Maybe Things Weren’t As Bad As I Thought….

I was a technical writer for nearly 30 years. In that time I wrote manuals for everything from F16 planes to optic lens technology. I always geared my manuals toward new employees and/or newbies to the field. I would start with something as basic as “Step 1: turn on your computer.”

I cataloged every step just in case the person reading it was a new employee, or someone who had to pick up a job for someone who left. This way, if the reader already knew the basics, they could skip right to the nitty-gritty.

This approach didn’t always fly with upper management. They felt that I was being “too simplistic” and should just cut to the chase and write about the “real meat” of the subject. In one of my jobs I faced a panel consisting of the president of the company, the office manager and the head of sales.

One by one they trashed my manual as being “first grader-ish.” The president glared at me and said, “I have a Ph.D and you should really write this manual to my level.”

The office manager said, “I graduated summa cum laude in Engineering at <hoity-toity ivory tower school>, and this manual is just too basic. You really should write it geared to those with higher education.”

The head of sales said, “This manual should be much more sales-oriented. That’s who brings the money in!”

I smiled at them all and replied, “well, those are certainly great ideas. Tell you what, this is what I’ll do: I will write a manual for Ph.D level readers,  a manual for engineers, and a manual specifically for Sales.”

They all looked at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. The president said flatly, ‘well that’s just stupid! Why would you do that when you could just write one manual for everyone at every level?”

I replied, “actually, that is exactly what I did in this manual.” <insert sound of several crickets here> Let’s just say that they grudgingly approved the manual and suddenly had something really important to do.

But as we all know, most people never read manuals, even myself. When I get a new something-or-other that comes with a manual, I never read it. Sad but true. I got to thinking that my 30-something years of being a technical writer was not only unsuccessful, but unremarkable as well.

Then someone I respect made me feel a lot better about my career. She said, ‘you took an educational approach rather than a business approach—which is exactly how you learn and teach others.’ How about that? I never thought of it that way, and am grateful for a new perspective. Perhaps my manuals did help after all.

I think that many of us are too hard on ourselves, and, looking back on previous jobs, wish that we had done better. We may start a downward spiral in our heads that doesn’t do any of us any good. We have to believe that we did the best that we could at the time and let the rest go.

Maybe my career wasn’t that bad after all.


*Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Had a Bunch of Crappy Co-Workers

Of all the things that have now been deemed politically incorrect, this latest really takes the reindeer chow. Evidently some folks feel that the song “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” is offensive in that it makes fun of a facial deformity. Some feel that making fun of a cartoon reindeer with a red nose is giving their children the wrong message. Well, yes—it isn’t nice to make fun of someone’s deformity and parents are right to make sure that their kids understand that.

However, as a child of the 50s, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” was just a funny little Christmas song we all sang. In fact, every kid I knew used to root for Rudolph for saving Christmas the year that it was too foggy for Santa to travel safely.  We were always happy that, at the end of the song, the other reindeer were glad of his help.

But now that I’m older and less tolerant, what about all those hypocritical reindeer who suddenly loved Rudolph because he lit the way for them all. Do you think that they thanked him afterwards for this? Had a big party in his honor? Started inviting him to their reindeer games?

I’m guessing that they did none of this. Just look at their personality profiles:

**Quick Look at All the Reindeer

Reindeer Personality trait
Dasher He loves to go fast!
Dancer Completely extroverted
Prancer A bit vain, though affectionate
Vixen Slightly tricky
Comet Handsome and easy-going
Cupid Affectionate
Donner Loud
Blitzen Fast as a bolt!
Rudolph A little down on himself

Dasher: “loves to go fast,” does he? I’ll bet that he was both angry and mortified at being bested by whom he deemed the most useless reindeer of all.

Dancer: “completely extroverted”? I’m thinking she is a big old attention hog who would also resent Rudolph for stealing her thunder on that foggy night.

Prancer: “a bit vain?” That sounds about right. I’m sure that she never sent Rudolph a Valentine that year, either.

Vixen: “slightly tricky?” Like maybe tricky enough to put a laxative into Rudolph’s post-flight cocoa? (Bet she did.)

Comet: “handsome and easy-going?” Well, sure—he was the ‘handsome one,’ who no doubt believed that he deserved credit for just breathing each day….

Donner: “Loud.” Well—doesn’t that just say it all? He probably was the first in line to congratulate Rudolph for guiding the sleigh that night. He probably also was the first one to snub him afterwards.

Blitzen: “Fast as a bolt.” Yeah, I’ll bet he bolted right into his pen without a word of thanks after they all made it safely back to the North Pole.

Rudolph: “a little down on himself.” Well, wouldn’t you be if you’d been laughed at your whole life over your looks? And wouldn’t you just know it, those other rotten reindeer laughed at him constantly and refused to let him play with them.

And then, poor Rudolph, at the end of the night, exhausted from miles and miles of beaming his red nose, lay down in the straw and just knew that all that false friendship wouldn’t last.

