Are you hungry?

In just a few days we will welcome in another brand new year! 2014. Can you believe it? It seems that it was just a “short while” ago that I was introducing you to my project for the year…this blog. I cannot believe the year has gone so fast, and that this week’s post will be my 52nd article. As you know, I began this blog in an effort to focus my mind on some “positives,” week by week, to help me through a difficult period of pain and loss. It has helped me more than I can say, and if the comments, support and encouragement received are indicators of your enjoyment, the effort was more than successful! So, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has followed me in my journey for the entire year. With the passing of one year into the next, what better opportunity to write a story about time?

Have you noticed that all of us complain about not having enough time to get everything done? It seems that the faster I go, the “behinder” I get. Not long ago, I asked a close friend whether she thought I was getting slower, or did I just have more “demands” for my time coming across my desk. Ever the diplomat, she said, “Well, we’re all getting a little slower, but you DO have a lot coming across your desk.” Hmmm…I can remember when I first started my career. I was part of a corporate team responsible for 101 nursing homes in seven states. I was wired!! I could do 3-4 tasks at a time, and not bat an eye. I was in a different city or state every other day. I moved…and I moved fast…I got the job done! I lived and breathed by a watch, clock, and calendar! If I sat down at home to “relax,” I was doing several things at one time while sitting. I could not just sit still, doing nothing for even ten minutes. I was always checking that watch, to make certain I would meet a deadline, or to determine when and where I needed to be next.

When I finally resigned from the company that I had worked with most of my adult life, and started a business with a friend of mine, I was determined that I would truly stop rushing all of the time and learn how to relax. It was one of the hardest things I have ever attempted to do in my life. I really could NOT sit still for ten minutes. So, I was determined…I began timing myself…it was MISERABLE! I tried and tried to relax and have more time for doing the things I enjoyed, but I was not being very successful.

One day I was with a friend, and I had forgotten to wear a watch. I kept asking her what time it was. She asked me why I needed to know the time. I told her that I needed to know if it was time to eat lunch. She looked at me with a perplexed expression, and asked, “Are you hungry?” And at that very moment, with that very statement, everything slipped right into perspective for me! I realized that I was letting a little electrical mechanism control every second of my life! Did I really need a small attachment to my wrist to tell me when I should eat, or go to bed, or do anything? So, the watch came off! And it has stayed off! I only use it now to make certain I begin and end my speaking engagements on time. The change in my life was wonderful! I can now actually sit for long periods of time relaxing. I now make choices on how I truly want to spend my time, and with whom I want to be with. I make my time count…for me. 

Time is so precious, and is gone before we realize it. All of us have the very same amount of time each day…24 hours. What makes the difference in what can be accomplished in that time is YOU and your CHOICES! You can choose to take on so much responsibility that you will never get it all done. You will always come up short, because simply put, you have too many irons in the fire! Or, you can decide what is truly important and worthy of your precious time, and use it wisely to pursue those efforts. In other words, make your time “count.” One of my favorite sayings comes from the prophet, Kahlil Gibran, who said, “For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live.” “Hours to live…not to kill…” What a wonderful statement and premise. This year I’m not making any resolutions. (I never have done that, to be honest.) I am simply going to spend my time with “hours to live,” and I am going to keep the watch off of my arm, and eat when I am hungry. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

Are YOU talking to ME????

Throughout my career, I have had the pleasure of going to every state within the United States, with the exception of Alaska (on the bucket list…). Within each state I have found wonderful, caring people, who have been supportive and loving throughout the years. I have NEVER met anyone, from any part of the country, that “fit” a TV stereotype. I think that most people are inherently good and honest, and will treat you, and respond to you, in a like manner if you extend your own warmth and hospitality. However, I do have some stories…

We were traveling around the country on business in our motor home. We were in one of the states that won’t allow you to fill your own gas tank. You must wait in line, the attendant will motion when they are ready for you, you pull up, and they will fill your tank. We had been driving for quite a while, and as we were motioned up to our “spot,” I got out to stretch my legs and talk with the female attendant. As we were talking, a couple in a convertible BMW whipped out of line, went ahead of several other cars, and pulled into the spot right in front of our motor home. As they did this, the attendant said something under her breath very derogatory about the persons in the car, and their actions. The female passenger in the car heard the comments, and thought I had said them. She almost did not wait for the car to stop…she hopped out with a look of pure hatred and anger on her face…and strode right up in front of me. She did not even give me a chance to say hello or any other type of greeting. She began “cussing” me up one side and down the other. As I stood there listening to her ranting and raving, I began to get angry myself, and thought, “just who does she think she is?” and “I did not do or say anything…” So as she was ranting and raving, I realized I had a choice. I could get caught up in her anger and negativity, and let it ruin the rest of the trip for me, OR I could have a little fun with the situation. 

