Lessons Learned

When I was a teenager, I used to waitress at our local burger and ice cream place in the summer time. Honestly, it was the best training I ever had on a job. The owners were strict but fair, and I learned at lot of life and business lessons there.

For one thing, we were told never to walk anywhere in the restaurant without something in our hands. Think about it; someone will always want extra napkins, straws, ketchup, salad dressing, forks, etc. It’s something I still remember and use; it made me think on my feet, and think ahead.

But one of the added benefits of waiting on tables was helping some of the customers decide on what kind of ice cream sundae to order. The ice cream was homemade and there were some great selections, but the toppings were fabulous; homemade fudge, butterscotch, marshmallow and penuche sauces. Each one was out-of-this-world delicious.

However, there was one other topping rarely asked for: the pineapple mint sauce. Yep, actual pineapple chunks drenched in sticky mint sauce. It looked terrible; as if the pineapple had grown mold, and it tasted exactly as you would have expected; like pineapple-flavored toothpaste. I can’t tell you how many people I steered away from it and suggested the strawberries instead.

I look back on those days with affection and gratitude. Two of the most important lessons I learned was 1) when to keep my mouth shut. Being in service means just that: you are in a service position, and the customer is your main focus. But the more important lesson was that 2) people can be extremely picky about their food.

For example, the time we ran out of baked potatoes in the restaurant where I worked during college, a woman about tore my head off. She couldn’t understand how we could possibly run out of baked potatoes; for crying out loud, we WERE a restaurant, were we NOT? And the rant went on and on and on.

As I stood there with a frozen smile on my face, I was thinking, ‘lady, what do you want me to do; run down to the market and haul a bag of potatoes into the kitchen right now?’ I told her for the tenth time how sorry I was that we had simply run out. I offered her the mashed potatoes, the fried potato wedges, the boiled potatoes and even the potato salad, but no—she wasn’t having any of that.

Finally her husband shut her up and told me to just bring her some ‘frigging damned mashed potatoes’. I made it all the way back into the kitchen where I simultaneously burst into tears and laughed my head off. The chef looked at me with a baleful stare as I stammered my order to him. I pulled myself together and, by the time I brought their food to the table, the whole baked potato fiasco seemed to have died down. But that’s the restaurant business for you.

Another service job I had years later was as a phone rep for a math and science materials for K through 12 grades. One of the most popular items was a butterfly tower; it was a four foot tall cylindrical cage made of net with a branch inside with butterfly larvae. The idea was for students to be able to watch the growth of the larvae, and see the mature butterflies emerge from their pupas at the end of their larval stage.

Well, a bride-to-be ordered several butterfly towers, with the idea of releasing them all at her wedding. I took the order, and warned her several times that it takes weeks for the butterflies to mature, and that you couldn’t count on a specific date and time for them to be ready to fly. She assured me that there was plenty of time, and that she was sure that everything would go according to plan for her big day.

Fast forward five weeks: I got a phone call from the bride, who was extremely upset about the butterflies. Evidently, when they were released, half the butterflies had not come out of their pupas. So the dramatic effect she was hoping for fell flat. She was beyond upset over the phone; she sounded downright homicidal.

“Those stupid butterflies RUINED my wedding! Who is going to make up for this? You TOLD me that they would be ready to fly on my wedding day!” she sobbed. I told her that  was very sorry that things didn’t work out as planned, and gently reminded her that I had in fact warned her that this might happen; nature being what it is.

“Well, who is going to make this right? Who is going to fix this?!” she roared. I had to stifle my impulse to say, “I dunno, call God; that’s His department, not mine!” But I forwarded her call to my boss, who offered to refund her money.

Honestly, some days when you are in a service position, in your mind you just have to keep replacing the customer’s “YOU did this or that” with “<insert company name> did this or that” and then it is no longer personal.

Service jobs taught me a lot, and I am grateful for the lessons. But to this day, I still laugh my head off about the mad butterfly bride!

 

 

 

 

Send Love, Not Worry

Our second granddaughter, Juliette (whom we now all call “Juju B”), was born in April with some pretty serious lung and heart issues. She spent the first three weeks of her life in the NICU, along with her mother and big sister, Ava. We worried about Juju B night and day, and also worried about the rest of the family.

