On Kindness

I fear that we have become a “me first and the hell with the rest of you” nation. It seems that kindness is getting pretty thin on the ground, and that’s a real shame. I recently read an article about people who recline their seats all the way back on airplanes with no regard for the comfort (and safety) of the person behind them. They don’t even bother to look behind them when they recline.

The person behind the recliner may have a laptop or a cup of coffee on their tray, and so on. Would it hurt to just ask the person behind if it’s ok to recline? We know that, unless you pay for first class seats, you are going to be somewhat uncomfortable. But there’s no need to be selfish and just plop your seat back so that you are comfortable—at the expense of the person behind you.

Then there are the drivers who realize that they are either on the wrong road, or they’ve passed by the store they meant to go to, and so on. In their minds, they think it’s completely fine and dandy to make dangerous moves while driving, such as running through two traffic lanes to get to where they want to go. It’s a risky thing to do and can be quite dangerous. So when you are driving and make a wrong turn by mistake, DO NOT flub up traffic trying to scoot over to another lane. Doing this could cause an accident. Just man up, take a safe turn and get out of traffic; it’s not like a few more minutes of your time is going to kill you. However, doing risky things can kill you or innocent others.

I would hate to see the death of kindness. However, I still believe that many, many people are kind and compassionate. I still believe that kindness still exists. I still believe that, in spite of all appearances, people are basically good. My granddaughters have given me hope and joy in the way that they treat their parents, their friends and each other, and us, their grandparents. They want to help others, they are kind to animals (living on a farm as they do, they love and care for every creature from yaks to chickens), and they believe in the power of goodness.

I still believe that kindness exists. It would be nice to see more of it, but still—kindness is still there. And it can come from unexpected people or places, too. Just yesterday the Crankee Yankee and I drove up to Wolfeboro (NH) to tag the stuff in our storage unit; what to keep and what to auction off. After that, we drove into town and visited the cemetery where my grandparents and parents rest.

I had asked the funeral director who buried my parents when my dad’s military footstone would be placed quite a while ago. But yesterday, there it was. And of course I burst into tears. Just at that time, an older lady drove up (I found out later that she was looking for her own father’s headstone). The lady saw me crying and said, ‘no crying, now; it’s all right.’

And you know what? She was right. Another act of kindness!




Christmas Trees

I put up our little Christmas tree recently; actually, it was the one my parents had; already decorated. The lights still work, and it’s on our bay window, looking as beautiful and bright as always. It seems that, no matter how old we are, we still get that thrill of the first snow fall, putting up the Christmas tree and hanging up the lights. I always hark back to what Christmases were like when I was growing up. On Christmas Eve, my parents and I went to my grandparents’ house. I brought my tiny suitcase as I always stayed over night on Christmas Eve.

My grandmother always made a fabulous seafood chowder (which I now make every Christmas Eve) for supper. It was wonderful, and there were homemade pickles and rolls. Dessert was always something extra special. While the adults sat around the table having coffee, I would go into the parlor where the Christmas tree stood. All the ornaments I loved were on it, and below it was beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts. I would lie down under the tree, and look up at the lights and wonder when Santa Claus would arrive.

When my parents went back home, I got into my nightgown and took my plate of cookies upstairs to what my grandmother called the “pink room.” It was her favorite color, and the walls and ceiling were pink, as was all the bedding. There was a window to the side of the bed, and I always opened it a tiny crack; I loved the smell of the pine trees. I would read until I was tired, and then I would turn out the light, and listen to my grandparents talking.

As I drifted off, I swore that I could hear Santa’s sleigh bells in the night.


Does Anyone Use the Dictionary Anymore?

Ah, the American Heritage Dictionary! Does anyone still use it? I realize that it’s pretty easy to check your device to find the correct spelling of a word, especially something out of the ordinary, such as “haboob.” (From the Weather Channel, “Haboobs are dust storms caused by strong winds flowing downward and outward from thunderstorms.”

“All thunderstorms produce these gusty winds, so for a haboob to form, the storm needs to be in a location where the winds can pick up small particles of dirt or sand in a dry desert area.” Pretty interesting, right? And you can find all this easily in your dictionary.

