Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Spirit of Christmas

There are seven more days until Christmas morning, and for the first time in years my shopping is done! I am still writing cards, but otherwise I am just going about my normal routine while everyone else seems to be frantic (as I used to be in years gone by). At this point in my life I’ve had enough Christmases to know how to find my way through the craziness that seems to always come with the first carole you hear on the radio ~ the day after Thanksgiving.

It’s all about buying just the right gifts for everyone on your list and, whether you can afford it or not, don’t forget yourself ~ something really hot, like the latest (this week) in technology or maybe even that new car you’ve been thinking about. Go on, charge it ~ the bill will come next month, next year! Everyone is in debt ~ it’s no longer a shame, but part of life. Eventually everything will get better, but now there’s nothing like something new and snappy to make you ~ and your loved ones ~ feel good!

I don’t decorate as much as I used to ~ my children are grown and have families and homes of their own. I do have outdoor lights, but once inside there is only a small artificial tree and an occasional holiday garland creatively wrapped around a battery-operated candle.

Here in California, the weather doesn’t exactly put me in a holiday mood so it is easy to go about my normal routine amidst the crowds and not once feel like it is Christmas. This was how I felt this morning as I drove to my neighborhood Costco to purchase just three items I had forgotten to get last weekend. There’s a radio station I listen to that plays a variety of my favorite songs, and during December they throw in a Christmas song or two. Didn’t hear anything special as I guided my car cautiously through the Costco parking lot, finally finding a spot quite a ways from the store. Oh, well, the walk will do me good ~ I need the exercise ~ I said to myself as I parked and headed toward the front door. I was not prepared for what was inside.

I think everyone had the same schedule this morning ~ head for Costco! I had to slow down at the entrance because of all the people walking in. I wasn’t looking forward to the aisle traffic ~ people carelessly pushing their carts into other people or stopping dead in their tracks right in the middle of the aisle, oblivious to others. But today was different. Today, rudeness took the day off. So did thoughtlessness. Hard to believe that in Costco on the last weekend before Christmas! It was, however, almost magical ~ considering the fact that the place was packed and carts were overflowing ~ that there were smiles and manners and such friendliness that was until now practically unknown within those walls.

People were saying “Excuse me!” Strangers were chatting with strangers! I stepped over to pick up a 36-pack of green tea bottles and a man from out of nowhere rushed over and lifted it out of my hands into my cart. I smiled and thanked him; he smiled back. I got through the store in no time, and even sampled some goodies as I guided my cart through the crowd. Arriving at the front check-out counters, I noticed that every one of them was open, and employees were helping customers load their items onto the belts that carried them toward the checkout clerks. The man who helped me was friendly and chatty, as though I was the only one there. He didn’t seem to mind that hundreds of other customers were heading toward the counters, and without rushing he was efficient and I breezed through in no time. Everyone was happy!

This just never happens. Costco is a great place to shop, but usually when customers get inside they forget others. They usually don’t smile. And they certainly don’t pay attention to others needing help!

As I left the store, the last person I encountered was a gentleman checking my receipt against what I had in my cart. He looked up and smiled. “Thank you,” he said. “Merry Christmas,” I replied. “Oh! Yes! Merry Christmas to you too!” he answered. All the way to the car I noticed how nice everyone was being to one another. And when I finally backed my car out of my parking place and headed toward the lot exit, an oncoming car stopped and motioned me to go ahead.

A Christmas song suddenly came on the radio as I pulled my car onto the busy street. Maybe I never paid such attention to my trips to buy groceries before; what caused me to notice this nice experience? And then it occurred to me. The spirit of Christmas had just paid me a visit!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Golden Years? Not Always!

