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.

Time to Kiss and Make Up

By: Jeanne Reynolds

The company I work for has locations in both the United States and the United Kingdom. As our communications team worked together last week deciding what kind of internal story to do for the Fourth of July, I started to feel awkward. I mean, there we were talking with our British colleagues about celebrating a holiday that says, to them, “Nyah, nyah, nyah!”

OK, it’s been more than 240 years since that ugly parting of the ways and most people on both sides of the Big Pond would agree we’re now BFFs. So I thought let’s look at it another way: the great gifts each culture has given to the other and things we love about each other.

That led to some pretty interesting research. For example, American as apple pie? Umm, not so much. We can thank the early English settlers for bringing that to our shores. And if, like me, you think everyone in England enjoys a big roast goose on Christmas (hello, Charles Dickens), then we’re both a little outdated. Brits long ago went cold (well, hot) turkey and adopted America’s native bird for their feasts.

And there’s so much more to love. The British sent us the Beatles and Cary Grant. We shared Elvis and Paul Newman. One of theirs invented the World Wide Web, one of ours created Google. We gave them the magic of Disney and they gave us the delight of Downton Abbey. We both love Jane Austen (theirs) as much as Mark Twain (ours). We’re equally dazzled by the royal family and Hollywood celebrities.

If two of the greatest powers on earth can successfully move past a tumultuous past to a shared future, I wonder if we as individuals can do the same in our own relationships. Of course, a couple hundred years and fighting side-by-side in a couple of world wars surely smoothed the way for the U.S. and the U.K. to become pals. Still, it’s hopeful to think bitter divorces, gut-wrenching breakups and long-standing family rifts could eventually evolve into more cordial relationships and mutual appreciation.

For now, hurry up and cut me a piece of that apple pie. There’s an old Cary Grant movie about to come on and I don’t want to miss it.

Alone Again (Naturally)

By: Jeanne Reynolds

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As I began to think about this post, the title of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s 1972 hit song (yeah, fellow boomers, you remember it) immediately popped into mind. The lyrics are terribly sad; but, to me, the title itself is not.

Quite the opposite; in fact, spending time alone is a blissful luxury. More than that, it’s essential for those among us far down the introvert scale, and, well, completely natural.

That’s exactly what I’m doing this moment, and I don’t mind admitting that I’ve been looking forward to it for the past week. I have the world’s best husband and great friends, but sometimes nothing beats some quality time alone.

The list of things I may do over the next 24 hours is written only with a very light mental pencil with a very big eraser:

  • Eat exactly what I want, when I want. Shrimp at an outdoor table along the waterfront, or takeout pizza at home with my favorite summer rose?
  • Take over my husband’s special recliner (he’s not here, after all) and read while enjoying the marsh view as the tide comes in.
  • Do a little weeding and run the blower. Seriously, I love my little battery-powered blower. Talk about instant gratification.
  • Run a few miles early in the morning before it gets too hot. Or walk if I feel like it.
  • Watch whatever’s on the Food Network.
  • Catch up on Instagram posts, and post a few new photos of my own. Hmm, what time is that high tide?
  • Go to bed whenever I get sleepy,and wake up without an alarm clock.
  • Talk to myself way more than I speak to other humans.footprints-in-sand.jpg

I know, not too exciting. And looking back at that list, I realize I could do most of those things whether I’m on my own or not. Truth be told, I frequently do. I’m not antisocial or shy. It’s more about recharging my mental, emotional and physical batteries in the way I know works best for me: alone. Naturally.

Love is …

By: Jeanne Reynolds

My husband and I just celebrated our 24th anniversary. Our wedding was traditional: I wore white, the processional was Pachelbel’s Canon in D, and the scripture was I Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

I’ve been to many weddings where those verses were read. They’re always beautiful, but perhaps even more meaningful now than they were 24 years ago. I think it takes awhile to realize how true, how important and how aspirational they really are.

It’s not as easy as it sounds to live up to these verses. Keep no record of wrongs? How many of us haven’t sighed in exasperation because we’re apparently the only one who can see the kitchen trash can needs to be emptied — again? Does not dishonor others? Ever heard someone making the person supposedly dearest in the world to him or her the butt of a joke? Does not delight in evil? Has a self-satisfied “I told you that wouldn’t work” ever crossed your lips?

My husband isn’t perfect, but he does a much better job of living these words than I do. I’m going to keep trying, and trust he isn’t keeping record of my wrongs.

