Reevaluate the Good Ole Days

As far as I can remember there have been people who touted the “good ole days” as the best of days ever. Everything from fried chicken to motor vehicles was better in the good ole days. I used to laugh and remind my grandmother that outdoor toilets and oil lamps were part of the good ole days. Of course, my point was the good ole days probably weren’t as great as she made them out to be. (That was immaturity on my part.) The pandemic has caused many of us to look back and lament the good ole days with the same fervency that my grandmother ascribed to the years of long ago. This gave me the thought that I should evaluate the good ole days for myself as I joined the chorus of those singing the praise of the “good ole days.”

In the midst of this worldwide pandemic, socio-economic downturn, civic unrest, and political propaganda, its easy to look back to the so-called better days. Days when everyone who wanted to work had a job. Days when we could whet our appetites with whatever type of entertainment we preferred. Days when purchases didn’t require deliberation. Days when our political opinions were just another component of general conversation. Days when fear did not tarnish our faith that bigger, brighter, better days were ahead of us. Yes, the good ole days when we took our freedoms and privileges for granted. Yet, I ask myself, were those days all that I thought they were? Were they as good as you thought they were?

As I reflect and consider the things I miss most, before social distancing and sheltering-in, there are some things that I would love to recover. Things like meeting my friends for brunch or planning a personal retreat at a resort or the monastery. Things like jazz at the High Museum or hot buttered popcorn at the movies. These social and personal choices were rewards for putting in a hard day’s/week’s/month’s work. I deserved a break from the rat race. I deserved to splurge every now and then for the things I wanted for myself or my loved ones. Your list may have been different from mine, but the sentiment may be the same or similar. There are components of the good ole “normal” days that we all miss and long for, and its hard to imagine that we may not be able to recapture those things. Yet, is it possible that we have gained something equally as valuable to fulfill our lives in the post-pandemic days ahead. (I’ve got to believe there will be a post-pandemic era.)

When I reevaluate the good ole days, I find there are some important insights to be gained. There were too many days when I didn’t have time to spend with the ones I love. There were long periods of time when I didn’t have meaningful conversation with those that I consider an important part of my life. There were too many times when I couldn’t and didn’t take the time to define and refine my personal goals. There were times when even my health took a backseat to my workload. There were far too many times when I moved through the day/week/month mechanically. Habitual routine was the only guiding force. In other words, everything about the good ole days wasn’t really great like outdoor toilets and lack of electricity.

The fact of the matter is when my grandma and other elders spoke about the good ole days, they rarely talked about things. They talked about relationships. They were recalling days when neighbors were really neighborly; when family was central to community; when children were the center of dreams for a better tomorrow; and when everyone had time for one another. I remember hating traveling with my aunt when she delivered her Avon orders. She wouldn’t just drop them off and collect her money; she would have conversation with every customer, asking about their family, their crops, sometimes even their pets. Every transaction was a social event and in my mine it took forever. If the pandemic has taught me nothing else, its taught me to value the time I invest in relationships.

Whatever the post-pandemic normal holds for us, I hope we will not lose the perspectives we have developed during the pandemic. I hope we’ll look back in reflection to the “good ole pandemic days” and recall how good it was to watch out for one another. I hope we’ll hold on to all the avenues we used to maintain relationships and establish new ones. I hope we won’t just return to the rat race, but we will take time for self-contemplation and self-care. In the same way that my grandmother wanted to bring aspects of the good ole days forward into modernity, I pray we will bring our community/neighborly habits forward into the new normal as well as improve upon them.

So perhaps the things we used to do because we deserved a break will become the things we do for a well-lived life. Perhaps the choices we make to vacation, retreat, socialize or enjoy entertainment will not be things we force into the schedule. Perhaps they will be planned as part of the schedule to enhance relationships and communication with those that we love. In the midst of our busyness let us not loose the lessons of the good ole days. Modern conveniences should allow us to enjoy life more, rather than increase our productivity to the point of not living.

Take the time to reevaluate the good ole days. Maintain the best parts of them regardless of the circumstances surrounding them. Stay safe, stay sane, stay in community.