I got a call from an old friend the other day who is retiring from her job. Actually, she is apparently being dragged, kicking and screaming, from a job she enjoys and which fills her life as she knows it. She is of the age to retire, so fortunately she has a pension on which to exist. However ~ and that’s a big however ~ it seems the pension, which her other support staff co-workers in our local city offices also have, will be barely enough to pay all her bills each month, and will not leave her enough after that to have the life style she has enjoyed over the past few years. Her Social Security benefits, she found out at her recent meeting down at the local Social Security office, will be under $500 a month because for over 25 years she did not contribute to it (as a city employee she could not, but frankly at the time she enjoyed having that extra amount to spend or salt away as she chose). And withdrawn out of that amount will be her costs for Medicare and supplemental insurance.

My friend doesn’t look old enough to retire. On top of having had a very well-done eye-lift about 10 years ago, she has kept in shape through exercise and good diet. She is attractive, fun to be around, and is generally still capable of performing her duties in the office with people who like and respect her work and personality. The fact that these are hard times in the work force is salt in her wound ~ it doesn’t change things. She cannot argue that they could no longer afford her. But the icing came when she learned her replacement is a 20-something who, while she will earn much less, is technologically much more savvy. Training her was a joke, she says.

Her situation, and our conversation about it, really affected me because my view of retirement is so vastly different from hers ~ and, I realize, everyone’s view is skewed by personal circumstances. In her case, she is seriously depressed over it. She and I used to work together and in fact we lived next door to one another when our children were growing up. Both of us have been single quite a few years, so I thought she had adjusted to being responsible for her own welfare and therefore her own happiness. I know her well, and so I assumed she would be as happy as I was over the prospect of not having to produce for others, not having to jump out of bed at an ungodly hour and figure out what to wear and how to face the workday, rain or shine. To her, this was reason alone for getting out of bed at all. She feels she has no prospects for volunteer work that will enhance her value of self and feels that she will quickly run out of “things to do” on a daily basis. Not one to watch television during the day, she fears this will be her only option to pass the time. She will not have money to travel, nor even shop for unnecessary items. She will be available 24/7 to spend time with her grandchildren ~ whom she adores, but at an arm’s distance (she often says she put in her time as chief cook and bottle washer, Brownie leader, team mom, and so on, and she had no regrets about ending that chapter when her children left for college). She loves to bake cookies with her granddaughters, and then wave goodbye so she can clean up her kitchen.

What do you do when a dear friend is so sad? When there really is nothing you can say to cheer her? I guess I did not realize how fortunate I am ~ to have planned wisely, with a lot of luck, to have a carefree life at a time when I would no longer have the ability to change my situation. I have learned that life doesn’t just “happen” to us, and I had to go through a hellish time in my late 40s and early 50s to allow myself the privilege to “see” the possibilities, and the potholes, that lay ahead. I was the ant; my friend was the grasshopper.

Fortunately, my friend’s future is not as cut and dried as she perceives. In thinking this through, she does have options, and I was able to give her a couple of pieces of solicited advice: First, get it fixed in your head that your life has changed ~ accept it. Next, be open ~ eyes and heart ~ to the possibilities that exist to improve it. Just like we now need a good jar opener just to get into products off the shelf, we need to find ways to cope with this new life ~ because it is what it is and we have to learn to live with it. But I have great respect for her and I realize we each have to find our way in our own time and on our own terms. I hope she can do it ~ she is much too valuable a person and friend to give up and be so unhappy.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Some Things I Have Learned

My Feelings Belong To Me
On its face, this is of course a no-brainer. Taking a closer look, these feelings are my property. I have them due to a variety of reasons: (1) the way I was brought up (family values); (2) my experiences; (3) the comfortable way they fit. When someone doesn’t like them and, in whatever way, lets me know, I am under no obligation to change them. What I’ve decided is to consider all input. But I will only change my feelings if I choose to; pressure from outside influences is not a message to adapt to others’ feelings (attitudes, values, opinions).

