Life, family, business

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A Christmas Story from the Store

I am the owner of a small convenience store in a small town in rural North Dakota.  Every morning, a group of mostly retired men come to the store to have coffee or a bottle of water, and shoot the breeze.  Some play cards, some play practical jokes. Its a great group of guys who have become almost like family to me.  We’re open every morning of the year, except Christmas.   We joke around a lot, and keep tabs on what everyone is doing or where they are going for the winter.  Almost all of them have a great sense of humor, and we laugh so much, sometimes my cheeks hurt.  

One of the jokesters was getting ready to leave this morning.  I asked him if he had gotten something nice for his wife’s Christmas present.  He said, “Nope!  I got her a present a few years ago and she never used it.”

I asked him what he had gotten her.

He laughed, “A cemetery plot.”

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, and a fantastically wonderful New Year!



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Holiday Stress!!

I want to know why people get so stressed out about Christmas.  Is it:

1. Spending time with family when there’s at least one that you really don’t like?

2. Trying to find the perfect gift?

3. Buying things you can’t afford?

4. Or is it trying to buy the perfect gift you can’t afford for someone you don’t like?

I know that there can be stress and anxiety associated with the holiday season, regardless of your religious affiliation.  Whether it be financial stress, stress about running out of time, or just the stress of having to see all those people, stress is generally not a good feeling.  I personally would love to be able to give each person on my gift list that special something that would wow their socks off.  But I’m a realist, and I know that’s not going to happen.  I don’t have that special intuitiveness that tells me what everyone loves, especially those that I only see once or twice a year.  I just have to settle with a gift that lets them know I was thinking of them.

And for those people you have to put up with at your celebration, just try to give thanks that you don’t have to live with them.  (If you do, you need a lot more help than my blog can offer!)  Try to be amiable, and not get involved with their drama.  If they try to start something, just say, “Excuse me”, and walk away.  It may sound rude, but its much nicer than punching them.

As far as financial stress is concerned, if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.  Sounds simple enough.  It can be hard, but there are so many nice hand-made gifts one can give that cost much less than buying that gift.  Learn how to crochet, make handmade cards, make some cookies and candy, and give those instead. Chances are, your family knows you are struggling and don’t want to add to your burden!  No one wants you to go into debt to buy them a trinket.  Your presence is always more important than the presents.

So try not to let the holidays stress you out.  Grab a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or whatever is your drink of preference, and look through those old photos of Christmas past.  I rarely remember what I got for gifts, but I always treasure the memories of those who are no longer with us.

Merry Christmas!


Disappointed by Disappointment


I have a problem.  I’m ready to admit it and get it out of my life.  I worry too much about what other people think of me.

It’s really a fear of disappointing people, and this is the issue I’m working on getting out of my life.  When I was a child I was a disappointment to my dad; I was the firstborn and I was a girl and he wanted a boy.  This sounds quite trivial I know, but its something that I’ve been dealing with for quite some time.  I wasn’t what my dad wanted.  My mom was happy with me, my grandparents were all happy with me, so why does this one little thing matter?

I believe that each of us has trials in our lives, and problems that result from all kinds of weird things that happen to us, or untruths that we grow up believing.  But this belief isn’t true for me.  I’m happy that I was a girl.  I’m happy with me, I love me.  And I know that I was created this way, as a female, for a reason.  I believe that God makes each one of us exactly the way He wants us to be for His purpose.  

But I also believe that what we experience in our lives makes us stronger and makes us into who we are as adults.  I consider myself to be a very strong woman, both mentally and physically, and spiritually.  I also get very defensive when someone tries to tell me what to do.  I don’t work that way.  I have to decide to do something, no one can make me do it.  I may be a little stubborn.  (I get that from my dad and his family who were amazingly stubborn.)  But this can be a good thing too.

A good thing? Remember, everything we experience can be a positive thing as long as we believe it is.  My stubbornness manifests in me sticking to my guns, not giving up or giving in, and if I truly believe something in my heart, no one will change that.  It makes me a stronger person, someone not scared to say what I mean, and say what I think.  I can look back and see that me trying not to disappoint people was all in my head.  I can’t disappoint anyone but myself.  Anyone who feels disappointed in you is really just disappointed in the fact that they were wrong about you.  Their idea of what they wanted you to do and what you did, were not the same.  Its their belief system that was wrong, not yours.  You can only satisfy yourself and your own belief system.  The fact that my dad didn’t get what he wanted is not my problem. 

(You can’t always get what you want.  The Rolling Stones were right.) 

So if I can take my own advice and remember this, I will be a much less anxious person, and will have a load off my shoulders.  There’s no reason to worry about disappointing anyone except yourself.  On that  same note, you won’t disappoint God either, because He knows your heart and your desires better than you do, and He loves you no matter what. 

