome them with open arms (she says as she enjoys a cool breeze through the living room windows and the sounds of little Logan next door giggling and squealing in his yard.)

We’ve had a lot of rain so far this summer and days that are cooler than normal. Whenever the subject of weather comes up, we talk about it as if anything other than beach weather has no business being here. It’s SUMMER, for crying out loud! When we spent the last few days up north at the lake, we were a little disappointed that it was too cool for swimming and tubing, too windy to fish at times, and that there was downpour in the middle of one of “our” days. Sitting in the cabin playing Scrabble, wearing sweatshirts, watching movies and napping was not what we’d had in mind for our mini vacation.

Then again, when we stopped to think about it, what exactly was wrong with lounging around together and enjoying some new flicks and some old favorites? Nothing! It’s not often we find time to watch one movie, much less several of them. What was wrong with a wicked competitive game of scrabble, with Connor trying to make up words with his most valuable letters? Nothing! (We laughed so much! And I won!) What was wrong with falling asleep in the middle of the day, with dogs cuddled up against us while the rain poured outside? Absolutely nothing! Sure, it would have been way fun to be floating around in the lake with the sun beating down on our shoulders, but we were still having fun, making memories, all that good stuff.

If we count the “good” days only by the weather they bring, we’ll end up missing some really great moments.

Besides, it’s been really good for the garden!