We all want to live a life that matters. We all want to reach our full potential. But too often we find ourselves overwhelmed by the day-to-day. New York Times bestselling author Michael Hyatt wants readers to know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Amazon.com

True Engagement

Have you ever had someone ask you a question and never give you a chance to answer; they continue talking as if the answer wasn’t relevant or as if they already knew the answer? How annoying is that? God forbid they actually answer the question for you! This is not a conversation because there is no engagement.

Another example of this lack of engagement is when the questions are closed, requiring a yes, no, or some other monosyllabic reply. These interactions often occur with teens. Questions like, “How was school today,” or “Did you have fun tonight?” The answers are yes, no, alright, or I guess. No real information has been exchanged. No real engagement has taken place. Whether we want to admit it or not, these types of dialogue are useless.

The formula for true dialogue, for true conversation is: open-ended questions + active listening = engagement. As an educator, I could get very academic with this, but that is not my purpose. What I’m after as a person, as a writer, as a blogger, and as an individual in relationship with other individuals, is true engagement, true dialogue, real conversation.

This can only happen if we are truly interested in what others have to say. Their experiences, their worldview, their opinions, must be as valuable to us when we are talking as our’s. That doesn’t mean that we won’t disagree from time to time, but it does mean we understand the basis of someone else’s point of view. After all, conversation by definition is an exchange of thoughts, ideas, and/or feelings between people.

Generally speaking, conversations are the tools we use to build relationships. Dialogue implies interest. Open-ended questions also imply interest. If I want to know what you think, how you feel, what you believe, or what experiences you’ve had with the topic at hand, I will have to ask you. An open-ended question is one that requires a thoughtful reply. (Even is a person lies, they have to think about it first.) The response will not be a single word that does not lend itself to further conversation or understanding.

What have you been doing with your time during the quarantine? What are you doing to maintain your mental health during this time of social distancing? How do you think the economy will bounce back from all the shutdowns? What laws would you like to see instituted to stop police brutality? What experiences have you had with people outside your race? How would you want your grandchildren to respond to racism? These are open-ended questions. These are questions that allow the other person to respond from within their scope of knowledge and understanding. A discussion may develop not only in the moment, but over time.

Having good open-ended questions isn’t enough though. We must also be active listeners. As mentioned above, it does no good to ask questions if we aren’t going to listen to the answers. Active listening requires us to not only hear, but to be attentive. Have you ever had the experience where someone told you something and you walked away thinking, what did they just say? You heard them, but you were not attentive. Maybe you were texting while they were talking, or maybe you were thinking of your to-do list. Worst yet, maybe you were thinking you already knew what they were going to say and simply dismissed it until you realized that’s not what they said at all. Active listening withholds judgement, advice, and preconceived notions. Active listening reflects on what the person is saying and seeks clarification when in doubt of the meaning of what they said. Active listeners can repeat what a person has said to them because they gave that person their full attention.

When active listening is paired with open-ended questions true engagement take place. These communication skills can develop relationships where everyone feels safe to express themselves. More than that, relationships move from the superficial to the authentic relationships we value most. When you value what someone has to say, you begin to value them. (In today’s vernacular, when you know where they are coming from, you know if you can hang with them or not.)

When we are really listening, we don’t interrupt the other person. We don’t argue with them even when we don’t agree. We are able to say, “I know how you feel and what you think, but that’s not how I feel or what I think so we’ll need to come up with a working compromise. (Lord, I wish we were all mature enough to do this.) Of course, this whole conversation is based on the assumption that true engagement is our goal.

True engagement is not only about developing relationships, but about drawing closer in those relationships. Meaningful relationships only occur when conversations move from polite dialogue to significant interpersonal investments. (See Jan. 6 Blog: Personal Investments) Things like empathy, sincerity, interest, mutual respect, commonality, compassion, and camaraderie come out of true engagement.

In these tumultuous times, we need the formula of true engagement more than ever. Through it, we can extend our knowledge and our freedoms as citizens and as individuals who are still in this thing – all these things – together.

Try It! Share it! Do it! Open-ended Questions + Active Listening = True Engagement.