When she got through with her tirade, I looked at her kinda perplexed and went into my “dumb Southerner routine….” (You already know I have a southern drawl, but did you know I can ACCENTUATE that particular “asset” when necessary?) I looked at her for a moment and said, “Ma’am, Ah am soooo sorry, but Ah dint quite ketch whut you sed. Cud you tell me agin so I can get it?” She was so startled that she began repeating everything again!! She was so upset, spittle was spewing forth from her mouth! When she got through with the second tirade, I scratched my head, a little like Forrest Gump, and said, “Ma’am, Ah don’t mean to be stoopid, but Ah still dint get everthin you sed. If youns would tell me one more time, I promise to concentrate really hard and try to get what your sayin.” She threw up her hands and walked off! As she walked off, under my breath, I said, “Got cha’!” It has been a good story and a lot of laughs throughout the years.

Every day we make choices about how we will act or respond to others. Some times they get the best of us, and drag us down to their level. Other times we take the higher road and choose not to let the other person impact our day negatively. Understand this, you are ALWAYS in control of your reactions and responses. You are the only person making the choice. I don’t know about you, but I will NOT be driven to make choices that are not my own. My actions will NOT be determined by another person…that will ALWAYS be up to me! I think I will continue to take the “high road.” I will sleep better each night, and I will always have something to laugh about. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

You stole something from someone???

Hope everyone has had an excellent week! I cannot believe we are in August already. WHERE did the summer go? School is upon us, so I thought another “going to school” story would be in order…

I have twin sisters who are three years older than me (something I like to remind them of on occasion…). Being older meant they got to go to school before me. They would come home each afternoon telling me of all the activities, events, and fun times they were having. I just could NOT wait until I was old enough to go to school. I pictured myself sitting in a little desk, learning how to write, add and subtract, having such fun at recess, and making a lot of new friends. The day finally came around and my dream came true…I was going to school! For some reason, however, it just did not turn out as I had planned. I got THREE zeros (out of a possible score of 100), AND I got a spanking on the first day! You won’t be able to guess what it was for….OK, I’ll tell you…TALKING!!

We were in our little reading circle, and the teacher was called out of the room for a moment. Before she left, she told us to remain quiet (which I guess is the meaning of “not talking”). Of course, as soon as she vacated the room, I could not possibly have sat there and kept my mouth shut. (Those of you who know me personally, know this to be true…) I started talking, and as a result, all of us in the reading circle were talking when the teacher returned. She simply went over, got her little paddle, and “made the circle,” lightly tapping each of our legs. I was devastated! However, I learned a valuable lesson that day: you don’t talk when the teacher leaves the room and has told you NOT to talk. As an aside, I will tell you that throughout my school years, I had to write the sentence, “I will not talk in class.” about a zillion times…And by the way, I ended up having the teacher, Ms. Bertie, for first and second grade, and loved her so much that we kept in contact till her death (and she lived to be 90+). She taught me more than I can convey, but that is not really the story for this week. It is just the “lead in.”

My family was poor. We never lacked food or clothing, or any other item that was a “necessity,” however, there was never any money left for “frivolities.” We were rich in family and love! (And to be honest, I did not KNOW we were poor until I became an adult…) When I went to school that first year, I saw students who had EVERYTHING…the neatest erasers, the neatest notebooks, the neatest book sacks. As a young child, it was extremely hard not to notice those things. This one kid (and I will be honest, I cannot remember whether it was a boy or girl) had a way cool notebook. I would watch them open it, write in it, close it, and place it in the little “cubby hole” under their desk seat. I coveted that notebook. I dreamed about that notebook. I wanted that notebook. And I was going to get it….One day, the notebook was left out, unattended. No one was in the classroom, and certainly no one was watching me. I grabbed that notebook, placed it in my little cubby hole, and sat with my jacket covering the seat of my desk, so that no one could see the stolen item. The minute I took it, I felt horrible; however, I wrapped it up in my jacket and took it home with me. Once I got the notebook home, I hid it in my room from my sisters and parents. I could not even look any of them in the eye. I was so ashamed of what I had done, that I could not tell anyone about it…and I certainly could not USE the notebook. I was so filled with guilt and remorse, and I couldn’t return the stolen property, without confessing what I had done, so I just threw the notebook away where no one would find it. I never stole anything from anyone EVER again for the rest of my life. Lesson learned.