Way back when I was in grammer school, we learned useful things such as using a dictionary, how to check out a book at the library (as long as you had a library card), and how to understand (and use) the *Dewey Decimal Classification. Another helpful tool was the Thesauras; which offers more than 150,000 synonyms, related words, idiomatic phrases, and antonyms. Words are alphabetically organized for ease of use, and each word comes with a brief definition to describe shared meanings.

Later on in school, we learned about Strunk and White’s . I still have my copy and I use it often. The book’s mantra is still on point:

“This much-loved classic, now in its fourth edition, will forever be the go-to guide when in need of a hint to make a turn of phrase clearer or a reminder on how to enliven prose with the active voice. The only style manual to ever appear on bestseller lists has explained to millions of readers the basic principals of plain English, and Maira Kalman’s fifty-seven exquisite illustrations give the revered work a jolt of new energy, making the learning experience more colorful and clear.”

I realize that we now live in a techno world and can look up things in a flash. But, as an older person, I still love the feel of real pages and the fun of looking up words and phrases. Trust me, there is always something new to learn and appreciate.


*From Wikipedia:

“The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), colloquially the Dewey Decimal System, is a proprietary library classification system first published in the United States by Melvil Dewey in 1876.[1] Originally described in a four-page pamphlet, it has been expanded to multiple volumes and revised through 23 major editions, the latest printed in 2011. It is also available in an abridged version suitable for smaller libraries. OCLC, a non-profit cooperative that serves libraries, currently maintains the system and licenses online access to WebDewey, a continuously updated version for catalogers.”

“The Decimal Classification introduced the concepts of relative location and relative index which allow new books to be added to a library in their appropriate location based on subject. Libraries previously had given books permanent shelf locations that were related to the order of acquisition rather than topic. The classification’s notation makes use of three-digit Arabic numerals for main classes, with fractional decimals allowing expansion for further detail. Using Arabic numerals for symbols, it is flexible to the degree that numbers can be expanded in linear fashion to cover special aspects of general subjects.[2] A library assigns a classification number that unambiguously locates a particular volume in a position relative to other books in the library, on the basis of its subject. The number makes it possible to find any book and to return it to its proper place on the library shelves.[Note 1] The classification system is used in 200,000 libraries in at least 135 countries.[3][4]”

Why We Shouldn’t Yell at Our Pets

I learned the hard way that losing my temper and yelling at my cats doesn’t help them stop bad behavior; it makes them fearful and can make them lose trust. When we first adopted Scooter, a small black cat who is only about four years old, it wasn’t easy to get the other (and older) cats to get used to him. When Scooter would approach one of the cats to play, they would hiss at him and run. It takes time for pets to get comfortable with new pets.

Of course, the inevitable happened; Scooter would approach the other cats and they would either swat him or run from him. When this happened, I would scold the cat that swatted. This did nothing but make all the cats scared. It may sound funny, but I realized that all I was doing was scaring both the swatter and the swattee.

When a new pet comes into a house with already established pets, there is always a learning curve and a lot of getting used to the new pet. For our four older cats, Scooter was an outsider and a pain in the tail. It takes time for the older cats to get used to a new cat, especially a young one. Poor Scooter just wanted to play, but the other cats weren’t having it at all.

When I saw Bailey (who was my mom’s and dad’s cat) swat Scooter, I just lost it. I yelled at him and swatted his tail. Of course the poor thing was terrified and went into hiding. It was then that I had one of those “ah ha” moments: my yelling and swatting was not helping; it was teaching Bailey to be afraid of me.

After I had a good cry over it, I stopped yelling and swatting. I even apologized to all my cats and promised that I would never ever yell or swat them again. (And I know what you’re thinking: ‘oh SURE they listened!’) But I’ve kept my word. Although the four older cats are getting used to Scooter these days, there is always a small dust-up here and there. When I see or hear it, I just say (not shout) “hey, hey—that’s enough.”

Our pets have no idea why we are yelling at them; all yelling does just making them scared. If your dog likes to chew on your leather slippers, put them in your bureau drawer. If your cat just loves to knock your doo-dads off the living room table, then put them somewhere else where the cat can’t get at them.

It does no good at all to yell and tell them that they are bad dogs and cats; they seriously do not have a clue why you are yelling at them. Yelling will just make the pets scared of you, nervous and afraid.

