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My Problem with ‘No Problem’

           

The drugstore employee said there wasn’t a prescription on file for a drug I thought my doctor had called in.  “We can contact the doctor or you can,” he said. 

       “I will. Thank you for your help,” I said.

“No problem,” he said in a curt voice and immediately hung up, disconnecting our phone conversation. 

            His last two words hit a raw nerve.  I broke my personal ruleof not complaining on social media and posted on Facebook.

Dear owners and managers of service businesses,
Please teach your employees to respond, “You’re welcome,” when a customer offers appreciation. Every time I hear, “no problem,” I’m offended. When I say, “thank you,” I am expressing gratitude and a curt “no problem” makes me wonder if I unknowingly created an inconvenience or problem for the employee.

Rant done….

            I relished the support of 81 friends who hit the LIKE and LOVE icons and many commented that they wished workers would respond differently. Kathy wrote, “I want to say was there a problem to begin with?  That little phrase has caught on and I’m not a fan either.” But some friends tried to smooth my ruffled feathers.  Sara wrote, “This doesn’t bother me.  I’ll take anything that has a positive vibe. I equate no problem with happy to help.”

            A few young friends, all former students, commented. Trudy wrote, “I’ve read a few articles about it and they mostly say it comes from a standpoint of humility and that what they are trying to say is there no need for praise. To them, saying no problem means they were happy to do it, preform the service, but it seems to get lost in translation between generations maybe?”  I hadn’t thought of these words spoken with humility and appreciated Trudy’s comments. She responded, “This phrase probably doesn’t communicate across generations.” 

            Kristy wrote, “I think it’s a generational gap issue.  I say ‘you’re welcome’ out of habit and assume ‘no problem’ means the same.  But I see what you mean and totally agree that service workers should be trained to communicate better.”

            So maybe I need to accept this phrase and be content that others my age would prefer a different response.  But I learned about a recent presentation entitled “Inclusive and Culturally Sensitive Service” at Michigan State University that advised employers to train employees to avoid saying “no problem” to customers.  The MSU official stated that “no problem” is a trigger that could lead a customer to believe they could be a problem.  It’s more calming, the official said, to say, “You’re welcome.”  And I discovered that a 2015 article in Forbes magazine encouraged managers to train their employees to say “you’re welcome” after a customer offered appreciation.

            Last week, when a young server refilled my water glass, I said, “Thank you.”  He paused, looked me in the eye, and said, “You’re welcome.”  I could’ve hugged his neck. I appreciated his response as much as his service and the good food.  I look forward to eating at that restaurant again. 

####

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Almost every week, he went to the Putnam County Library.  As an infant in a sling across his mother’s body, then as a toddler he rode in a stroller, and later he walked and held hands.  His older brother and sisters showed their library cards and carried home armloads of books.  His mother helped him choose a few books. 

            And then Micah turned 5.  It was finally his turn to his sign his name and promise to take care of the books checked out on his very own card.  What a celebration!  His name on a plastic card meant he took home 20 books for two weeks.  When he returned them, he could get 20 different books. 

            September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, and the American Library Association and the Putnam County Library remind parents that the most important school supply is a library card.  Because a public library has always been part of my life, I can’t imagine not having access to the many books and resources that fill library shelves.     

            Any child age 5 or older can apply for a card at the Putnam County Library.  The child must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who signs the application and who can show a valid photo ID and proof of residency. There is no charge for library cards to Putnam County residents.  An out-of-county adult pays a $10 fee, but a child who lives out of county can have a free card.

            I’m reminded of a conversation with a retired librarian.  She and I stood opposite each other holding a metal bar, both doing leg lifts as part of physical therapy for knee replacements.  Her whisper voice, her kind eyes, and her short statue helped me immediately place her behind the counter of the Putnam County Library.  She wouldn’t know me, I thought.

            “I remember you from the library when I took my children, many years ago.  Thank you for helping us find books,” I said.

            “I remember you,” she said.  “You had a girl and a boy and they brought their books back on time and they were quiet.”  Oh, I was thankful that’s the way she remembered my children.  We reminisced about the days when a visit to the library was to only check out books.  “There’s much more at the library now.  Computers, magazines, movies, music,” she said.

We talked about the many clubs and special programs available at the library.  “There’s a summer reading program for kids that my grandchildren like.” I said. “And young kids don’t need a library card to go to weekly story time and preschool craft time.”

            “You’ve got to get kids to the library young so it becomes a habit,” she said.  “I wish everybody would take their children to the library.  Then read books to them at home, too.”  I agreed.

