Late Thank-Yous—Pt. 4

Sometimes the doctor calls with the awful news, your car breaks down on the side of the road for the fifth time in a month, or life just doesn’t go as planned. When that happens, gratitude is never your (my) first response.

One of life’s common complexities is the expectation that you show gratitude when you don’t feel it because life feels unfair.

If appreciation has a scale and thankfulness—showing and expressing gratitude—is on one end, the other end is being unthankful (through apathy and silence). So when you hang up from the call with bad news from a loved one or the mechanic, what do you do?

There’s no formula for expressing gratitude when you’re too numb to respond, so I don’t have an answer here. The best idea I can give: tell your unedited feelings to the One who sees—and years down the road, if time has healed enough to show you any positive outcome from the situation, say thank you then.

Late thank-yous are better than none.

Lists and Thank You—Pt. 3

Thanksgiving is about gratitude (you’re welcome—call me Captain Obvious).

Many people go around the table before dinner, saying what they’re thankful for. Others write thank-you notes to the people who’ve given them things. Some serve Thanksgiving dinner to those in need. All over the country, thankfulness is exuding from families who’ve gathered together to eat and relax.

Gratitude is a reminder to be humble, because we don’t deserve what we’ve been given. But gratitude isn’t just about humility and thankfulness, it’s about Who we’re thanking. Every immaterial and material thing we have is a gift from God.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Happy Post-Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful to God for . . .

Curtis (he’s very wonderful)
My job
Both of my families
Nieces and nephews—the brand new ones, and the older ones
Pie and whole milk
Religious freedom

And lots and lots and lots of other things.

Water and Thank You—Pt. 2

Few of us live scripted lives.

For instance, tonight I spent approximately 20 minutes staring at my screen, thinking about what to write on thankfulness. In that time I eked out the short opening sentence you see above.

There was also pumpkin bread in the oven and laundry in the dryer. It was a busy week in the laundry room (three broken washers), so I’d been making lots of trips. At the end of my last laundry trip, I noticed a huge puddle of water seeping from under the door of the apartment across the hall and spreading rapidly (read: before my eyes). After dropping off my laundry and taking my bread out of the oven—I thought—I knocked on our neighbor’s door.

Polina is small woman with high cheekbones, a broad smile, and a red walker. Her knowledge of English is better than my knowledge of Russian, but not by much.

She opened her door, and I pointed at the water—saying something profound to the effect of,

You have water.

Exclaiming, she scurried back into her apartment. I entered in time to see water spilling from a sinkful of dirty dishes. It seemed she’d become distracted by her movie and forgotten to turn off the faucet.

I fetched some towels and helped her sop up water from all over her pale-wood laminate floors, moving carpets, reaching under furniture, and emptying the closet. She worked vigorously, rushing around with a towel larger than her, wringing it into a bucket, and hustling to move chairs and bags from one room to the next. I helped, but she worked hardest.

When we finished and everything was at least just damp and mostly drying, she straightened to her full 4’ 10”, looked up at me, and thanked me profusely.

“Sank you very much. Visout you I vould hef—how do you say in English? Dite in ze vater?”

Then she gave me three slices of coffee cake and sent me on my way, wet towels in one hand and plate of dessert in the other. I came home, thought I smelled something burning, and realized I never took my bread out of the oven.

Polina will probably soon forget my name, that I helped her, even this incident of her wet little apartment.

But I’m likely to remember her repeated thankfulness for a long time—sank you for helping me, as we bent side by side, dredging water from under the table. Sank you as I emptied her closet and she moved the small rugs into her bathtub, Sank you as we rang water from towels and filled bucket after bucket.

She thanked me for doing work she was doing alongside of me. Humbling.

Your thank-you’s may not mean much to you, but they will mean a lot to the recipient. Thank sincerely, profusely.

Please and Thank You—Pt. 1

When I was little, please and thank you were drilled into my mindset and vocabulary.