Also, here are few modern translations I’ll add from our marriage:

  • Love is rooting for someone else’s birdie putt to drop even if it means you’ll lose the hole.
  • Love is spending time with each other’s sometimes-crazy families without complaining.
  • Love is saying thank you for every meal prepared, even the less-than-stellar offerings.
  • Love is commenting — or not, depending — on a new haircut.
  • Love is not commenting on the recently snugger fit of a favorite old pair of jeans.
  • Love is hours of yard work side by side when the temperature is exceeded only by the humidity.
  • Love is silently buying a replacement when someone accidentally throws away a piece of the lawnmower.
  • Love is letting someone else have the last Klondike Bar.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Through the Eyes of Love

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Mom is turning 85 in a couple weeks. My siblings and I, our spouses and assorted offspring are using the occasion to gather from three cities in two countries for a mini-reunion. It’ll be the first time we’ve gotten together that doesn’t involve a funeral in many years. So, long overdue, and likely to be a lot more fun.

Mom isn’t too Internet-savvy so I feel pretty sure I won’t blow a surprise by telling here about the birthday box. A couple months ago, I wrote and emailed a bunch of far-flung family members and friends, inviting them to send a card, letter, photo or email to celebrate her birthday. I’m putting these in a large decorative box I got at the Dollar Store (hey, it’s really pretty — don’t judge) that we’ll present to her during the trip.

I haven’t opened the sealed envelopes, but the notes that came through email I kind of had to read so I could print them out nicely. Which gets me, finally, to why I’m talking about this.

I’ve learned things I never knew about my mother. One of them is how many people think she’s a ton of fun and admire her brave spirit and sense of adventure. Well, OK, it’s her 85th birthday and nobody is going to send the written equivalent of a bouquet of dead roses, but still.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I appreciate about Mom. I bake great cookies because of her, and nobody outdoes me with curling ribbon and a pair of scissors. Weekly trips to the library as a child instilled my love of reading, which I think has everything to do with my love of writing. Classical music and Broadway show tunes are — thanks to her — part of my repertoire, too.

But reading about her solo trip halfway across the country to meet the family of her brand-new groom who had just shipped out to Guam, or the stories she made up with my cousin Rob about the unidentified couple in a mysterious family photo, helped me see a new side of her.

I guess this must be a little how parents of a wild child feel when they hear the teacher or his best friend’s parents rave about how well-behaved, polite and helpful he is. Huh? Are you sure we’re talking about the same person? I mean, this woman can drive me nuts, rendering me speechless with some of things she says, her alternate-universe “memories” and her rapid changes of plans.

Mom will probably still drive me batty sometimes (and no doubt I’ll return the favor). But this experience has encouraged me to look at her a little differently. Maybe I could try taking off the daughter glasses now and then, and seeing Mom through clearer eyes — eyes of love.

Happy birthday, Mom!

If Change Is Good for You, Why Is It So Hard?

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Ever since we got married, my husband and I have shared a dream for our retirement that would combine our love of the North Carolina mountains and the South Carolina lowcountry. We’d have two small homes — one in the Asheville area and one near the coast — and split our time between them. We’d have the best of both worlds.

We searched for months and years and eventually bought lovely lots in beautiful areas: one in Mills River, between Hendersonville and Asheville, and one on Cat Island, minutes from Beaufort. Toward the end of the recession, thinking construction costs were about as low as they were going to get, we started building the first of these homes. If you’ve read any of my earlier posts, you know it’s right on the marsh and immediately became my happy place. We planned to build the mountain home several years later, when we retired and sold our home in the Midlands.

Everything is going according to plan, right? Well … yes and no. We soon found owning and maintaining two homes is a bigger challenge than we expected. And the final price tag of the new home was significantly higher than we originally anticipated. On top of that, the taxes, homeowners’ dues and road assessments on the other lot meant we were writing checks every year for the privilege of owning something we wouldn’t benefit from for many years.

So we made the difficult decision to let the mountain property go, and satisfy our summer cravings for cooler, leafy surroundings by renting from time to time. But during more than a year on the market, we didn’t get even the tiniest nibble of interest. It was so long, the listing agreement lapsed and we didn’t even remember our agent’s name.

That was until a couple of weeks ago, when out of the blue he called to tell us someone wanted to look at our lot. Within days we had a signed contract, with a closing rapidly approaching.

And now, suddenly, I’m sad. Relieved, but sad.

It’s hard to let go of a dream, even when you know it’s the right thing to do. It’s hard when your head and your heart are in different places. Sometimes it’s hard to admit when your dreams themselves have changed — that might mean admitting you yourself have changed, in a way you didn’t plan.

However, I’m making a conscious decision not to second-guess our decision. That means separating sadness from regret, because regret is a waste of time. Learning from past mistakes is one thing, but wallowing in the “what ifs” and “should haves” is unproductive, and constantly looking backward instead of forward can be dangerous (remember what happened to Lot’s wife).

Change may be good for us, but sometimes it’s just hard. And that’s OK.