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Porch Sitting

“What are you going to do this afternoon, Gran?”  Annabel asked.

            “Write the first draft of next week’s column.  What do you think I should write about?” I answered.

            “Fall. That it finally feels like fall,” my 10-year-old Grand said.  She laid her head back in one of our front porch rocking chairs and smiled smugly as she rocked back and forth.

            My Grand was almost on target of what I had in mind.  Finally, the weather has cooled enough that Husband and I can once again enjoy our front porch.  One of the things I immediately liked about our house when we were house hunting as few years ago was its covered wide front porch.  “That’s big enough for rocking chairs,” I told Husband.  He agreed and before we even closed on our hew home, we began shopping for front porch chairs, white wicker rockers.

            Say white wicker rockers three times and you’ll probably say what I said the first time we went shopping.  Whi-te ricker wockers stuck in my head and even now, three years later, I concentrate to say wicker rockers and not add an extra syllable to white.  On moving day, our two rocking chairs were the first furniture placed.  They were inviting, but we worked.  At the end of that stressful, physically exhausting day, Husband and I drank a cool drink and rocked.  And we talked.  About the day.  About what we needed to do next.  About the fact that most of the leaves were off the trees on this mid-November day.  About the leaves that hung high on an oak tree.

            Since that day, when either of us say, “I’m going to the front porch,” that’s short for “I’m taking a rest or I need a break.  I’m going to rock for a bit and you are welcome to join me.”   

            A wide covered front porch was common years ago. One of my favorite pictures of my maternal grandparents was taken on my grandfather’s parents’ porch.  I’ve been told it was a gathering place, a place to settle the world’s problems.  When guests came, the men went to the porch after supper and leaned back in straight back, caned bottom chairs.  My paternal grandmother had an old wooden church pew on her front porch and it was my favorite place at her home.  We waved at every passing car and I’d tell Granny everything that happened at school that day and complain that Mom expected me to keep my room clean.  We broke green beans and shelled black-eyed peas and cracked black walnuts.

            Cooler temperatures welcome front-porch sitting. After weeks of hot weather, I’m glad to wrap up in a sweater and even cover up with a blanket and rock. Husband and I wave and greet neighbors who walk their dogs.  Neighborhood children ride bikes and scooters.  We watch the sunset, although we don’t have an unobstructed view, and see the moon rise in the East and all seems right with the world. 

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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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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? ####

Will GPS Get You There?

 “This couldn’t be the way to the Citadel,” I said and my friends agreed.  While exploring Charleston, South Carolina, we long-time college girlfriends wanted to see the campus and the buildings of this military college founded in 1842.  June had said to Siri on her phone, “Directions to the Citadel.”  We knew the Citadel was about three miles north of downtown Charleston, but the GPS directed us we through the heart of the city. 

“Let’s follow these directions and see where it takes us,” June said.  “We’re less than a mile away.”  We turned right and then left at the next intersection. Siri announced, “You have arrived at your destination, the City Jail.” 

            Somehow a southern accent and Siri, a personal assistant application, didn’t communicate and the GPS, Global Positioning System, directed us where we didn’t want to go.  And it’s happened to others.

            Monika and her husband followed GPS commands one afternoon on a scenic drive to travel from western Kentucky to Cookeville.  They turned from a four-lane interstate road to a two-lane state road.  Then onto a county road with no centerline.  The landscape was beautiful, pastoral.  White fences, weathered barns, farm crops.  The road became narrower and led to a swamp.  A swamp with no bridge over it.  “If it’d been dark, we might have driven right into that swamp,” Monica said.  “We backtracked and travelled on main highways to get home.”

            Pam and Larry chose a route to avoid traffic when they went to in Sevierville, Tennessee, and were happy to be driving on roads with few cars.  A turn took them into a residential area that had only a few small houses.  They realized their GPS has failed them when they saw a dead end street sign, and they were amused by a hand-lettered sign in the yard of the house at the end of a cul-de-sac.  “Turn around. Your GPS is wrong,” the sign read.