Each morning one of my go-to readings is always a random chapter from Tosha Silver’s wonderful book, “Outrageous Openness.” I opened the book, and it opened on a chapter called “Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear” that addressed well-intentioned worry:

“…if you care about someone, worry is the worst energy you can send. It directly transmits fear and restriction, since we usually visualize all the darkest possible outcomes. So even if it’s well-intended, worry blankets the poor recipient’s energy field in a negative vibe. Imagine a black Express Mail envelope marked “Thinking of You” filled with muck, mildew, and a few skull bones. THAT’S worry.”

I realized that all my worrying might even make our Juju B worse, so I began imagining her being completely healthy, strong, and in her own home. I saw her breathing well on her own, with healthy lungs and a healthy, strong heart.

In my mind, I sent her angels of love and healing, and placed them all around her. I actively sent her healing Reiki, as well as prayers for her good health. I widened my focus to her whole family, that everyone was healthy and strong, and in my mind I pictured a healthy Juju B breathing on her own.

The day came when Juju B finally went home, still on oxygen. Immediately she began breathing better and seemed to be calm and happy. During that first week home, as her mother was feeding her,  Juju B looked up at her, and reached up and pulled the oxygen cannula right out of her nose! It was just as if she said, “Mom, I’m home, and I’m done with being sick.”

At the next pediatrician visit, she was pronounced healthy and strong. She now sleeps 6-7 hours at a stretch, she only cries when she’s wet or hungry, and she has the sweetest attitude about everything around her. This kid radiates love, contentment, joy and perfect health. In every picture we have of her, she looks positively tickled with everyone and everything around her. Big sister Ava (age 5) adores her, and talks with her all the time.

This was another lesson for me to remember: where good intention goes, energy follows. Fortunately, I was not the only one sending our Juju B positive thoughts. I called on my entire metaphysical circle of friends, and they all came together to send love, health, happiness and positive energy.

You don’t have to be a psychic or Reiki master or angel on earth to do this; you can do this any time you like, and focus on any person(s) you like. Any time you send a good intention to someone, they will feel that good energy in some way. In some part of their minds and souls, they feel that surf of love and compassion wash over them.

By the way, you can also do this for yourself. You can send yourself love notes of love, kindness, comfort and health any time you like. You can say out loud to yourself, “I am happy, healthy, strong and I feel great.”

Or if you are feeling nervous about something that you have to do that day, just say, “Everything today is going to go GREAT.” Keep on saying it and your day will be better because you are giving yourself the gift of good intentions.

Look, if it worked for a baby, it can certainly work for all of us—just ask Juju B.

 

Cat and Mouse

If I haven’t said so before, the Crankee Yankee and I live in a house built in 1953. It needed a lot of renovation and repair in the last nine years, so it was inevitable that a few “squatters” took up residence in the attic; what we call “the occasional field mouse.”

I should have been revolted by them, but unfortunately, these mice are adorable; like Disney mice. They have tiny chubby bodies covered in velvety gray fur, big black eyes, little pink paws and they are only about 2″ long. As our cats are expert mousers, now and then they will nab one.

Previously, we’ve been able to escort the one mouse or two out of the house. I use the old Dixie cup strategy; get the mouse trapped into a corner, and put a small Dixie cup near it—usually it will panic and run into the cup. I then close the escape route with another cup so that the mouse is in a “cup cage.” From there I can walk it outside and *set it free.

The other night Nala, our one female cat, flushed a mouse out into the living room. The other cats gave chase and the mouse scooted right under the closet door, and the chase was over for the night. The next morning, we went out in the kitchen and there was Nala, positively beaming over a dead mouse.

As I bent over to scoop it up in the two afore-mentioned Dixie cups, it moved. The little bugger had been playing possum and was very much alive.

But by this time, he/she was in the cup cage, so I took him/her out into the garden and set him/her free. I asked him/her to spread the word that the inside of our house is verboten (forbidden) to them from now on.

I swear that mouse winked at me.

*Funny story, a friend recently told me about a friend of hers with a similar mouse problem. When she caught one, she painted its tail, then let it go. That way she would know if the same mouse came back into her house!