            And I wish every child felt the excitement my young Grand did when he held his library card for the first time and his feeling of pride every time he carries home his stack of books. 

####

A Dose of Nature

            A research team at the University of Exeter, one of the top 150 worldwide universities and a public research university in England, examined the benefits of spending time in parks and woodlands and at the beach. The results were the same across all demographic groups – men, women, young, old – among the 20,000 people interviewed.  Those who spent at least two hours a week in nature reported better health and more satisfaction with their lives.  The two hours can be spread across the week and several outings.

A recent article headline in The Week magazine caught my eye:  A Weekly Dose of Nature.  The first sentence validates my need to be outdoors:  For an easy and pleasant way to boost your health and well-being, spend a couple of hours a week in nature.

            Last week I took three young Grands to Cane Creek Park.  As we watched the ducks waddle and the geese gliding on the water, I soaked in the beauty.  Greenish-blue water.  Green banks across the lake.  Browns and grays on tree trunks.  Blue-green and lime colored leaves.

            “Look at the reflection of the trees in the water,” I said.  My Grands nodded and one said, “We see it, Gran. You told us that last time.”  And I’ll tell them next time. 

            I really wanted to walk the park path and cut through a few places in the woods, but my Grands had their eyes, their thoughts, on the playground so they jumped, ran, flipped, swung, climbed, and slid.  I stayed close by and watching them, and I watched the clouds and treetops. Big, white cumulus clouds drifted across the clear sky and over the tops of trees.

            Micah, age 5, noticed me looking up and said, “What’d you looking at, Gran?  Are you looking at that tall tree?  What kind is it?”  A giant cedar tree, an evergreen, loomed close.  His older sister said, “It’s EVER GREEN. Get it?  It stays green all the time.” 

            Anyone who knows me, knows I love trees.  Forty years ago Husband and I bought our first home here in Cookeville, and I called my mom.  Later she laughed at my description.  “It’s got a grassy backyard for the kids to play and then trees.  There’s a fallen tree for climbing and we can just go outside and be in the woods,” I had said. Mom said she asked me about the house, but I didn’t describe it with as much enthusiasm. 

            Sometimes I feel exactly as Micah did when he was 4 years old and visited overnight with Husband and me.  The morning was gray, cold, and damp and my Grand played inside.  He had built skyscrapers with blocks, played with cars and Legos.  He stood looking out the back door and I asked, “Micah, do you need a snack?”

            He turned toward me and said, “Gran, I need to play outside!”

            I don’t need a university study to know being outside improves my physical and mental health.  But now I think, “I’m going for a dose of nature.”  It’s good for body and soul.

####

What’s Your Advice?

            “This is our 50th anniversary picture,” I told Tour Guide who held Husband’s camera.

“Really?” the young man said.  “50 years? Move to the left a little and I have a question after pictures.”

            At the beginning of 2019, I declared the year an anniversary celebration, but this day, August 3, was our wedding date. Husband and I stood on a mountain road in Montenegro overlooking the Adriatic Sea, thousands of miles from the church in Tennessee where we married. 

            Tour Guide handed Husband the camera and said, “I got several pictures. I can’t believe you’ve been married 50 years.  I want to ask my girlfriend to marry me.  What’s your advice?” 

            Husband and I responded simultaneously.  He said, “Compromise.”  I said, “Commitment.”  Husband added, “Pick your battles,” and I said, “Commit forever.”  A friend travelling with us chimed in, “You’ll both make mistakes. Just don’t make a big deal out of them.” 

            “Yes. Overlook. That’s my second word of advice,” I said.  Tour Guide walked with me, talked about his girlfriend, and said he wanted an old-fashioned, traditional family life.  He asked that I repeat our advice. Compromise. Commitment. Overlook.  Husband’s and my responses were spontaneous, and since that day I’ve thought of those words.   

Compromise.  Our home thermostat is set at 71 degrees.  Husband wears long pants and a lightweight fleece.  I wear shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt.  When Husband isn’t home for a few days, the thermostat is 68 on winter days, 70 on hot days, and down to 65 on cold nights. Husband moves the setting up when I’m out of town and sheds his fleece.  Some compromises are daily; some are once a lifetime.

            Commitment. I said, “I, Susan, take you, Allen, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.  This is my solemn vow.”  I pledged to be with Husband no matter what happens. A minister told a bride and groom at the end of their wedding ceremony, “You made promises to each other while God and your family and friends listened.  Now, keep them!”  Our trials haven’t been major, but we’ve endured stressful days, weeks, years and knowing that Husband and I value our vows has eased those times.  A promise is a promise. 

