Stop! Listen!

Hear the MusicThe appliances in our house hum a B flat.

How do I know? I stopped what I was doing and just listened. Then I went to the piano and matched the note played by our fridge, our AC, and the ceiling fan. Unless my piano is out of tune, they play a B flat. The oscillating upright fan in my office is an exception – it, ahem, oscillates between D and E above middle C.

It’s amazing what you hear when you stop to listen – wherever you are – whether it’s in a crowded restaurant or in the quietest corner of your house.

When you try it, you may also notice that it quiets your brain.

Our brains are far too busy these days – over-stimulated by all the electronic devices that fill our lives – the television, the radio, constant internet distractions. We flit from site to another, trying to catch the latest tidbit, afraid to miss out on something. We’re always thinking of the thing we need to do after we finish this thing.

Try this at Home

Stop! Listen! In an instant, you’ll find yourself in the moment. You’ll be more aware of your surroundings, even of your actions.

I take a break from writing this article and move from room to room, just listening. The one constant is the air conditioner. Other sounds change. The prominent noise in my office is the fan. When I turn it off, I hear the fan whirring on the laptop stand. I go into the bathroom. Again the AC, plus the sound of paper against paper as I take notes.

To the living room, where I hear the ceiling fan, outdoor chimes, the cuckoo clock. The front porch? The outdoor chimes a little louder – and the wind – always the wind. (This is Nebraska, after all.)

The basement? The quietest section of the house – the AC sound is louder there, and I also hear the ticks of our copper clock from Africa – what a nice reminder of our life there! For a minute or two, I hear a bird or some other creature, but the moment soon passes.

After this five-minute exercise, I find myself hearing all kinds of sounds in the house: the sound of the cellophane as I unwrap a cinnamon candy, the clip-clip as I shorten my nails.

Try it. Every so often during the day, stop! Listen!

When you find your mind going five directions at once – Stop! Listen!

If the house is so noisy you just want to run away, stop! Listen! You’ll hear the noises of those you love, the buzz of the appliances that indicate how blessed you are.

Listen for the music in the sounds.

Remember that hearing is a gift. Use it actively. You’ll be surprised by what you hear when you listen.

Discovery, Wonder , , ,

How to Make Friends

A few weeks ago, while clearing out some books, I discovered an old paperback copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1936. Although it’s a little antiquated – it speaks only of business men, for instance – the principles still apply. One in particular seemed to sum up all the principles he had previously introduced: “Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.”

The other points in the chapter, titled “Six Ways to Make People Like You,” were

  • Be genuinely interested in other people.
  • Smile.
  • Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  • Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Talk in terms of the other man’s interest.
  • Five Ways to Make Others Feel Important

    These are also ways you can make others feel important — and make them your friends.

    1. “Be” – not just “act” – interested in other people. Want to know them, their interests, their likes and dislikes.
    2. Make a personal connection by looking directly at people and smiling at them.
    3. Within reason, say their names at every opportunity. (This also helps you remember names.)
    4. Listen to their stories without wanting to tell your own, but with the aim of knowing them better.
    5. After you’ve done that, you will be able to speak in terms of their interests: Asking about their grandchildren or their favorite football team.

    Some people seem to do this naturally. When they talk to you, you feel as if no one else matters; for those moments, you are the most important person in the room. The rest of us, who have a tendency to relate whatever is happening in our own lives, may have to consciously develop this habit.

    The rewards

    It will help your interpersonal relationships. Genuine interest in another person develops trust.

    It engenders friendship. It makes others feel better about themselves when they are around you. It makes them better people for knowing you.

    As you interact with people, think about what would make them feel important. I predict you’ll experience an instant change of attitude. You’ll see that “difficult” person who always seems to be begging for attention in a different light. She doesn’t mean to be irritating; she only wants to feel important.

    You’ll listen more intensely when others speak, even if it’s on a topic that’s not usually of interest to you.

    You’ll be more attentive to members of your family. More than anyone else, they need to know they’re  important to you.

    Thanks, Mr. Carnegie. Even after 74 years, your words still ring true.

    Talk to me.

    Do you know someone who is naturally one of those intense listeners, who seems to hang onto every word you say? Or tell me of your reaction when someone who sees you infrequently somehow always remembers your name.


    Attitudes, Books , , ,

    Food Labels: “Natural” Peanut Butter

    "Natural" Peanut Butters What do you think when you see the word “natural” on a food label? I think, “Great! Nothing’s been added to the main ingredient.”

