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.

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?


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.



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!

Celebration in the Rain

The weather has been fierce this weekend, bringing torrential rains and powerful winds. While we were out of the house, running some errands yesterday, the wind ripped the canvas canopy right off the gazebo on our deck! Oh, well. We needed a new one anyway and I found a replacement online a while ago. I just never ordered it because we didn’t need a new one that desperately.

June is graduation season though, and I was feeling bad yesterday for those whose parties were scheduled for this weekend. Our neighbor, Maria was celebrating her high school graduation yesterday afternoon. Maria’s brother, Luke graduated three years ago with Kacey. His party was the same weekend as Kacey’s. I remember that weekend well. We had a Friday evening celebration at our house and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Then came Saturday and it rained steady and heavy for two days straight. Luke and many of Kacey’s friends had to improvise on their outdoor party plans while the rain refused to let up. Maria’s mom reminded me that her oldest son, Charlie’s graduation party five years ago took place in the rain as well.

We lucked out weather-wise with all three of our kids’ graduation parties. But this is Minnesota, and the weather can be unpredictable. Any outdoor celebration has to include shelter, either from the hot sun or in case of rain. That’s why most outdoor graduation parties here are centered in the garage and include a few portable canopies set up around the yard.

The weather didn’t put a stop to Maria’s party, although the wind took out the large canopy that had been set up in her family’s back yard. The rain couldn’t keep guests from coming to celebrate with the guest of honor. We all just squeezed into the garage or house. And we had fun! Graduation parties like Maria’s give us a chance to reconnect with old friends. Many of us in this neighborhood have children of similar ages. We were all so tight when the kids were little, coordinating play dates and keeping in close touch. But as the kids grew up, as they tend to do, they expanded their interests and circles of friends. Our kids sometimes moved in different directions, and without the play dates to keep us in touch, we parents connected less as the years went by.

I love the photo collages at graduation parties and seeing the timeline of a graduate’s life. Maria had photos galore and a digital slide show too. I clearly remember when Maria’s parents and two brothers welcomed the addition of a sweet baby girl to their family. I remember that Brooks and Dunn’s version of My Maria was Maria’s mom’s favorite song back then. And now that “little” girl is heading off to college! Her photo memories were filled with pictures of her with her friends, family and many of the kids from the neighborhood. They made me smile and brought back memories of my own. They made me marvel at how quickly she seems to have grown up and reminded me how fast time passes us by.

And we got to reconnect with old friends. Even though our kids have grown up and gone in different directions, we all remain connected. We all seem to be tied to a larger circle of people in some way. Many of Maria’s friends’ parents have other children who went to school with or played sports with our kids. The weave of relationships grows larger as the years pass by, yet keeps us connected even as we move on to the next phases of our lives.

With the heavy rain and chill in the air, I didn’t think we’d stay at the party long. But we encountered so many old friends and neighbors, we were there for hours. Hugs were exchanged. We listened to each others’ stories and caught up on the goings-on in everyone’s lives. We talked about our kids – their experiences, good and bad with college. We talked about upcoming marriages, and the loss of one of our friends last week at a much too young age. We talked about figuring out how to adjust our lives as our kids move out of childhood and on to lives of their own. We comforted each other with shared experiences as our parents grow older. There was so much conversation inside the three-car garage, it was sometimes hard to hear. But what struck me most was the genuine warmth in the eyes and smiles of our friends and neighbors as we reconnected again. Many of the people we saw have moved out of our daily lives since our kids left grade school, or since their sports teams played their last games, yet we conversed as comfortably as if we saw each other daily. The laughter we shared and the closeness we felt reminded me that even though we no longer see each other on a regular basis, we’ll always have those moments in time to bring us back together when we happen to cross paths again.

The sun eventually peeked out from behind the clouds and the rain subsided long enough for the crowd of guests to find some breathing room, meandering out into the driveway and front yard. Evening was closing in by then. It was time for us to be on our way.

