Posted in People, writing

Going GRAYcefully?

I’m thinking about letting my gray grow.

I know this doesn’t sound like an earth-moving decision, but the question has deeper roots in how I see myself. I don’t “feel” like a gray-haired person, so I haven’t liked seeing the silver strands framing my face when I let it lapse between color rinses.

I honestly don’t even know for sure how much gray I’ve got (besides “a lot” around the face), because I tend to run to WalMart for another three-dollar box of Revlon color every time I start seeing silver.

kana red
My FaceBook profile from the redhead years

When I started coloring my hair, it wasn’t because of gray; it was because I’d always wanted to be a redhead. Unlike my literary heroine Anne of Green Gables (who always lamented her hair color) I admired its “standout” quality, and wished as a kid that my subtle copper highlights would somehow morph into a full-on head of red.

So I bought a box of red ten years ago, and I loved it and I stuck with it. While my late husband and I owned our restaurant, his spicy barbeque sauce was called “Redhead’s Temper” after me (though he was politic in declining to comment on the “temper” half of that label). I spent that whole marriage as a redhead… And then the day after his funeral, I went back to the brown that God and my mother gave me.

That shift was entirely unpremeditated, and I didn’t bother at the time to try to explain it to myself. Perhaps it was a modern expression of a Victorian sensibility—a sort of putting on mourning, or the mark of a chapter-of-life being closed.

Because I’d never colored my hair to its natural hue, I didn’t know what color to buy. I took my daughter (whose tresses match mine) to the store and walked her down the hair-color aisle, holding a hank of her waist-length locks up against the various boxes to find a match. And I figured that was my last box of hair color, since going back to my natural color meant not having to cover or color roots, right?… Continue reading “Going GRAYcefully?”

Posted in People, writing

Advice from a Polyglot

imageYesterday I asked my co-worker Shawky where he’s from. He was born in Cairo, he answered, and grew up in Greece—and he used to work on ships, visiting 89 countries and acquiring six languages. Apparently Home Depot doesn’t have an “I speak Romanian” badge, because that’s the only one he’s missing.

I joked that he probably doesn’t have much call for that here, but wouldn’t you know—not half an hour later a customer made a beeline for his register, greeted him by name, and started chatting him up in (you guessed it) Romanian.

One of our mandates as cashiers is to get customers to sign up for the Home Depot credit card. While most cashiers got a handful, or maybe a dozen, apps in the last month, Shawky had a stunning 111 credit card applications. While I worked the register next to him yesterday, I watched him sign up three more people as smooth as you please.

I teased him about his “magic” but asked him in earnest what advice he would give me to help the magic rub off on me.  He answered me very seriously, in his accented but impeccable English. “Listen. I will tell you. You must have absolute confidence. Don’t say so much. Choose what you say,” Continue reading “Advice from a Polyglot”

Posted in Family, People, writing

Legos—Did You Know?

on a scale of one to stepping on a lego, how much pain are you in?As a parent, Legos were my least favorite toys to step on barefoot. Did you know that a Lego can withstand over 4,000 Newtons of force? That’s why the Lego always wins when you step on it.

But that’s really the only drawback to Legos. (Well, that and the price of Legos these days—it’s nearly as painful to pay for them as to step on them.) The reason why Legos are so awesome is summed up in this description, from Wikipedia: “Anything constructed can then be taken apart again, and the pieces used to make other objects.” Lego is the ultimate imagination-toy.

Lego castle 1980s
This was my favorite set.

Did you know that there are over 915 million ways to combine six basic 2×4 Lego bricks?

Growing up, my favorite set was a castle compilation of all-gray bricks, complete with hinges to make the requisite drawbridges and swinging doors to hidden passages. Legos usually come with a “construction plan”—and I’m sure mine did, though I don’t remember it… because the real fun is inventing your own stuff out of the possibility of all those pieces.

Lego Jack Sparrow Indiana Jones
Jack & Indie—two of my favorite characters in Lego!