Give, Get, Give

I mentioned before how speaking and thinking positively makes a difference; the more positive you are, the more positive things come your way. It’s exactly the same with negative thinking; if you get up, look out the window and say, “It’s going to be an awful day,” I’ll guarantee that you will have an awful day.

When I learned to speak “as if,” it made all the difference. If I was down to my last dollar, I’d say to myself, “that’s ok; there’ll be more money soon.” And behold and lo, there always was. I’m not saying I tripped over a stack of hundred dollars bills, just a bit of cash here and there when I needed it.

The times when I would wake up in a bad mood, I learned to clean out my brain and change my attitude by saying something like, ‘today is going to be GREAT.’ I would repeat it over and over again (by the way, experts in this field say that repeating the same phrase at least 13 times ‘cements’ it into your brain), and before long, I felt a lot better.

Anyone who has known me for a long time knows how cranky, crabby, spiteful, selfish, and passive-aggressive I was in the past (and still fight it from time to time), so it’s taken time to turn that around. Life is so much easier now with a better attitude.

If I have learned anything at all, it’s that change can show up out of left field. You don’t see it coming, but sure enough, it zeroes right in on you. Case in point: the Crankee Yankee has had his beloved old red 1993 Toyota T-100 sitting in the driveway with a For Sale sign on it. He had a lot of lookers, but no takers.

Last fall as my mother went into home Hospice, she and my dad gave me their wonderful KIA Rondo as they didn’t need two cars. It was such a welcome gift; our old car was on its last legs, and a neighbor bought it right after we got the KIA.

For the last year or so, a dear friend of ours, Ed, a widower and fellow model railroad enthusiast, became ill and needed several trips to Mass General Hospital in Boston. The Crankee Yankee drove him there and back many times, visited him often, and kept his spirits up. Ed had lost his wife a year or so ago, and wanted to sell his second vehicle, a Chevy truck. He and the Crankee Yankee had agreed on a very fair price, but as luck would have it, we had some expenses come up. So the deal was on hold indefinitely.

One day completely out of the blue, Ed insisted that he turn the truck title over to the Crankee Yankee. The agreement was ‘pay me or don’t pay me; I just want you to have the truck.’ So, again—a wonderful vehicle appeared when needed.

Back to the Crankee Yankee trying to sell his old T-100. He surprised the life out of me when he said, “You know, we have been gifted with two great vehicles. I’m not going to sell the T-100; I’m going to give it away. You never know, some kid might be able to fix it and use it and then he’ll have a vehicle.”

I was so proud of him I had to hold back tears. He was right; we were given much, and it was time to give back. Then, on the same day, a young guy showed up in the driveway, asking about the three windows we had for sale (the Crankee Yankee is slowly but surely replacing our downstairs windows). He bought them all for $200, which came in just when we needed it!

Coincidence? Nope, not at all.

 

“LAURA!”

Years ago when I lived in Texas, a friend and I went to an informal concert. I wish I could remember the singer/guitarist’s name, but he was both creative and funny. He wrote and sang wonderful songs, one of which was called simply “Laura.” He sang about her experience in becoming a warrior.

Laura was a shy girl who joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Africa. She had been very nervous about going as it was so far from home. But she bravely went and within a very short amount of time, she had fallen in love with the country and the people.

One day as she was working with some women in the field, an elephant showed up. Whether they had inadvertently invaded his space, they never knew, but he began to trumpet and then chased the women. For some reason, the elephant picked out poor Laura to chase. He chased her right up a tall tree, where she scrambled to the top branch, shaking in fear.

The elephant butted the tree, trying to shake her down, and she clung to the branch. Fortunately, he finally went away.

One of the men from the village came looking for her. He was the husband of one of the women who had been in the field, and Laura had been a guest at their hut many times. The man helped her down from the tree, asked if she was all right; she was, she had just been shaken up.

As they walked back to the village, he removed a heavy bronze bracelet embellished with small shells and silver disks from his wrist. He gave it to her saying, “You were a warrior today. You were brave, and in running to that tree, you saved the lives of all the women with you, including my wife.”

He put the bracelet on her arm; it was so large it that fit around her upper arm. As they walked toward the village, Laura began to feel just a bit proud of herself. The feeling thrilled her, and when they arrived in the village, every person there cheered for her. The man shouted to everyone, “This is our LAURA, our warrior, LAURA! She is our sister, LAURA!”