            One time Kathy purposely diverted from the GPS directions and was told, “Make a legal U-turn, then make a legal U-turn.”  Wouldn’t that be back where she started? And Kathy wonders what her GPS would say if she made an illegal U-turn.  Would she be reprimanded?

            Paulette was driving in unfamiliar territory to a friend’s home.  Her GPS said, “Turn left.”  She didn’t.  “Turn left,” was the next command.  Again she didn’t because she was driving on a long tall bridge over water.

            In a rush to get her son to a baseball game so he could play in Georgia, Robbie chose the fastest route according to her GPS.  She raced around curves of county roads and ended in a parking lot in the mountains at the beginning of a hiking trail.  At one time that trail was a county road. 

            I use the GPS on my van, especially when travelling out of town, but I keep my atlas close so I can see where I’ve been and where I’m going. And honestly, it’s stories like these that make me confirm directions on my old-fashioned paper maps that I can hold.

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Do You Have Any Pet Peeves?

“What gets under your skin?” Jim Herrin asked in a recent Sunday editorial and I immediately thought of a time during my teaching days.

“My daughter thinks you don’t like her. Ann (not her real name) says you always frown at her and she has to sit in the back row,” said a mother who had requested a parent-teacher conference. I had great respect for this mother, a fellow teacher. I chose my words carefully.

“I’m sorry Ann feels this way and I like her, but not a couple of things she does. Does she sit on her knees and sway from side to side while seated at home? She does here in the classroom and she sits in the back so other students won’t be distracted with her in front of them,” I explained. Her mother said that her daughter’s swaying bothered her at the dinner table. “But what really grades on my nerves is a constant repetitive sound. Like a pencil tapping on a desk. I’m not sure Ann is aware when she does it, like I didn’t know I frown when I look at her.”

Ann’s mom said, “Oh, that’s my pet peeve, too, and my high school students know it so they sometimes make sounds just to annoy me.” For the next few minutes, we two teachers shared our pet peeves, the little things that made us cringe. Thankfully, this conference ended well with a plan to help Ann understand that I liked her.

Other sounds annoy me. Like some people talking. Over the weekend, I watched the Tennessee men’s basketball team play in the SEC tournament and I’m sure I frowned when Dick Vitale, the game announcer, got on a roll. His hyper-pitched and overly-excited voice, non-stop screaming, and repeating the same words annoy me. “Oh! Oh! Oh! Unbelievable! Look at him! Nobody jumps like that! He’s above everyone with that rebound! That’s why he gets more than 10 rebounds a game! Oh, baby!” he screamed.

Another time Vitale screamed, “He hit the floor to get the ball! Hit the floor! Did you see him hit the floor?” In my head I screamed, “I heard you the first time!” Yes, I know I can mute the sound and I’ve done that more than once, but I like hearing the crowd, the explanation of fouls, and everything except Vitale when he’s excessively exuberant and screams.

While discussing pet peeves with Husband, we agreed that rudeness is high on our lists. I’m annoyed when someone is rude to a restaurant waiter or store clerk or anyone whose job it is to serve the public. I worked as a salesperson in a women’s clothing store, and that experience taught me to stand in the shoes of the person on the other side of the counter.

I can’t end without admitting why I rarely chew gum. The sound of popping gum must be a pet peeve to some people. Why else would they frown and move away while I chomp on a stick of Spearmint?

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What’s in a Nickname?

When I read an obituary last November, I did a double take. Mrs. Mary-Peanut Juanella Gray’s funeral service would be November 26 in Livingston. I read the obits daily. Do I know the deceased or a relative?  But this time, it was the name that caught my attention. Was Mary-Peanut her given name or was Peanut a nickname?

I called my cousin who lives in Livingston and asked if she knew Mary Gray who recently passed away. She didn’t. I said that in the obituary she was Mary-Peanut. “Oh, Peanut! That’s how everybody knows her. No one would know she died if Peanut wasn’t in her obituary,” Carolyn said, but she didn’t know why Mary was called Peanut.

I thought of many people I know by nicknames and wondered how those names came to be. Husband and I have friends from our college days. Jim was called Worm, probably because he was tall and thin and when he danced his body moved in slow, curving motions. Ace was always at the top of his game, whether dealing cards or making a deal. Skidrow isn’t sure how he earned his name, but it stuck and was shortened to Skids.