    I have preferred “natural” peanut butter for several years. That’s ground-up peanuts with nothing added except salt. The two brands that have been available to me bear the Smucker’s and Kroger labels. [They contain 150 mg. and 120 mg. of salt per serving respectively.  I might like it even better without the salt.]

    “Regular” peanut butter typically adds not only salt but hydrogenated oils and sugar.

    Knowing my preference, my husband recently brought home some Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter Spread. The words spread and contains 90% peanuts were the first clue that maybe this wasn’t what I considered “natural.” Sure enough, added to peanuts on the list of ingredients were sugar, palm oil, and 2% or less of molasses and salt.

    A Google search led me to Snack Girl‘s post on the subject. According to her research, the only difference between Jif Natural and Jif regular peanut butter is the absence of hydrogenated oil. The problem with that, however, is that although they haven’t hydrogenated the oils in the peanut butter to give it extra shelf life, they have used palm oil, which is naturally hydrogenated!

    This is one more example of why you can’t trust the front label on processed foods. They are packaged to sell the ingredients. “Low fat” may mean added sugar, and “sugar-free” may indicate added fat. If we want to eat more food and less poison, we must read the ingredients and nutrition labels.

    Have you found any “false labeling” lately?

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    Blog or Freeze?

    Our Garden Tomatoes

    Well, it’s on my Teux-Deux list to post a blog Friday morning.

    Since I’ve been busy with paying work this week (Yea!), I haven’t written the blog.

    Here it is Thursday night. I sure would like to cross that off my list.

    However — on my kitchen counter is a big bowl of tomatoes that grows higher and higher as my husband harvests his garden.

    It’s 9:48 p.m., and I have a full day again tomorrow.

    So, what to do, what to do? Blog? Or go spend an hour freezing tomatoes before they spoil?

    The tomatoes win. Can’t stand to see those beautiful things go to waste!

    Hey! I think I just did both! Who says you have to make choices?

    Talk to Me. Do you have a garden this year? What do you give up to make sure you don’t waste the excess?

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    Choice, Nutrition , ,

    July Book Picks — Mini Reviews

    World from Rough Stones

    The World from Rough Stones

    by Malcolm Macdonald, published in 1975 by Alfred A. Knopf

    Maybe my favorite genre — reminiscent of Masterpiece Theatre series productions. Its 570 pages are written against the backdrop of the construction of a railway tunnel in England from 1839 to 1841. The story begins with Nora, a poverty-stricken but well-bred young woman who lives by her wits and her body. She meets “Lord John,” former “navvy,” (tunnel laborer), now rising by his shrewdness and uncommon people skills to the position of General Contractor.

    The book title describes not only the building of the tunnel, but the couple’s synergy, elevating them to financial and social success. Though the book is ends satisfactorily, you sense that John and Nora are not finished making deals. Their family story is continued in three sequels, The Rich Are with You Always, Sons of Fortune and Abigail.

    Though technical in its description of 19th century railway construction and finance, the story is carried by its cast of strong characters. It contains a few explicit sexual scenes, so I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.

    Ladies of Missalonghi

    The Ladies of Missalonghi

    by Colleen McCullough, 192 pages, published in 1987 by Harper & Row

    A short, entertaining read, with an ending you might not expect. Missy Wright, 33-year-old spinster, is dominated by her mother and maiden aunt and the other members of the clan that controls her Australian village.

    The arrival in town of stranger John Smith, who has bought a nearby valley, coincides with a fainting spell that Missy suffers. After he rescues her, she determines she will not spend another minute as “mousy” Missy.

    Her sudden boldness secretly pleases her mother, mortifies the clan — particularly rich, beautiful cousin Alicia — and charms Mr. Smith.

    (Some reader reviews claim this book copies the plot of The Blue Castle, written by L. M. Montgomery, most famous for her Anne of Green Gables series.)


    Outliers: The Story of Success

    by Malcolm Gladwell, 309 pages, published in 2008 by Little, Brown and Company

    My notes indicate that I heard about this from Diggy at Upgrade Reality, but it was also a book that one of my sons had requested. Diggy cited from the book that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at anything — 3 hours a day for 10 years.

    However, the book covers much more than the 10,000-hour rule. Gladwell proposes that innate talent is important, but the year – and sometimes month — of your birth, circumstances and opportunity, length of school year, Eastern or Western culture of work, have much more influence than mere creative genius.

