What’s in a name?

By Jeanne Reynolds

If you’re like most of us, you’ll probably spend more time than usual with extended family this month: aunts, uncles, grandparents, in-laws, parents of old school friends.

Have you ever struggled with how to address them — especially as you get older and are no longer one of “the kids”?

This came up the other day when I stopped by a friend’s football tailgate and the conversation drifted to the topic of their parents — former neighbors of ours — and then on to the names by which we address our in-laws.

I became really intrigued by this, and started a sort of informal survey of other friends and family members. Turns out this is a tricky issue for most of us, and goes beyond family to pretty much anyone a generation older than us. If you’ve spent the first 20 (or more) years of your life calling someone Uncle Joe, it feels weird to start saying just Joe. And if your high school BFF’s mom was Mrs. Smith, how old do you have to be to call her Mary?

In-law nomenclature seems to bring its own set of unwritten rules. If you started out from day one calling your intended’s parents by their first names, no problem. But if they were Mr. and Mrs. Jones when you were dating, when is it OK to segue to Bob and Judy? Does it depend on how long you’ve been married, or your age, or your relationship with them? I’ve been married for almost 25 years, and am just now experimenting with first names for my in-laws. It feels a little odd but seems to be OK. It’s certainly less confusing when there are several Mrs. Reynolds in the room.

I experienced another spin on this generational name-calling last year when a friend’s daughter came to work for me as a summer intern. Like most companies, we’re all on a first-name basis from the president on down, so Mrs. Reynolds wasn’t going to cut it if she wanted to position herself as a capable professional. (Also out: “Yes, ma’am.” Not sure which was harder for her, being a good southern girl.) It was probably even more confusing for her when she went home in the evening. I imagine this:

Her mom: “How was work today?”

My intern: “I got a great new project from Jeanne … I mean Mrs. Reynolds … I mean … oh heck.”

Yes, the names we use for each other do matter. They can indicate respect, professionalism, status and intimacy. It can be annoying when someone takes the first-name liberty inappropriately (think telemarketer) and a slap when someone refuses that permission. And it’s very much a personal preference. An online search found numerous articles offering advice on when it’s appropriate to use first names, but mostly for business situations. When it comes to personal relationships, we’re kind of all on our own.

If in doubt, you could always just ask. More likely than not, most people are just happy to talk with you and really don’t care that much. So don’t be surprised if you hear some version of that old joke: “You can call me whatever you want. Just don’t call me late for dinner.”

 

Put down the phone!

By Jeanne Reynolds

I’m pulling out of Ricky’s on Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia with a brand-new set of tires, heading back to work at the tail-end of the Thursday lunch hour. I’ve driven maybe 100 yards when whoosh! The red SUV next to me swerves suddenly into my lane.

I slam on brakes and jerk the steering wheel hard right, narrowly avoiding a collision. Really glad for those new tires right now.

My heart is beating hard, my hands are shaking and I can barely breathe. I look over to see if the other driver is acknowledging she nearly caused a wreck. An apologetic wave? A sheepish smile? No, because her right hand is raised to face level, holding what looks like … a phone.

Now, just before her ill-timed move, I noticed the car in front of her appeared to move into the left turn lane abruptly without signaling. Ms. SUV was following too closely to start with and I’d guess wasn’t paying enough attention to brake in time, thanks to her irresistible mobile device.

With one hand now pressed to my forehead as I try to calm down, I make it safely back to the office. And here’s the really ironic part: The National Public Radio news program I’m listening to as I navigate those last few miles is running a story on the dangers of technology and distracted driving. Yeah, tell me about it.

Friends, this time of year more than any, please put down the phone while you’re driving. Between all the extra errands we’re trying to cram into our lunch hours, the million things racing through our mental to-do lists and the scheduling squeeze of kids’ activities and holiday social events, most of us are distracted enough. Add in the now-early nightfall, and we really need to have two hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road.

If you don’t care about me in the next lane, think about how a cast on your leg will ruin your special holiday party outfit, or how a big bill from the body shop coupled with a hefty ticket will put a crimp in your gift-giving budget.

