Monday, July 30, 2012

Those Customer Service People

Next time we feel like griping at the cashier, complaining about long lines or waits, or perhaps wondering why our clerk or receptionist isn't smiling, let's think about something, okay?  I'm usually not one of those older people who says the world has changed so much (for the worse). I think of it more like a pendulum that swings one way, and back, and back again, in different areas of life.

Well, when my oldest kids were teenagers, I told them, "It's an employee's market."  And it had been that way, in my experience, pretty much since I was a teen...I mean at that job level - jobs that pay minimum wage or a few dollars above that; I don't speak for other types of jobs.  But now the pendulum has unfortunately swung back again. Here's some of how it's different.

When I was a teenager in the late sixties, it wasn't easy to get a job...or so we thought.  Hey, I had to go from store to store to store all day long before I found a job.  Yes, one day...or maybe it was two.  My first job was J.C. Penney in Vancouver, Washington, and they trained me the same day I walked in.  I think I probably starting working the next day. I worked part time. That meant that I worked 20 hours...every single week, regardless of how many people decided to go in to enjoy the air conditioning or to open their pocketbooks.  It also meant that I worked at that Penney's store...every single time I went to work...not a store in Portland or Woodland, or wherever.  And, on top of all that, I worked the same basic schedule every week.  If I had wanted to get another part-time job, I could have fit it into my schedule (except, of course, that my other part-time job was school).

A few years later, I worked as a medical transcriptionist at a doctor's office in San Fernando, California.   Every single person working in that office worked at that office...not at another office in Van Nuys or Mission Hills, only at that office, Monday through Friday.  Even the doctors worked only at that office...except for the one day a week that they visited patients in nursing homes.  And they didn't ask any of us to come along, either.

Fast forward thirty years (about ten years ago), and the picture had drastically changed.  I got a part time retail job.  But part time no longer meant 20 hours every week. At Christmas, it might mean 30 or more hours, whether you wanted to work 30 hours or not, whether you had lots of family activities to attend or not.  But in the spring it might mean 8 hours a week, and if you were counting on a 20 hour a week income, well, so, "that's life".

And then I worked in a doctor's office, and because I worked back-office, I was privileged to work the same hours every week in the same office every day.  But today, most doctors have several offices. I don't know how or why that happened, but it often means that receptionists and assistants report to one office one day and an office across town another...but across "town" might not be five or six miles. It might be across a city, maybe 15 or 20 miles or more from one office to another. Do you know what receptionists make?  The bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2010 the median wage for a receptionist was $12.14. Not all of them make that much!...and some make more; but let's add that up, shall we?  For someone working full time, that's just shy of $2,000 a month, gross income.  Some of the people working are supporting themselves, not supplementing a family income. So, first they have to take taxes out of that. Then they take rent and food out of that, and in some cities, you already don't have a lot left.  But then - even if they live an easy walk or bus ride from the office - they have to have a reliable car to commute to another office or two...perhaps a forty mile round trip. That's maybe two gallons of gas, another $7.00 perhaps...every day that they have to wear and tear on the tires, and on the nerves, in heat, rain, snow, and rush hour traffic. 

Another change that has occurred is Saturday work.  Back in the day, if you worked at a doctor's office you had your weekends free.You could spend them with your family or, if you didn't make enough money, you could take a part-time job on the weekends. But many people are scared or unable to take off work to go to the doctor, so many doctors offer some Saturday services.  So now receptionists and assistants have to keep their Saturdays free so they can work every other weekend, or however their office works it out...and if they have children, arrange for their care.

Back to retail, one of my college-age children once got a part-time job at a department store (which shall remain nameless). The store offered him "guaranteed five hours a week" (oh my goodness, what kind of hours are those?). He needed more, but it was better than no job, so he took it with optimism and enthusiasm; after all, it was just a minimum, and besides, they told him he could sign up to pick up know, when people go on vacation or want a day off.  And then they set up his training session: for two weeks after they hired him. Not at the wage he was hired to work but at minimum wage. And then he had another training session two weeks after that. Still no actual work.  Two more weeks later he had a three hour training session at one of their department stores twenty miles from the one where he was hired.  What kind of guaranteed five hours is that?  I can only think they simply lie.