    Despite being driven by extensive research and statistics, the book was easy to read and understand. Gladwell’s other books include The Tipping Point and Blink.

    Although it’s not a self-help book, as I supposed it might be, it is an enlightening examination of worldly success.

    Books, Work , , , , ,

    Book Clubs: How Reading Becomes a Social Event

    Book reading is a solitary pastime. When I read, my mind leaves my surroundings and enters a world of mystery, travel, romance, exploration or enlightenment – wherever I want to go.

    When I want to get away from it all, I take a book with me. Though I’m not one of them, I understand those commuting travelers who avoid conversations with other passengers by immersing themselves in written words so they don’t have to respond to those spoken.

    A book requires no response; it’s not demanding, does not consider it rude if you close its pages in the middle of a sentence.

    If it’s a good book, though, it can be akin to taking a vacation by yourself. You double your enjoyment when you share it with someone else.

    Book Club Book Club Envy

    I always envied those who had the luxury of participating in a book club. I’d see notices about book club meetings in newspapers or the library, but somehow the time was never right.

    Thanks to a good friend, I finally got to be part of one four or five years ago in Mississippi. “The Book Bunch” gathered at the back of a local restaurant once a month and discussed books over breakfast. When we moved to this smaller town, I was thrilled to find a group who met at the local library to share their reading experiences.


    Many avid readers don’t see the point. Why be forced to read a book of someone else’s choice? Why bother with a book club?

    Because of…

    Gossip! Though we might not admit it, we get to “gossip” about fictional characters without guilt. We can conjecture about motives. We can decide whether or not they would be our friend, or as my friend Keetha phrases it, “the character I’d most like to have a drink with.” We can be openly critical and even self righteous.

    After all, these are fictional characters. Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price won’t be hurt if I express my frustration with her reticence; Atticus Finch will not feel threatened if I declare my admiration for him; the Eliots of Damerosehay won’t even notice that I’m stalking them in sequels.

    Revelations. More satisfying than the gossip, though, is our sharing of ideas and personal philosophies. We leave our own worlds behind and briefly travel together into a world of thought and imagination. The meeting is a safe place where, in the process of summarizing the plot, judging the author’s writing style, sharing our discoveries or disagreeing about whether or not it was worth reading, we also reveal our own quirks and foibles, political and religious views.

    Getting Out of a Rut. If I chose every book our club reads, three out of four would be novels written by English women, with a story based somewhere in the British Isles or some other foreign land. The book club has introduced me to books and characters I’m certain I would never have met by myself. (This doesn’t mean I would recommend them all.)

    Friendship. Reading the same book provides a gathering place for our minds. When we discuss a book  – though we may have nothing else in common — we share an unspoken mutual appreciation, a special bond non-readers do not share.

    It’s not always about the book, by the way. Sometimes one or more of us don’t even finish the book before the meeting, but we still show up. Don’t want to miss the gossip, even if it’s someone we don’t know!

    Talk to me. Have you ever been a part of a book club? What was your experience? What would be your advice to someone wanting to start one?

    Books , , , ,

    So where have you been?

    To Bangkok, Houston, Albuquerque, Lincoln, Denver and back again!

    And while I have had article ideas rolling around in my head, I have also been struggling with the focus of this blog, asking one of the best questions anyone can ask when making a decision: “What’s the point?”

    Trying to Focus

    Actually, focus is a pre-blog struggle, and one that my first blogging mentor, Seth Waite, emphasized in his very helpful but now inactive blog, The Blogging Agenda. At the time, I thought I knew what the focus would be – helping other Baby Boomers take their aging in stride, stay physically healthy and not become jaded because of our or others’ perceptions of what we should be in our 50’s and beyond.

    As I progressed, however, I had a hard time gaining an audience – in part, because I wasn’t hanging out with those whom my blog might benefit. I found myself hanging out, instead, with blogging and writing experts who, though challenging and educating me, also made me realize how far behind I am in those realms.

    In addition, I’m not considered any kind of expert in the field of aging well. Yes, I am comparatively healthy, take no medication (yet) and continually pursue and think about ways to keep myself from growing feeble as I age. But that doesn’t make me any kind of expert.

    It makes me one more voice in this worldwide cacophony of advice and opinion they call the blogosphere.

    When writing for the blog, I mentally vacillated between wanting to make it a personal journey and a research project. Response to the blogs seemed to vacillate as well. Probably because of the title, the article on Surfing Snails – written a year ago – remains the most popular blog. It’s significant that it’s one of the ones I most enjoyed writing.