Now here is the kicker to that story…to this very day, I wish I could have confessed to that person, and asked their forgiveness. If I knew who the person was, I would track them down, right now, tell them the story, apologize, and ask them to forgive me. It has bothered me that much! There are very few incidents in my life that I regret, but this is one of them…I knew right from wrong, and I knew that you NEVER took something that did not belong to you. It was not, and is not, who I am. You see, I DO have a conscience. I think you should earn what you have, not just take it from someone else. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

I did what you said….

It seems that it is back to school time…everyone is rushing around trying to enjoy the last few days of “summer freedom,” and parents are attempting to clothe and “supply” their children in order to be ready for that first day… No matter how old I get, I still think that I should be getting ready to go back to school when it nears September. Just to let you know how bad I am about this, and how strong that “pull” is for me, I will share a little secret. At this time of year, when I go into a store, I find myself invariably drawn to the school supplies aisle. I will pick up those “composition books,” new pencils, etc. and hold them to by nose and just breathe in that wonderful smell of “school.” I’m sure I have been flagged in numerous stores as “that woman who sniffs the school supplies.” She’s baaaccckkkk…. So, of course, this week’s post is about school….

My Mother told me that when I was five years old, she was cooking dinner, and I walked up to her at the stove and said, “When I grow up, I am going to college.” Now, I don’t know how on earth I even knew what a college was. We were poor, lived on a farm, and had no TV. However, she said that she never doubted for a moment that I would go, and that I would attain that goal. Twelve years later, I was off to college. I got grants, scholarships, and worked constantly to pay my way through. I did attain that goal. Upon graduation, I was determined to work in my field of education and make a career for myself. I attained that goal. I said that I would have my dream car, a midnight blue corvette, five years after graduation. I attained that goal also. You see the pattern here; right? It started very early for me…

My grandmother had a sister, whose name was Mabel. However, EVERYONE called her “Spunk.” So, to me, she was Aunt Spunk. When I entered the first grade, she told me that if I made all A’s the entire year, that she would give me a dollar. Now, it may not sound like much money to you, but to a five-year old back then, a dollar was a lot of money!! So I worked hard all year, and sure enough…I made all A’s. The first thing that I did when I got the report card was write a letter to my Aunt. My mother did not know anything about the letter – I just “took care of business” on my own. So the letter went something like this….”Dear Aunt Spuck, I made all As. Send me that doller.” I addressed the envelope to “Ms. Spuck,” with no street address, but I did write the town (it was a different one from where I lived) and state with no zip. She got it!! In the return mail, I got her congratulatory letter AND the dollar!! I was so pleased with myself. Fast forward sixteen years later and I was graduating from college. My Aunt Spunk gave me a wonderful graduation gift, and secretly hidden within the gift was the envelope and letter that I had sent her sixteen years earlier, asking for that “doller.” She had kept it throughout the years to give to me, and I still have it today. It serves as a reminder that if you set goals, and work hard, you can attain pretty much whatever you want…

I don’t understand how people get anything accomplished if they never establish goals. Every few years I will ask myself…is this what you wanted?…do you want to change anything or do anything differently?…is there something else you want to accomplish? It is a bit of hope, faith, dreams, belief in one’s self, and a LOT of hard work! As “cliche” as it sounds, today really is the first day of the rest of your life. What are you doing with it? OR what do you WANT to do with it? I want to make the most of my life…and I work at it every day…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

What? You want to pay for that???

A number of years ago, my nephew was getting married, and he and his fiancé had registered at a number of stores for their wedding gifts. As this was a second marriage for both, they did not need “newlywed” items, and were very “specific” as to what they wanted. One of the items they wanted was a microwave. I thought this would be a perfect gift from Aunt Cat…

I made the trip to the local Walmart and found the perfect microwave. Of course, as anyone knows, you cannot go into Walmart and purchase just one item, so I ended up with a buggy full of merchandise. As is my usual habit, when it came to check out, I chose a cashier that “liked to visit” as she rang the items up for sale. (I, myself, like to chat a little as I am spending money…) So, she and I were running our mouths, a mile a minute, as she scanned each item of merchandise. I paid the amount indicated, and then made my way to the exit. Before I could get out the door, my items and receipt were checked by the “greeter” as I left the store. Of course, I was busy talking with her also….

As I was walking to my car, I had a nagging thought that the amount that I had paid just did not seem “right.” It bothered me to the point, that I stopped right in the middle of the parking lot, and pulled out my receipt to “double-check” the total. As I was reviewing the charges, I determined that although the cashier had scanned the microwave, it did not register on the receipt. To my alarm and dismay, I realized that I had unknowingly walked out of Walmart without paying for that microwave. I was beside myself!! Now, there a number of people who would have said, “Wow, their mistake…I just got a free microwave!” However, I could not do that! 