If you remember being a small child, or you have a small child, or you know a small child (covering all my bases here), chances are high that you’re familiar with this principle. Teaching children to say please and thank you makes them tolerable members of society, and more. ‘Please’ trains them to understand that they’re not entitled to things—’thank you’ reminds them of the same while affirming the sacrifice of the giver. Although most two-year-olds probably won’t grasp this complexity, it’s amazing what mindsets people absorb without understanding them.

As a child grows, the things they ask for often grow with them: please may I have . . . two cookies? Cool trendy jeans? Twenty bucks? The car keys? My college tuition? Your daughter’s hand in marriage?

And though we aren’t (at least I wasn’t) explicitly taught that the amount of gratitude should vary with the size of the gift—

thanks for the scarf mom



—it’s easy to get carried away when we get something we really want (cool new gadget) vs. something someone else wants us to have (nice new socks*).

Entering this Thanksgiving with a mindset of ‘please and thank you’ isn’t just spouting vague gratitude for the big things after a turkey dinner (though I do condone this exercise)—it’s using the specific words in everyday interactions with people who might not be please-ed or thanked by anyone else.

Your thankfulness gives you the right mindset this November, but it can also make someone else’s day (work, job, life) better.

* Never understood why socks get such a bad rap, though. I like them a lot.

How to Write an Inflammatory Post

They—who they, you ask? The writer people who know stuff—always say that it’s best to write as if you’re writing to a person you know. Your writing takes on a more personal tone, and you can delve into topics with some expertise.

Naturally, this can be a tricky style. There is plenty of fodder for discussion: Dear Roommate Who Keeps Stealing My Nail Polish or Three Tips for Dealing with Coworkers Who Smoke on Lunch Break, for instance. But maybe you don’t want your coworkers to be angry that you’ve had enough of their aroma. Perhaps your shaky relationship with your roommate started because she sleeps with a big knife by her bed and sometimes she sleepwalks with it (at which point you have bigger problems than the nail polish anyways).

But if you’re burning with a story that you must write, there are five ways to do so discreetly.

Change up the story based on the personality trait. A friend ignores her problems and avoids them by becoming busier and busier till she’s numb to the good and the bad. She could become your bachelor next-door neighbor who never confronts his fears of dying alone by keeping a to-do list longer than his arm, which means he never allows you to set him up on a blind date. The scenarios are different, but the basic principle remains the same: burying your problems in a full schedule doesn’t actually solve anything.

Always be gracious. If you’re telling a story about your know-it-all coworker, use terms like, “well-integrated information” and “clever synthesis of knowledge.” Be sincere rather than sarcastic. Tell the story in a way that honors your coworker, and doesn’t speak ill of them. Writing is cathartic and gracious writing helps develop a gracious perspective.

Ask the person if you can write about them. There’s no better way to diffuse a possibly explosive situation than by getting permission. Don’t ask, “I’d like to write about how you made a fool of yourself in that meeting, can I?” Remember the gracious principle—“How you handled that situation brought up some interesting talking points. May I refer to it in my writing?” If they say yes, cool. Be kind. If they say no, refer to the following.

Write about it for yourself and save it for later. Chances are that in 25 years, you won’t be working and interacting with the exact same people as you are now. An inflammatory article now is an interesting, amusing, and instructive piece when you won’t lose your job because of it (still, 25 years out, remember that gracious thing).

Go anonymous and move to an island in the pacific. And if your words are burning in your heart like a ticking time bomb, take up a pseudonym and house shop off the coast of California.

The Four Types of Laundry-Doers

A week ago my laundry experience spiraled out of control. Unamused, I wrote the following:

Tonight, laundry was a four-hour endeavor. Sharing eight washers and eight dryers with at least 260 people (closer to 350) means a few things:

  • For introverts, a trip to the laundry room is a veritable nightmare. There’s always a person there.

  • There’s only about a 15 percent chance you’ll get a machine on your first trip up—especially after five p.m.