Make sure that your pets have playthings that they like. I’ve never owned a dog so I’m not much help to you on that one. But cats absolutely love catnip toys. We always have “stinky fish” (check them out on Amazon) which are stuffed with catnip. There are also “kicking sticks,” which are long cotton tubes which are also stuffed with catnip. Cats go nuts for them and will amuse themselves for hours. Those plastic “jingle” balls are fun for them as well. Often the cats will play so much that they end up taking a long nap afterwards.

And as for Scooter fitting in with the others; it’s happening. Of course there will be minor dust-ups now and then, but as the months go by, our other cats are becoming more tolerant. I learned the hard way that bullying and yelling and swatting do nothing; all those things only make the cats scared and afraid. I don’t yell any more, and I don’t swat their tails anymore. When a little dust-up happens, I just say “hey now, that’s enough, kids.” Then I pat them and tell them what good kitties they are—now that’s something that they really understand.

Lesson learned: please don’t yell at your pets or swat them.



When Men and Women Travel

I wrote this a few years back, and nothing has changed.

The Crankee Yankee and I enjoy our road trips, and go on them at least a few times a month. Unless we are visiting my step-daughter and her family “up Maine,” we tend to take our time, go on back roads and enjoy the scenery and each other’s company.

However, even with that relaxed scenario and not much of an agenda, there is still that whole “man/woman perspective.” No matter how casual our jaunt is, there are still some unspoken assumptions and expectations. Mine are usually these:

  • That we will take the time to stop at a fun little restaurant or diner for lunch or an early dinner (NOT fast food)
  • That we may stop to check out an interesting shop.
  • That we will take bathroom breaks.
  • That when I say, “oooooh! Let’s stop here!” that we will stop there.
  • That we are some place we don’t always go, so let’s take our time.
  • *That I don’t necessarily have to hear ‘well, we’ve come through here before, don’t you remember?’

That said, the Crankee Yankee (and, I’m betting, most men) feels this way:

  • We are driving to <wherever> to do something, buy something, see something, and that’s IT
  • We may or may not stop for lunch; if we do, McDonald’s is cheap and perfectly fine
  • We are not here to wander around shops all day
  • That if we are going to stop to pee, make it in a place where we have to stop anyway
  • We need to get back before dark

For the Crankee Yankee, it’s all about the journey, not the destination. For me, it’s ALL about the destination. I do enjoy being a passenger and letting someone else worry about the details. So I don’t expect to have to answer an impromptu quiz about routes, back roads and railroad tracks. Sheesh.

Needless to say, there are some lively disputes about this…

Here’s the bald truth: when I am a passenger, I pay no attention to route numbers, road signs, weather vanes, etc. I’m there for the ride and possibly a short nap. If I’m not driving, I’m not paying attention to how we go anywhere. So don’t ask me.

Angels All Around Us

I wrote this a few years ago, but it is still an amazing story.


As we approach the holidays, I am reminded of a show I saw years ago that featured stories about people who claim to have been helped by angels. One story really touched my heart that I have never forgotten. A divorced mother and her young son were living in a cheap apartment,  and money was very tight. She had just lost her job waitressing for a coffee house nearby, and although she had a degree in accounting and an excellent work record, she could not find work in her field. None of her interviews had gotten her any closer to a job offer. Thanksgiving was approaching, and she was worried that she and her son might not be able to celebrate, let alone have a good meal.

Thanksgiving day dawn broke brightly, and there was frost twinkling on the grass. The mother took out three hot dogs from the freezer, plus three rolls. This, and a small can of beans, would be their Thanksgiving dinner.

She took her little boy to the playground, where they enjoyed the swings, the teeter-totter, the little merry-go-round, and several games of tag. They walked home hand-in-hand, laughing. Her little boy was happy, and looking forward to Thanksgiving. The mother was dreading it, as they had so little food.

As they approached the apartment complex, an older woman came out of the apartment above theirs. She greeted them, and asked if they would like to share Thanksgiving dinner with her. It seemed that her whole family was flying in from across the country, and their flight had been canceled.

“Please come in and help me eat up all this food!” the woman said. The young mother stammered, “But we don’t want to impose–what if your family gets another flight?”

The older woman laughed, and said, “With the weather so bad out there, I doubt that I’ll see them for weeks! So, if you don’t come in, all this food will go to waste.”

The mother and little boy looked at each other. The little boy said, “Mom, I’m hungry!” The older woman smiled and said, “Well, there you go. That’s what we need, some hungry people!”