In retrospect, my castle set was pretty simplistic, in part because my Lego-play predated the licensing agreements that have brought us Lego Harry Potter, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, Lego Marvel comics…

Just listing them makes me want to sit down on the floor and play. My son’s earliest Lego sets were pirates—any guesses why? Yup, Mommy wanted to play with them. (Did you know that the name “Lego” comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”?) Continue reading “Legos—Did You Know?”

Posted in Mental Health, People

The Science of Smiles

Okay, I have to admit my body is not yet accustomed to day-long shifts standing on concrete. Or more accurately, it’s not yet re-adjusted to that… When I owned and ran a restaurant the days were a lot longer, and sure, they wore me out—but they didn’t make my muscles sore like they are this week.

imageThat’s right, I have sore muscles from cashiering—how goofy is that?

Compared to sitting on my couch with laptop and feet up, freelance writing, Home Depot is proving to be a workout. Given the variety (and sometimes size) of the items people are bringing to my register, there’s a little bit of gymnastics involved with my hand-held scanner… And I end the day with dirt under my fingernails and a splinter or two… And that mild ache that tells me I was actually doing something with my day.

I’m actually finding that satisfying—though nowhere near as satisfying as the number of smiles I get to “collect” in a day. Some people prove a challenge, but I like a challenge—can I get a smile out of them? Usually, yes.

Home Depot plant cartWhen I don’t have a line at the register, I stand out in the aisle to let people know the register is open, smiling at the people walking past. It’s almost amusing to see the faces going by, switching on their smiles one by one as they make eye contact and respond to the smile I’m giving them. I was so intrigued I had to look this up: research says smiles actually are contagious. (Smiling reflexively and responsively to another smile is an involuntary and instinctive reaction stemming from the cingulate cortex, if you wanted to know…)

I find there’s also a scientific explanation for why I get such a charge out of smile-collecting… Seeing someone else smile at you doesn’t only trigger a responsive smile, it also directly triggers the brain’s “reward” center. And then when you smile, your body releases some of those “feel-good” chemicals that give you reason to smile. All in all, it’s a pretty nifty self-perpetuating feel-good system. (God is GOOD at design! I wonder how many more mental-health meds I’d need if I smiled less…)

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“default setting”… Yup, I’m sitting on my couch blogging and smiling

This is where I think I’m particularly suited for the job of customer service… my face’s “default setting” is a smile—not a big grin, but definitely a smile—so at least that’s one set of muscles that’s not sore from unaccustomed use.

And a default-smile definitely keeps the smile-cycle going for interactions on the job. It’s what I missed in the solitude of freelancing—I literally do sit here with my default smile, sometimes even when I’m writing about something awful (today’s topic: laser vaginal rejuvenation, ick)… but I don’t get the “charge” of return-smiles during a day at the computer. On the other hand, my feet are enjoying a break on the couch-recliner  this morning, so it’s all good!

Okay, I’d better get on with that freelance article. We’ll see if the default-smile lasts through that topic!

 

Posted in People

An Empowered Shade of Orange

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“culture of the Orange Apron”

So… I’m going to be back in orange again. And this time it’s not going to be picking up trash along the freeway as penance—I just landed a job as a Home Depot cashier. There’s a tiny part of me that wonders if I shouldn’t sigh and shake my head at myself, past forty with a Master’s degree and excited about cashiering… But I’m pretty sure that’s the part of me I don’t like very much. The rest of me is tickled. I get to be part of the “culture of the Orange Apron.” I get to spend my day with people.

One thing that has been a constant across all my jobs is the fact that I get “charged” by interacting with people. It’s like the human version of putting a cell phone on a charger—I charge my batteries with friendly interactions. It’s the part I loved about the restaurant I had with my late husband—it was literally a “mom and pop” shop, with him cooking and me serving, and people streaming through and smiling with me all day long. I felt like I got a percentage of every smile that happened at my place during the day, and I could come home absolutely exhausted, but still grinning.

It’s what I like about my job at the RV park, and it’s what I’ve been missing on the other days of the week when I’ve been home alone with the laptop, working on freelance articles for a client in India. Somehow the WhatsApp conversations with India don’t have the same charge-me-up potential as in-person interactions.