I've belabored my points (no pun intended), so what am I trying to suggest?  As consumers and as patients, what can we do?   If we're in a long line, we can try to wait patiently, instead of complaining to other customers about "how incompetent the cashiers are".  This is one of my pet peeves and when a fellow-customer says that to me, they get this question, "Have you ever done this job??!"  If we find a receptionist who doesn't smile, we can offer her one of ours and - bigger gift - if she doesn't smile back or is even irritable, we can just let it go.  I once knew a woman who worked through constant pain but never complained about it, smiled most of the time, and was very positive. One of the few times that her pain apparently came through in a bit of irritability (or on the other hand, maybe the patient was just having a bad day and didn't like the company policies), a patient reported her as impatient, and she lost her job.

I'm not saying to let people walk all over you. If you need something to be done, let them know what you need or want, and if it's something legitimate, hang in there. But let's hang in there calmly, patiently, and kindly.  You might just help someone get through another day.

Note that I wrote a follow-up post to this one, The Other Side of the Labor Coin.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Catholic Kindle Books for Children By Pauline

I happily stumbled onto this website by the Daughters of Saint Paul and their Pauline Books and Media, which I want to share with Catholic parents (and aunts and uncles, and grandparents and godparents, and babysitters).  

All of the Catholic books for kids which are pictured on this webpage are available as Kindle books, or as they state: "On this chart, all the links are to the Kindle store, but you can find these titles in your favorite e-format, too."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Can't Afford Kindle? Think Again

You might not be able to afford to buy a Kindle device.  

But if you have your own computer and internet service provider, then you can download the free app, Kindle for PC  (or the free Kindle for Mac), and then you can build your library of free and inexpensive Kindle books to read on your computer. 

Or you can even get a free Kindle app for your smart phone, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. 

So yes, for most of you who are reading this post, you probably can read Kindle books!  And there’s such a plethora of them available.  Many are free. Many cost only $.99 or $1.99.  Enjoy!

Oh, and as a friend asked me about Nook, I would like to add a link to the reading app for Nook

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Little Saint Therese - Sample Chapter and News

Little Saint Therese -- Sample Chapter

Saint Therese Had a Puppy Named Tom

One day Papa brought Little Therese a big surprise! Hidden in a box was her own little puppy, whining to come out and play. Out jumped Tom, a little white cocker spaniel. Therese thanked her father with a delighted hug.

After that Tom went with them on their afternoon walks. He would lie sadly outside the church and wait while they prayed. He would happily wag his little tail when they came out.

Once the clean white puppy jumped into a pond and then rolled in the dusty road.

Papa said, "See, that reminds us of a spotless, white soul which becomes stained by sin."

Little Therese always remembered that lesson. She always kept her soul white for Jesus.
Please note that the Little Saint Therese book, complete with little pictures, has been moved to Amazon. 


The pictures and other additions are not included in the previous free pdf file, but if you want that free file, you can still get it here. (Please note that I have no control over any advertising that may appear on the site where that pdf exists. As a matter of fact, being the old, defunct Geocities, whose files someone graciously saved as Reocities, I have no control over the site at this time.)


You can also read the first chapter here. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It's Okay to Feel Lonely

Please don't feel sorry for me because of the title of this post.  I'm "good."  And if you wonder, "I thought she had a family," you are right.  I do have a wonderful, loving family!  But I want to share with you some thoughts I had this morning.

When we have a pain, a physical pain, sometimes we just aren't sure it's okay and so we worry. Sometimes it's the body's signal that we need to do something, so it is wisdom to make sure there is nothing serious that needs to be addressed.  But sometimes - after checking everything out or maybe getting something repaired - we find there is a pain that we just have to live with, either for a little while or for a long time. And sometimes just knowing it's okay takes some of the sting out. Sometimes - not in every condition, but for some - the "knowing" enables us to relax and eases the pain some.

I've found it can be the same way with the emotional pain of loneliness.  Reverting to my reassurances at the beginning of this post, yes, I have so much.  So much love to be grateful for!  So why would I ever be lonely?  Well, some of you will nod and say, she is lonely for her son and for her sister, both of whom passed on recently.  And you would certainly be right. But that isn't the whole story.