And it could be much worse than that: 9 people die every day because of car crashes involving distracted drivers.

Think it can’t happen to you? If you’d been riding shotgun with me on Sunset last week, you might reconsider.

 

Digging out of the Doldrums

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Sometimes it just all seems like too much.

Work projects I thought I had plenty of time to tackle are suddenly looming over me. I still haven’t painted the laundry room or cleaned out my closet. The pile of charity donations sits where I started it months ago. My office colleagues are quibbling and pulling me into the middle. A nagging hip injury caused me to miss a race for an important cause. My favorite football team lost. And I’m two days late turning in this blog post.

Yeah, I know, first world problems.

Still, all of us go through times when the stress of everyday life seems overwhelming. The list of things to get done grows faster than we can cross them off and molehill-size annoyances take on mountainous proportions.

As the joys – and chores, errands and demands – of the holiday season approach, this seems like a good time to remind myself of simple ways to keep perspective. Maybe some of these will work for you, too.

Take a deep breath. I recently started taking a weekly yoga class (see nagging hip injury above) and apparently, it’s all about breathing. It helps bring oxygen to your muscles and clears your mind. And it’s a concept I can use any time I feel things piling up around me. No stretchy pants required.

Get outside. I don’t know if it’s the aforementioned oxygen or just being surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation, but going for a run or walk, playing a round of golf or even picking up pine cones and sticks in the yard (talk about your never-ending task) never fails to help me change my focus.

Write it down. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer – and old-school, too – but the physical act of writing things down helps me feel better organized. I wrote back in August about how making a master list of everything you need to do creates some mental space and alleviates some of the pressure. If that doesn’t appeal to you, here’s another idea: Keep a running list of the blessings in your life. Jot one or more on your calendar each day, then go back at the end of the week, month or year and read them. This is something your whole family can do. Start now and share around the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Start anywhere. Can’t face cleaning out the whole closet? Start with one shelf, one drawer or the shoe rack. The sense of accomplishment will feel great and may inspire you to tackle another piece of the project. I often use this strategy to overcome writer’s block. I just start keying in phrases, bullets or ideas, then go back and cobble them together into a cohesive whole.

Let it be. Sometimes the best thing to do is … nothing. Taking time to think through a problem before jumping in likely will lead to a better solution. Give yourself permission to procrastinate. It may be good for you. (Note to my editor: This is my excuse, I mean reason, for being late this time. Is it working?)

Pray. This one should be at the top of the list instead of the end. I don’t know why it’s one of the last things I think of. I rarely pray for a particular solution to a problem. Instead, my prayer takes the form of thankfulness for my blessings and for knowing God is always there for me. It’s a reminder that no amount of list-making or closet-cleaning means I’m really in control. And thank goodness for that.

How to Make Instagram Instantly Better

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I am not a social media maven. No, let’s be honest: I don’t even like social media. I just don’t see the fascination of wasting hours trolling through tweets or tracking someone’s every movement on Facebook. (Fair disclosure: I have Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts, but only because I need them in my work.)

This blog and an Instagram account are as adventurous as I get in social media, and the Instagram account only came about more or less by accident. A conference I went to offered a drawing prize for attendees who posted throughout the event using its hashtag. I’d heard of Instagram but didn’t know much about it or why anyone would want to use it. But with that prize dangling in front of me — and a long trip with time to kill — I downloaded the app and taught myself how to use it.

Well, guess what? It was a ton o’ fun, and so simple even I could get the hang of it quickly. Just take a picture, type a short phrase about it, toss in a few hashtags and click share. I don’t have a lot of followers (you can be one: search for @jeannedreynolds) nor do I follow many people, but I have been able to connect with one or two long-lost friends and gained some insight into the personal lives of some of the creative, caring and really cool people I work with.