Laugh And The World Laughs With You; Cry And You Cry Alone
My mother told me this is what her mother always told her. Nothing prompts the feeling of aloneness like it does when you are hurting—and it’s true. We all commiserate with another, but after we do that we go back to ourselves. Reality is harsh, but facing it is healthy. It is also a good lesson: If you always act in a positive way (put a limit to your complaining), people will enjoy being with you. I knew someone once who, every time she was greeted with “How are you?” she launched a lengthy, detailed discourse about how bad things were for her. It didn’t take long for the rest of us to get the message—don’t ask her how she is; in fact, don’t engage in conversation with her at all! She needed to complain to a professional so she could resolve her issues—instead, she was getting “therapy” for free, at the cost of everyone around her!

A Diplomat Tells Someone To Go To Hell In Such A Way He Looks Forward To The Trip
My mother would quote her father when she would give me this tidbit, and it is a favorite of mine. As I’ve been able to identify diplomats throughout my life, witnessed their special talent, and pulled off a few zingers of my own, my only footnote is: …Unless that person is an idiot and then you just tell him outright to go to hell.

Our Values Become Entrenched In Us
And, this being a fact, our personal values are not easily modified. There are movements today to change my current values. I try to be open, and often I discover that I can be comfortable with a new way of looking at things. But other times, I just cannot—it’s like trying to keep a baby from crying, the wind from blowing, the tide from rising, etc., etc. So then, I say to myself that I tried but I just don’t go along with it—period—no shame, no excuse. After a lifetime of attempting what is for me impossible change, I no longer apologize for not adapting. It’s the way I am, and that’s that. However, I never say that without trying first—that is only fair, to myself and others.

Sometimes I Just Don’t Want To
This is another version of feeling free to just say no (thank you). People ask you to head up a committee; they ask you to be friends on Facebook; they want you to contribute to their charity; and so on. You don’t want to, but you don’t know how to say no without “hurting their feelings”—or more likely, rocking their boat. Well, you just say it! No, thank you. You do not have to explain. You do need to be nice. If they keep at you after you have said “No, thank you,” you no longer need to be nice. (See my footnote regarding diplomacy.)

Examine Your Need To Please
I was born a pleaser, which, in my opinion, is a handicap. I used to laughingly explain that I was a product of Catholic school. Now my mature self realizes that being a pleaser stems from a deep need to be liked. Well, I AM liked. What I am not is a doormat. However, losing “the pleaser” hasn’t been easy. Especially when I always hear, “You are the nicest person!” “It is such a pleasure knowing you!” And the ultimate, “We want someone in our organization who is NICE to everyone!” I was extremely successful throughout my working years—I know for a fact that I moved up because I “got along” with everyone. Now I have a nice pension, which I owe in part to my going with the flow. What I do not know is, how many people along the way whispered to one another behind my back, “Give her anything—she’s easy!” or “She is TOO nice—a pushover!” and I always wonder if I would have gained more respect by being a bit difficult. Well, actually, the answer is a definite “Yes.” You have to be true to yourself and you should not be a hypocrite. But you have to learn to walk that fine line.

You Will Never Remember How Tired/Sick You Were; Only How Much You Enjoyed It
I discovered this when I was sick with a horrible cold (but no fever!) the morning of my 8th grade graduation trip, a one-day event where, just prior to splitting up to several high schools the following fall, my class would have a last chance to be together. When I went to school, you pretty much had the same kids in 8th grade you had when you were in Kindergarten—very few moved in or out over the years. Anyway, my mother was concerned that I wasn’t well enough to go—but I appreciated the importance of the day and talked her into letting me. I probably passed my germs on to everyone—my parting gift—but I will never forget how much fun that day was.