I am lonely for the parts of my childhood, the carefree innocence, that I missed because of being abused as a child by a cousin. I am lonely for the warm, close relationship with my mother that I got glimpses of in my childhood and that I yearned for. I am lonely for the years of young adulthood that I largely lost with my parents because I briefly joined a cult and left town, never to return except for short visits...and if I couldn't communicate with my mom very well when we lived in the same house, it surely didn't improve by living a thousand miles away.  I am lonely for the closeness of a childhood best friend, which was lost when we went to the cult, and radically more so, when I left the cult and she didn't...and, although she later left and we resumed our friendship, we rarely communicate.

Is my story so different from that of others? Maybe in some ways; maybe not in other ways. I believe we all have our emotional pain...the loss of a person, the loss of a relationship, perhaps the loss of a dream. I'm guessing that as you read what I've been writing, you don't relate with some of it but that you find you are thinking of your own losses, too, the things or people you miss...or feel you missed out on.

But if you have faith, you won't be lonely, some might say.  "You need to let God fill you."  And indeed, St. Augustine said, "Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and they are restless til they rest in Thee." Yet even our faith, our relationship with the Good God, does not always take away our feelings of loneliness on this earth...otherwise, we would not have saints who experienced a "dark night of the soul".

Like the physical pain, sometimes emotional pain needs to be examined and dealt with. Do we have a problem relationship? Do we need to change something about that?  Or, are we doing things that don't fit who we are?  In a recent job, I was just about as miserable as I have ever been in my life. My boss and I didn't get along. My closest co-worker died, coincidentally at the very time that I was moved to a room by myself, feeling excluded, while I did work that wasn't really in my "gift zone" and grieved.  By reading short Psalm verses, I survived, until I quit (and I know everyone can't do that, but at that point I could, and I believe it was a good decision for my particular situation).  Among other things, maybe it was the first time I really allowed myself to truly grieve a loss, and maybe all my other losses wrapped themselves up in it, like a snowball.

My generation used to laugh at the idea of going for counseling or dealing with the past. I remember a sarcastic joke about "the reason I'm this way is because I didn't get a Tickle Me, Elmo doll when I was a child" (followed by derisive laughter).  Many "inspirational sayings" speak of forgetting your past, leaving it behind. Well, first of all, I don't believe anyone's past ever excuses them to intentionally hurt others. But what about ourselves?  Do we put ourselves down? Are we never "good enough"? Do we ignore our own needs? Maybe some of us need to go back and say to ourselves: Hey, you were always of value. You were always a good person. And most of all: You need to nurture and love yourself.

What did Jesus say? Did He say: Love your neighbor and not yourself?  Love your neighbor more than yourself? No, He said, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  He assumed we would love ourselves! 

So now when I am feeling lonely, two things help.  One is that I try to remember: "It's okay."  I can't go back and eradicate the fact that I was used for someone else's pleasure when I hadn't even reached the use of reason yet.  I can't go back and obtain the feelings of closeness I wished I could have had consistently with my mom.  I can't go back and change the years of rift in friendship with my best friend who was there for me (and vice versa) throughout my childhood.  Nothing I do in my current relationships is going to heal those past pains. By inadvertently bringing the pains from my past into today's friendships I will only hurt today's friendships.  And so, instead of ignoring that loneliness from the past, I can give it a nod. I can say to those feelings when they raise their ugly heads,  "Oh, hello. You're back, huh?  Well, you can have a cup of coffee with me on the front porch, but you can't stay."

What is the other thing that helps? This may sound counter-intuitive, but if I'm feeling lonely, I can gift myself with some time alone. I can go to a Church. I can take a walk and enjoy the beauty of God's nature. I can go out on my balcony and listen to the birds and the bugs. Or look up at the sky for a moment while I'm stopped at a traffic light. I can read a book "just for fun".  And I can feel loved, even beyond the love of my family and friends, knowing that God loves me, and knowing that I love myself.

What do you do - what more can you do - to nurture yourself in those times when loneliness may pop into your day?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Grief - (The First Six Months)

Yesterday I wrote about my first week after our 26 year old son died in his sleep this past January. I promised I would also write about the time after that first week. I write in the hopes that someone else will realize that grief is a journey. It's a different journey for each person, but a journey, nonetheless.  It's okay to grieve.  It's important to grieve. And we don't have to "just get over it".  No; no one asked me to do that. But I've heard that people often expect that of people. And some of us tend to expect it of ourselves.

