Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blessings...large and small

It's the time of the year when all of us pay a bit more attention than usual to the blessings in our lives. We're thankful for family and friends, for good health, hopefully for the jobs we have or the prospects for work on the horizon. Many families even enjoy a tradition of going around the table on Thanksgiving and having each person mention that for which they're most grateful.

While this special occasion encourages us to stop and think about every way in which we're blessed, I'd like to encourage all of you to spend more time throughout the year thinking about the small blessings that come along, the moments that bring you joy. It's lives filled with a thousand small moments, it seems to me, that are the most fulfilling. Unfortunately in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives we forget to take note of those little things. The first person to advise us to stop and smell the roses knew exactly what he or she was talking about.

Although I can't swear I do this every day or that I've done it all my life, I try really hard to seize the brief moments during the course of the day which make me happy. Trust me, these are not always monumental.

Today, for instance, as I was picking up groceries I finally -- after multiple excursions -- found the Mrs. Smiths pumpkin pie that has been our family tradition as far back as I can remember. Just yesterday, when I'd failed yet again, I was thinking that Thanksgiving just wouldn't be the same without my favorite pumpkin pie. Today, I practically danced out of the store. Discovering it tucked into a freezer section in the middle of nowhere, not even remotely close to other pies, was pure happenstance, a blessing, if you will.

I also happen to have a thing for both sunrises and sunsets. Often in Virginia, as I drive along the waterfront at dawn, the sky and river will streak with brilliant shades of gold and orange. I've been known to stop and applaud, mumuring, "Yea, God!" This could be why people look at me oddly from time to time, as they do when I pause to lecture the ducks meandering across the road, but that's another story. Aren't all authors known for being charmingly eccentric?

I consider it a blessing when the perfect parking spot opens up in a crowded lot, when I find the ideal gift for someone on the very first try, when my goddaughter's youngest son sends me a drawing of the two of us playing Go Fish on our vacation last summer in the Outer Banks.

These are not the monumental blessings on which we tend to focus on Thanksgiving, but they are the kind that make our days happier, our lives richer. We need to pay attention to them, embrace them, even if only for a second of acknowledgement

So, this Thanksgiving I wish you an abundance of blessings, large and small and, yes, a perfectly roasted turkey counts!

Sherryl Woods

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A new meaning to going postal

The United States Postal Service is in financial trouble. Have you heard? Even if you haven't read the details, you've probably seen the evidence of this at your local post office.

The first time I knew things were seriously awry, I arrived at my local post office in Virginia to find that it no longer opened at 8:30 a.m. It was opening at 9, closing at 4:30 and closing during the lunch hour, supposedly just for the summer. Then the changes were announced as permanent. None of these changes make much sense for customers who happen to have jobs. Try getting away from work at mid-morning or mid-afternoon to mail a care package to the kids at college or a Christmas present to someone far away. And try to imagine the lines during those shortened hours as the holiday season approaches.

When I returned later on the same day, at mid-afternoon, I discovered that most of the place was in the dark. The only lights functioning were in the lobby and directly over the counter. Yet another cost-cutting measure. The whole place was eerily silent.

A few days later, a friend who handles bulk permit mailings for his church was sputtering with outrage. The local post office would no longer accept the mailings. He'd have to drive them to the next county, wasting time and gas. The logic of this one completely eludes me, so if some postmaster somewhere reads this, please explain it.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I concluded that this had something to do with the post office being in a smaller, more rural location. I didn't anticipate these kind of changes carrying over to a major metropolitan area, but I was wrong.

On Friday, I went to my local post office in Miami at 8:30, only to discover that it too wasn't opening till 9. I was annoyed, but not shocked. I was running errands off of my island, so went to another post office in another community. By then it was after 9. That post office wasn't scheduled to open until 10 a.m. On my third try, I found a post office that was actually open and -- surprise, surprise -- very busy. When I commented to the clerk that driving around to three different post offices to find one open was enough to force me to send all of my packages via FedEx, he said, "Sure, if you want to pay more." I explained the concept of customer service and added that my time is a whole lot more valuable than whatever cost difference might arise. I don't think he got it. Let me add that I just bought nearly $1,800 worth of stamps for my next postcard mailing, so I'm not really the kind of customer they should want to lose.

I mentioned all of this to a friend up in Virginia yesterday and she, dealing with those inconvenient, shortened hours there, went on a rant of her own. She said a nearby community had officially blown a fuse over the new hours and they'd been changed back. Ours had not been, quite probably because no town official had taken on the postal service.

I understand the need to take sometimes drastic cost-cutting measures in tough economic times, but does it make sense to anyone to make things so inconvenient for customers that they look for other ways of conducting business? I think I could actually accept the idea of mail delivery on only five days of the week, rather than these erratic cutbacks of hours that seem to vary from location to location.

I'd love to hear what's happening in your community, especially if you live in a rural area. Has your local branch closed, cut hours, turned out the lights? Click on comments below or email me directly at Sherryl703@gmail.com.

Sherryl Woods

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Cool as a cucumber

Are you familiar with the expression? I've always been fascinated by how many of us, who come unglued over little things, can remain perfectly calm in a crisis. This weekend brought that home for me yet again.

On Friday I had to deal with a credit card company which apparently has some serious lapses not only in logic, but in follow-up. Suffice it to say that despite written notification of my change of address to Florida and a phone call -- which did successfully get the Florida phone number into the system -- they claim to never have gotten the message about the address. Their oversight has created several extremely annoying moments, but nothing cataclysmic. Still, I was not calm. Some -- the telephone representative comes to mind -- might even say I was one degree this side of ballistic.

However on Saturday when my computer crashed just as I completed chapter thirteen (Hmmmm?) of the new Chesapeake Shores Christmas book, I was calm, cool and collected. I quickly looked up the number for my computer repair shop, asked if they could still find a battery for my dinosaur of a laptop, virtually hugged the repairman who tracked it down, happily accepted the cost of the battery, merrily embraced the cost of shipping. I was, in fact, so darn cheerful, he said he'd never had a more agreeable customer. Too bad he and the credit card rep can't compare notes. At any rate, staring writing disaster in the face, I didn't even flinch.

How many of us are this way? When the big things come along -- a health scare, a child's broken arm, a car accident -- we just dig in and deal with it. However, let those water torture drips of day in and day out annoyances come along and we lose it. Maybe it's just the frustration of dealing with so many of life's little glitches. Maybe it's accumlated anger from all the times we've kept silent over the big things. Who knows?

It happens in relationships, too. We keep quiet over a dozen big incidents involving family or friends, sometimes with the single goal of keeping the peace. And then one minor slip -- your husband forgets to pick up milk, the kids leave the towels in a soggy mess on the bathroom floor, a friend makes an off-hand comment about the color of your dress -- and World War III breaks out.

I suppose it would be a lot healthier for all of us if we didn't let the frustrations accumulate, if we said something when we're annoyed, but as a character on a TV sit com said in a recent episode, too often we tell ourselves it's not worth the fight. That's all well and good if we truly let go of the anger. If we don't, though, if we let the resentment simmer, watch out. Stress and high blood pressure can be right around the corner.

When was the last time you blew a gasket over something that didn't really matter, while breezing through a crisis? Do you have a trick or two for staying cool and calm under all circumstances? I'd love if you would share them.

Meantime, keep your fingers crossed that my new battery shows up on schedule and that I'm back in the writing business by mid-week. Otherwise that wonderfully accommodating repairman could move to the top of my list for the next big tantrum.

Sherryl Woods
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