What issues are you dealing with that may be something in your own belief system?  Have you dealt with this in your life?  What did you do to get out of this mindset?

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Thanks, Grandpa!

phone 028Grandpa’s favorite flowers had always been hollyhocks.  I’m not sure why, but he loved them.  They lined his garden and his yard, and some even grew out in the trees.  We, my siblings and cousins and I, would explore the trees looking for peacock feathers from Grandma’s prized peacocks in the summer.  Those birds had such an enchanting, sad, mournful call.  They were beautiful, but seeing them everyday made them much more ordinary than they really were.  I still to this day have some of those feathers.

I think all the grandkids loved being at Grandpa and Grandma’s house.  Grandma and my aunt, who lived with them and helped them, and eventually took care of them in their old age,  made homemade cookies, and sometimes Grandpa would sing and dance in the kitchen with the old cook stove sitting next to the modern electric range.  The dishes were done by hand after every meal, and Grandma had certain jobs that were done on specific days of the week, probably just like her mother had done years before.  Grandpa cut all the wood to heat the house, I don’t remember any other heating system, and there were lines hanging across the ceiling in the living room to hang clothes to dry in the winter.  I loved helping operate the ringer washer tub, where we washed clothes just like they did in the olden days.  He was a hunter, trapper, and farmer, and loved being able to help him.  I felt valued by all my grandparents, but especially by my two grandfathers.  My paternal grandfather died when I was only 6, and I know I was loved deeply by him, but my maternal grandfather made a very deep impression me as a child, and does still to this day.  He was very devoted to God, and lived his life the best way he thought he could.

Grandpa died when I was 17.  He hadn’t been “here” for a long time, and the last conversation I can remember having with him was one from when I was 14.  Grandpa was my male role model, mostly because I had always felt like my dad was disappointed with me,  since I was the firstborn, and I ended up being a girl.  (And to make it worse, I was a tom boy, rubbing salt in the wounds.)  But Grandpa loved me for who I was, and I loved playing baseball, and hearing stories about when he was a little boy.  I even had an empty chew can that Grandma had put raisins in, so I could have a chew just like Grandpa did.  I’ve been told I look like him, and yes, I can see the resemblance.

Fast forward twenty years or so; I’m a happily married mother of two young children.  My husband and I have moved to a small town in North Dakota, and are enjoying owning our own home.  The existing flower garden in the yard was very overgrown, and full of white flowers.  I dug and planted and dug and planted, trying to get rid of the white and add some color.  I enlisted the help of my knowledgeable elderly neighbor ladies to know which of these unfamiliar plants were weeds and which were flowers.  After a few years of gardening something strange happens; my yard erupts with hollyhocks.  I’m not talking one or two seeds that drifted in on the wind, or a pod dropped by a bird in a one area, but an actual eruption. 

I had hollyhocks in every corner of the yard, every crack of the sidewalk, and every space of the yard that wasn’t mowed.  They were every color, every shape, and every size.  Giddy, I let them all grow.  My yard looked like Grandpa’s.  I told my mom about what happened, and she told me Grandpa must have sent them.  I had never considered this, and this thought made me very happy.  After a few years though, I had to start pulling them out.  They seeded and reseeded and I pulled hundreds of plants.  I now leave about 20 of them or so growing all around the yard in different nooks and crannies.  They make me smile.   And they remind me of Grandpa.


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…just a kid from a small town….

I actually grew up on a farm.  But now I live in a small town.  How small?  223 residents at the time of the last census.

The thing I like best about living in a small town is the sense of community.

When someone get sick or has an accident, or a baby born with a something that needs to be fixed, someone throws a benefit for them, and community shows up and gives large amounts of money to make sure they can pay their medical bills.

When someone’s house burns down, the community comes together and has the benefit, or at least someone collects donations to help them get back on their feet.

I’ll guess that at least half to 75% of the people in our community volunteer their time or money or resources to help others, or donate to their church or the Lions groups and they help others using that money.  The number might even be closer to 100% than I even realize.

There’s at least one person who can do anything you need done, in a small community, from welders and mechanics, EMT’s and paramedics, to firemen and computer programmers, and even that one guy who will climb down in the sewer and snake your septic line if it gets plugged.  There are painters and artists, writers and cooks, organizers and planners, and builders and demolition people.  The funny thing is, once you become a member of that community, you realize that community is just another name for  family.  Sometimes in a community, just like in a family, people fight, and get angry and say bad things about each other.  As long as we forgive each other and learn to forget the sins of those who trespass against us, we will also be forgiven when we mess up.  Because we all do, I have never met one single perfect person, other than perhaps a newborn baby.