4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication in Love, Life, Work–Anywhere! is an excellent ‘How-To Guide’ for practicing the key skills that will help you identify and overcome communication barriers and achieve relationship success with the important people in your life–your spouse or partner, child or children, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, customers–everyone! Amazon.com

When things get back to “normal” . . .

I have have heard this sentiment expressed so many times in the last couple of days. It always leaves me wondering “whose normal”; “what part of normal,” and “what do you mean by normal?” In my mind “normal” can be relative. After all, very few people have the same lifestyle or the same worldview as others. Right???

I’m not sure returning to “normal” is a great idea. When I ask myself whether I want everything to return to the way it was, my answer is no. There are life lessons I’ve learned during this time of sheltering-in that I don’t want to lose. There are also things I learned about myself that I don’t want to do or be anymore. I see this as a positive not a negative. Here’s some examples:

I want to keep having relationships with the seniors (elderly adults) in my life. I want to listen to their wisdom, their humorous comments, and their recipes for longevity. I want to remind them how important they are and what a blessing it is to be in their company. I want to interview them and record their experiences and their worldview for posterity. When this sheltering time is over, I want to spend time in their presence, not just letters, video chats, and texts or emails. I want to be truly present.

I want to spend quality time with my family. I don’t want it to be so unusual that we are all together in the same place actually communicating and participating in activities together. I don’t want to be so busy that it becomes an excuse for being unavailable. Life is too precious for that kind of regret. There’s a time and place for everything, and my family time is not the time to be preoccupied.

I want to continue journaling, my self care regiment, reaching out to friends and family, and taking the time to appreciate the beauty of every day. There are so many inspiring things in nature, so many uplifting experiences, so many valuable relationships, and so many wonderful words to read and to write; I don’t want to lose any of these things. Living through the pandemic has changed my perspective, I believe for the better.

Certainly, I want to continue working with children as an occupation. I love what I do. I also want to continue to produce poetry and stories and writing my blog; that’s part of who I am. I suppose it can be argued that these things are part of my normal, but I’m not sure I will look at these things in the same way. Working with children is an important investment, not just a job. Writing is a valuable means of expression, I can’t afford to frivolous with it. Bene-log (Good Word) is my intention in everything I write – to encourage, to inspire, to entertain.

When things go back to “normal,” I hope people will remember how to appreciate others. I hope people will continue to help others and consider the less fortunate. I hope we will keep the so-called least (the elderly, the children, the homeless, the impoverished) in our communities lifted. When things go back to normal perhaps we can be more thrifty and conservative in our spending and never be hoarders again. Perhaps we can continue sanitary habits in public and private. Perhaps we will never take our blessings for granted again, especially life and health.

When things go back to normal maybe it could be a “better normal.” What do you think? Is the old normal really what you want, or has your normal been changed forever and for the best? I’d love to hear from you.

Many people today feel overworked, overbooked, and burned out. They long for purposeful and meaningful lives. The remedy lies in rediscovering what it means to be truly present…
amazon.com

Living in Joy

Okay, I’ll admit the title is a play on words, but I didn’t want to say “enjoy living” because I want to talk about more than just enjoying living. I want to talk about finding joy in living. One of my favorite songs is: “Golden” sang by Jill Scott. The hook says, “I’m livin’ my life like it’s golden, golden, golden . . .” That’s what I’m talking about. Living life like it is a precious gift; creating memorable moments and treasuring valuable relationships -living in joy.

Perhaps you are thinking that’s a crazy idea considering our “new normal” during this pandemic, but that makes it more important than ever as far as I’m concerned. If the Corona-virus has taught me anything, it’s that life is way to fragile. Since that’s true, why live with regrets. Why miss opportunities to live in joy. I’m surprised at the little things that can bring joy into our lives and the lives of the people we love even in the midst of crisis.

The other day, my granddaughter had a really bad day at work. I could tell she had been crying even before she shared the events of her day with me. The next day she came into my room an hour before it was time for her to leave for work. She said, “I want to quit! I don’t want to go!” I encouraged her to go and to keep her own goals in mind in spite of how other people behave. As soon as she walked out of the door, I sent her a meme of Squidward (a Sponge Bob character, I spend a lot of time with kids) taking a shower in money followed by a Waynan Brothers meme that said, “Mo’ Money.” I could picture her laughing. She was probably surprised I knew how to send a meme in the first place. When she came home I asked her if she needed a few more memes. She laughed and said, “Nana, you’re so extra!” (I think that’s slang for being great lol.) Today, I sent her a Wonder Women meme and told her how proud of her I am. This was a little thing that brought us both joy.