Home DepotWhen we were running the restaurant, we had a favorite joke. Whenever someone had a special request or an off-menu idea, Keoni would say, “I’ll have to check with Corporate“…  and then he’d turn to me and ask, “What do you say, Babe?” That was the best thing about “being Corporate” at Kana Girl’s Hawaiian BBQ—the fact that I could always make the judgment call to please the customer. So imagine how pleased I was to find out this week that Home Depot associates are actually given a budget to use at their discretion to accommodate customers who might otherwise be having a negative experience. I certainly used that same sort of “power” to good effect in our restaurant, knowing that an occasional meal on the house (when an order took too long, say) would be more than made up for when that customer kept returning. I don’t think many big companies think that way, but at Home Depot even a cashier is empowered to make that kind of call. Continue reading “An Empowered Shade of Orange”

Posted in People

Jesus Meets a Harley-Riding Rabbit

Regardless of what the retail-store displays would have us believe, Easter really isn’t about chocolate, baskets, or long-eared hopping mammals. Nevertheless, our church chooses to host an “Easter Eggstravaganza” for the neighborhood, staged in the park right behind the church.

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our Easter Bunny arrived on a Harley!

It’s part of our mission to reach out to the neighborhood, and be a presence. It’s not intended as a recruiting tool per se (although plenty of new folks also showed up for the church service beforehand)—our focus is on being a part of the neighborhood around us, doing some good where we can, and letting people experience Christianity-in-action.

It’s the same reason we partner with the grade school a couple blocks away, which has one of the highest “free-lunch” populations in the city, and a heavy demographic of refugees. We bring teams of volunteers to help at their events, provide backpacks full of school supplies at the beginning of the year, and adopt needy families with clothing and gifts at Christmas. There’s never any “propaganda” accompanying our volunteer work or giving at the school; it’s purely a program of Christian living, embracing the neighborhood where we’re planted.

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ten THOUSAND eggs!

Last year we “egged” several hundred nearby homes, leaving plastic Easter eggs on their doorsteps with invitations to the Easter event. The three thousand eggs we stuffed with candy for last year’s egg-hunt proved insufficient, so this year we gathered our forces to stuff candy into ten thousand eggs. We had a bounce-house and face painting and a photo booth and a raffle, and the Easter Bunny arrived on a Harley Davidson (we’re that kind of church) to meet-and-greet and take pictures with kids. Continue reading “Jesus Meets a Harley-Riding Rabbit”

Posted in People

Life, and Death. And Life.

fly rodLife in Idaho… I’ve been practicing my fly-fishing cast out in the road behind our RV, aiming to land my fly on a paper plate. Jon has been out with me, working on technique–and he’ll take me to try it on water once I’m hitting that plate regularly. (We picked up our three-year hunting-and-fishing licenses on our anniversary—that’s romance in Idaho!) In the meantime, I’m just excited when I “catch” the paper-plate fish.

Yesterday we took a Sunday stroll through some parts of Boise’s new water park, scoping out the trails and potential fishing spots. The stretch of the Boise River coming through town has been transformed into Class-five rapids thanks to spring run-off, but the little lakes at the park look unbelievably serene.

Esther Simplot park Boise
yup, that’s a view in the middle of our city

I wanted to take some of that serenity home in my pocket. It’s been a rough week.

Walking along the water, we couldn’t help but be thinking of Jon’s best friend Kip… Last Sunday Kip was walking the Greenbelt path along the river with his dog Scratch when he dropped from a sudden heart attack. Kip was just past 50, the “strong-man” of the auto shop where he and Jon worked together. He had an unassuming manner overlaid with the most infectious smile, and his face lit up when he talked about his muscle cars or his Faith.

There’s a huge hole in Jon’s day now–he keeps expecting Kip (or Scratch) to come through the shop door. It felt surreal to write “Kip’s funeral” on our calendar where surely it should have said “Kip to dinner“… Continue reading “Life, and Death. And Life.”