    But the unpaid time and effort it has taken to write the articles – popular or not – have not produced a good return. Small return for large effort produces burnout – particularly when the same amount of effort brings financial reward when expended for paying clients.

    So where are you going now?

    My intent now is to develop a website and blog that are more in tune with what I do for gainful employment.

    For at least twelve years I have been doing what is now known as Virtual Office Assistance.

    Since moving from the Chicago area in 1998, I have worked as a virtual administrative assistant for a Chicago-based General Contractor, while also working full time – first in the Career Resource Center of a university in western Tennessee, then as an office manager/copywriter/bookkeeper/project manager for a small advertising agency in the Mississippi Delta. I have now become their remote editor, proofreader and copywriter. Recently, I have also expanded into the insurance world, laying out ads and doing some research and web marketing for a small agency in Houston.

    Though I still find the learning curve in the web writing/blogging sphere steep, I do not find it so in the area of administrative assistance. The organizational and software skills come naturally. MS Word, QuickBooks and Excel are daily tools, and I have used both Access and PowerPoint. My equipment is new; I regularly take phone dictation and use internet faxing services. It’s all in place. I’m good at what I do and eager to expand my capabilities.

    However, I’m still not ready to give up on this blog. I still believe that as long as we have breath we can approach the world in wonder; we can recognize that we live in a wonder-filled world. This blog helps me express that passion and may give others an avenue to do the same. So until time and energy constraints make it impossible, I’m keeping this avenue open — if only to talk about the reasons for all that traveling!

    Wonder, Work , , ,

    44 Scotland Street

    By Alexander McCall Smith. Fiction. c. 2005. Published by Anchor Books.

    44 Scotland Street

    McCall Smith uses an unusual technique in this book – it was originally serialized fiction for a newspaper, so each chapter has to introduce a scene and finish it.

    It was not nearly as enjoyable as the book series – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – that led me to pick up this work by the same author. He paints his characters just as well — they just weren’t as charming. He also paints a striking portrait of Edinburgh, Scotland, its landscape and levels of society.

    What it lacked was follow-up, which can probably be attributed to the format. Characters entered the scenes and left, never to be seen again. He nicely wraps up the stories of Pat, her vain flat-mate Bruce and her clueless employer Matthew and their odd triangle, but I was not satisfied at the end with poor little Bernie’s conflict with his overbearing mother.

    My rating? 6 out of 10. It was a good light read, and even compelling in some places, but I didn’t identify well with any of the characters. It’s possible, however, that 6 other people out of 10 would recognize either themselves or someone they know.


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    Books , , ,

    The Glass Castle

    by Jeannette Walls. copyright 2005. Published by Scribner.

    Glass CastleThis is an amazing memoir, written with a lot of conversation and short chapter segments, which makes it very easy to read.

    Jeannette and two of her siblings not only survive but thrive under their extremely neglectful parents – both eccentric, fanciful, highly intelligent and irresponsible.

    The mother is self-centered, the father an alcoholic. The conditions they force upon their children are unbelievably harsh; they seem to have no conscience about the environment they provide for their children.

    Though the mother inherits great wealth, she will have none of it. She prefers the adventures that poverty brings. The father occasionally has a tinge of conscience but is a slave to his drink.

    What they do bestow on their children – especially on Jeannette – is a love of learning, intelligence, and a story no one else could tell.

    My rating? 9 out of 10, which means I would recommend it to 9 out of 10 people. The 10th person might not appreciate nor see the value of the graphic details of children neglected. Writing style? Something to be imitated. You can tell Ms. Wall is a pro.

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    Books, Family , , , , ,

    How to Handle Complaints

    Customer ServiceYou may have experienced it.

    It’s a typical busy day in the office. You’re fielding calls, answering e-mails, greeting people as they come into the office.

    Then someone calls who is angry before you answer the phone. They are ready – expecting – a confrontation. They have reasons to be upset and are determined you’ll hear them all.

    After forty years of experience in the business world — often as the front desk person – I’ve learned how to respond.

    I’ve learned how to unruffle feathers. I’ve learned when it’s important to be firm and when to give in, when to insist on what’s right and when to turn the other cheek.

    If you’re the target of a complaint – whether or not it’s justified – here are my suggestions for responses to avoid, and some you might want to try. Read more…

    Attitudes, Work , , ,