Smiling, she opened the door. The mother and boy walked in and stared.

The table was set with a beautiful white cloth, and the china and glasses glittered in the light. There was a tremendous turkey filled with stuffing, a big bowl of mashed potatoes with butter melting on top, a gravy boat filled with delicious-looking gravy, a basket of hot rolls, a bowl of squash, one of fresh green peas, a crystal dish of cranberry sauce, and, at the far end of the table sat three pies, one apple, one blueberry, and one pumpkin.

They all sat down, said grace and helped themselves. All during the meal, the older woman asked the younger woman about herself, and asked her son about school. The younger woman found it easy to speak with her, and, for the first time since she lost her job, she felt happy and somehow confident that things were going to get better.

As they enjoyed the last crumbs of pie, the older woman insisted on packing up the leftovers for them. She hugged them both, and whispered into the mother’s ear, “everything is going to be just fine; you’ll see.”

After thanking the woman, the mother and son went downstairs to their apartment, put all the food away, and talked about what a good day it had been. For the first time in a long time, the mother slept well and without worry.

The next day after the boy had gone to school, the mother repackaged the leftover food from their meal, and washed and dried all the containers. She put them in a bag, and went upstairs to return them to the kind woman who had fed them. She knocked, but there was no answer. She knocked again and called out, but heard nothing.

The landlord appeared in the stairwell, and said, “No one lives there. Are you looking for someone?”

She explained about how the older woman had had she and her son over for Thanksgiving and that she wanted to return her containers. The landlord scratched his head and said, “That apartment has been vacant for months.”

“But the woman who lives here had my son and I over for Thanksgiving yesterday!” she said. The landlord looked confused and repeated that the apartment had been vacant for a long time.

Troubled, the mother walked downstairs. She knew that the woman had lived there; they had eaten her food, hadn’t they? She even had her containers to prove it! How could this be?

Later that day, she received a phone call from a company who had interviewed her weeks ago. She had given up on it, and had taken the waitressing job to make ends meet. It turned out that they had lost her file and had just located it, and wanted her to start work that week! The salary they quoted was far more than she could have imagined. Happily, she accepted, and hung up the phone.

Then she remembered what the older woman had whispered in her ear; that things would be better. Could it be that an angel had fed her and her son, and given her the job opportunity she needed so badly? There was no explanation for it—or was there?

For me this story makes me both happy and in awe. I do believe with all my heart that angels are around us all the time. They are there to help us along, and sometimes we even get to see them in action.

Wasting Food

I really hate wasting food; I was raised to clean my plate and only take seconds if I was really hungry. To this day, it bothers me when food is wasted. Fortunately, the Crankee Yankee feels the same way. We are both fans of leftovers, and wouldn’t think of tossing anything out of the ‘fridge unless it had “food fur” on it. Both of us were raised in homes where you just didn’t waste anything: sort of like the old Yankee dictum: “waste not, want not;” as in if we don’t waste what we have, we’ll still have it in the future and will not lack for it.

Just yesterday, the Crankee Yankee and I were out doing the shopping, and decided to go out for lunch. We went to one of our favorite seafood restaurants and their special was a crab cake sandwich with cucumbers and fries. It sounded delicious, so we both ordered them.

Our waiter brought our lunch to our table, and, instead of the luscious crab cakes we ordered, we were given grilled salmon sandwiches with cucumbers and fries. Well, they did look delicious, but we really wanted crab cakes. We called the waiter over and he apologized, took the salmon sandwiches back, and put in our original order.

I said to the Crankee Yankee, “you don’t think that they are going to just throw those perfectly good salmon sandwiches away, do you?” We both thought that the wrong sandwiches should end up for the waiter and chef to eat for lunch; why would you throw away two perfectly good and untouched sandwiches?

About fifteen minutes later, our crab cake sandwiches and fries were brought to us. The Crankee Yankee asked if they had thrown away the original sandwiches, and the waiter nodded as if he had done the most noble act a human being could do; the perfectly good sandwiches were indeed thrown away.

While it bothers me no end about wasting food, it could be that this particular restaurant has a policy of not eating “mistakes,” or perhaps there is some rule against eating sandwiches that you did not buy yourself. But sheesh—what an appalling waste of good food!

Ah well, once a Yankee, always a Yankee.