I use this piece of wisdom whenever I weigh whether I will opt to do something that I basically think is good but I have concerns about it due to fatigue or having too many other things to do, etc. I have never been sorry. The last time I used it to decide was when we were in Florence and I was exhausted from walking everywhere with my tour group. A couple of people wanted to know if I’d come with them to see the original David at the Accademia Art Gallery about five blocks from where we had gathered. Interestingly, seeing the original David was not part of the tour (we had, however, spent an hour and a half in the Uffizi—after walking all around Florence). I was sitting down when I was approached. No one else seemed interested. My feet hurt and my legs ached. Hey, I’ve seen the photo in a book, I reasoned, and I’ve seen the copy in the square. And then the wisdom I learned when I was 13 kicked in and I went—three others and I left the rest of the group and walked for about 20 minutes, and then stood in line for about 20 more minutes. Once inside, we headed straight for where David was—finally, we turned a corner and down at the end of the long corridor filled with Michelangelo’s unfinished marble statues, there was David in silent, almost indescribable magnificence. And the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and a thrill shot up and down my spine—I still feel it as I write this. And once again, I do not remember how tired I was—but I will always remember how I enjoyed it.

You Have To Learn To Take Control
There’s a difference between being a control-freak and just plain taking control when necessary. What I’m talking about here is what to do when someone is talking your arm off. It’s incredible that I’ve encountered that rare personality who engages in a one-way conversation ad nauseum, but I actually know three such people. When I get ambushed, I purposely say absolutely nothing and they still talk on and on. Once, I was on my cell phone and we got disconnected—the person on the other end didn’t know this and kept on talking anyway (giveaway: She finally called me back and said, “I had no idea [for an abnormal length of time] we got disconnected!”). You cannot just interrupt them and say you have to get going. You cannot just slowly walk ahead while nodding your head. They do not pick up any of those vibes. They continue on, even changing the subject without a prompt or a lead from you. What works for me is just to say “Oh my GOD! I have to be somewhere right now!” and then just run off. At work, I’d pre-plan a co-worker to call me as I sat at my desk doing my work while this person droned on and on—the “call” was always an emergency and I would stand up and usually say, again, “Oh, my GOD!” A former co-worker used to call these people thieves because they steal your time—but then of course you are an accessory because you let them.

We Act In Certain Ways Because We Are Getting Something Out Of It
I learned this priceless one from Dr. Phil. The first time I heard him say it in his Texas twang, I knew it was a keeper. We can reduce our behaviors to salivating dogs—they are mostly learned. And when we get something good out of it (someone’s attention, a feeling of acceptance, etc.) we keep on doing it. We even do it to ourselves. We eat or drink more than we need to in order to give ourselves comfort. We become couch potatoes because we prefer it over the alternative, or we become the best whatever in order to be recognized. So now, when someone says to me, “Gosh, why does she act that way?” All together now: “Because she’s getting something out of it!”

Monday, February 14, 2011


I was in Costco recently, my cart full and my list completely checked off, and as I headed for the sea of people checking out (when is it NOT crowded in Costco?) I spied Spanx. Isn’t this the latest version of my mother’s girdle? Except with Spanx, it includes the complete panty, which you must peel down in order to successfully complete your visit to the powder room stall—unless you opt for the cami version which you need only peel off your upper body at the end of the day. I use the word “peel” not from experience with Spanx. No, I’ve not yet succumbed to the lure of Spanx, for many reasons—need definitely is understood, but comfort and ability to wriggle myself out of this garment concerns me.

The last time I impulsively purchased a restraining garment and wore it—to an all-day function that did not allow me to change my mind—it was a girdle-like panty.

Oh, gentlemen, please excuse me—you are definitely not being addressed here, even though (surprise, surprise) Spanx even makes garments for you! And I don’t blame you for checking out at this time because picturing men wrestling to put on Spanx to help reduce their belly fat doesn’t appeal to me in the least!

Anyway, ladies—I bought this contraption (this was several years ago) and, because I had already chosen my outfit for this special function, I was at the point of no return as I stepped into what appeared to me to be a much-too-small pair of underpants with short legs. The arthritis in my hands had never bothered me before—most of my fingers are affected by it, but I had never experienced pain…until I started to tug and pull this unyielding item up my thunder thighs. I was all ready otherwise—makeup carefully applied, hair coiffed, watch and earrings on—so I had less than 10 minutes before I had to jump into my car and be off. Holy moley! I jumped up and down while I wondered if I had purchased the wrong size. I hadn’t—it was in fact Size Large. Has there ever been a slimming garment in a smaller size? I mean, if you wear a Size Small why are you bothering with it?