  • Heavy machine usage dictates that at any given time, at least one of the machines is broken. Sometimes there’s a sign. Sometimes there’s not and you find out it’s broken after you load all your clothes and soap into it.

I spent most of my evening sitting in the laundry room, and observed four very distinct types of laundry doers.

1) The Bold: Because washers and dryers are such a hot commodity, there are signs all over the place asking residents to please remove laundry from machines in a timely manner. If you don’t and your full load is in the only stopped machine, The Bolds will march up, pull everything out, and dump it on the counter. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

2) The Timid: Even if the owner of the clothes in the machine left a note, “Please feel free to take my clothes out, I’m not coming back till tomorrow”, The Timids will stand there hesitantly, read and re-read the message, and discuss it with anyone in the room. Finally they’ll turn to the door, bag of clothes in tow, resigned to the reality of yet another week without clean socks.

3) The Patient: It is true that if you sit in one of the several chairs and wait, before too long you’ll get the chance to claim a washer or dryer. The Patients will camp out with a book or homework or just a suspicious glare whenever anyone else walks into the room, biding their time till there’s an opening.

4) The Angsty: Walking into the laundry room and seeing no empty washing machines may not seem like cause for stress, but for The Angsty it’s a perfectly valid reason to groan, glare, and huff and puff back into the hallway.

You’ll be please to know that I learned my lesson last week, and tonight my laundry strategy was much more successful (I define success here as low human interaction, no wait times, and not having to run the dryer three times in a row).

Kudos to everyone who has lived in an apartment and now owns their own washer and dryer. You deserve every moment of it, and all of us apartment folks would like to come live with you.

Why That Project is Taking So Long

Have a big project you haven’t finished? Garrison Keillor has crafted a perfect, absolutely watertight excuse for why it’s not done yet (disclaimer, this rings especially true for us writer-types).

Roman and Leon are brothers growing old together on their farm in Minnesota.

Roman worked, Leon said, as if he could by sheer effort pull the corn up out of the ground and make it grow. Leon said that he worked, too. On a book, though he wasn’t ready to show it to anyone, which would distill the wisdom of the ages into a single volume. This book, when finished, would change people’s minds about him, but he was in no hurry to finish it, knowing that work that lasts comes slow.

Cooking, Poetry, and Losing Friends?

I wanted to write about cooking as poetry, structured on a quote from Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, but my copy of the book (and therefore the exact quote) was nowhere to be found. In an apartment that’s circa 500 square feet, that’s a feat.

This derailed my cooking thoughts and prompted me to write about how losing a book is like losing a friend. Then I remembered Dandelion Wine is missing because I loaned it to someone: (verb) what you do when you never want to see your book again.

Now I’m stuck in the middle.

Is this a commentary on cooking as poetry, incomplete without one of my main sources?

Or is it a false disjointed narrative on losing books as losing friends—because my scenario is losing books to friends?

Perhaps I could do a bit of each, but one is like lasagna without the ricotta cheese (a sad, sad entreé) and the other evades any good analogy because it’s talking about A when B is what happened but A’s a good story but it’s not quite the truth (if you can figure out the perfect eight word picture for that, please let me know).

If you’re thoroughly confused about the whole thing, I am too. Maybe it’s just time for pie (poetry and friendship in one).

The White-Haired Guitarist: A Vignette

Experiencing fall in the midwest isn’t complete until you’ve gone to an apple orchard—so today Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I trundled out to an orchard in northern Indiana.

Admittedly, the closer you are to Chicago, the more of a racket orchards may be. Visit for apples, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up buying the entire “fall in Indiana” experience: moo-choo train rides (train cars painted like cows), a corn maze, the pumpkin patch, a taco truck, live country music, and even a petting zoo.

Goats aside, the band is something of an experience. They perform on a small stage lined with corn stalks under a massive (think semi-trailer shipping container) banner: Barnyard Jams. At least 50 picnic tables are lined up in front of the platform, with maybe 2 dozen people total scattered around (listening and eating—but mostly eating).

