Monthly Archives: October 2016

Personal Space

I was standing in the checkout line, several feet behind the lady in front of me, perusing the candies and mints and chewing gum. If there’d been a Mounds bar on the rack it would have jumped into my hand.

I wasn’t in a hurry — not today. I had wandered the aisles, checking out the seasonal items that had appeared since my last visit. I hadn’t gotten a buggy when I entered the store because I wasn’t planning on buying anything, though I did manage to find one small item for my latest knitting project.

I overheard the clerk talking with the couple in front of me. “Would you like a rewards card?” the clerk asked. “It’s free and it’ll only take a moment.”

“That would be fine,” the woman said. The clerk proceeded to ring up the items, while the woman’s husband ripped open the bag of gummy worms they’d just purchased.

I prepared to wait. Rewards card enrollment always requires more than a moment. The woman was perhaps fifty, attractive, and neatly dressed. I wondered to myself why a classy lady was married to a man with huge colorful tattoos on both upper arms, a ragged tank top, and a cowboy hat. They didn’t seem to go together. Just my musings while I waited in line. . .

With the financial transaction concluded, the woman took her bags and moved toward the exit. The rewards card had obviously been forgotten.

I stepped up to the register since I was next in line. Just then the woman returned to the counter. I stepped back a bit to allow the clerk to hand the receipt to her.

Then the woman glared at me. “Personal space. You know what I mean?” She headed for the door, muttering, “I hate to complain but I need my space.” She stared at me one more glance and left the store.

“I didn’t do anything,” I said to the clerk. “I wasn’t even close to her.”

“You were fine,” the clerk said, doing her best to reassure me that the woman’s upset wasn’t my fault.

“I didn’t step up to the register until after she walked away. I thought she was finished.”

“You didn’t do a thing wrong,” the clerk repeated. “I am so sorry that happened.”

I’ve thought about what I might have said had there been an opportunity. I probably would have said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was crowding you.” Or I might have said, “I thought you were finished so I stepped up to the register. I didn’t realize you were coming back.”

I don’t generally apologize for things beyond my responsibility, but these comments would have been the right thing to say, even though I had done nothing wrong.

Once outside the store, I looked but didn’t see the couple any place. That was a good thing, I think. These days it doesn’t seem safe to talk with strangers in a parking lot, particularly when I had unknowingly offended them.

Lesson: be aware of people’s personal space lest you unknowingly cross their invisible boundary.

Until next Tuesday . . .


In June I wrote about  creative counting — about how we count some things in our lives and not others. I wrote then of friends who say I travel all the time — and how I consistently deny their assessment.

The other day over brunch, a close friend suggested, “Perhaps this traveling all the time is your reality. You’re definitely traveling more than when I first met you.”

Perhaps. Perhaps.

There was indeed a time when I traveled a lot — while I was taking care of my mother. I made the 200-mile round trip several times each week. Her health needs determined everything, or so it seemed. After her death I returned to my introverted life.

Since then I’ve moved to a larger city. Beyond my own efforts to get established here, an unexpected life has found me — one full of people and shared meals and travel and events.

In my mind I’m a homebody: I read, write, and practice piano. In reality my days are punctuated with comings and goings.

Fact: I’m traveling a lot throughout October, November, and December. I’m struggling to find time to read and write and practice.

My mind life and my real life are obviously disconnected — a disconnect beyond my awareness until my friend made casual mention of it. How often have I explained my homebody lifestyle — and didn’t catch her look of disbelieve? How often has she wondered when I would finally see this glaring truth?

Some life shifts are easy to recognize — retirement, marriage, job change, new child in the family, a relocation — and we prepare for them.  But other shifts occur over time — often without our permission or awareness.

To tell you the truth, I’m often surprised when friends share an observation of my life. I consider myself very self aware — the result of years of introspection. Yet they see things I’ve never noticed — habits, mannerisms, truths. They know I’ll ponder such revelations  and eventually adjust my actions or thinking.

So I’ve been wondering how my life shifted from “a homebody who seldom travels” to “a body who is seldom home and often travels”? Did it slip in when I wasn’t paying attention? Was I so busy making plans that I didn’t notice the days and miles piling in the corner? Did it just happen a little bit at a time — one weekend away, then another, and another?

How it happened doesn’t really matter. The bigger question is, “What will I do now?”

First, I have to acknowledge my new truth which will eliminate the disconnect my friends have observed for months, even years. I will tell a different story: while I love being at home doing my stuff, I travel a lot.

Second, though I love road trips and cruises and sharing events with friends, I need down time for my survival and well-being. Because homebody time doesn’t magically appear, I have to plan and protect such sacred time.

Our disconnects are not always obvious to us, the owners. Other people can plant the seeds for our pondering, but we must do the work to decrease the belief-reality disconnect.

Until next Tuesday . . .





Too much of a good thing . . .

The courtship letter project, begun last January, is finished.

Last week I wrote about adding the final touches to the manuscript — the insertion of scanned images of my parents’ handwriting to fill partial blank pages. Once the printer confirmed the images could be printed in black and white, I forged ahead.