While you are sheltering in, you can still live in joy. My husband brought me breakfast one morning. It was one slice of bacon and one teaspoon of scrambled eggs. He presented it to me like it was a gourmet meal. His giggles turned into us both laughing, so I returned the favor the next day with one mini sausage and one very small piece of omelet.

Today, I sent several friends songs from my YouTube playlist with a message of love and encouragement. I wrote a poem (the beginning of a new collection) even though it’s really hard for me to write at home. Yet, it was very satisfying. My mom and I prayed together and watched a video bible study together. Today she called all her church friends just to see how they were doing. She was on the phone for hours and I could hear her laughing which also made me smile. What are the things you can do to find and share joy?

Here’s a few old-fashioned things you can do even if you live alone. Give yourself a spa night – a warm bath, a glass of wine, a scented candle. Follow that with painting your nails or just doing a manicure/pedicure. Draw a hop scotch on the sidewalk or in the street for the neighborhood kids. Plant a flower or some vegetables. (You can order seeds, soil, and pots on-line at very low cost.) Cook your favorite meal and serve it on your best china. Call a family member and share a story that’s old and hilarious. Play basketball with your dirty clothes by throwing them in the washer from five or six feet away. (Social distancing my laundry, now that’s a plan.) Get the popcorn, turn the lights out and watch your favorite movie. Add whatever makes you smile to this list. Be creative!

I choose to live in joy rather than fear. I can’t do anything about the Corona-virus and all its mandates. I can choose my attitude, my disposition, and my outlook. I can be grateful that I’m still alive. I can use my gifts, my talents, and my time to bring joy to myself and others by any means necessary – and it is necessary because life is valuable. Try living your life like it’s golden for two weeks, then send me a comment about your experiences. Together, we may come up with more ways to live in joy.

Golden
amazon.com

I Choose Joy: The Daily Gratitude Practice That Will Transform Your Life
The Daily Gratitude Practice: Record your gratitude for ten things in your life. Write down three goals. Commit to personal and professional growth. amazon.com

Our Need to Connect

Why is it you never miss things or people until they are gone or unavailable? When I think of all the times I complained about my students, my co-workers, or even my family, it seems ridiculous now. No doubt, I took their presence for granted. No doubt, I discounted the value of their connection to my life. Funny how we lie to ourselves. In honesty, after small breaks I was always ready to go back to work. After several days of vacation or time at home, I was always ready to return to my routine, my kids, and my people. That’s the thing! We all have our people.

All of our daily routines are connected to people whether they are co-workers, children, clients, siblings, competitors, bosses, or spouses. People connect us to our purpose. People enhance our identity and inform our desires. Okay, maybe that’s a little too poetic, after all that’s my niche. The fact is we have a innate need to connect and that need is suffering from “social distancing” and “sheltering in.” That’s why we need to find creative ways to connect even during these Conronavirus days.

We need to make connections beyond texting and emails; we need to connect with human voices and faces. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facetime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Duo, and all the other techno-means of contacting people. However, I’m talking about more than that. For example, neighbors can schedule times to meet in their front yards or over the back fence. Or you can stand 6 feet from grandma’s open window or six parking spaces from your best friend in the school parking lot. Perhaps you could have a four corners’ community meeting at the four-way stop in your neighborhood. Each family takes a corner so the children get to talk and see each other as well. Today, I met a dear friend in the parking lot of the grocery store, we both stayed in our cars and caught up on our families’ well-being.

Even though we are nervous about contact with others, most of us are still in contact with others in some form such as: doctor’s appointments, essential shopping, and contact with repair people. Asking and listening to the answer of the question, “how are you?” is important. While taking the time to talk to cashiers, or restaurant workers isn’t a deep heartfelt connection; it is still an important human connection. Sharing sincere appreciation for someone’s service is a much needed connection in times like these. All it takes is a little empathy and compassion.

