Always Greet Your Customer

The customer is always right. How often have you heard this statement? It’s one of the 3 rules for doing business. Yesterday, our pastor told a story about his grandfather’s store. As a little boy, our pastor asked his grandfather if he could work behind the counter. His grandfather said he could, as soon as he could make change and remember these 3 rules. Always greet the customer. The customer is always right. Always thank the customer for their business.

The point of the sermon was about serving others, but I wanted to jump up and down and applaud when he said, “Always greet the customer.” I should wear a sign around my neck saying those words when I enter a place of business. I have written before about how so many people behind a desk, whether it’s in a doctor’s office or the cashier at the grocery store seem to lose their ability to speak when I approach. I’m not asking for any special attention. Just speak to me. Greet your customer. Say hello, at least, if not, how may I help you, as my pastor was taught as a little boy. How hard is that? It’s not only good business, but it’s so helpful to me. First, it’s the way I know that there is indeed a person there to serve me, answer a question, or direct me someplace. Then I know exactly where the counter is. I have even been in a situation where my sighted companion says to me, here’s someone to help you, and they still don’t speak. I’ve also been introduced to people, people who presumably have a brain, and they remain silent, waiting for me to speak first. I extend my hand, only to find out that they are not in the place I expected them to be, and that’s embarrassing to me. If they could just have the curtesy to say hello, so I know where they are, it would be so easy. It continually baffles me why this seems to be so hard for so many people. I realize that this is the age of visuals, graphics, pictures, and eye contact. But really, has the art of speaking become obsolete?

Mary’s Anti Aging Routine

The soreness in my abdominals this morning told me that I must have done something good yesterday for my body. Let’s see. I got back on my jogging trampoline, and I did a couple of stretches. What did the trick, though, was the core strengthening exercises I have been neglecting. But my annual hiking trip, is coming up in a few weeks, and I need to get in shape. Here are the exercises I think every older person should make as their daily routine. They don’t take long, and they don’t have to be done all at once. Some of them are from AARP, and some are from my physical therapist, and some are from friends who read. Here’s my anti-aging routine. There are 4 exercises, none of which will make you sweat.

For your core: This is the key to success at any physical endeavor. Lie on the floor face down. Now raise yourself up onto your elbows and toes, with your hips off the floor, so your body forms a plank. Just hold that position for 30 seconds. It’s called a plank, and it’s harder than you think. Then collapse for a few seconds and do it again. If you can’t hold it for 30 seconds, start off with 10.

Now do it on your side. Lie on your side, and prop yourself on 1 elbow. Put your other hand on the floor in front of you to get your balance, and then raise your hips off the floor. Put your hand on your hip to strike a pose that says, look at how in shape I am. You should try to make your body as straight as possible. Then switch to the other side.

For your balance: And this is really important for all of us. Stand on one foot near something you can touch. Hold that position for up to 30 seconds, or longer, if you can. Then stand on the other foot. Try to keep your balance without touching the floor with your raised foot or grab onto something with your hand. You might wobble a little, or a lot, but try to right yourself before touching. Again, start with a few seconds at a time. Repeat 3 times on each leg.

For your arms: Don’t you just hate it when your arms aren’t toned. Here, I must apologize to my late mother for all the times as a child, I playfully poked her upper Arms to watch them jiggle. That was so mean. But I vowed to never let my arms get like that. Lifting weights kills my back, so a friend, a physical therapist, suggests this one. Sit in a chair with arms. Using your hands only, push yourself up off the chair, so your bottom is off the seat. Repeat until you can’t do it anymore. For me, I’[m only up to about 17, but now that I’m motivated, I’ll get better.

Finally, to avoid that puffiness under your chin, and I won’t call it a double chin, thrust your lower jaw out and back, about 20 times. I do this several times a day, whenever I think about it, in private of course. Another facial exercise, which my friend says will prevent frown lines is to put your lips together, as if you are playing a wind instrument, and then smile real big. Do this about 20 times, in private of course.

There you have it, Mary’s “I’ll never look old” workout.

