Kindness at a Restaurant

The Crankee Yankee and I went out for lunch yesterday at the Bratskellar in Portsmouth, NH. Where I was sitting, the hostess and her station was in full view. Whenever anyone came through the door, she greeted them with a smile and treated them as friends. You know how you can tell when someone is being sincere or insincere? This gal was sincere to the bones.

In the booth behind her, there was an old man eating his lunch by himself. He appeared to be a veteran, and he was enjoying a beer and a sandwich by himself. The hostess chatted with him from time to time, and you could tell that he was a regular there.

When the old man finished his lunch, the hostess went to him and told him she would wrap up the rest of his sandwich for him to take home. They smiled at each other, and he said he was sorry that he couldn’t eat the whole thing, but he had enjoyed it just the same.

“I’m so glad you did, and you can have that other half later on. I’m glad you enjoyed a beer and half a sandwich.” She patted his hand and went off to wrap up the half sandwich.

When the man paid his bill, she said, “You know, I’m always glad when you come in here.” He smiled at her, touched her hand and slowly walked out to his car, using his cane. She watched him as he got into his car and drove off.

Who knows their story? They may be friends, or neighbors, perhaps even family; she certainly treated him that way. Even though the restaurant was fairly busy that day, she took the time to speak with him, check in on him, welcome him and show him in her way that he was important to her.

You don’t often see that sort of kindness and respect much these days. All I know is that she treated everyone who walked into that restaurant with a smile and a sincere greeting. Between greeting and seating customers, she also cleaned the tables and made them ready for the next guest.

I worked many years as a waitress to pay for college, and I know how busy you can get during a lunchtime rush. It’s hard enough to do the job and be civil and welcoming, especially when the place really starts to fill up.

This amazing young woman put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. I’ll bet that old man smiled all the way home, too. Just a simple act of kindness can make such a big impact.

Baby Boomers Back in the Day

Back when us Baby Boomers were in grade school, no one knew diddly about ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, restless leg syndrome, peanut allergies, or had ever heard of a bike helmet. If during class you got fidgety or acted up, you went straight to the principal’s office. The lines drawn were pretty simple; sit still, shut up and listen and don’t give the teacher any trouble.

The teaching method back then was this: the teacher taught, the students sat still (or tried to) in their seats, folded their hands and looked straight ahead and gave the teacher full attention (or looked like it, anyway). No one explained much of anything to us; we were told to zip our lips and listen. When tests came around, the teachers found out who was listening and who was not.

Back then no one had a problem with what was called “corporal punishment;” that is, a spanking administered by the teacher if you caused any trouble in class. Parents were notified, and when you got home, you got punished all over again. I remember telling my parents that this wasn’t fair, and was told that the world isn’t fair and to get over it.

Teachers back then didn’t explain anything; you were expected to do as you were told. Questioning the teacher was not encouraged. At that time in history, we also had air raid drills. This meant that when a certain signal was given, we were all to get under our desks, make ourselves as small as possible and to cross our arms cover our heads. We were to stay there until given the order to get back in our seats.

I got in trouble once during one of these because I stuck my head out from under my desk to see what was going on. My teacher shoved my head back under the desk saying, “do you want your head shot off?” I had no idea who and what wanted to shoot my head off.

It took years for many of us in our generation to understand why we didn’t learn well because of what is now known as ADD or ADHD. So now we now know that some of us actually had something we couldn’t help or recognize that held us back. I see this both in myself and in the Crankee Yankee.

When we were kids, parents, grandparents and teachers (or just about any adult) were the word of law, and we were not expected to question them. I’m not saying that this was a perfect system, but that’s just how things were back then. Funnily enough, both the Crankee Yankee and I had the same comments on our report cards: “Would do a lot better if he/she stopped daydreaming and got down to business.”

When I was in college, I went for a teaching degree in English education, mainly because I loved reading and writing. I imagined myself as a teacher who inspired kids to also love reading and writing. Back then, this degree path meant that you didn’t get to student teach until senior year, so if it didn’t work out, it was too late to change majors.