Overlook.  Thankfully, Husband overlooks mistakes.  Like the time our car insurance bill was sky high.  Both our children were teen-agers and, assuming the extremely high charge was for Son, I fumed and ranted.  Husband calmly pointed out that the children’s billings were the same and my insurance had increased.  He let me conclude that three recent speeding tickets had made me an insurance risk.  Mistakes happen – sometimes based on poor judgment.

            Husband and I agree that compromise, commitment, and overlooking have stood us well in our marriage.  But relationships are based on one word.  At the end of the tour, I said to Tour Guide, “You know a marriage is about love and love shows itself in many ways. Just love her.” ####

Family Vacation Heart Tugs

Oh, the heart tugs when Husband and I were with all eight Grands and their parents.

            I walked in back on a short walk from Son and Daughter 2’s home to their neighborhood playground.  Husband. Daughter. Son. Daughter 2. Son 2. Eight Grands – ages 4-14.  They paired up.  Husband and Sons talked. Daughters walked together.  The youngest Grands ran ahead.  Other Grands followed. I wished for a longer walk. 

            At Son and Daughter 2’s home, I tucked in and kissed the Grands good-night.  They lay on blow-up mattresses and over them were Granny’s quilts.  My granny’s quilts.  Their great-great grandmother.  The moment that hit me, my eight-year-old Grand said, “Gran, are you crying?”  I wiped sentimental tears remembering how I sat beside Granny and watched her pin a worn 3” square paper to fabric scraps or cloth flour sacks to cut the quilt pieces.  I threaded tiny quilting needles because the needle eyes were so tiny that Granny could hardly see them.  Some 60 years later, Granny’s great-great grandchildren snuggled under their favorite granny quilts. 

            Sons and Daughters took charge of an all-day ride, with many sightseeing stops, through the Rocky Mountains.  Three vehicles were loaded with stuff for a few nights in a house on the other side of the Rockies.  Son said, “Mom, you’re riding with me.” Husband was assigned to Son 2’s van.  Daughters rode together and the Grands were assigned seats to give the cousins time together.  All I did was ride, take notes, and enjoy the scenery and time with Son and two Grands who later declared themselves “Best Cousins Forever.”

            How to feed 14 people lunch in 30 minutes.  Park at the Rocky Mountain Welcome Center.  Open the back of one van.  Hand out sandwiches packed in zip lock plastic bags with each person’s name on a bag and bottled drinks. Everyone find a seat, on the rock wall, on grass, anywhere not near the road. Pass around big bags: chips, cut up apples, grapes.  Gather trash.  Pass around a bag of cookies.  

            “Tonight we’re making s’mores!” Daughter announced after lunch.  “There’s a fire pit at our big house.  It’ll be fun!”  The outside fire pit was on a steep hill and surrounded by dry pine needles, not safe in windy conditions.  Plan B: use the gas fire pit on the house deck.  Wind and rain and hail canceled that plan. Son and Daughter conferred while the Grands waited, seated at the kitchen bar.

            “Okay, we got this!” Daughter said and passed out graham crackers on napkins to the Grands.  Son and Daughter 2 roasted marshmallows over medium flame on the gas stovetop. Disappointed groans from kids faded quickly when roasted marshmallows and chocolate were passed around.

            Son 2 adjusted helmets.  Checked bike tires.  Made sure everyone had a water bottle and had been coated with sunscreen and away he rode with four kids behind him on a Colorado bike trail.            

  Tired and emotional meltdowns hit the Grands during the week.  Thankfully not at the same time.  I’m erasing those memories and keeping the happy ones.

Home Mishaps

“That freezer is more than 12 years old,” the appliance repairman said.  I anticipated his next words.  “Why are you smiling?” he asked.  That’s not what I expected to hear.

            “Because I thought you’d tell me it’s too old to fix,” I said and shrugged my shoulders.

            “Well, it can be fixed, but the repair cost will be more than it’s worth.”  That was my guess when Husband noticed the temperature inside our upright freezer was above 0°F. We had to save the three dozen jars of freezer strawberry jam I’d made so the good folks at our favorite local appliance store sent a repairman. A few hours later they delivered the new freezer that I chose and bought in 10 minutes.

            2:00 a.m. Sunday morning, the smoke alarm outside the bedroom door went off.  The sound is usually described as a beep or chirp.  In the middle of the night, it’s “ENT! ENT! ENT!”  (Say silent and scream ENT.) Husband and I threw off the covers, and our feet hit the floor.  He stumbled to the alarm and punched the reset button. “ENT! ENT! ENT!”  We didn’t smell smoke or see fire.  ““ENT! ENT! ENT!”  Husband stood on a kitchen chair and removed the battery to silence the alarm.