I turned around to go back into the store. I ran into problems with the official Walmart greeter. The conversation went something like this…Greeter: “Honey, did you forget something?” Me: “No, I just need to go back in to pay for this microwave.” Greeter: “What??” Me: “I checked out, but the scanner did not pick up the microwave. I did not discover this till I got outside and I need to go back and pay for it.” Greeter: “You left the store without paying for a microwave??” Me: “Yes, Ma’am. The cashier scanned it, but apparently the scanner did not pick it up. I thought I had paid for it. I just need to go back in to pay for it.” Greeter: “You got to the parking lot without paying for a microwave?” Me: “That’s right! Can I just go back in now?” Greeter, hugging me: “You sure can, honey, and bless your heart!”

The next hurdle was the customer service rep. The conversation went like this…Rep: “Can I help you?” Me: “Yes, Ma’am. I need to pay for this microwave.” Rep: “You want to return the microwave?” Me: “No, Ma’am. I need to pay for it.” Rep: “What do you mean you want to pay for it? Let me see your receipt.” Me: “The receipt will show that the microwave was not paid for.” Rep: “I don’t understand.” Me: “I purchased the microwave, or thought I did, but the scanner obviously did not pick it up. I got out of the store thinking that I had paid for it, but realized that the total amount was wrong once I reached the parking lot. I came back in immediately to pay the correct amount.” Rep: “You got out of the store without paying for the microwave?” Me: “That’s right! I’m not sure how it happened, but there it is!” She looked back and forth from me to the microwave to the receipt, and finally said, “Just go over to the cashier that checked you out, and she will take care of you…and bless your heart!”

I finally arrived at the cashier who had checked me out. She recognized me and our conversation went like this…Cashier: “Is something wrong?” Me: “When you checked me out, the scanner did not pick up the microwave. I did not realize this until I got outside.” Cashier: “What??” Me: “I got out of the store without paying for this microwave. I just need to pay for it.” Cashier: “The door checker did not catch it?” Me: “No, Ma’am. I did not discover it until I got to the parking lot.” Cashier: “And you came back inside to pay for it?” Me: “Yes, Ma’am! Can we please do this now?” Cashier: “We sure can! Thank you so much for coming back in! Not everyone would do that.” Me: “I could do it no other way!” Cashier, shaking her head, with a smile and a hug, “BLESS YOUR HEART!!”

I found the entire incident hilarious, but also sobering. Is honesty so hard to be found nowadays? Is it so hard to believe that someone would “do the right thing?” The staff could not get over the fact that I actually had “gotten away” with unpaid merchandise, and came back into the store to pay for it. I was taught that you pay for what you take…no ifs, ands or buts. I would not have been able to lay down and sleep that night, or look myself in the mirror had I done anything differently. I am far from perfect, but I DO know right from wrong. People think that dishonesty only applies to large items or events…that the “little things” just don’t matter that  much. My Mama used to say “in for a penny, in for a pound.” I got that message and lesson…I won’t be “in for a penny…” Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

Please, don’t let me die alone…

When I first started working in nursing homes, my background and education was in social work. Oh, the plans I had in my head regarding this profession and career. I was going to blaze new paths for the field of social work…I was going to “save the world”…I was going to solve people’s problems and make all of their lives so much better. Initially, I found this “mission” to be a little harder than I had anticipated. Each day I learned that there was quite a bit of knowledge that I needed, that could not be found in any textbook. Much of what I did in the beginning was “trial by fire.”

Just as an aside, you need to know…People who work with elders, especially those precious ones who live in nursing homes, find that it is possible to have a few “favorite” people who are in their care…those individuals who you automatically “connect” with…they need and give just a little extra loving and affection. They may have no family at all. They may have been abused. They may simply be wanting to be loved. For whatever reason, you find that you form a strong bond with these wonderful, old people. The professionalism comes into play in that the “favoritism” is never shown, especially in front of other residents. They are all cared for, loved, and attended to the very same. At least in my buildings they were!!

There was a very tiny African American lady that became a “favorite” of mine. She had no family that I could find, and absolutely no one ever came to visit her. We became fast friends, and would spend time each day singing old Spirituals and visiting. Oh, how she loved to sing! When she saw me coming around the corner of the hallway, her eyes would light up, and she would grin from ear to ear. One day I arrived at work to discover that she had a massive stroke the night before and was in the hospital. She was dying, and they returned her to the only home and family that she knew at that time…us! She had a tube in her nose, made horrible gurgling sounds, body-jerked a lot from fear, and her eyes would dart around…just practically scared to death! I would hold her hand, stroke her hair, and try to give comfort as best I could. However, I knew that I was NOT meeting her needs. It kept me awake for a number of nights. One night, I sat straight up in my bed, with a good plan of action for the next day… and it did NOT come from a textbook. It just felt like the right thing to do.