Don’t forget to walk briskly, every day, find something fun to do every day, thank God for something every day, and eat dark chocolate every day.

Living Room Make-Over

It was Christmas at my house today. My living room has had a make-over, and the new furniture was delivered today, so it feels like I have a brand new living space. This has been a work in progress for the past 2 months. See my post on July 20 of this year, Goldilocks Goes on a Bike Ride, where I describe how I enlisted several friends to help me find the perfect sofa and recliner.

Once I settled on the sofa and recliner, I then had to select the materials they would be covered in. Here’s where I had to trust the color sense of my friends. Risky, I know, but it’s all good. Then there was the area rug, the end tables, and the lamp. When I thought of all these beautiful new furnishings against my boring old walls, I recruited yet another friend to help me pick out paint, another one to paint the walls, and still another one to help me buy a new valance for the window. It truly took a village. Thanks Dierdra, Sherri, Lynda, Judy, Maggy, and Dan. It took a lot of planning, fretting, and praying too. I wanted to have a “tah-dah!” moment, when the furniture guys set everything in place, so first, I had to arrange for the Furniture Bank to come and haul away the old stuff. Then the carpets could be cleaned and the walls painted. Next would be the new window treatment, and then the stage would be set. I worried that the new furniture would come before the old stuff got hauled away, because the only day the Furniture Bank could come was the same day that the new furniture would arrive. I pictured my old couch being shoved into the kitchen, where it would sit all day until the Furniture Bank came, but it all worked out. Now I must invite everybody over to celebrate and admire their choices and their work. Furniture shopping was indeed work, and my friend Dan spent all week prepping and painting and making repairs where the ceiling had cracked and holes had been left from previous hanging plants and lamps. Each day of this last week, another task was complete, carpet cleaned on Monday, walls painted on Tuesday, valance hung on Wednesday, etc., building toward the finished product, a brand new room.

If there’s anything I like more than buying new furniture, it’s rearranging furniture. You’d think that a blind person wouldn’t want anything moved, for fear of falling over it, but I get bored with the same old arrangement, so I move my furniture often, for a fresh outlook on life. That’s why, now that I’ve got the living room done, it’s time to start on the family room. Only this room does not need anything new, just rearranging. That’s almost as good as a make-over. Next, we’ll tackle the garage. Wait a minute. Where did everybody go?

90th Birthday Party

As I stood and chatted with old friends and neighbors at my mother’s wake, it saddened me that there was not the crowd I had anticipated. But she had left her friends and neighbors 2 years ago, when she had to move into assisted living near me. She was over 98, and most of her peers and all of her immediate family, except for me, had preceded her in death. As she put it, she was the last leaf left on the tree. That’s why I was so glad I made every effort to make sure she had the most wonderful 90th birthday party she could imagine. My mother was the event-planner extraordinaire, so it was hard for her to not take over the planning. It was not a surprise, so I let her make the guest list, and I let her plan the refreshments, but I did not let her choose the decorations on the cake or anything else.

There were 2 sheet cakes, as we had over 100 guests, and the church let us use their fellowship hall. One cake was decorated like a Scrabble board, because of her love of the game, complete with Happy Birthday written down and across. The other one was decorated like a piano keyboard, because of her talent as a pianist. As each guest arrived, they were handed a crossword puzzle game, because of Mom’s skill at doing them, in ink, with all the clues being about her. It created a fun way for people to mingle as they asked each other for the answers. One of the surprises was a chocolate fountain, a big hit with the kids. There was a copy of the newspaper from the day of her birth. Her Red Hat Society friends all showed up in their hats and posed with her for a picture. So did her Tri Kappa friends. Kara, along with some special friends, decorated the hall with balloons and flowers, and Steve brought crafts and games and entertained the little kids. Her great grandchildren at that time ranged in age from 2 to 7, and of course, there were precious photo ops. The best surprise of the party was having a local barbershop quartet emerge from the crowd, surround her and sing several songs to her. She was beaming, and so was I. It was a wonderful way to celebrate her life, while she was alive and well enough to enjoy it herself. Even though she didn’t get to plan it, she still loved every minute.

