Mistakes and Missteps

When I was a child, my mother was the Editor-in-Chief of our local newspaper. My dad also worked, which meant that I had to be dropped off at my babysitter’s house during the week. My babysitter was a stay-at-home mom with kids of her own, so it all worked out.

One day Mom came early to pick me up. That day there were a few neighbor ladies there having coffee and cake. One of the women had her little girl with her; she was probably about 18 months old. She had three fingers on one hand, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Mom was invited to join the ladies and have coffee, which meant I had more playtime. I remember being happy about the extra time, and pulled on my mother’s skirt and said, “Look, Mommy! That baby only has three fingers!” And I ran off to play.

On the way home, Mom told me that my comment had hurt the baby’s mother, and that what I said was rude. I remember feeling two emotions at once; 1) I had only wanted to be the one to tell my mother in case she hadn’t noticed that the baby only had three fingers, and 2) shame that I had hurt someone’s feelings.

How many times have we hurt someone’s feelings when we didn’t mean to? To this day, I remember how I had inadvertently made that poor mother feel even worse than she did already. Back then in the ’50s, there wasn’t a whole lot to be done with children born with deformities. I often wonder how that little girl made out in life.

We do a lot of things in life that we regret later; it’s simply part of being human. I think that the first time we know, that we fully understand that we have hurt someone; it is an eye-opening moment. With it comes not only shame but realization that we have the power to hurt someone. This “ah ha” moment can be the turn in the road that makes our lives better or worse.

Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes and missteps, and take the path that is nurturing and kind instead of mean and hurtful. We have the power to go either way. For me, that baby was my turning point. Wherever she is today, I hope that she has a good life and that having three fingers on one hand never held her back.

We can be so much more than our mistakes and missteps.


Hot Pepper Man

At one point in my life, I lived in Texas for several years; first Dallas, then San Antonio, then Austin, and then Garland. I grew to love that state, and even though I missed the Northeast and its four beautiful seasons, I found a lot to love in Texas.

When my first husband and I first lived in Dallas, we took a trip to Scottsdale, AZ. He spent the days playing golf, and I took several little trips of my own. One of those trips was a desert tour, which turned out to be amazing.

I had always thought that deserts were dry and uninteresting, but our guide was quick to point out the subtle beauty of it. He showed us various treasures; a tiny elf owl, peering out of a small hole in a huge saguaro cactus, a vibrant red flower on a small cactus, a silver-blue snake of river in the middle of all that dry earth, and more.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day in the desert, and, on the way back to the hotel, I treated myself to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. I don’t think I have ever had such wonderful food as I did at that little hole-in-the-wall place. Their salsa alone was a masterpiece.

Later on, I got talking with the manager. He and his family had emigrated from Mexico, and had started their restaurant with his wife and four sons. When he found out that I wasn’t a Texan, he told me some stories about some of his Texas customers, especially the one he called “Hot Pepper Man.”

“The Texans, they brag about how hot they like their food,” he chuckled. He told me about a man from San Antonio who bragged at the bar that no one could make chili hot enough for him; he loved hot, spicy food.

So the manager, who at the time was serving him drinks, asked him if he would like to try some of his home-grown chili peppers. The Texan slapped the bar, and said, ‘son, there isn’t a pepper hot enough for me. I’ve eaten them all!’

The manager reached into his pocket and pulled out two small peppers, one red, one green. He passed them to the Texan saying, “you want hot; try these–I grow them myself.”

The Texan grinned, and popped both of them into his mouth. As he crunched them up, his eyes began to water. The manager asked if he was all right, and he nodded his head. By this time the man was sweating profusely. He tried to speak, bur couldn’t.

He turned to walk out of the bar, tripped and fell. He pulled himself up, got through the door, then fell again. As he stumbled out into the parking lot, he fell again. Picking himself up once more, he headed to his motorcycle, sat on the seat and fell over, motorcycle and all.