By the time I was a student teacher, I found I really wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. The whole school system was still too rigid (or so it seemed to me), and new ideas in teaching were not appreciated. I realized that this was not the right path for me, and that I wasn’t inspiring any students to love reading and writing.

I suppose that I was trying to eradicate the teaching methods I’d grown up with, and was hoping to change the teaching world. I soon discovered it was too big a challenge for me, and I went into business instead. I became a technical writer and loved it. I realize now that this was actually my way of teaching people; instead of standing in a classroom, I wrote “how to” manuals.

It’s funny how some of us find our way despite our background and education. We may find that one or two teachers in our lives inspire us, and these teachers may not even be school teachers. They can be a friend, a relative, a famous writer, a doctor, a carpenter, someone we read about—whoever moves us in a positive direction is a teacher in their way.

A teacher teaches, and we as students of any age learn.

In Memorium

To all of our military, to the families who lost loved ones, to those who have been hurt in the line of duty; we honor you all today and every day. My grandfather fought in WWI, and my dad in WWII. In both their generations, their spiritual and mental trauma were things that they kept to themselves. They simply lived with it, but it changed them forever.

I had a friend whose laughing young husband was part of the liberation of the death camps in Germany. My friend, his wife; told me that he went there a happy carefree young man, and came home a sober old man.

Back then, any mental problems from the wars were lumped together and called “battle fatigue” or “shell shock.” No one really understood it or knew how to help back then. Veterans from those generations seem to find comfort in the silence and company of other veterans. Often there are no words spoken; just being together in silence seems to to be enough.

It is on this day (and actually every day) that I understand that the freedoms we enjoy today were bought and paid for in blood and sacrifice. Most of us in America cannot comprehend what it is like living in any form of government but democracy. We know that this, too, has its faults, but imagine what it would be like to live under anything else.

It is also on this day that I remember what surely must be the most famous war memorial poem, “In Flanders Fields,” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915
during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium

May we never forget that our freedoms have a high price. May we always honor our military men and women.


What I’ve Learned from my Granddaughters

My granddaughters are the loves of my life; six year old Ava and 13 month old Juliette (or “JujuB”). I never had children of my own, but when I married the Crankee Yankee, I “inherited” his daughter, and later on, her husband. Much later on, their two girls.

Here is just some of the wisdom I’ve learned from these amazing little girls:

  • You can never have enough hugs and kisses.
  • Life on a farm is the best thing ever.
  • Always share your toys.
  • Be nice to everyone.
  • If someone is having a bad day, help them feel better.
  • Butter is yummy.
  • Try all kinds of foods; you may be surprised at how good they are.
  • Grandparents are put on earth to spoil their grandchildren.
  • When in doubt, be kind.
  • There is a heaven for all people and animals.
  • The more glitter, the better.
  • Wave and smile at everyone.
  • Pink and purple are the best colors EVER.
  • Always turn up the cuffs of your leggings; they look MUCH cooler that way.
  • Learning new things is super-fun.
  • You can never say ‘I love you’ enough times.

A good friend told me that, once you become a grandmother or grandfather, your life will change in the best possible way. She was right—it is a whole new realm of love and joy. There are times that I just look at these girls and feel love, gratitude, joy and amazement; how in the world did I get so lucky?

When we visit them, Ava wants me to color or make things with her. So I sit on the floor and we play. JujuB is walking now, and she smiles and waves at everyone. They have opened my heart in ways no one has before—they give me faith that the world is much better than I thought.

These kids are here to make positive changes. If you are lucky enough to be a grandparent, love them and help them be everything that they can be. Watch and learn, encourage and support. This generation is going to be amazing!

Rainy Day in May

“Rain, rain, go away—

Come on back another day!”

And as a kid,

I wish it did—

Except that in our current water ban

I welcome the free deluge for our gardens more than

A sunny day that blasts those tender shoots

And shrivels our growing produce to the roots—

So rain, please stay, fill up the rain pails

And let those shoots grow into bales

Of peas and tomatoes and peppers and beets

Before the coming summer sun heats

Up all those striving, growing things—

Let’s see what the end of May brings!



