Thank You

29 07 2015

Thank You

In one very special circumstance, these are difficult words for me to say:

I am not a graceful receiver of gifts.

I’m one of those folks who’s always more comfortable with credits on my side of the ledger.

What? LEDGER? What ledger?

You know the one, the mental scorecard we keep that tracks who bought the last round, who baked the last batch of cookies, who held the door last. It’s a deeply ingrained habit for lots of us, especially those of us who have a whit of control freak (or, perhaps, inferiority complex) in our personalities. We want to be sure we do not take advantage of our friends. Even more, we want to be sure our friends never feel that we might be getting more than we give. It’s always all about us, isn’t it?

Well, no, it’s not. Here’s why.

When someone gives you a gift, it is their intention to do something nice for you because they want to do it. It makes them feel happy. There’s no need for reciprocity. As a matter of fact, if you do try to repay the kindness, you ‘ve completely undone the whole damn thing. It’s a GIFT, not a trade!

Stop keeping score with your friends. Loving acts of kindness and generosity are not so trivial as to be counted and catalogued; they are to be appreciated, period. That is how real friends do it. Give gifts for the joy of giving.  Don’t ruin your experience or your friends’ experience by making it a competition.

This afternoon, my dear friend Erica gave me a gift – two glorious hours of her time. She also gave me this stunning home-grown bouquet.7-29 15

I said, “Thank you,” and she smiled. That’s how you do it.

I’m sixty-one years old and I am learning to get over my gift insecurity. If I can do it, so can you.

Nothing But the Truth

22 07 2015

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Most of us over the age of seven have heard this adage and, for the most part, take it seriously. When it comes to infomercials, “Nigerian princes,” or time-share deals; it’s solid gold. Of course, there are times, when we should suspend our skepticism and just revel in a moment of goodness, even if it may have been embellished or just plain made up, if it lifts our spirit.

If, no matter how cute that Photoshopped squirrel with the purple umbrella in your newsfeed, you can’t let go of your cynicism regarding the “too good” stuff, then I have just one request.

Believe the corollary, too.

If it sounds too awful to be true, check your sources before you believe it – especially before you repeat it.

The truth is the best antidote to the fear-driven, hateful things we’re being bombarded with from our radios, televisions, and social media feeds. Yes. I know there are seriously horrible things going on in the world. No, I don’t think the answer is to pretend they don’t exist. I think we owe it to ourselves and our families and our friends, though, to not add to the awful by recycling invented crap that just pisses us all off.

It’s one thing to give up spell-checking and grammar checking – it’s another to give up on facts.

As President Andrew Jackson said, “It’s a little pitchy, Dawg.”

Tune it up.

P.S.  The squirrel with the tiny purple umbrella is (almost) real!

Golden Years

15 07 2015

Let’s talk about old people.

You know, people in their Golden Years.

Those people whose kids are long grown and gone from their care.

People whose faces display the well-worn paths of Time.

People who, at their age, must spend their days eating soft foods and waiting for the Grim Reaper to come calling for them.

I remember being young and dumb enough to have felt an odd mixture of contempt and pity for retirement-agers . . . now, I am one, but this is NOT about me.

This is about my mother.

My mother redefined Golden Years this week, when she won TWO GOLD MEDALS at the National Senior Games in Minneapolis, Minnesota – Ladies Singles Bowling 85-89 age group and Ladies Doubles Bowling  80-84 age group.

Here are the details, with a nod to Sports Center’s format:

Name: Millie Krauss, a.k.a. Mad Mildred

Height: 5’5”

Weight: 140 lbs.

Age: 85, yes, eighty-five!

Sport: Bowling, right handed, four-step approach.

Equipment: 14.5 lb fingertip bowling ball (Most women half her age are rolling balls that weigh less than 12 lbs.)

Mad Mildred, in her quest for gold,  bowled a total of 21 games over 6 days, averaging over 160 per game. (Average for women across all age groups nationally is about 130!) She bested her nearest competition by 30 pins in singles and, with her partner, 99 pins in doubles.

There are many more awe-inspiring things about my mother than her bowling scores, so that should give you an idea of just how spectacular she is. Even a bad photo, like this one my cousin snapped with her phone, is worth a thousand words. It was taken right after Mad Mildred won her singles event and it shows the kind of spirit that inhabits a body that refuses to acknowledge calendar years; the joy of achieving a goal (Hell, the determination to still set goals); and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Mom won 2

As a public service announcement, I’m warning the Grim Reaper that, if he comes for Millie, he’d better be ready to find her, then catch her, and then be prepared for the fight of his career!


We See What We’re Looking For

8 07 2015

In light of all the “stuff” swirling around us – you know, the marriage equality, confederate flag, Women’s World Cup Soccer team’s  (totally unfair)compensation, etc., blah, oy  – let’s step off this wild ride and see if we can’t clear our vision.

Here’s an example of how we can get it wrong.  Thank you, Purple Clover



Let’s try this simple suggestion, made famous by Monty Python – and you may sing if you’re so moved:

Always look on the bright side of life.


Let’s look for the good in our friends, neighbors, family, and ourselves – just for a little while, at least.  Who knows what we might discover when we train our sights on the wonderful things around us.

Everybody whistle!