Most of the people who live in our small community grew up here, and half of them are related to the other half.  I’m an outsider, as is my husband.  When we first moved here, we weren’t part of the community, we didn’t know many people, and we kept to ourselves, as many others do.  But as time went on, we met neighbors, made friends, and joined a church, and I took some training and joined our volunteer ambulance squad.  We felt like part of the community, but yet we weren’t fully engaged in it.  But once we bought the one little convenience store, the “general store” if you will, we truly became full members of the community.  We know everyone, and everyone knows us.

In a small community like this, the customers soon become your friends.  I know what beer they drink, what pizza they like, and their brand of tobacco if they partake.  I know their car when they pull in the lot, and I usually know if anyone in their family is sick, getting married, having a baby, or dying.  I know their kids, and their kids know me. And they know if I see anything “funny” going on, I’ll let their parents know.  But I hope their kids also know that if they ever needed someone to talk to or to protect them, I’m always available.

Sometimes it makes me think of Mayberry.  Maybe we don’t have Sherriff Andy or Deputy Barney Fife, but we have our own Andys, and our own Barneys, and our own Aunt Bee, maybe even a few Aunt Bees.  Every little town has their own unique personalities, and their celebrities, and their fallen.

I love to listen to the older gentlemen, who come in for coffee in the afternoons, talk about “the good old days” and what they did when they were young and how time flies.  It reminds me of the stories my grandfather used to tell me about when he was a boy playing baseball in Ocheyedan, Iowa.  And the stories my husband’s grandfather, who grew up in that same town in Iowa, would tell about his boyhood, riding trains and playing his guitar and singing for money.  And I realize that not that much has truly changed.  Technology, sure, but that same sense of community existed then, and it still exists today.

We band together, and we help each other.  We criticize each other, gossip about each other, and yet, we feed each other, we protect each other, and we all know that there’s always someone who has our back.  And someday, we’ll be the ones talking about the “good old days” over a cup of coffee at the table, wondering where time went.

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“My father told me I was a disgrace to the family.”  With tear-filled eyes, a young woman told me this today.

In my line of work, I often have people telling me their life’s stories.  No, I’m not a bar tender, I’m the local convenience store clerk.  I must have an sympathetic look about me, because over the years I have heard more stories than I can even fathom.  Many times, people talk to me because I do try very hard to just listen. I try not to offer advice unless they ask, I listen and sympathize.  That’s it. I’m empathetic.

Listening can be hard.  Our brains jump to conclusions, come up with strategy and advice, organize and plan.  Our brains think they know everything, what’s right, and what’s wrong, with us and other people.  Our brains say that we are right and the other person is wrong, we know what we’re talking about and we know the correct thing to do next, or say, or retaliate.

But our hearts, if we can learn to listen to our hearts, know truth much more than our brains.  Our hearts can imagine these scenarios with “us” as the main character.  Our hearts can see and hear heart break, pain, worry, fear, but also joy, love, happiness, and all the things in between.

Shame.  This girl felt shame when she told me what her dad said to her.  But she also felt abandonment.  This dad who loved her said these cutting remarks in front of her whole family in a moment of anger.  This shaking young woman became a teary abandoned little girl right in front of my eyes as she told me this story. My heart broke for her.  I know how it feels when you don’t meet the expectations of those you love and respect.

I know this woman, and I know her dad, who loves her very much.  But all those years of love and care, and hard work for your family, and the respect a parent has built up can come crashing down with just one word.  Words are very important, and very dangerous.  You have to be very careful using words, and think about the words that you choose and how they will affect the people you are giving those words to.  Words can build you up, or words can cut into your heart like a dagger and leave horrible wounds and scars that last forever.


Is it unfair for me to expect unconditional love from my dad or my mom?  What if I’ve never had that kind of a relationship with my parents?  What if my parents were the kind who were selfish or absent, unloving or uncaring?

Regardless of how our parents treated us, we all need to remember that we are who we choose to be.  If you choose to live in your despair, you will always feel the negative things in life.  But if you choose to live in your happiness, you will feel the the positive things in life.  Some of the happiest people I know had some of the worst childhoods.  Some of the most depressed people I know grew up in higher class families with attentive parents and had all the material things they could ask for.  How can this be?

You have to choose which words you believe.  And always remember that you don’t have to take the words that other people try to give you.  Its a learning process, but saying “no, thank you”, to the words you don’t want is much better than taking those words anyway and trying to figure out what to do with them later.  Once you’ve taken the words as your own, its much harder to get rid of them, than if you just refused to take them in the first place.

Only you have that power.  Only you can choose what to believe about yourself, which words you choose to keep, that you feel define you, who you are to yourself. Those are the words that mean the most, the words that live in your heart.  If you can find a peaceful place to listen to your heart, which words would your heart say you are?