Problem #1: I thought I had a few blank spaces to fill — perhaps 20 or 30. Wrong. There must have been at least 100. The more I scanned the more images I wanted to insert. Even small empty spaces had to be filled. For days and nights, scanning, cropping, inserting, and saving was my life. I was relentless — like a dog after a bone.  Nothing deterred me from my self-appointed work.

Problem #2: My computer started misbehaving: saving slowly, declining format requests, refusing to move images as directed, deleting carefully placed page borders. Sometimes rebooting corrected the problem. Sometimes not. The thought of losing a year’s work created a certain terror. A young techie suggested, “Move the file and images to a CD and create a backup; that might help.” Upon rebooting and reloading the CD file I discovered that some — actually many — of my images were missing. The spaces were there, but no pictures.

I pondered. I thought. If I was ever going to be a drinking woman this was it.

I called my techie.

Conclusion: the file was too big.

Reality: I had gotten over-zealous, as I often do. What had begun as a good idea was  now dead in the water. My computer wouldn’t let me continue. To stop where I was would look like I quit without finishing — and I never do that.

Solution: “Just suck it up and do what you have to do,” I said to myself. “Stop whining.” No ugly words blistered the air. My path was clear: reset my vision and forge ahead with the same obsession I used for scanning. Days of work succumbed to my DELETE button. In between DELETE . . . DELETE . . . DELETE . . . a new plan seeped into my brain: a one page collage of their letters and envelopes would do the job; one page of images instead of 100 separate ones. Why hadn’t I thought of this earlier? Within a few hours, I made the corrections and delivered the file to the printer.

Moral of the story: Too much of a good thing is often too much.

Here’s how this scenario often plays out for me:

  • If 30 scans are good, why not fill every available space? I will scan more because I can.
  • In the clothing store, I find a shirt or pants I love. I buy it in three colors or five colors. It’s not about need. I buy because I can.
  • In my kitchen, I seldom bake one batch of cookies. I bake double or triple batches of several varieties, all in one afternoon. Because I can. Yes, it’s efficient but often not necessary.

Perhaps you do similar things.

We need to stop and say to ourselves, “Enough is enough.” And remind ourselves that more is not always better.

More is just exhausting.

Until next Tuesday . . .


Letters for Leyton

DSC00464Since January I’ve been compiling my parents’ courtship letters, written from 1936 – 1939. Though there are over 300 letters, I approached it as a simple, but large, typing job. My goal was to complete the project by the end of the year. Plenty of time.

Not far into the typing I discovered a need to document the people and things they wrote about. I kept thinking about my youngest great nephew who will eventually read these letters. Not only has he not met the letter writers, he won’t know the other relatives mentioned, the radio shows, the authors, the colleges, the movies and songs of their day, the automobiles, and so many other things. Research on the 137 noted items became a major task after the letter typing was completed.

As I typed I wanted to keep my parents’ original spellings, so I inserted [sic] after their errors so the reader wouldn’t think I made a lot of typos. Those [sic]s were totally annoying as I read the finished manuscript. So I took them out — more than 1000 of them. Using search-find-delete can create unforeseen problems requiring another edit of the manuscript, so I deleted them individually. The issue of my parents’ writing errors is now noted with a few sentences in the introduction.

After all of that, I realized a family tree would be helpful. Though I’ve heard about the relatives all of my life, I continue to have difficulty connecting everyone correctly. So I dug through the family archives in my garage, found most documents, and sent emails to get the other information I needed. Another not-so-small task.

The completed document is 470 pages and nearly 200,000 words. Before tweaking the final formatting I consulted with Office Depot (my printer) to make sure everything was exactly right for their process — only to discover that we have to print two-sided instead of one-sided (my original plan). There are now places where a blank page must be inserted to guarantee that section dividers print on the front, not the back side.

Since the last year of the letters contains all of the details of their wedding plans, I planned to scan two wedding photos onto the final page of the document. Number One Son taught me how to scan and insert photos into the document. No problem. Piece of cake.

From the very beginning I’ve had one dilemma: though the typed letters are accessible and readable, the original handwriting and envelopes with all the stamps are not available to the reader. Now that I know how to scan, a brilliant idea flashed into my brain. Since every letter begins on a new page, portions of some pages are blank. Why not scan parts of the original letters into these blank spaces? Little did I know how many such spaces existed in this project. What I originally thought would be a tiny bit of scanning has become huge — but I believe it enhances the project, so I am forging ahead.

When we start a project — any project — we have a vision. We can see it finished. But in our unknowing, we’re unaware of what will crop up along that way, what complications will arise, what additional steps may be required, or what will simply take more time than we imagined.

And at every step we have to ask: Do I need to do this additional thing? Will it make my project better? Am I willing to do the extra work? Can I expand my vision beyond my original idea? When is enough, enough?

So, Leyton, the expansion of my project is all for you. I want you to know about the world of your great grandparents when they were in love and courting and planning their wedding. The children they talked about having turned out to be your grandfather and me and your great uncle (our younger brother). You know us. And because you know us and you can read this compilation of letters, perhaps you can understand the profound influence our ancestors had on our lives.

Until next Tuesday . . .