15 Years Today and I’d Do It All Over Again

On this day 15 years ago, I was at my parents’ house, getting ready to marry the Crankee Yankee. The lilac bush behind the house was bursting with gorgeous purple blooms and the whole back yard smelled of them. The little plot of lily of the valley were in full flower as well, adding their sweetness to the air.

During the months before our wedding, Mom and I had scoured the Goodwill stores for champagne glasses. We bought a few dozen of them for about a nickel apiece and laughed our heads off about how you didn’t have to spend a fortune to have a great wedding.

Dad had picked up a few dozen bottles of champagne, and had his camera ready for what he called “my last wedding;” a professional photographer, he had cut weddings out of his schedule. “But I’ll make an exception for you!” he said.

Mom made our wedding cake; her famous lemon crunch cake, plus what she called a “comb over cake;” a backup cake that had used up the rest of the frosting and was thin on top.

She and I cut swathes of lilacs for me and for my maid of honor, my best friend, Jan. For the men, she made beautiful boutonnieres with sprigs of lily of the valley, tied in silver ribbons.

I dressed in my burgundy wedding dress (second marriage, no white necessary!) and put on the tunic necklace I’d made for the occasion. As I was finishing my makeup, I heard a car pull up in the driveway; the Crankee Yankee and his younger brother, David, the best man, had arrived. Soon after that, my best friend and maid of honor, Jan, drove in.

The guest began to gather, and I began to get nervous. My first marriage had ended in disaster, and even though I had known the Crankee Yankee since I was 25, I worried—should I be doing this?

I looked out of my parents’ bedroom window to see all the guests sitting in their chairs and chatting in the back yard. There was a lovely white trellis at the bottom of the slight berm where the guests were sitting. There was a huge pot of white flowers hanging from it, and the minister stood waiting.

Dad came for me and began to walk me around the front of the house. I said, “Dad, I don’t know about this!” He squeezed my arm and said, “Oh, no you don’t–this is the right guy and this is the right time. Let’s go!”

Not only did the Crankee Yankee and I get married that day, but David and Jan got to know each other. Soon after our wedding, they began dating. A few years later, they got married. I will always be happy that our wedding was the place that began another love story.

So, today being our 15th anniversary, I will say this: despite the normal ups and downs, the laughter and the tears, the gains and the losses, the highs and lows—it’s all worth it. I discovered that a first bad marriage (or a “training wheels” marriage as Mom liked to call it) doesn’t necessarily mean that the second will be a bust as well.

Marriage is what you make it. There will always be ups and downs, times where you can’t agree on things, times when you cling to each other and times when you need alone time. We rejoice in many things and put up with many things; it’s a grab-bag of this and that.

Between you and me, I think that the Crankee Yankee is a far better person than I am, but bless his heart, he doesn’t see it that way. This marriage has made me a better person than I was. I see both our faults clearly, but most of all, I see two people who adore each other. I see two imperfect people that just happen to be perfect for each other.


Little Bits Here and There

I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t do everything all the time. Oh, we may think that we can, but rarely can we do it all at once. My new credo is “little bits” I do here and there. This way I can tick them off my list and feel as though I did something to justify my existence during the day.

Those of us who are list makers understand the joy of crossing off the things on our “to do” list. Even if there is something I forgot to write down and I took care of it, I add it to my list and then cross it off, done and done!

This way, when I’m done for the day, I can say to myself that I did this, that and the other thing during the day. It’s a simple thing to do, but so satisfying. The list needn’t be a big deal, either. For example, my list for today reads:

  1. Vacuum and dust (I HATE vacuuming, so it’s first on the list. I just want to get it over with!)
  2. Organize all those random ‘I’ll do it later’ papers on my side of the desk.
  3. Pick up the few items we need at the grocery store.
  4. Go for my pond walk.
  5. Do a little planting in the empty raised beds.
  6. Go to the library and get more reading fodder.
  7. Take those three bags of sheets, towels and blankets we no longer need to the animal shelter.