The manager took pity on him (after he finished laughing), and brought the man a slice of bread (to cut the heat of the peppers) and a bottle of water.

“Amigo,” he said, “bread first to stop the burn; then water.”

An hour later the man was recovered enough to drive himself home, but the manager said he never returned for more hot peppers or chili. As we both laughed, he said “Guess he finally found a pepper tougher than he was.”

That was sort of a peak experience for me during my first-ever trip to the beautiful state of Arizona. I have told this story many times, and it always makes me laugh. If I am ever tempted to brag about anything I’ve said or done or eaten, I remember the Hot Pepper Man.




Reflections on Overdoing It

Back in college, I and my friends did a fair amount of drinking. We sometimes went to parties at fraternities and sororities, but the best fun was when we gathered at a friend’s house just off campus. She and her husband weren’t much older than we were, and we had some good times there.

We would bring spaghetti and sauce and garlic bread, and they would supply the salad, drinks, and dessert. We listened to our favorite records, danced, told jokes, and had a lot of fun.

At one memorable party around Halloween, our hosts invented a new drink sensation called Green Machines. Basically it was the cheapest vodka they could find, lime soda, and at least four gallons of lime sherbet floating on top like lost islands.

All of this mix went into a brand new clean (and green) plastic garbage bin. (Note: any drinks made in a garbage bin, no matter how new or how clean, means that you are going to drink far more than you need to, and wake up with a pounding headache.)

There was also a big plastic dipper hanging off the side of the bin. You could either drink from the dipper, or pour yourself a cup; either way, we always drank too much.

One morning after, when my friends and I were moaning about our headaches and chewing aspirin, we came across the following song, which still cracks me up to this day:

“*One evening in October

When I was five fifths sober

Taking home a load with manly pride,

My poor feet began to stutter

So I lay down in the gutter,

And a pig come up and lay down by my side.

Then we sang it’s all fair weather

When good fellers get together,

Till a lady passing by was heard to say,

‘You can tell a man who boozes

By the company he chooses,’

So the pig got up and slowly walked away.

Yes, the pig got up and slowly walked away

Yes, the pig got up and without a word to say.

He looked at me and thought

That he would leave me where I lay

And that same old pig a lesson taught to me,

And that was not to be a bigger pig than he

So I hopped next day on the water cart to stay

Since the pig got up and slowly walked away!”

I have always remembered this song, and have never had a drink out of a garbage bin since.

You have been warned.

*As recorded by JOHNNY BOND

Stop Pulling Your Own Strings!

I have a confession to make: I am a former (and trying hard not to be a present) string puller. When I think of all the time and effort that I put into trying to manipulate people and circumstances into what I wanted, I can only laugh at my idiocy.

What a wasted effort it is to try to wrestle things into the way we feel that they should go! Honestly, it’s like that old saying that you can’t teach a pig to sing—it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

So, what do we do when we feel that we must run everything ourselves; when we try to pull our own strings? Certainly we can do lots of positive things for ourselves on a daily basis; eat healthy food, drink lots of water, do moderate exercise a few times a week, maintain our homes, vehicles, etc.

But what about those things that are not so positive that we do to ourselves?

What about all the worrying we do? I don’t know about you, but when I allow my mind to spin out of control, then visions of home invasions, terrorism, hurricanes, hacked bank accounts, lost pets, deadly diseases, a huge meteor smashing into the earth, crop failures and the zombie apocalypse dance crazily in my head. (Well, not all at once—that really would be nuts!)