Did he turn into a serial killer over this? No, he did not. He kept his secret sorrow to himself. When Santa asked for his help in guiding the sleigh on that famous foggy night, did he question it? No, he just antlered-up and used his “facial deformity” to save Christmas that year.

He is the hero of this song, and the others were just sycophantic suck-ups who probably went back to their old jeering ways. My Christmas wish is for Rudolph to get better co-workers.

*From Wikipedia: “”Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a song written by Johnny Marks based on the 1939 story Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer published by the Montgomery Ward Company. Gene Autry‘s recording hit No. 1 on the U.S. charts the week of Christmas 1949.”

**From Holidappy.


Beauty in All Things

I’ve said this before; New England has its own stark beauty in the winter months. If you are new to this part of the country, it can look drab and dull. But try to look beyond the obvious. There is so much to see and hear.

On my walk around the pond yesterday I saw silvery-gray glassy shards of ice clustered on the edges of the pond, moving and muttering and mashing together. Some would catch the sunlight and glitter like newly discovered diamonds as they bumped into each other.

There was the susurrus of the cold wind rattling and whistling through the stiff dry reeds that ring the pond. Ducks and seagulls quacked and called as they paddled in the icy water, then took to the sky as one.

Then there was the surprise of a beautiful blue-gray heron rising up just below my feet from the edge of the pond, squawking his indignation at being disturbed. By the time I had walked to the other side of the pond, he stepped out of the reeds and settled himself  in a patch of sun, his large wings lowered to shelter his feet and legs. I imagine that felt pretty good after standing in freezing water, waiting for lunch to swim by.

The sky above was china-blue, with thick streaks of marshmallow-y clouds. Some had undertones of gray, indicating possible snow. There were even some orange-y rose hips still clinging to their bushes, bringing light to the browns and grays around them.

Yes, our winters here in New England have a puritanical sort of unadorned beauty, and it does take time to recognize and appreciate it. When I lived in Texas, where gorgeous flowers bloomed all year long and the evening skies were filled with lavish paint strokes of red, orange, gold, rose, and lavender, and brightly colored birds shrilled in the evening—I still missed my old wren-brown New England winters.

Beauty is a tricky thing, and is truly in the eye of the beholder. Here in New Hampshire when the sky turns deep blue-black, the stars twinkle and shine as if to coax the bright silver moon up to join them. At this time of year, my favorite constellation is back in the heavens; Orion the Hunter.

Yesterday brought me both the heron and Orion; both beautiful, both amazing.


The Wonder of “Wonder”

I took myself to a movie yesterday; “*Wonder.” This movie is based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name.  August Pullman, or “Auggie,” was born with Treacher Collins syndrome which can manifest in downward slanting eyes, deformed ears, and more.

This and other health issues prevented him from going to a mainstream school, so his mother home-schooled him. When it is decided that Auggie is ready to go to school, he enters the fifth grade with trepidation. As you can imagine, it was a pretty rough start. But as his mother told him, “you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”

If you have not seen this movie I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that this is a genuinely lovely movie that will make you laugh, weep and cheer for this kid. It’s a great example of the “sea change” that can happen when people look beyond the obvious. As quoted by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer: “If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

*Wonder is a 2017 American drama film directed by Stephen Chbosky and written by Jack ThorneSteve Conrad, and Chbosky, based on the 2012 novel of the same nameby R.J. Palacio. The film stars Julia RobertsOwen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay, and follows a child with Treacher Collins syndrome trying to fit in.

The Scrabble Nazi

My mom was an absolute shark about Scrabble; she was very good at it, and she played to win. She was clever and quick and always found the best ways to reap the biggest scores. I wish I had a dime for every “Bingo” she made (using all seven letters, which garners you 50 extra points), and then got more points for playing it on a triple word score!

Anyone who has ever played Scrabble with my mother has had the pants beaten off them more than once, including me.

I learned a lot about strategy from her. Scrabble is exciting and a little bit dangerous; that is, you can’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings. You’ve got to play with a bit of blood in your eye; you watch for the weak spots in your opponent and play to that weakness.

Mom had one Scrabble partner who always played defensively; it drove her nuts. If you play that way, you miss opportunities. Playing Scrabble with my mother was both nervy, challenging and filled with landmines. You really had to be on your toes with her. She liked a player who took risks. She loved the competition;  it made her even more sharp.

Scrabble is a heady combination of risk, daring, mental agility and just plain nerve. But Mom would always take the risk, even if she had drawn all vowels. She would somehow make it work and win. I’d say in all the years I played with her, I won about 20% of the time. The rest of the time she absolutely ran over me.

Anyone who ever beat my mother in a game of Scrabble went home sweaty, shaking and reaching for a bottle of wine. What they didn’t know was that Mom was sharpening her wits for the next game, vowing that she would beat them the next time.

I have Mom’s old Scrabble game; the cover held together with elastic bands. Many of the tiles are worn soft around the edges, and there are still pencil-and-paper lists of games past. Some days I lift off the lid and swear I can smell all those years of victory.