But — you knew there was a but coming, right? — the more experience I have with Instagram, the more posts I see that are, well, kind of annoying. Here, then, are my gentle suggestions for making the most of your Instagram posts:

  1. Post a picture of someone besides yourself. Of course I like you or I wouldn’t be following you, but your constant stream of selfies comes across a bit self-centered.
  2. Less is more. If you need to write a paragraph to explain your pix, try another social media platform. Don’t make me hit the “more” button and scroll, scroll, scroll to read your entire thought.
  3. Less is more, part B: Enough with the hashtags. I’ve read that posts with multiple hashtags are more widely viewed, but viewed by whom? Do you really care if you reach a tattoo artist in Alaska with your personal views? Two or three is plenty.
  4. Let’s see some variety. There’s one co-worker who I like and admire deeply, but 90% of her posts involve her drinking champagne, or her and her friends drinking champagne, or just two glasses of champagne by themselves. Two family members post mostly photos or videos of each other making puppy eyes or looking soulfully into the distance. OK, they’re somewhat newlyweds, but still.
  5. Save the sap. Related to #4, please save the long, heartfelt confessions of true love for your Valentine’s Day card. This person is a lot of fun to be around and has changed your life for the better, check. Ooey-gooey hearts and doves, check out.

If you haven’t tried Instagram yet, take a look at it. It’s a fast and simple way to vicariously share travel, meals, holidays and everyday adventures with your family and friends. Like me, you’ll probably gain new insights into how they think and feel and a new appreciation for how multifaceted each of us is.

It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words. Just be sure you’re only using a fraction of that on Instagram.

Yuck! Southern Foods I Just Can’t Get the Taste Of

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I love food.

I love to make it, plan it, read about it and think about it. The Food Network is practically the only TV station I watch. (Fortunately, I also love to run or I’d have a big problem … and I do mean big.)

But that doesn’t mean I love all foods. In fact, there are some I’d rather go hungry than eat. I’m not talking about the stuff hardly anybody likes. I mean, if you really like liver, that’s fine, but please just keep it to yourself. I’m talking about popular, traditional, mainstream dishes my family and friends profess to love. And they’re aghast that I don’t share their tastes.

So here, at the risk of starting a second civil war, is my list of foods I just can’t learn to love even after living more than 40 years below the Mason-Dixon Line:

  • Boiled peanuts. Mushy with little taste other than salt. Give me a paper sack of nice roasted peanuts any day. Or a jar of peanut butter (not so handy for tailgating, though).
  • Pimento cheese. What a waste of perfectly good cheddar. The only exception I’d make is DiPrato’s sharp white pimento cheese. The smoked gouda with bacon might be OK, too, but I haven’t tried it yet.
  • Pepper jelly. One word says it all: why? If you want something spicy, have a pepper. If you want something sweet, have some jelly. Don’t try to cram them together into one item. Even pouring it over cream cheese doesn’t cut it. Here again, you’ve ruined some perfectly good cheese.
  • Beets. Maybe it’s the color. Maybe it’s the texture. Maybe I’ll pass (make that definitely).
  • Rice Krispie treats. “Treat” is quite the misnomer. What’s in those things, marshmallow fluff and Karo syrup? Oh, no, I see online it’s butter instead of Karo. Still, there are tastier ways to remove your fillings.
  • Pecan pie. If you were getting all indignant that Rice Krispie treats aren’t Southern and don’t belong on this list, then this Bud’s for you. Too sticky, too sweet. Don’t bother trying to juice it up with bourbon or chocolate. Can I please just have a small dish of pecans? I’ll take the bourbon and chocolate on the side.

The list could go on, but I don’t want you to leave thinking I’m a hater. Fresh sweet corn, vine-ripened tomatoes, the occasional piece of super-crispy fried chicken, perfectly seasoned collards (on holidays), locally caught shrimp (in or out of a Beaufort stew), homemade peach ice cream … there’s lots to love in our neck of the woods. God willing, it keeps coming.

But please, God, keep the boiled peanuts.

Making a List and Checking It Twice

By: Jeanne Reynolds

We recently had the inside of our home painted. When it came to the dining room, the project developed long tentacles: I had to move furniture away from the walls, which meant I had to empty said furniture of 20-plus years of accumulation, which then had to be sorted into keep/share/donate/discard piles and moved to other places … well, you get the idea.