Since I can let myself become a card-carrying over-thinker, here are some things I’ve learned that really do help:

  • I’ve said this before and still stand by it; call on good old archangel Michael for help. My morning plea to him is always this: “dear archangel Michael, please take any bothersome, worrisome, disturbing thoughts out of my head and keep them out, please.” Just saying this out loud creates comfort; you have done something to drive the spooks out of your head, and you will feel better just knowing that.
  • Clear yourself: either sitting or standing, bring your left hand up to your right shoulder and brush down the length of your arm to your fingertips. Repeat on the other side. Now use your left hand to “pop” energy out of each finger on your right hand; just hold the end of each finger and perform a short pulling motion (that’s the “pop”) on each finger. Repeat on the other side. This releases energy and helps clear your mind. You may also place one hand on the top of your head, put your fingers together (as you would if you were picking a flower) and press down. Now pull your fingers up to “pop” energy from your crown chakra.
  • Say to yourself at least 15 times out loud, “all is well.” Simple, but effective.

Let’s face it, things aren’t always going to go our way; that’s how life is. The trick of it all is to learn from what first appears as a setback. Example: when I was let go from my job last September, I was hurt, angry and upset that no one would tell me what I had done wrong (if indeed I did do anything wrong). Quite frankly, it hurt my feelings and made me doubt my skills.

Well, I chewed on that for months. But I knew pretty quickly that losing that job was a gift from the Universe. Mom had just been placed in home hospice, and Dad and I were caring for her.

There is no way I could have kept that job and helped my mom and dad. Losing that job was a gift and a blessing. It was just as if some intelligence had said, ‘ok, you are going to be very busy for a while, and you need to clear your time to be with your folks now.’

Because I lost that job, I had many lovely days and nights with my mom and dad. I was able to help out and support my dad, the main care taker; as well as spend precious time with my mom. I can honestly say that I am grateful to have lost that job; I would have missed out on so much. Besides, what’s more important; family or a job?

So how about we all just stop pulling our own strings. There are a great many positive things that we can do for ourselves, but when things become overwhelming, we need not worry. Worrying without a plan is time-wasting and just fritters away our lives.

When I hear or read anything disturbing, I ask myself if there is anything that I can do about it. Nine times out of ten, there isn’t. So then why worry about it? Be informed, be aware, be careful, be smart, certainly.

But let’s leave those strings of ours alone, shall we?


What I Learned From Being a Waitress

When I was in high school, it was expected that you would get a summer job so that you could save money for college, pay for your first used vehicle, or just add to your savings account. I decided to apply for a waitress position at our local burger and ice cream restaurant. It was considered THE best place to waitress; the owners were wonderful people, the pay was good, tips guaranteed that you never had empty pockets, the food was excellent, and it was a good way to prepare yourself for the work place out in the world.

I applied for and got the job, and immediately starting training. You may be saying at this point; “training?! How hard is it to take orders, bring the food, and clear the table afterward?” Well, you’d be dead wrong about that. The owners were friendly but strict, and kept to a good work ethic. Their training was not just about serving food; it was all about being professional at any job. They had a code of behavior that included these tenants:

  • Your white blouse and blue and white flowered skirt were to be clean and fresh each day.
  • Your white sneakers were to be spotless always.
  • Your hair was always neat and clean, and while a small amount of jewelry and light makeup was acceptable, long painted fingernails were not; they felt it looked unhygienic.
  • There was absolutely no gum chewing or swearing. Ever.
  • Your manner was always polite, respectful and friendly. If you knew your party, you greeted them by name. If you didn’t, you addressed them as “folks,” “sir,” or “ma’am.” You did NOT call them “guys” or “honey” or “sweetheart.” That was considered too forward and also rude.
  • You quickly learned the shorthand of taking orders. For example, a lamb dinner with a salad and side of squash was written down as “lam-sal-sqsh.” A sundae made with butter pecan ice cream and penuche sauce with no whipped cream was “B-pec pen, no whip.” After a week, it became second nature.
  • You were polite not only to the customers but to the cook, the bar folk who handled the ice cream, sauces, and so on.
  • You helped out wherever you could; including picking up dishes from another waitress’s table when she was overwhelmed, cleaning up spilled drinks and food to avoid someone slipping and falling; all the time with a smile on your face.
  • If you had no tables, you stacked mats and napkins; that is, you made easily-picked up mats with napkins to save time when it got busy. Or you cleaned the bathroom, or swept the floor–anything, just as long as you weren’t just sitting around.