Janet’s big brother thought since his nickname was Frog his sister should be called Tadpole, shortened to Tad. As a child, Janet begged her brother not to call her Tad, but he did and eventually, so did their parents and other family members. Even after fifty years, Janet hasn’t shed the nickname.

Henrietta and Marietta where adopted when they were just a few weeks old. Their parents laid them in a white wicker bassinet and their father said, “Look, we have a little blondie and a little blackie.” Blondie’s hair was golden and Blackie’s was midnight. These names have followed them throughout their lives, except when Blondie and her husband moved to another state, she began to introduce herself as Henrietta so only childhood and college friends call her the name her father gave her. Blackie married Brownie, and very few people know either by their names on their birth certificates.

Larry Maddux remembers when he was a college student and first called Mad-eye. He and his friend, Mike Powers nicknamed Tootie, joined a group of guys for a friendly card game. A friend welcomed them and said, “There’s old Toot-eye.” Another chimed in, “And old Mad-eye.” That one time, when Larry was spontaneously called Mad-eye, gave him a name he’s carried into retirement.

Tootie is a common nickname for both men and women, and it seems to be an affectionate name. Charlene Parrott signs her name Tootie on everything except legal documents, but she doesn’t know how she acquired this name. Growing up in Byrdstown I knew several Tooties: Tootie Cross, Tootie Keisling, Tootie Storie.

Most often, nicknames are given good-naturedly, with kindness, and to people liked and loved. Psychologists say a nickname allows an emotional connection, usually a positive one. So to all known by a nickname, cherish it. Embrace it.

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Get Out the Knitting Needles

Two sweaters, one green and one brown, are hidden away in the bottom of my cedar chest. I haven’t worn either sweater in decades, yet I won’t part with them. When I was teenager, Mom decided she and I would learn to knit, and Mom’s aunt agreed to teach us, if we were serious and would finish the sweaters we started.

The pattern I chose for a springtime green sweater was simple: only knit and purl stitches. But Mom, always eager for a challenge, chose a cable pattern. Before beginning the sweaters, we had to knit perfect squares to pass Aunt Dorothy’s standards. She was a stern teacher. If every knitted row, every stitch, wasn’t perfect, Aunt Dorothy ripped out stitches for us to do over.

After supper meals, Mom and I sat together, under a bright floor lamp, and knitted and talked and half-listened to whatever TV program Dad had chosen to watch. When we finally completed the sweater fronts, backs, and sleeves, we took them to Aunt Dorothy and learned how to stitch them together.

Mom sewed wool skirts and jumpers to match my two sweaters, and I wore them with pride for years. She continued knitting and made more sweaters and several afghans. But during my years of college and early marriage and teaching and raising children, I didn’t picked up knitting needles.

Then about 15 years ago, when a local yarn shop opened, I got the knitting bug and gave scarves for Christmas gifts. When our first Grand was a toddler, I took him to the yarn shop to choose yarn for a knitted cap and now his little brother wears it. But I haven’t progressed past scarves and caps.

Last winter, while Annabel and Lou visited overnight, I got out knitting needles and yarn and showed my two Grands how to knit. Lou, now 11, keeps a knitting project in her bag that goes everywhere just in case she has five minutes with nothing to do. Lou’s interest in knitting and a recent article I read have encouraged me to finish a scarf I started two years ago. (There’s my bad habit of starting a project and not finishing it! That was another column.)

I read that knitting acts as a natural antidepressant and helps ease anxiety and depression and aids with keeping the brain healthy. Repetitive knitting motions help the body relax, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and decrease muscle tension. Also, the movements of looping and purling can have the same effects on the brain as meditation.

And knitting helps the brain stay sharp because it is engaged and focused. Knitting is a mathematical activity: counting stitches, rows, changing from one stitch to another, increasing and decreasing stitches.

What better time to knit than the dead of winter?  It’s good way to relax and avoid depression. Everyone can knit – young, old, men, women. And maybe, someone will keep a scarf or cap or sweater tucked away as a happy memory made with love.

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