Each one of these chores matter, but in and of themselves they aren’t really monumental. This is what I call my “little bit” system. A little bit here and there I can handle; but a whole lot things all at once just knocks me out. Somewhere I read that if you just take a task at 15 minutes at a time, you will slowly but surely get it all done. We don’t have to do absolutely EVERYTHING at once!

So today’s mantra is this:

Here and there and bit by bit,

I erase the tasks that I see fit.

Some may start small

But through it all

What needs to get done

Will all be done—

Little bit by little bit

I cross off each task with a loud “now, GIT!”



When Stuff is Just…..Stuff

In the process of selling my parents’ house, there is definitely a line between things to keep, things to offer to friends, things to donate and things to just toss. While I have put a master list together on what goes where, there is always that emotional wrench seeing all those bits and pieces that made up a home.

For example, Mom loved big, tall lamps; I don’t. Mom loved vases; I don’t. Mom loved doo-dads; I don’t. Then there are all the pictures and paintings; I’ve taken the ones I liked, but the rest need homes.

There are some things I’ve kept because I can’t quite let them go, but know that someday I can. I think I’ve gotten past the ‘oh, Mom/Dad loved this so I should keep it’ even if I personally don’t care for it.

Does anyone remember the show where experts went to a home and helped people pare down their stuff? They put up three tents; one for keepers, one for donations or give-aways or selling, and one for tossing. When the owners protested over something, the expert asked why they felt they needed it. The conversations went like this:

Expert: “Why do you want to keep this?”

Owner: ” It was my grandmother’s”

Expert: “Yes, but do you like it?”

Owner: “Not really.”

Expert: “Then you don’t need it.”

It sounds simple, but there is a lot of emotion involved. The Crankee Yankee and I already live in what we call our “*blivet.” We periodically go through our stuff, asking ourselves those same “expert” questions. With this in mind, we have to be careful of what we take from my parents’ house.

So there is always going to be stuff to be dealt with; the bigger question is, do we need it, want it or even like it? It’s a hard and often emotional process, but we just can’t keep it all. When it comes right down it, stuff is only stuff. We have to decide what stuff we really need to keep, and what to set free.

*Blivet: colloquial for ‘ten pounds of crap in a five pound container.”

Birds I Love: Blue Herons

There’s something about blue herons that is absolutely mesmerizing. I have loved them since I was a child. At the time, we lived in a huge apartment with a big sun porch just off the kitchen. It overlooked the lake, and the small wooden dock was often visited by a blue heron or two.

Herons look blue-gray from a distance (they are actually gray), and they are rather stately looking birds. They will patiently stand statue-like in the shallows, waiting for their breakfast to swim by. When they see what they want, they strike with a lightning-quick stab of their strong beaks.

Blue herons like both saltwater and fresh water, and they can be found on coastlines, marshes, rivers and the like. They build stick nests on the top of trees. When you see them fly away, with their necks tucked back and long legs trailing behind them, you feel as though a miracle has crossed your path.

Once a few years ago, I was walking around the town pond and saw a blue heron standing patiently in the reeds and cat-o-nine tails near the water. It was nesting season for all the birds in that area; red-winged black birds, goldfinches, cardinals, and the very occasional blue bird.

The red-winged blackbirds get especially touchy during nesting season. They will chase after a bird three times their size if they feel that their nesting area is being threatened. I noticed that there was a blue heron standing in the shallows. Evidently, a red-winged blackbird in the same area felt that the heron was too close to his nest.

As I watched, the red-wing jumped on the heron’s back, and hopped up and down on it! The heron, looking mildly annoyed, turned its head to look at the red-wing. If there could have been a thought bubble above his head, it would have read: “Hey, now—no need to get upset! I’m just hunting for my breakfast; I’m not going to bother you or your wife and kids.”

How wonderful it is when we get to see nature up close and personal!