When your food order was ready and the cook called your name, you picked it up as quickly as you could, and thanked the cook. You learned quickly how to balance a tray of food and drinks without spilling a drop or losing your smile. But of course, accidents did happen. I had the biggest and worst accident while working there. Certainly it was the one I remember best.

I had a couple at my table who had driven all the way up from Rhode Island (a long haul up to New Hampshire!) just to have our famous lobster salad and equally famous fruit salad.

A word here about these two dishes: first, they were two of the most expensive items on the menu. They were both large, and there was an entire large lobster’s worth of meat on the lobster salad. The fruit salad was delicious; full of melon, blueberries, pineapple, strawberries, raspberries and grapes, topped with either orange sherbet or cottage cheese. Fortunately, we had one of each left, and the couple was thrilled.

When I picked up the salads (which were quite heavy) along with the drinks, I was heading for their table when a small boy raced toward me and bumped my arm. I tried but couldn’t recover as everything on my tray tilted over to one side, and the very last lobster salad and the very last fruit salad, plus drinks landed with a spectacular crash at my feet. 

The couple saw what happened and were very nice about it, but I felt terrible. And if that wasn’t bad enough, my boss, who had made both salads, happened to see the whole thing. It was so awful that I don’t even remember all the details.

I have a vague memory of my boss going straight to their table as I cleaned up the floor, and telling them something to the effect that he would be calling them just as soon as the salads were available the following week and that they would be made especially for them at no charge.

I don’t even remember what they had to eat after that, or even what happened the rest of that day. But I do remember my boss and his wife coming to me afterward and saying that what happened was absolutely NOT my fault; that it was just one of those things.

Here’s the thing: accidents DO happen and the world doesn’t come come to an end. Although I felt responsible, I knew I couldn’t have avoided that kid–it truly was just an accident. My bosses did not dock my pay; they just told me to go home and clean up (I was wearing a great deal of both salads) and that they’d see me the next day.

My former bosses’ work ethic stuck with me; be nice, be professional, be aware, go the extra mile and remember what you are paid to do. That last one is solid gold: whether you are a waitress or a CEO of a trillion dollar company, if you do what you are paid to do and do it well, you will succeed.

And even if you don’t succeed through no fault of your own, you can walk out with your head held up knowing that you did your best. Perhaps that job just wasn’t your fit. Another good tip I added to my work ethic was this: when being interviewed for a new job and you are asked what happened in the last job, stay positive. Bad-mouthing a former company or boss is a bright red flag to a new boss. You can just smile and say that you and your last boss couldn’t agree on a few key points, but that you are grateful for the experience.

I can honestly say that being a waitress was the best workplace training I ever had. If you’ve never done it, you perhaps won’t appreciate how hard it is to keep up with the orders and keep a smile on your face when someone is blaming you for something you didn’t do (such as preparing your food). Professional is professional, no matter what job you have.

So, as they say at the end of every comedy act, “Don’t forget to tip your waitress!”

“The Four Agreements” Revisited

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the little book called “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz is a great read with great truths. The four agreements are:

  1. “Be impeccable with your word.”
  2.  “Don’t take anything personally.”
  3. “Don’t make assumptions.”
  4. “Always do your best.”

Think about it—if we are impeccable in our word, that is; faultless, flawless, irreproachable, and not liable to sin; we are speaking truth and living in truth. We don’t have to remember what lie we told someone if we are speaking the truth to everyone.

If we don’t take things personally (because things said or done to us are rarely personal), we have a better life. We aren’t constantly hurting from what someone said in carelessness, or feeling guilty for not being the person someone else wants you to be.

If we don’t make assumptions we don’t have to suffer wondering if someone is mad at you, or doesn’t like you, etc. Unless you know for a fact that something is true, making assumptions is like rocking in a rocking chair. You’re doing something, but you’re not getting anywhere.