I walked into her room, took my shoes off, climbed up into the bed with her, put my arm under her, placed her head on my shoulder, and held her just like a mother would a child. I began singing to her very gently. She stopped jerking, her eyes stopped darting around, and for the first time since she had returned from the hospital, her breathing came easy and she slept. I began doing this several times a day, as often as my schedule would allow. She ended up dying in my arms one morning. She finally found the peace that she so needed, and I felt that I had been able to give her a gift in dying, just as she had given me a gift in living.

We mostly overlook those people who have lived long, full lives, and have now outlived everyone they know. For them, there is no one to say to, “remember when we…” There are no shared memories. They are truly and forever alone. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of loneliness that they must feel and face each day. Each one of you reading this post has the ability to give just a little back to these precious elders. How about spending a little time with an old person? Visit with them, take the time to get to know them, and learn from them. You may find a love and friendship that just might mean more to you than you could possibly imagine. And what it means to them is indescribable. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

You’re not smart enough to do that….

Not too long ago, I gave the opening keynote at a large state association annual conference. The title of my session was: “The Power at Hand.” Basically, I explain to people how much power they have within themselves (most don’t realize this…), and I encourage them to discover that power, and use it for good in their own lives…and subsequently, impact the world in which they live. As is the norm in these type of situations (and a part of my work that I love…), attendees will come up after the session, introduce themselves and we “visit” for a little while. The same routine was occurring at the end of this particular presentation.

As I was talking with some of the people, I noticed a lady over to the side, by herself, waiting to talk with me. She was crying. She very patiently waited for all the other people to leave, and she slowly made her way to me. As she walked towards me, she went from silently crying to almost convulsive sobs. When she got within reaching distance, I stretched out my arms to this perfect stranger, and clutched her to my chest, just like a mother trying to comfort a child. I let her sob for quite a few minutes. 

As the sobs began to subside, she began to tell me her story. The first words out of her mouth were, “I ALWAYS wanted to be a nurse.” I looked at her and asked the obvious question, “Why did you not become one?” She looked at me so pitifully and said that when she was in high school, the career counselor told her she was not smart enough to be a nurse. My first reaction to this revelation was one of total and complete sorrow. The second reaction was one of righteous ANGER!! I wanted vengeance for this woman…I wanted to correct the situation…I wanted that “career” counselor to grovel, prostrate, in front of this broken women, and beg for her forgiveness. But, being the professional that I am, I did not indicate any of that. I realized that the words I spoke to this sweet, sweet woman, were going to be just as important as the words of that high school counselor. 

With my arms still around her, I asked, “What is your current position?” She said, “I am Supervisor of the Activity Department at a nursing facility.” I then asked a question that I already knew the answer to, “Do you have annual state and federal surveys (inspections)?” She indicated that she did. I asked, “Have you ever received a deficiency, or citation for noncompliance?” She said, “No, never!” And then I said, “Then you must be pretty smart! I know the regulations, as well as the survey process, and I am quite aware that an unintelligent person would not be able to pass those surveys.” She looked at me as if she had never thought of that, and said, “You’re RIGHT!!” We talked for quite a while longer, and then I told her that she could still become a nurse if she wanted to…that she had time to do so. I also encouraged her to stop giving that old high school counselor the “power” over her life and how she perceived herself. We parted ways at the end of our conversation…her, a much happier, determined woman…me, a little sadder that she had lost so many years, believing the words of a “professional in authority,” yet, I was also a little happier in that I do believe the words I used actually helped her realize the possibilities and potential of her life.

What words of encouragement to others have you used today? I hear parents telling children how dumb they are, how they are “driving them crazy,” how “bothersome” they are…and my heart breaks for that child. I hear couples continually finding fault with each other, using words and “negatives” to describe actions, intelligence and decisions…and my heart breaks for those couples. I see friends use sweeter words with perfect strangers, just in passing, than they use with the friends of their heart…and my heart breaks for those individuals. A physical blow will at some point heal; that does not diminish its severity. However, words pierce the very souls of children, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends, elders, parents, and even though time heals most incidents, “words” are almost always remembered. What do your words say about you? Do your words encourage and comfort those in your life, or do they continually berate and harm? You see in my story that “words” caused a young person to lose belief in a dream, and impacted how she viewed herself the rest of her life. I want my words to be remembered because they were kind, supportive, encouraging, and most of all…LOVING! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…