That night, after the grandkids and great grandkids had all gone to a hotel for the night, Mom and I sat by the fire with a glass of wine to bask in the glow of the day. “What did you enjoy the most?” I asked her. “Seeing all my family and friends,” she said, without a hesitation. That Christmas, Kara presented her with an artfully crafted scrapbook of memories from that day.

As I packed up the things from her apartment, after her passing, I was reminded of her love of history, travel, and the English language, but when I found that scrapbook, it was like discovering buried treasure. It is a memoire, in pictures, of the richness of her life

Rest in Peace, Mom

In 2009, my mother sat down with her pastor and funeral director and planned her funeral. I mean, she not only chose and paid for her casket, but she also chose the Bible readings,, the hymns to be played and the songs to be sung. I thought it was a little odd, but so typical of my mother. She loved being in charge, and would be, even after her death. I laughed then, but as I sat in the first row of the church for her funeral service last week, I understood that it was one of the best gifts she ever gave me. Not only did I not have to pick out a casket and wrestle with the decision about how much to spend, I had to make very few decisions about what would happen that day.

A year ago, Mom and I sat in her assisted living apartment and made a list of who to ask to be pall bearers and what to say in the obituary. See my post, “Have the Conversation.” (July 17, 2013) She even wanted to plan the menu for the luncheon after the graveside ceremony, but I drew the line there. “Do we really have to decide that today?” I asked. Pre-planning was 1 thing, but that was getting a little carried away.

The night before the funeral, I asked the pastor to go through the order of the service, just so I would know what to expect. I had questions too, like when we should walk in and when we should stand and when we should walk out. He read the order of the service to me and then asked if that was all right with me. “Are you kidding?” I said. “My mother has spoken.” We all had a good laugh about that, and I’m sure Mom was chuckling up in Heaven too. She loved her reputation as the boss. I honored her wishes for an open casket, a practice I detest, but I didn’t want her to come down and haunt me if I didn’t obey. We had the viewing or the visitation or the wake, whatever you want to call it the evening before the funeral. When I was a young girl, I thought that whole business was gulish. And then my brother died at age 29. Although his casket was closed, friends of his poured into the funeral home to offer their condolences. I didn’t even know a lot of those people, so it touched me deeply. Now, I understand why that part of the proceedings is necessary. Still, it struck me, as it has on the occasions of other wakes I’ve attended, that as more and more people arrive, it’s almost like a cocktail party, people standing around, catching up on each other’s news and telling stories, while all the while, a dead person is lying there. My family has already been given instructions, but just in case they forget, let me say here that there will be no parade of people gazing into my casket and saying how nice I look, because there will be no casket. For the record, I have spoken!

But back to my mother’s funeral. Her death was not unexpected. She was 98, and for the last 2 months, she had been in Hospice Care. Yet there were some last minute arrangements to be made. The 1 I want to mention today is the reading of the poem, thanatopsis at the cemetery. I have to admit that my mother had a flare for planning an event and topping it off with a dramatic and poignant moment, that bespoke of her love of drama and literature. She had wanted my cousin Carolyn to read the poem, but Carolyn died 4 years ago. I couldn’t ask Kara to read it, because it would be too emotional for her. I had forgotten to find a replacement for Carolyn, and at the last minute, literally, Kara suggested my life-long friend, Lynda. Perfect. A nudge from Mom? Lynda was a speech and drama teacher, and more importantly, she had loved my mother too. So, there we were at Antioc Cemetery, one of the most peaceful places in the world, comforted by the words of this famous poem.. I had heard my mother recite it many times at memorial services, but never has it meant so much to me. It was a beautiful day, Mom. Now you can rest.

Smile, You Are in Someone’s Memoir

Life is a series of billions of snapshots, many of which are pictures of you, doing millions of things, even smiling, talking, eating, walking, and many of them are bits of memory matter in the memoires of the people you touch. Just when you are convinced that nobody sees you, that nobody is paying attention, that you are invisible to the world, someone recalls a memory of you that you were unaware you were making.

