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.

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.

001b

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.

Reflections on Florida

Florida was wonderful! I’m so grateful that we had the chance to get away for a while and enjoy sunshine, warm temperatures and a much-needed break from our daily routines. It was amazing being able to wear shorts and flip-flops. It felt wonderful to shake the chill from my bones for a little while. I hardly gave work or the office a passing thought.

The house we rented was more than we could have hoped for. It was spacious and comfortable. Our bedroom was huge, with a door that led right out to the patio and pool. We could have held a party in our bathroom; the shower alone was as big as one of my entire bathrooms at home. The back of the house was full of big, glass doors, with a beautiful view looking out over one of the many canals. And the pool and spa were gorgeous. We spent every possible free moment in the water.

Pool

There is so much I will remember about this trip, like the utter luxury of not having to abide by time. We went to bed whenever we were tired and didn’t feel rushed to get up in the morning. We ate breakfast if and when we felt like it and sipped on coffee by the pool while listening to the calls of the birds swimming in the canal. Lunches and dinners were so completely off-schedule that on any given day, we typically only had one or the other. And the food! The food we ate was so good! We enjoyed it all and without worrying about calories, fat or portion sizes. We just ate with abandon and it was wonderful.

There were the humorous aspects of our days – like how Mark became Ramone the Pool Boy after learning how to maintain the pool and spa temperatures. And how every time we passed a BB&T Bank, Paul required one of us to quickly come up with a string of words to fit the acronym, the naughtier and more nonsensical, the better. And how for some reason, it was hysterical to us, the number of Walgreen’s and CVS pharmacies that populated the area.

The people in Florida were so much friendlier than I’m used to. Grocery store employees were welcoming and helpful, and not in the forced kind of way that tells you it’s store policy for employees to offer assistance to customers. The owner of the pool supplies store where we bought floaties for our pool not only introduced himself by name, but asked our names, whether we lived in the area or were just visiting, and then proceeded to introduce us to another customer. Maybe this kind of friendliness is just the way it is in places where tourism is such a major part of life. Maybe the sun and warmth really do make people generally happier. But it was refreshing to interact with strangers in a way that left me smiling.

We had fun in Florida. We spent relaxing days floating in the pool and evenings soaking in the hot tub.

We watched the Minnesota Twins lose a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles. The game was pretty uneventful, but the people-watching was fun.

We spent time on the beaches, first on Captiva Island, then later in the week, on Fort Myers beach. I loved the laid-back atmosphere and the idea that anyone can wear a bathing suit, no matter their shape or size. Sure made me lose any sense of self-consciousness about parading around in my swim suit!

I found time to take quiet walks in the morning around the neighborhood. My fellow early-rising exercisers were all quick with a smile and a good morning! I’d work up a good sweat, then go back to the house, slip into my swimsuit and go for a morning swim. I read most of a good book. Mark, Paul, Megan and I played cards and cribbage. Paul and Megan were so fun and easy to be with. We started talking about next year and whether we’d come back to Florida or go somewhere new and different.

It was an amazing week. This was the first time Mark and I have taken a vacation to a warmer climate since our honeymoon 26 years ago. I loved it, but have to admit that I felt a little bit guilty for leaving the kids behind. About halfway through the week, I was missing them as well as Lucy Pie. Still, it was hard to say goodbye to Florida when it was time to go. And maybe somewhere down the road, we’ll figure out how to get away again, all of us together.

As our plane traveled back north toward home, I realized how lucky we were to be able to take this break. Having a real vacation taught me how important it is to get off the merry-go-round now and then, and just celebrate life, even if we can’t go far or even leave home to do it. I tried new foods, saw new scenery, met new people and remembered how to let go. I don’t think I’ve really relaxed in a long, long time. Florida was good to us and good for us and I brought a little bit of it home with me. Which is good because even though we came home to a relative heat wave…

snowbank

 

I’ll need a little Florida to help me get through the weeks (or months?) until this snow is all gone!

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

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

storm2

storm3

storm4

storm5

storm7

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.

Driving2

 

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.

Teeny Tiny Little Speck of Light at the End of the Tunnel

Not much new here. It’s still cold.

But when I opened the garage door to leave for work today, I heard the craziest thing. I heard a bird singing. It was like twenty below this morning. (That’s my estimate, which may be slightly exaggerated in comparison to reality. But in reality, it was definitely less than zero degrees this morning.) And this bird was not just chirping and peeping. It was singing. You never stop to think how pretty a bird’s song can be until you’ve gone months without hearing it. Maybe there’s hope for an end to this winter.

But in the meantime, it is still cold. And just like everyone else, I am sick to death of being cold. Being cold has a negative affect on me.

I have to admit that I’ve snoozed the alarm a few times, skipping exercise in favor of sleeping and snuggling under the pile of blankets for an extra hour. Just can’t help myself sometimes.

I haven’t used my camera like I said I was going to. There is little of interest to photograph inside this house, and I have no interest in spending time outside if I don’t have to.

I wear big, heavy sweatshirts whenever possible. And slippers over socks when hanging around the house. And Under Armour underneath my work clothes. I’m sick of it.

I haven’t done anything special, really. I did read a really good book, though. And of course, we’re closely following the Olympic events! And I passed the time one evening registering Lucy for a doggy photo contest. She could win what amounts to a doggy spa package and portrait session. But really I’ve probably just registered myself for a bunch of junk email. Still, I’m pretty sure she’s a shoe-in to win. She’s totally the cutest dog in the contest. Lucy would appreciate your vote, if you’re so inclined.

Vote for Lucy Pie. She'll make all your dreams come true.

Vote for Lucy Pie. She’ll make all your dreams come true.

So as you can see, I’m killing time as best I can while waiting out the deep freeze. The singing bird from this morning makes me feel hopeful… and alternately makes me wonder if the extended cold is just messing with my head. What bird is out singing in the arctic cold? It’s probably a good thing we booked a vacation. I hope southern Florida hasn’t completely succumbed to this miserable winter because I am seriously in need of some rays!