             “ENT! ENT! ENT!” the alarm screamed. The smoke detector was hard-wired to an electrical source.  Husband used a stepladder to disconnect and remove the alarm.  No more “ENT! ENT! ENT!” We walked through the house to be sure there was no smoke or fire and went back to bed.

            The next morning, Husband awoke before me.  His first words were “Don’t expect coffee.  The coffee maker is dead.”  Surely not. Maybe he could try another outlet. He’d tried every outlet on the kitchen counter.

            “Did you try one not on the kitchen counter?” I asked. We set the coffeemaker on the same kitchen chair that had been a stool to reach the smoke alarm a few hours earlier and the coffee maker worked.  I needed that cup of coffee.

            Could the blaring smoke alarm and the dead outlets be related?  Husband discovered a small manufacturer’s stick-on label inside the smoke alarm cover.  ‘Replace after 10 years.’  The installation date was 2005.  So it died of extreme old age.  Sunday afternoon, Husband replaced the smoke alarm and made sure all the others in the house were alive and working well.

            Monday morning, an electrician quickly diagnosed and repaired the non-working outlets.  A ground fault breaker that controlled four outlets had died.  “That sometimes happens,” the electrician said. 

            I should have expected two more mishaps after the freezer died. Everyone knows bad luck happens in threes.

            Now, as I write, Husband and a repairman from the heating and cooling business that installed a new unit last year are talking. Husband said, “I heard the unit running non-stop late last night.  It was not cooling.  I noticed the copper refrigerant lines going to the air handler were covered with ice.”

            Here we go again.  Is this bad luck number 1?  Or maybe a tag-along #4? ####

THE Birthday Plate

“Look, Gran, your cake is on THE birthday plate!  And wait ‘til you see inside the cake.  It’s not a plain cake,” said my Grand.

            Elsie, age 12, had used a yellow cake recipe and stirred in Hershey’s Cocoa in half the batter.  She poured the two bowls of batter into round baking pans and then used a knife to swirl the flavors together.  “That’s exactly the kind of birthday cake I asked for when I was a kid,” I said.  “Chocolate and yellow swirled together. I haven’t had one in years.”

            Although my Grand didn’t know the kind of cake Mom made for my birthday, she knew about the glass plate. “What’s so special about THE plate?” Elsie’s younger sister asked. I told the story.

            When I was a little girl, Mom baked two-layer birthday cakes and served them on a glass cake plate.  I inherited the plate after Mom’s death and used it for birthday cakes too. For Dad’s 81st birthday, I baked his favorite yellow cake and frosted it with 7-Minute Icing just like Mom did.  To carry the cake to Dad’s house, I put it inside a plastic carrier with a handle and thought I had securely fastened the carrier top to the bottom.

            Just as I stepped into Dad’s house, I lost my hold on the cake carrier and when the cake plate slide sideways, the carrier opened.  The glass plate and cake fell onto Dad’s wooden floor, right beside his feet. The cake splattered. The plate broke into many pieces.  I cried.

            Dad consoled me saying the top part of the cake could be eaten and the plate wasn’t fine crystal.  He was sure Mom didn’t pay much money for it, and I could probably find another one somewhere.  My only thought was that I’d destroyed a part of every family birthday celebration.

            I rarely shop antique stores or junk stores or garage sales – the places where a 1950s glass cake plate might be available.  But for a year, I was on a mission to replace Mom’s plate and I walked through many stores and sales.  Finally, I spotted a plate, under a huge glass punch bowl, exactly like Mom’s.  Husband helped me move the bowl.  The plate didn’t have a price tag. “I wonder how much it cost,” I said.

            Husband answered, “It doesn’t matter.” The storeowner got cheated.  I gladly paid her price, $12, but I would have paid much more.

             A few months later, girlfriends and I went on a weekend trip. We walked and talked our way through several antiques stores.  “Look,” I said, “it’s another cake plate like Mom’s.  Remember?  The one I broke.”

            “Oh, that’s it?”  said Connie.  “I have one of those.  It doesn’t mean anything special to me.”  So, I bought a second plate for $15 and Connie gave hers to me.

            Now there are three cake plates in our family.  Daughter, Son, and I each have one.  THE birthday cake plate tradition continues.  And sometimes the cake on the plate is a surprise and sometimes it’s an old favorite. ####