I finally got the thing on. The legs in this garment came half-way down my thighs, and I was able to comfortably slip into my very stylish slacks. Oh, yes—this was good! I put on my shoes, grabbed my purse, and out the door I flew. So far, so good. Reached my destination and crossed the parking lot to the entrance where the luncheon festivities were getting started—long walk, but no problem. I pictured myself pencil-thin in my girdle panty and I was feeling great—those extra pounds that took so much trouble to lose just disappeared with this thing on!

Two hours later, I had lost the feeling in one leg. Honestly. I remember getting up from the table to chat with a friend I had spotted across the room and realized one of the legs on the panty girdle had rolled up as far as it possibly could, cutting off the circulation. So, I made a quick detour to the ladies room and fixed it—fixed both legs, actually, because the other panty leg was on its way up also. Of course, that was only a quick fix. I had to return to the ladies room one more time that afternoon—just to readjust.

By the time I had returned to the safety of my bedroom many hours later, getting that thing off was my number one concern. I may have worn it one more time, knowing I could duck out for adjustments easily—but I had to select my occasions to wear it. I later threw it away.

So, now back to Costco and me with my full cart staring at packages of Spanx. Did I wish to try again? Perhaps Spanx has resolved the ride-up problem on the panty girdle. You don’t get to try things on in Costco, so I would have to fork over approximately $30 to find out—and risk standing in the return line with my opened package of Spanx. Don’t know about you, but sometimes as I push my cart towards the exit door, my receipt in hand to be checked off, I glance at the return line to see what didn’t work for others (and make a mental note to think twice about purchasing the same thing). She’s returning Spanx?? So, I replaced the Spanx package and got in line without it.

And then later that week I watched one of my favorite television shows, Hot In Cleveland. This episode was Sisterhood of the Traveling Spanx. Positively hilarious! Please watch this show—you can go to the web site and watch it from your computer (just Google it). And then, would someone please let me know if Spanx really works?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Decade—Again!

When did it first occur to me that everything repeats? I can tell you that my six-year-old granddaughter acknowledged her awareness of this fact the second week of school this past September when she announced, while we were walking through the schoolyard, that everyday was the same: get up, eat breakfast, get dressed, walk to school, then walk back home again, play, do homework, eat dinner, go to bed….and then do it all over again, every day! I guess I was probably about the same age, about the time I first realized that I was going to be with myself on the day I die (this thought hit me between the eyes while reciting the flag salute one morning in first grade). Knowing that events like Christmas replay regularly every 12 months is one thing, but watching the other 11 months fly by faster each year is another—and by now, I have decided to place the holiday storage boxes in a more convenient location in the garage because I’ll soon be getting them back in the house as regularly as I fill out my grocery list.

Therefore, considering New Year’s Eve/ New Year’s Day is happening with equal regularity, I wonder what to do in the way of preparedness—since I have no tangible storage for the passage of time. Where does the time go—such a cliché! Famous people who died this year—I was shocked at how old some of them were, the teen-idols of my youth who were ageless in my mind.

Well, this phenomenon has been going on for centuries. Everything repeats! And so do we—over and over again we celebrate, we clean, we decorate, we cook, we shop, we endure….sometimes we do it exactly the same, sometimes we modify. The faces change, along with the fads, but otherwise it is exactly like last time. Even our resolutions to do it better, to change, to refresh, to basically become a different person—those resolutions repeat!

I am beginning to wonder if this is a test—how many times will it take for us to figure it out? And what will we conclude when we do? It occurs to me that the most enviable of us are those who haven’t figured it out yet, who still approach things with excitement, wonder and anticipation. I think I will do myself a favor and do a brain-wash; I am going to hunker down with my youngest grandchild—who is three and a half months old now—and see it all through his eyes. This should get me through the next six years or so, with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.