Speech is Free; Talk is Cheap

1 07 2015

Nothing like a little constitutional quotation to excite you, right? Well, I am going to risk it and cite the First Amendment, my emphasis added:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We’re so accustomed to hearing “Freedom of Speech” – it has become such a familiar defense for all manner of words – that it seems we’ve inappropriately expanded our concept of what it is that the First Amendment guarantees.

Now, I am not a constitutional lawyer, but I can read and this seems pretty obvious. We are free from governmental interference or punishment* to speak our minds . . . even those of us who possess the smallest ones. The First Amendment does not, however, bestow the freedom from any consequences of our speech.

I am free to say that I think left-handed people are stupid. (Note: this is just an absurd example. I know many brilliant left-handed people and plenty of right-handed idiots.) I am free to say it, but I am not free from the backlash that such a ridiculous, but legal-to-say, statement would create for me.

I am constitutionally permitted to be an asshole. That doesn’t mean I should make being an asshole my life’s work. (This might be a good time for me to admit that I believe “It’s legal,” is the absolute lowest possible bar for civilized behavior. Maintaining that as a personal standard is, as far as I’m concerned, equal to graduating from school with a “D” average.)

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences of our speech.

We are free to voice our hopes, beliefs, opinions, frustrations, and desires. We are free to choose the words we use to exercise our First Amendment right: words that acknowledge and respect others whose hopes, beliefs, opinions, frustrations, and desires are very different than ours; or words that belittle, diminish, and disrespect others with whom we disagree.

I am lucky to have smart family members who hold some seriously opposing political beliefs. They speak freely and fiercely, but without rudeness. We learn from these spirited, sometimes heated, civilized conversations. If they chose, instead, to shout in sound-bites and memes, there would be no learning – and no more Thanksgiving dinners.

What good is Freedom of Speech if our words fall on deaf ears?

The English language is powerful and rich and words do matter. Let’s start with the kindest ones. If we need them, as a last resort, the ugly ones will always be waiting for us.

*  Yes, of course, slander and libel, hollering “jiggery pokery” in a crowded theater, and a very few other limits apply.

I’ll Be There for You

24 06 2015

I’ve written and spoken, more than a few times, about the idea of Coach versus Cheerleader – you know, the difference between giving advice and giving support – and why, while both are important facets of partnering and friendship, it’s crucial to know when to play which role.

This post is dedicated to the third C of partnership. My father embodied this role, so it’s only fitting that Father’s Day week, I write about

The Champion.

One of the most impressive things my dad ever said to me – and he was a very smart, kind, and exquisitely funny man – was

I don’t care who’s right or wrong; I’m on your side, Baby.

Can you imagine how safe he made me and my mother and my siblings feel by letting us know – in his words and his deeds – that he was there for us, not matter what kind of mess we’d made, no matter how big the monster chasing us, no matter how many times we’d made mistakes?

This is not to say he was never Coach; he gave wise and well-placed advice. He was also a very sly Cheerleader, master of effective understatement, laced with humor. No, this is not about celebrating a lenient permissive parent; this is about celebrating the total dedication of a man to his family – first, last, and always – and about the profound way that love empowered me. My dad’s been gone for over twenty years, but his wit, kindness, and love will never dim.

Next time your kid, your friend, or your spouse comes to you with a $#it%torm of a problem, try getting in their corner before you get on their case. You can work out the “how’d you get yourself into this mess and how do you plan to get out of it?” later. First, just declare your allegiance. Stand beside them against their bogeyman. All your coaching and cheering that follows will be so much more effective.

You were made to ride that white stallion. Saddle up.

Thanks, Dad.


WIFM* – Worst Station Ever!

17 06 2015

When an organization forms around some shared ideals or goals, the members must surely feel a commitment or calling to the group’s stated purpose; otherwise, why join it? If members believe in the mission of their group, then they must surely believe that advancing the cause of the group will benefit them, if not immediately and obviously, then indirectly or somewhere in the future, right?

Why is it then, that some who readily sign up for membership find it so hard to remember that?  Lately, I’ve had more than my fill of WIFM* encounters within an organization to which I belong, so when the talented jewelry artist Holly Ginsberg Gage posed this question on Facebook, it resonated loud and long:

What do you think it means to be part of a community?

Here is my reply:

To really be able to claim you are part of a community, you must be able to put the good of the group ahead of your own personal gain, once in a while. In fact, it becomes your own personal gain when your community is bettered, so it’s a (sometimes future) win-win. Community has to mean more than the sum of its parts.

You might play a wicked clarinet, but without the brass, percussion, and the rest of the woodwind section, that awesome Sousa march won’t be heard.

Without ten other players on his team, the world’s greatest quarterback won’t amount to a thing.

Life is filled with tiny iterations of these obvious scenarios; because they are small does not mean they are insignificant. If you like the music, but can’t play, you can stand and applaud. If you can’t run a 4.2 forty, you can buy a booster card from your local eighth-grade tailback.

There is no doubt that, in our own heads, our lives are all about us; we would feel pretty naked and helpless, though, without our supporting cast, so don’t take them for granted.

Whether it’s a family, a club, a neighborhood, state, or country; strengthening the group(s) to which we belong makes perfect sense, even looking through the WIFM* prism. We just have to look . . . past our own noses.


The “star” of this pyramid is at the top, but only with the assistance of the beautiful bases. My friend Holly Hollenbaugh-freundel’s sweet daughter Chloey’s smile is clear evidence there’s plenty of joy to share!






* What’s in it for me?



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