Today after church, I had the opportunity to greet the pastor who served there many years ago. I remember him fondly. I recall one particular Christmas Eve, when after the service, as we were waiting for something or other, and this pastor had finished saying goodnight to everybody, he walked over to me and gave me a hug. We hadn’t been talking. I hadn’t expressed a need for a hug, but he must have SEEN SADNESS IN MY FACE, AND JUST briefly FOLDED HIS ARMS AROUND ME. That was it. That was my snapshot of a memory of him.

He probably does not remember that moment at all. What he does remember about me is the sound of my first Seeing Eye ® dog, Mindy, as she settled under the pew, and her collar chinked on the tile floor. Not only did he reminisce about that, but he also remembered her name. I was completely unaware of that little tinkling sound that signaled, to everyone but me, that my dog had lain down and had rested her beautiful golden head on the cool tile floor.

What I learned today was that no matter how insignificant you think you are, or, for that matter, how important you think you are, there will be snapshots clicking from any number of memory cameras, When you least expect it. It could be a gesture, an expression, or even an action that has nothing to do with anyone else, that could be recorded and brought out later to remind that person of you.

remember that old show, Candid Camera? And the catch phrase that everybody went around saying, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera?” Aside from iPhones capturing every little movement, significant or not, there are memory shots that as of today, I vow to try to make ones that I will not be embarrassed about when they become a reminiscence of me. Can I never frown? Never say a harsh word? Never be impatient with someone? No. I can only hope that those memories will be immediately deleted to make room for the ones that will bring a smile, like the image of a guide dog sleeping in church. .

Music, The Best Medicine

My mother sits in a wheelchair, propped up with cushions and blankets. What used to be a smiling face is devoid of emotion or recognition of her surroundings. I have come for a brief visit, long enough to hold her hand and tell her I love her. Maybe I would say a few other things, but I wouldn’t expect a response or any kind of interaction, because she is now unable to communicate. Because I can’t see her face or read her expression, I know it’s not going to be an easy visit. Then the music therapist arrives with her portable keyboard, and relief washes over me like a summer rain. The last time she visited my mother, Mom could interact to some degree. She even poked around a little on the keyboard, and the music therapist played the melody along with Mom and graciously called it a duet. Mother beamed with the pleasure of being in the company of another musician, someone who spoke her language. She was the happiest I had seen her in months. But not so, this day. The therapist unpacks her keyboard and sets it up so she can see the music and Mother’s face at the same time. She plays the first song and sings with her lovely melodic voice. No reaction. Undaunted, she sings another, and I try to sing along, but almost immediately, I choke up, because music has that effect on me when I am consumed with grief or joy. My heart aches, because Mother can’t play the piano anymore or sing or even hum along. Seeing that Mother needs a little more encouragement to be engaged, the therapist suggests I sit closer and hold Mother’s hands. Somehow, during the next song, I tell myself to pull myself together and sing to Mom. She can’t sing, so I’ll have to sing for both of us. I request a song that I know Mom likes and that I know the words to, “Ain’t She Sweet.” It’s an old standard, and it’s a little peppier. I belt it out for all I’m worth, and I’m praying that I’m getting through. Then we end with a few hymns. One of Mom’s favorites, and mine too, is “In the Garden,” but I only know the first verse. But I do know a little harmony for that one, so the therapist continues to play the second verse. Hearing that I don’t know the words, she feeds them to me before each line, so it sounds like I know the whole song. I’d never sung all the verses, and I have to tell you that the experience was at least as healing for me as for my mother, if not more.

Music is the expression of our hearts and souls. It is an international and Omni generational language. We sing lullabies to our babies; we sing camp songs around the fire; we sing love songs as we snuggle on the dance floor; we sing the blues; we sing patriotic songs to express our gratitude to our soldiers and veterans; and we sing hymns to our weary parents. Even though my mother doesn’t make a sound, I know that in her mind, she is singing with me. She and I have just spent an hour together in a more intimate way than we ever could with words. Her love of music is one of her legacies to me.

It’s a legacy I cherish and hope to pass along.