After that first week in Kentucky, we returned to Baltimore.  My husband returned to work. One of my sons who lives here with us returned to college. The other son who lives in Baltimore with us had missed the entire first week of college classes, so he will resume classes in the fall; but he returned to spending much of his time working on his computer in his room.

I returned to being "in transition", having quit my job the previous March...having finished homeschooling the previous May. And so I had plenty of time. Time to think. Time to grieve. Time to be lonely.  Perhaps it wasn't the best thing for an extrovert, or perhaps it was a good thing for someone who has generally tended to keep her deepest emotions deep inside, locking them away where they could be ignored and sometimes even throwing away the key. Being alone at home for much of the day, I could not lock my emotions away. I had to live with them.

"Why?" was never one of my problems this time. I say "this time" because after Paul was hit by a car - a little over a year before - while walking to a weekday Mass, we didn't know at first if he was going to make it.  That time, I had pictured God as a strong good Father and me as pounding on His chest (I believe I had read this somewhere), as I said to Him, "He was going to Mass!!!"  Paul recovered completely that time.  This time I wasn't curious about why.  I wasn't angry about Paul's death, although I did ask God many times, in tears, why he took my sister before he took my son...because now I couldn't talk to her about it; but then I would feel that was a selfish thought because she cared so much, and it would have been so hard for her.  They were both very caring people and I was and am proud of both of them for the generous lives they led, and I believe they have gone to God.  But that didn't help the rest of us, who were left behind.

Yes, I cried quite a bit and I can still cry at the drop of a hat, although it's not as painful now, after nearly six months. The other day I walked by a family picture that had gotten nudged and was crooked. As I straightened it, I noticed Paul in the picture, about eight years old with a huge smile, and I broke into tears...but not into weeping.  

But I'm jumping ahead of myself. During those early days, I cried, but that wasn't all.  I was easily confused. Some times I would take the wrong exit or skip an exit when I was driving somewhere.  I was lonely, even when I was with other people...although it still did help that people were there for me!  But it was better when it was one-on-one.  In a group, I felt left out, even though no one excluded me. I felt like I was "different" from everyone else. 

And all of my weaknesses seemed to be weaker. In those first days or weeks, I remembered all the good things people had done for us in Kentucky but I also remembered two problems that loomed big in my mind.  Even though I asked myself how I could make a big deal out of two problems in the midst of so many kindnesses, the difficulty was that I was second-guessing myself. Couldn't I have handled those situations better? Couldn't I have been kinder?  And I couldn't seem to stop thinking.  These thoughts would even wake me in the night. Maybe I should have been firmer?  Maybe I should have been more "professional"?  Why hadn't I handled things rationally instead of emotionally? Now that I think of it, I almost laugh to think I would expect myself to have handled everything rationally.

The one emotion I wouldn't deal with, but only lock away, was guilt. I treated it as a temptation (in other words, to turn away from it), because I realize it's a normal part of grief and I realize that I'm not perfect.  Maybe I could somehow have prevented his death. (Really?!)  And why, oh why, did I not call him back sooner the last time he called me, when I didn't have time to talk to him because I was in the car to go somewhere?  And crazily, I had the same question about my sister, who died six weeks before Paul did, who had last called me when I had company. I can't answer those questions, and I don't see any benefit in them, so there they are. I unlocked them to show you, but I'm locking them back up.  Paul and I talked several times a week.  My sister and I talked every weekend. They knew I loved them and I still do.  And I know they love me still.

Shortly after Paul died, I decided I would go to daily Mass.  He would be so proud...but I didn't actually do it. Instead, I wanted to make my husband's breakfast because he had to work such long hours.  Or sometimes I just slept and slept. But I feel like I started getting the grace Paul wanted me to get when he had urged me to go to daily Mass...the knowledge of how much God loves us. Yes, I always knew that; I have always known it in my will, but - due to some circumstances in my life in the past - I had had a hard time feeling it.  But, incredibly, I'm "getting it" better now.  And yes, I would like to go to daily Mass, and maybe some time I will get off my duff and do that. But God is good, and it seems that even if we won't meet Him half way in the way someone recommends or we think might be best, sometimes He will go in search of us some other way.