All that night long, Laura heard “LAURA!” in her head. She began to feel different; somehow stronger. As she lay on her pallet, listening to all the sounds of Africa around her, she realized that she felt proud of herself. She felt like a warrior, and for the first time in her life, she felt truly confident.

She became more outgoing, laughing when the women would call her to come join them in a dance. The men of the village affectionately called her “Little Warrior.” She threw herself into her work, and together she and the other women harvested, made meals, sang and tended the children together.

Laura began to feel sad about going home. The night before she left, the village threw a wonderful party for her, and the wife of the man who had given her the bracelet hugged her tightly, calling her Sister Forever.

When Laura finally arrived home, she was wearing the bracelet on her upper arm. She had worn it each day since the incident with the elephant, and it felt like part of her. When she got off the plane, she strode confidently forward to meet her parents. As she walked through the crowd, it parted for her.

There was something about her that made people make way. She looked like a bronze lion—deeply tanned, her long hair streaked blonde from the hot African sun, and she walked gracefully as a panther.

As her parents saw her walking toward them; so erect, so commanding, so confident, they could not believe the change in her. With each step she took, she heard “LAURA!” in her head. She briefly wondered if it was the heavy, showy bracelet on her arm that people saw, or was it her new warrior spirit? But it didn’t matter; she was LAURA!

I loved this song, not only for the wonderful music and the story within, but also the residual feeling of ‘woman as warrior.’ As we become older and more confident, we may lose superficial things like looks, skin tone, strong joints; but we gain in courage, experience, wisdom and peace. We learn how to be warriors.

 

“If I Don’t Hate Everyone, Then I Must Love Everyone”

My dad and I have formed a new and stronger bond since Mom died last December. We have always loved and respected each other, but these days we spend a lot of time together, talking and sharing ideas and discoveries. Lately, we have spoken a great deal about love.

When Dad was a little boy, men did not as a rule hug their boys, tell them they loved them, or tell them what good boys they were; it was a time of ‘sparing the rod and spoiling the child.’ That is, the prevailing theory about raising boys was to point out their faults or criticize them or be tough with them—all this to make strong, manly men out of them.

Any love, kindness, approval or happiness seemed to have been held in check for fear that boys would grow up too soft. Today is different, and Dad, being Dad, has evolved to a new height of awareness and has gladly embraced change. He understands fully what love means and how love can both change and save lives.

When we are together, we talk of changing our lives in positive ways, of what we do to relax, of how we cope with hate, grief, fear, impatience, and all negative things and people. Most of all, we talk about love, and what that truly means to us.

Mom was the love of Dad’s life, and he was the love of hers. A day never went by without hugs, kisses, many “I love yous,” and endless kindnesses. Dad says how lucky he was to have had this amazing woman in his life for 60 years; he knows that that was the truest, clearest, most defining love in his life. As he says, while he no longer has that, he understands that he can survive knowing that that love will always be part of him.

He called the other night and said, “I was thinking: if I don’t hate anyone, then I must love everyone.” He hastened to say that he doesn’t know everyone in the world, but he bears no hatred or ill will to anyone. He has all the love in his heart for us; his family, for his cat, Bailey, for the people he knows and talks with, and he has a genuine smile for everyone he meets. He may not agree with everything everyone does, but he can honestly say that he has love for everyone in his heart. And he really doesn’t hate anyone.

What I take from this revelation is this: when a man of his age and experience can keep his mind active and involved, and his heart loving and joyous, how can the rest of us not follow this example? Really, what good does hating someone do for us? Oh, there is that few seconds of satisfaction thinking up terrible things that may/should happen to them, but immediately afterwards it is followed by that sick feeling that you have allowed yourself to ruin a perfectly good day. Also, your projected hatred does absolutely nothing to the person to whom it is directed.

Here’s the deal about life and people: things are not always going to go our way. People may let us down, hurt or disappoint us. Personally, I can count on one hand (well, maybe one an a half) the “really bad” things that have happened to me during my life. The rest has been pretty wonderful.

I am taking Dad’s example to heart; I choose love over hate.