If we always do our best, we don’t need to worry that we didn’t do enough. If we honestly are doing our best, that is all we can do. There is no virtue in beating ourselves up for things we cannot do.

For years I took so many things personally. It’s still a struggle sometimes, but not taking things personally eventually becomes what you do. I once had a friend who used to tell me that, if only I were a better friend (meaning if only I did things her way and not mine), she would be happier with me. At first I tried my best to be everything she wanted me to be, and all it did was to make me feel constantly resentful–why was I the problem? It took me a long time to realize that she was the one with the problem, not me.

After that, it didn’t take long for me to see the whole truth about this person; 1) that I could never measure up to what she wanted me to be, 2) that she was not capable of seeing her own flaws, and 3) that I had willingly allowed myself to be her scapegoat. Once I knew all that, it was simple to break away. I am sure that to this day, she thinks of me as a deserter and failed friend; that she was absolutely right about everything and I was absolutely wrong about everything, and that I was at fault for leaving the “friendship.”

Here is an excerpt from “The Four Agreements” that I really love:

“If someone is not treating you with love and respect, it is a gift if they walk away from you. If that person doesn’t walk away, you will surely endure many years of suffering with him or her. Walking away may hurt for a while, but your heart will eventually heal. Then you can choose what you really want. You will find that you don’t need to trust others as much as you need to trust yourself to make the right choices.”

I keep a copy of the Four Agreements posted right above my computer. I see it daily, and it reinforces the truth about these statements. Life doesn’t have to be so hard if we can just settle into who we are and live as honestly as we can. I am the first to admit that I am not perfect in this, but each day I am trying.

Remember Yoda from Star Wars who always said, “there is no try, only DO”? Well, I respectfully disagree. Trying is a step in the right direction, and if we try each day, we will eventually get to where we need to be.

Just my two cents.



Rules is Rules!

There used to be a funny commercial about fried chicken franchises; when the customer orders a chicken meal she asks, “What parts of the chicken are in my meal?”

The kid behind the counter replies in a thick southern accent, “Parts is parts.”

As “parts is parts,” I myself go by the “rules is rules” concept. I wish I had a dime for each time the Crankee Yankee breezes through a stop sign in the supermarket parking lot. He says that there are “no rules” for driving in a parking lot (that’s Crankee Yankee-ese reasoning for not stopping at stop signs in parking lots). Sigh. I am a stickler for rules, and whenever and wherever there is a stop sign ANYWHERE,  I stop. Period.

I’m hidebound by rules, and it’s become second nature for me to stop at stop signs, signal well before I turn, let that impatient person behind me on the highway pass me, and so on. Basically when I drive, I want a peaceful ride. I don’t want to assert my dominance over other drivers, or be first to get to the exit or any of that stuff. It’s not that I’m such a wonderful person; I just don’t want stress and anxiety in my life. Following the rules is what helps keep me sane.

However, in order to follow the rules, you first need to know the rules. The first time I had to use a kiosk for parking, I flubbed it up because I didn’t read all the directions. I paid for my parking stub at the kiosk, put the stub in my wallet and went on my merry way. When I returned to the car, I found a PARKING TICKET under my windshield wiper! I thought, ‘but I paid for parking–why’d I get a ticket?’

So I went back to the kiosk, and there in large letters at the bottom of the instructions read “PLEASE PLACE YOUR PARKING STUB FACE-UP ON YOUR DASHBOARD.”

…well, duh. So I went to the local police station, admitted my mistake and showed them my parking stub. The nice man at the counter laughed and said that everyone does that the first time, and that this time there would be no charge. Then his eyes narrowed and he leaned toward me and said, “Now you know how to do it. Don’t mess up the next time.” I assured him that I had learned my lesson.

So, there you go; when you screw up, admit it, learn from it and move on. Rules is rules after all. So yes, I am that annoying person who stops at stop signs, even in a parking lot.

Live with it, Crankee Yankee!