When the work was finally done, the mess and stress was well worth it to have not only clean, bright walls and woodwork but also freshly organized shelves and drawers of only (well, mostly) those items we use and love. The room doesn’t just look better – it works better. And even beyond the physical benefits, the room just feels more peaceful and inviting.

The other day I read an article about applying this same decluttering power to your mental space. I find it hard to relax when my head is whirling with thoughts about what I really should be doing. At really busy times – around the holidays, or preparing for a vacation, for instance – I can become nearly paralyzed with plans and end up procrastinating, getting almost nothing done.

If you’re a list-maker like me, this simple mental decluttering concept will be almost-maybe fun. If you’re not, give it a try anyway. You might be surprised.

Just like a thorough closet cleaning, it begins with emptying out. This goes way beyond your basic daily or weekly to-do list. Make a list of everything – and I mean everything — you need to do: today, tomorrow, this week, this year or next, at home, at work, for family, for friends. Include things you want to do and things you think you should do and things you’d like to do someday. Don’t judge or edit. If it pops into your head, write it down. The idea is to get all the mental clutter out of your head and onto a list.

Next, organize your list. Create categories that make sense for you: personal or business, immediate or longer term, must-dos or bucket list. Put each item in its category. Prioritize the items if you want with numbers, stars or colors.

This list isn’t meant to be static, by the way. Add to it as you think of new things. For me, just the act of creating the list got my mind churning with even more things to put on it. For this reason – as well as the flexibility of reprioritizing – you might want to keep your list digitally.

Now, the really fun part is crossing off items as you complete them. Looking at that marked-up list visually shouting at you, “Done! Done! Done!” feels as good as looking at – gasp – extra shelf space after dropping off that donation of household items you’ve been hoarding for years.

Without the tax deduction, of course.

When Did “Customer Service” Become an Oxymoron?

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I’m trapped in my own home.

I’m a prisoner of our internet provider. “Provider” is a bit of a misnomer, however, because no service is being provided, and hasn’t for a month or so. For the second time in as many weeks, I’ve waited four hours for a technician who never arrived. (Now, almost three hours past the promised appointment window, he’s allegedly on his way. I’ll let you know how that works out.)

Numerous calls, emails and online chats with the customer service department have only increased our frustration. I’m talking service reps for whom English is obviously a skill still in the works and who are apparently reading from a script (“How to Deal with Irate Customers 101,” perhaps), conflicting information and even “alternate facts” (Them: “Our records show the work was completed and technician signed the paperwork.” Us: “That’s funny because I sat here for four hours and no one came.”). I’d like to rip the whole thing out and set it afire on the company’s front doorstep — except there is no other provider where we live. So we grumble and gnash our teeth and battle on.

But why should we have to do that? Why is it so hard to get good customer service these days?

And it’s not just these guys. We all have horror stories of clothes returned from the dry cleaners with missing buttons (or missing completely), hopelessly confusing cable bills, surly store clerks and contractors who won’t return calls. I don’t think it’s asking too much for a company to do what it says it’ll do, when it says it’ll do it, or call and explain what’s going on. Give me a smile and a “thanks” and I’m over the moon. It’s why I shop at Publix and Lands End, and would rather pay more at Chick-fil-A than patronize the McCompetition.

And don’t get me started on companies that only seem to value new customers. Case in point: I’ve paid my newspaper subscription bill on time without fail for the past 20 years. My loyalty is now being rewarded by refusing me the deep discount offered to new subscribers. Is it any wonder fewer people are subscribing to the paper these days?

I really think the problem starts as the top. If excellent service isn’t a priority for a company, part of its culture and emphasized to every employee repeatedly, it’s not going to happen. If a company has a monopoly, like my internet company, it might get away with haphazard service for a while. But it’s a pretty risky business strategy in the era of Twitter and Facebook. Not to mention eager entrepreneurs looking for an edge.

It’s not my style to take to social media to vent. I’d much rather talk to a human being and try to resolve the problem. But hey, I’m getting desperate here. If the internet company isn’t listening to me, at least I can make sure plenty of other people know about it with a few clicks … that is, assuming I ever get internet service.