Before COVID 19, we all had a network of friends, family, and even commercial partners in the marketplace (like my hairstylist, nail tech, and mechanic). These are essential connections. Some psychologists believe they are necessary for our mental health as well. Through these connections we become inspired and motivated to fulfill our purpose (dreams, goals, callings, niches). They reinforce our sense of self and increase our acceptance of others. We feel fulfilled emotionally and socially when we have these connections. We also feel safe and whole when we are connected to our people, our community of significant others. (Wow, that’s a little preachy.) Our need for connection is real is all I’m really trying to say.

Our need for connection with others is a real need, and we shouldn’t give up on it easily. We can use our creativity to communicate with others. If you have elders in your life, as I do, here’s one last way to connect. My mom is 89 and she loves letters and cards. She is from that generation where handwritten letters demonstrated the genuineness of the relationship. In fact, she has a little keepsake box of letters she has received over the years. So you can connect through handwritten letters, to protect the most vulnerable in our lives. Don’t forget to add some pictures.

One time there was someone very close to me in jail. They felt isolated and I felt helplessly locked out of their lives. I was shocked to see how much it meant to both us to talk through the glass and press our palms together on it. Just those few minutes each week gave us both hope and kept our relationship in tact. Our need for connection was somehow fulfilled just by laying eyes on one another and hearing each other’s voice. COVID 19 has us behind the glass, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to connect.

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World
The good news is that social connection is innate and a cure for loneliness. In Together, the former Surgeon General will address the importance of community and connection and offer viable and actionable solutions to this overlooked epidemic. amazon.com
The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods
We need our neighbors and community to stay healthy, produce jobs, raise our children, and care for those on the margin. Institutions and professional services have reached their limit of their ability to help us. amazon.com

Purposeful Remembering

Today I found out that some one I care about has died. I knew they were sick, but I didn’t know how bad it was. It saddens me that I missed his last days thinking that I had more time. Yet, I am content knowing that we had the time to know one another and care for one another – time well spent. That’s where purposeful remembering comes in. Now I am going to take the time over the next few days to remember his investment into my life – how we laughed, how we discussed scripture, how we enjoyed good food, how we walked together, sharing companionship without words. I will remember his fatherhood toward me when I needed it the most.

As I writer, it important to me to capture the precious moments of everyone that touches my life. I especially want to internalize their voices. ( This is one of the reasons behind my book: Our Voices . . .) The words that people leave with us are like little treasures. Their words add richness to our way of life, and our way of thinking, whether it’s wisdom, truth, or disagreement. Even lies have an impact on how we think and feel about a topic. People leave something of themselves with us through the things that they say to us, and those things take root in one way or another – emotionally, spiritually, or intellectually.

Remembering in this way is very purposeful. It makes the people you miss live on in your heart and mind. It’s like walking down the lane with a friend. (Now that’s a country reference for you city kids. The lane is the road that leads to a friend or relative’s house where there are no sidewalks and sometimes no paving.) This memory walk makes you smile, makes you cry, makes you laugh, and makes you enjoy the fellowship all over again. Then if you take the time to write them down (diary, journal, scrap book notes with pictures), they are never lost.

My life has been so enriched by people of so many generations. (I’m not just talking about those who have died. Everyday I enjoy the lives of four and five years-old’s, and it’s true they say “the darn-est things.” I also get to spend time with my elders, persons 20 to 30 years older than me. ) I don’t ever want to loose those encounters. I won’t allow myself to forget the valuable experiences I’ve shared. The impact of true relationships is too important to me. The time invested in real relationships is well worth it during the time spent and afterwards. (See “Personal Investments,” Jan. 16th.)

I will share these times with others along the way. That’s part of the purposeful remembering too. Sharing memories with others allows us to expand our knowledge of an individual, because relationship dynamics vary depending on the people involved. The thing that means the most to me may not be reminiscent with your knowledge of that person at all. Sharing will allow us to enjoy and experience that person anew. Like, “Wow, I never knew that!” I’m already smiling just thinking about that. I know this will happen when I go over to the family home of my friend and we begin sharing our memories.

