Tag Archives: life

Strive to have less and be thankful more

While attending my niece’s high school graduation party I spent time with the ladies of the family. As we cooked, baked, cut, and frosted we started talking about daughters and their messy rooms. This topic arose because my niece was having a challenging time cleaning her bedroom to her mom’s expectations.

Being daughters ourselves, we talked about our own adolescent bedrooms and tried to compare our messes with the messy bedrooms we encounter these days. Wanting to be fair, we turned to the older generation for some perspective. My sister-in-law asked her mom if her bedroom had been such a pig sty. With age comes experience, patience and, often, pearls of wisdom. My mother-in-law didn’t answer right away. She paused, she thought and then she opened her mouth and spoke. Her answer was simple, but has subsequently caused serious reflection on the habits in my life. She said, “Back then you girls didn’t have much stuff. Your rooms would get messy but since you didn’t have that much, the messes were manageable.”

We didn’t have that much stuff. I grew up in a one income household. I learned early how to stretch a dollar, the difference between wanting something and needing something, and how to take care of what I had because chances were if it was lost or damaged there would be no replacement. I didn’t feel deprived. We were a typical middle class family.

So how did this need to consume products overtake us and when did we start to get so much stuff? Is it because we think we have more disposable money to spend? Is it because we are more mobile and can purchase products easier? Is it because we have decided we should have what we want and not worry whether we need it or not? Is it because we are spoiled?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. I do know the conversation that day in my sister-in-law’s kitchen helped me return to some basic beliefs from my childhood. Evaluate your purchases from a need not a want perspective, make the effort to take care of what you already have and, most importantly, strive to have less and be thankful more.

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Stick to What You Actually Know

What do you do when you are hounded with questions about something you know little about? Do you calmly repeat (over and over) that you don’t know the answer? Do you get frustrated? Do you get angry? What do you do?

My dad taught me how to deal with this exact situation. It is really quite simple. You look the person in the eye and say, “That is all I know on the subject and if you continue to press me I will begin to fabricate.” Thank you dad!

As one who is often on the receiving end of a lot of questions, I have gained much mileage from this simple phrase. Dad found that if you tell people that you will begin to fabricate (in other words lie and make things up) the questions amazingly stop. Blessed silence and peace.

Dad always smiled when he delivered this line and it never ceased to make me laugh, even when it was directed to me following my own string of nonstop questions. I have found this simple phrase a valuable survival tool and that’s no lie.

Drive on the road that is not a road, past a barn that is not a barn

Getting directions in the country, I have found, is a little different than getting directions in the city. In the city, we talk in terms of street addresses. In the country, my relatives talk in terms of landmarks. Getting directions from my aunt’s farm to a home in town was challenging. My aunt directed me to the home via bizarre instructions.

Aunt Vi: “Drive into town til you come to the stop sign then take a left.”
Me: “What stop sign.”
Aunt Vi: “The stop sign.”
Me: “What road is the stop sign on?”
Aunt Vi: “Just take a left at the stop sign.”
Me: “Okay.” and I dutifully wrote down my first direction – Take a left at the stop sign.

Aunt Vi: “Drive a short way and when you come to a road that is not a road, take a right.”
Me: “So you want me to take a right on a road that is not a road.”
Aunt Vi: “Yes.”
Me: “What is the name of the road that is not a road.”
Aunt Vi: “It doesn’t have a name, just write it down.”
Me: “Okay.” So, next I wrote – Take a right on the road that is not a road.

Aunt Vi: “Then you pass a barn that is not a barn. The house is the next one on the left.”
Me: “Aunt Vi, this isn’t making any sense to me.”
Aunt Vi: “Just write it down!”
Me: “You want me to drive into town to the stop sign and take a left. Then I need to take a right onto the road that is not a road. Then I will pass a barn that is not a barn and the house is just after that on the left.”
Aunt Vi: “Exactly.”
Me: “I have no idea where I am going from these directions.”
Aunt Vi: “Just follow them and hurry or you will be late.”

My sister and I got into my car and headed into town. When we came to the first stop sign we took a left. Traveling slowly down the street we saw an alley and thought, that is a road that is not a road, so we took a right. As we drove down the alley we passed a shed in the shape of a barn and we looked at each other giggling and said, “A barn that is not a barn.” We pulled into the next driveway and laughed until we cried. We had just arrived at our destination.

“Do you have real lemon?”

Traveling with my siblings in North Dakota involved some strategic planning. Where were we going to eat each day? I did not sign on to the trip until this question was answered. The first day we stopped at a wonderful small town cafe. Since the town boasts a population of 300, everyone knows everyone else and their business as well.

When we walked into the cafe, we stuck out like the big city kids we are, and then we opened our mouths. First was the question, is this a seat yourself or a wait to be seated establishment. Take a guess. After some raised eyebrows, we conspicuously made our way to a table. My brothers looked at the menu for about five seconds and then crossed their arms. I took slightly longer, but since we have a long history of visiting small town cafes the fare was standard and I soon made up my mind. My sister opened and read the two page menu, then closed it as she looked at the front cover, then the back cover and then, once again, opened the menu to study it in great detail. The waitress came up, removed a pencil from behind her ear, pulled a green pad out of her apron pocket, licked the tip of her pencil and said, “Whattle ya have?”.

We knew to let my sister be the last to order. When it was her turn she hemmed, she hawed and then said, “I guess I will just have a salad.”
Waitress: “What kinda dressing?”
My sister: “Do you have vinaigrette?”

My brothers raised their eyebrows and rolled their eyes. The waitress just stared at my sister, not saying a word. The prolonged silence began to become uncomfortable. My sister, forgetting everything she had ever learned about small town cafes, finally broke the silence by asking, “Well… what dressings do you have?” The waitress didn’t even move. She just stood there with the same expression and silence. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I looked at my sister and said, “French, thousand island, blue cheese, ranch, Italian.”
My sister said, “I will have ranch.”
Waitress: “Do you want anything to drink?”
My sister: “I would like iced tea with lemon. Do you have real lemon?”

The waitress just turned around and walked away from the table, my brothers dropped their heads in their hands and I burst out laughing. My sister said, “What?”

Meanings are in people, not in words

When I was growing up, Dad and I had a standing appointment every Saturday. This was our special time each week to spend together. We did a variety of activities on these days, but the tasks were not the main goal; communicating, laughing and working side by side as we deepened our relationship was the primary aim. I didn’t understand this at the time and, I must admit, not even until recently as I was going through the boxes of dad’s life I inherited when he passed away this past spring.

Looking through dad’s files, I realized Dad taught me the importance of building a relationship by spending time together communicating face to face. As a doctoral student at Michigan State University in the early 1960s, dad learned that words hold superficial meaning outside the context of human interaction. To truly get an inkling about what a person is saying to you, you need to listen to their words as you think about the way these words play out in the context of the speaker’s life. Meanings are in people, not in words. Dad’s words of wisdom paired with our rich relationship and shared experiences formed a foundation of understanding that, while I didn’t always agree with him, helped me to at least be able to reason out his side.

Lessons from life are passed down generation to generation. If we are lucky enough, these relationships nurture us as we grow and form a foundation which we can stand on as we become who we were meant to be. I had such a foundation.