I rarely regret growing older. Times and celebrations like these only further remind me that growing older, though it has some pitfalls, also has so many rewards. Congratulations to Maria. My wish for her and for every graduate is that they’ll enjoy the days and years ahead and feel the same rewards of time as I feel right now. Life is a gift. Make the most of it!

Rain and Shine

Yesterday morning arrived with rain, rain and more rain. And thunder. Lucy really doesn’t like the thunder. I woke up to find her on the bed, plastered against me. She was willing to venture out of bed when she heard me ask if she wanted to eat. Of course she wanted to eat! But going outside for what has become our regular morning run? Out of the question.

(That was alright with me, too. I wasn’t too fond of the idea of going out and trying to run in the pouring rain anyway.)

I spent a good part of the morning sitting in my pajamas on the living room floor, with Lucy planted solidly in my lap. I wrapped her up in a beach towel that was lying around, used previously to dry Lucy’s fur after a romp outside in a much lighter rainfall. She seemed to like being wrapped up and being in my lap. So we sat and listened to the rain patter against the windows and the thunder rumble in the skies. We sat until my legs went numb. Eventually, Kacey brought out her fleece blanket, which Lucy also loves. She laid it out so that Lucy could stretch out on it, but Lucy seemed to still want the safety of my lap.

On alert for another clap of thunder

On alert for another clap of thunder

Relaxing only slightly

Relaxing only slightly

Eventually I was allowed to extract myself and go about my business. Lucy stayed curled within the safety of her towel and the blanket for the duration of the thunderstorm.

The heavy rain eased up eventually, but the skies continued to drizzle off and on throughout the day. I had a graduation party to attend, for my friend and coworker, Shannon’s daughter, Emily. Thankfully, Shannon and her husband have a double-deep, double-wide garage and so the guests were all able to take shelter from the rain at the party tables set up inside. Many of my former coworkers, some retired, some laid off a few years ago, were there. We had a big hug-fest and caught up on each others’ lives. It was a great time in spite of the rain.

This morning, wouldn’t you know it, the sun shone brightly from a clear, blue sky. I always feel a little bit bad for those whose graduation parties get rained on. But it’s the risk you take when planning an outdoor party this time of year. And in the case of Emily’s party, the gray skies and rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits one bit.

Personally, I can’t complain about the rain. We went a little gangbusters with our vegetable gardens and potted plants this year. A good rain means I don’t have to wander around the yard with a watering can or garden hose, trying to make sure all my plants stay hydrated. A quick look around today proved that my veggies and flowers are grateful for yesterday’s rains.

Not only are the plants happy, but the rain brought the temperatures down just enough to be perfectly comfortable. Not too warm. Not too cool. I’m in my seasonal happy place!


The world outside is coming to life again and so am I. As much as I try to fight it, the winter months quiet me. The long stretch of cold, sharp months make it hard to find my energy and motivation. Many of those days find me slogging through my daily routine. And I don’t even often realize what a rut I’m in until the air begins to warm, the sunshine visits more frequently and suddenly I feel as if I’m exiting a long, dark tunnel.

Spring makes me feel alive again and I know I’m not the only one. A coworker who was tanning during the last weeks of winter told me, “I know it’s bad for me. I just need the light and the warmth right now so much more than I care about the health hazards.”

Last weekend, as Kacey and I were running errands, she exuded joy when she exclaimed, “It’s so good to see the sun! It just makes me so happy!

I know what she means. Just a little sunshine and warmth is all it takes sometimes to make me realize what a cocoon I’ve been in the last several months.

It’s been warm this week. It’s been a no-jacket kind of week (and what a treat that is!) It’s been a week when I welcome the sound of the alarm clock, lace up my running shoes and head to the gym. (It’s still just a bit too dark and cold at that hour of the day to do my exercise outdoors.)  It’s been a hop in the car, roll down the windows, crank up the tunes and sing along like nobody’s watching kind of week.

The robins are back!

The robins are back!

It’s rainy and overcast this morning. And tomorrow will bring a dip in temperatures and I may have even heard there’s a slight chance of the S-word. But it’s not going to bring me down. The extended forecast calls for more spring-like temperatures. Winter’s in the rearview mirror now!

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