Better than the setup are the band members. All men older than 50 (so, young guys—you’re welcome, dad) and exactly what you’d expect for a country bluegrass playlist. One of the lead singers, also a guitarist, had an especially arresting appearance.

Wearing baggy old-man jeans, a black zip up hoodie, tan work boots, and a black conductor hat isn't anything unusual. His main feature was an untrimmed, untamed white beard reaching almost all the way to his guitar. His white hair stuck out wildly from under his hat.

If he were in one of my stories, playing in the band would be be fulfilling his lifelong dream. But he’d also be keeping a massive secret.

Mylem Drusky had played in small bluegrass bands since he was 15. It started with his cousin Ed and a few of the neighborhood boys, continued through college, and finally became the small back porch group Mylem initiated after he bought a house with his wife Ellie. Being in a band was always interesting, which Mylem loved. His job as an accountant, though comfortable, didn’t leave much room for character or personality—people don’t usually want you to be creative with their money.

So he kept the band going over the years. Eventually they had gained enough repute in the small community that people hired them on for birthday parties and other events. The yearly gig at the community orchard was their biggest crowd of the year, and they rode on the publicity wave for months.

The other members of the band didn’t know Mylem’s secret. Actually, no one in the community did besides his wife. Years ago, when his grandfather was dying, he called Mylem into his room with an important gift.

“I’ll only give it to you if you never let anyone know you own it.” Wheeze, cough, shallow rattling breath. “You can be an anonymous help to the community. When people know you’re rich, they treat you differently.” Mylem sat quiet for a long time, holding hands with the frail old man. Finally, he agreed.

“I promise.”

So, year after year, he ran the business disguised as a middle-aged, well-groomed businessman who lived on the west coast and only flew out once or twice a season to see how things were going. No one ever suspected, even when he did his yearly summer beard shave. After all, mild-mannered accountants don’t have secrets.

Mylem gave thousands of dollars every year to charities, let at least half a dozen non-profit organizations use his facilities for free, and donated each season’s leftover products to homeless shelters in the area.

And today, a cloudy fall day, none of his fellow band members or the 30 dining guests casually ignoring the band guessed his secret. They had no idea that the scraggly looking guy with the full white beard was actually a millionaire, and the owner of the orchard.

The Ohio State Game

Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I went to the Ohio State vs. Purdue University football game this weekend.

The temperature was in the thirties, with windchill dipping into the teens. We felt sorry for ourselves, but even sorrier for everyone on the field who didn’t have the privilege of wearing eight layers under a down coat.

We mostly watched the game, but stadium seats aren’t made for personal bubbles. When you talk to one person, you’re talking to everyone within ten feet. The gentleman behind us, married, was having a rough night. Preface: pregnant wife flying from Los Angeles to Dallas Fort Worth. Her late flight will likely make her miss her connection.

Husband gets off the phone, disgruntled. Turns to his buddy,

“I called customer service at the airport and asked them to help my wife.”

“What did they say?”

“I asked them to send over a wheelchair to hurry her to the next gate.” Pause, for dramatic effect. Then, with a slight increase in volume, “They said no!”

Buddy replies,

“Dude, what? That’s the worst.”

Husband says, “The guy goes, ‘She’s pregnant, not disabled. We can’t send her a wheelchair.’ “

I think the wife ended up getting where she needed to be—but not before most of section 114 heard about the perils of pregnancy, travel, and flying through DFW.

The game ended in a great upset—the underdog (Purdue, for those of us who aren’t avid college football followers) won. I learned that fans only like it when their team wins. By the end of the fourth quarter, when the score was Purdue 48 and OSU 13, an Ohio player accidentally stumbled into the end zone for a touch down. You could have heard a pin drop in the stadium, almost half-full of Buckeye fans.

Most of the stadium spilled onto the field as soon as the clock ran out, the guy with the pregnant wife forgot his frustration in his excitement, and the Buckeye fans filed out—shaking sorry heads and stomping icy feet.