No one should have to say the words, “Don’t forget me!” because we should be mark an effort to remember those we love by being purposeful in keeping them near and dear to our hearts.

My Pen Remembers

My pen speaks of cool summer
Days, baseball in the rain
And your warm wrinkled face
Those fertile rows of wisdom carved
Over time and tilled by the plows
Of segregation and degradation
Yet you smiled.

My pen speaks of wood burning stoves
Black-eyed kittens and the sweet smell
Of gardens planted by your creased cracked
Fingers; a day of hard labor
At a house not your own nor could you enter
Yet you sang.

My pen speaks of overalls of faded denim
And plaid red flannel shirts soft upon your
Frail frame; still working after seventy years
Of being called boy and never a man
Sowing seeds of hope in several generations
Through the long dark days
Yet you found laughter

My pen is silenced by the sound of your love
That still warms my heart and stirs my memories
And calls me to be better because you endured.
What can’t be captured on paper is captured in my heart
So I smile, I sing, I laugh,
And I lay my pen down.

available Amazon.com

The Face of Favors

Don’t you just hate when certain people say, “Hey, would you do me a favor?” Fight or flight syndrome kicks right in because you know when that person says favor all the give and take is on your end. It’s like when certain people say, “Can you loan me xyz dollars?” Why can’t they just say, “Can you give me xyz dollars?” because they know pay back is not a part of the deal.

I’m of the mindset that our friendship or our family relationship should be close enough for us to be helping each other all the time. For example, if I’m in the market and I see cherries on sell, I buy some for my best friend because I know she loves them as much as I do. If I go to a seminar and get some information that I think may be helpful to someone else I know, I take some screen shots and send that person the info. This is not a one way street. My closest friends and family buy books, fruit, and royal blue things (my favorite color) for me all the time. Why? Because when you have a true relationship with someone their best interest is in your heart. When you care for someone, little things will make you think about them; commonalities make their names pop into your conscious stream of thought from time to time throughout the day/week/month.

So when certain people ask for favors or money, I can’t help but think where are their special relationships? Where are those close family members and friends that they hang with when they need something? How did I get to be their go-to person in their hour of need?

Seriously, I don’t mind doing favors for people or even loaning money when I have it, but it strikes me strange when I only hear from certain people when I’m needed in some kind of way! Is it too much to ask that our relationship should have more depth than that? I guess I’m saying the favors should have the face of real friends and family. Of course, it depends on the need – the favor being asked.

Not very long ago, a friend who lives in Tennessee called me. She said she received a request from me for money via social media. The request said I had been injured while out of town and needed money to get back home. Apparently, the request was for a substantial amount. Being my friend, she wanted to help in any way that she could so she called me immediately. Needless to say, it was a scam! Yet, it must be a scam that works! Someone must be sending money based on this request without checking with the individual making the request. My friend in Tennessee said she couldn’t picture me sending this kind of request via social media. She couldn’t picture my face asking for this kind of favor so impersonally, and I was so glad she didn’t. I was also glad that we had spent enough time getting to know one another that she could not be duped by such a scam.

Perhaps we should all take more time in establishing real relationships. Perhaps social media has interfered with our ability to truly get to know people. I mean, we have a lot of acquaintances and associates, but do we have true friends/true family? Even blood family isn’t as close as they once were! Sometimes it seems like family only gets together for funerals and weddings, and even that depends on which family member it is. Yet, in the time of need, we call on the ones who are most likely to come through despite any real personal connection.

So here it is. Ask me for a favor. and I’ll ask you for time – time to know you better, time to really invest in your life, time for you to invest in mine, time to cultivate a real relationship. Who knows, after we spend some real time together maybe we will meet one another’s needs without ever having to ask for a favor? Perhaps, your face will be present in my heart and pop into my mind on a regular basis. One day, I just may call you up and ask you can I do something for you before you ever get a chance to ask for a favor. The face of that favor will be friendship!

Available on Amazon
Scams: Learn valuable skills to avoid being scammed by frauds. Real experiences of fraud detection, Fraud Examination, phishing emails, scam calls & more.
Available on Amazon in paperback.