Of course, through it all, all of the emotions and confusion, I have always continued writing, because that is what I do, just as I had thrown myself into my blog back when Paul first became blind. But finally, as I went for professional counseling to deal with both the grief and some past issues that were catching up with me, my writing began to take more shape and focus. I finally decided that I would self-publish my books. As I prepare to self-publish my Little Saint Therese book, I remember how Paul, while in high school, had been my webmaster, and had set up the book to be available as an ebook on my website. Not long ago, he had been telling me, "Write!"  Not that I wasn't writing, but he wanted me to be more serious about it, to make my writing more important in my life.  I think he would be happy with my writing and publishing efforts. Or I should say: I think he is.

And so time has gone on, and life has gone on, and life will never be quite the same, but it is still good.  I have been finding much happiness all mixed in with much sorrow.   I know I am not done crying. But I know now that I can handle it.  And as I said in yesterday's post, "God is good. All the time."  God bless you all, and know that He loves you in all things and through all times.  

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Grief - How Did I Do It? (The First Week)

I've written about my son who died last January at the age of 26. I've written about how you can help those who grieve. But I don't believe I've written about my own grief. I would like to say that's because I am a very private person. But as a writer, I don't know if I would convince you of that, especially because - in some ways - I am anything but a private person.

But if you really want to know the truth, it took me years (decades, actually) to reach the point where I could write not just what I did and thought, but from my heart...or, at least, to open my heart to you a little bit as I write. For most of my life, I denied my emotions. Pain? Loneliness? Grief? I have faith. I have to just "get over it" or "offer it up".  But a few years ago I finally learned something. Sacrificing for God or for others is all very good, but to deny grief is not the Christian way; it is not Jesus's way. Jesus wept. He wept over Jerusalem. He wept when Lazarus died...even though He knew He was going to raise him from the dead!

Today someone emailed me and asked if I know of a Catholic Mom's blog about grief. No, I didn't. But I could write a blog post.  So here I am. Now you know why I am writing this...because I hope it will help those of you who grieve and those of you who watch others grieve. All I can do is share what I've learned, what I've experienced and felt, and what has helped me.  Just so you know, my experiences, my pain, my grief are different from that of my husband or children, or anyone else -- because we are all different.  Just so you know, I don't expect your grief - or your family member's or friend's grief - to be like mine.  Come to think of it, it undoubtedly won't be like mine.  But I am going to be brave and share in the hopes that some little thing I say might help in some small way.

When I found out that my son had died, I was in a sort of shock that held me up.  I needed to reach my husband and all of my children (with all of them being adults, not all of them were here at home and not all of them were in our town). So I squashed my emotions, which wasn't all that hard, simply because I had practiced it for nearly half a century.  When I thought of calling my sister - who had died just six weeks before - that's when I broke down.

We had to go to my son's town to arrange for the funeral.  On the way, we stopped for lunch at Subway, where I have eaten many times, yet I had no idea what to eat.  Once we reached town, we met the rest of our children and went out to dinner. Stupidly, I ordered steak, one of my favorite foods. And then I sat, staring into space, while someone asked me why I wasn't eating.

"I want Paul, not steak," I whined. My husband smiled kindly and said Paul would want me to eat. And I knew he was right and I ate...not because it was good but because I'm very aware that I'm the kind who needs to eat in order to function.

Having our family together, and with others, was a huge support. Most everyone was so generous and good to us.  My son's church let us use their former convent to stay in, and just being able to start some coffee brewing and cook my usual breakfast each morning helped me feel a little bit more like "normal"...not that life was normal or ever quite would be again, but it made me feel more like I was still normal, like I could get through this.

I cried throughout the Masses we attended while we were the church he attended so many times, often daily...with all the people he knew...and with the priest talking about his life and example.  But it was good to cry...there, so close to Jesus.

One thing I noticed during that trip was my shoulders. I would get through this! But I noticed I was lifting my shoulders stiffly, sending them the pain, to store away for me, so I wouldn't have to deal with the pain now. Transferring the pain of my soul to my body. It's interesting what we do to survive.

 This is very long and I need to take a break, and frankly, you might too. I am going to draw a veil over the funeral because neither you, my dear reader, nor I, need to "go there"; but I hope to write a little more about the past six months or so - and dealing with the grief - in another blog post.  I just want to say, in closing, that God is with us.  He is good...all the time, and as Paul often told me, "God is love".