Well played, Mom.



*Mannheim Steamroller—The Experience

Last night the Crankee Yankee and I went to see Mannheim Steamroller in concert. If you have never had the pleasure of listening to their music, I encourage you to check it out. This is one of the most unique musical groups in the long history of music. Some of the instruments used are synthesizers, woodwind instruments, drums, piano, trumpets, french horn, harpsichord, violins, guitars, even a toy piano; and so much more.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what style of music Mannheim Steamroller actually is; it is an amazing blend of classical, folk, techno, new age, rock, and more. While listening to the music, we enjoyed the incredible light show that accompanied it. We experienced the lift-off of Discovery with all the sights and sounds, while accompanied by incredible music.

It’s one thing to hear their music, and quite another to see the music being made. The head violinist and the guitar player were out in front of the group, and it was fun to see their interaction and great enthusiasm for the music. Everyone on stage was smiling and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

At one point I thought; ‘wait, what’s wrong with this picture?’ And then I realized that there was no conductor. These folks have been working together for so long that they have no need of one. They know the music and the players so well that it becomes an organic experience.

The music is such a unique blend that it is hard to call it just one style of music. There may be a synthesizer playing along side a wooden recorder, one of the most ancient musical instruments. Or there can be a massive percussion presence just after sleigh bells and harpsichord.

The lighting effects were a fabulous part of the show. Not only were there dazzling light shows with laser-like beams sweeping all through the arena, but there was also what looked like drifts of snow lightly falling on the audience. It was a wonderful and playful accompaniment to the music.

In addition, there was a huge screen behind the musicians featuring everything from the space shuttle to golden angels flying through the sky. Some people in the audience might say that the music was much too loud and too ‘in your face.’ For us, it was perfect, amazing and inspiring.

If you get the chance to be part of the Mannheim Steamroller experience, be prepared to enjoy it on every level. It is an experience for all the senses, and then some.

*Per Wikipedia: Mannheim Steamroller is an American Neoclassical new-age music group founded by Chip Davis, that is known primarily for its Fresh Aire series of albums, which blend classical music with elements of new age and rock, and for its modern recordings of Christmas music. The group has sold 28 million albums in the U.S. alone.


50 Great Things to Do

I found the following in the Kindness Blog (check it out; it is often a source of great wisdom and comfort).

I truly hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.


“John M. Sweeney is (as well as being one of kindness blog’s inspirations) the creator of suspended coffees, a nonprofit organization partnering with a variety of businesses around the world, helping to bring communities together and change people’s lives.

One of the followers of John’s own facebook page, sent him the following list of wisdom.”

1. Have a firm handshake.

2. Look people in the eye.

3. Sing in the shower.

4. Own a great stereo system.

5. If in a fight, hit first and hit hard.

6. Keep secrets.

7. Never give up on anybody. Miracles happen everyday. (see 17)

8. Always accept an outstretched hand.

9. Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference.

10. Whistle.

11. Avoid sarcastic remarks.

12. Choose your life’s mate carefully. From this one decision will come 90 per cent of all your happiness or misery.

13. Make it a habit to do nice things for people who will never find out.

14. Lend only those books you never care to see again.

15. Never deprive someone of hope; it might be all that they have.

16. When playing games with children, let them win.

17. Give people a second chance, but not a third.

18. Be romantic.

19. Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.

20. Loosen up. Relax. Except for rare life-and-death matters, nothing is as important as it first seems.

21. Don’t allow the phone to interrupt important moments. It’s there for our convenience, not the caller’s.

22. Be a good loser.

23. Be a good winner.

24. Think twice before burdening a friend with a secret.

25. When someone hugs you, let them be the first to let go.

26. Be modest. A lot was accomplished before you were born.

27. Keep it simple.

28. Beware of the person who has nothing to lose.

29. Don’t burn bridges. You’ll be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river.

30. Live your life so that your epitaph could read, “No Regrets!”

31. Be bold and courageous. When you look back on life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.

32. Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them.

33. Remember no one makes it alone. Have a grateful heart and be quick to acknowledge those who helped you.

34. Take charge of your attitude. Don’t let someone else choose it for you.

35. Visit friends and relatives when they are in hospital; you need only stay a few minutes.

36. Begin each day with some of your favorite music.

37. Once in a while, take the scenic route.

38. Send a lot of valentine cards. Sign them, ‘someone who thinks you’re terrific.’

39. Answer the phone with enthusiasm and energy in your voice.

40. Keep a note pad and pencil on your bed-side table. Million-dollar ideas sometimes strike at 3 a.m.

41. Show respect for everyone who works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.

42. Send your loved ones flowers. Think of a reason later.

43. Make someone’s day by paying the toll for the person in the car behind you.

44. Become someone’s hero.

45. Marry only for love.

46. Count your blessings.

47. Compliment the meal when you’re a guest in someone’s home.

48. Wave at the children on a school bus.

49. Remember that 80 per cent of the success in any job is based on your ability to deal with people.

50. Don’t expect life to be fair.