Unexpected Duet

Last month, we visited Minnesota as we do every summer to see our extended family. This trip included attending a minor league ball game with GranMary, welcoming my sister-in-law, Nelle, and her family back to Minnesota (they’re moving home! Woo hoo!), spending time with our hilarious and awesome nephews, visiting with Gigi and Grandpaw Ray, and getting to meet and hold and hug and oooooh and ahhhhh our new nephew (baby of my other sister-in-law, Emi), who is an absolute shoe-in for the CUTEST BABY IN ALL THE UNIVERSE OMG WITH THE CUTENESS award.

It was a superb week – family-filled, relaxing, fun – and although we were sad to leave before the state fair (and Baby O’s 100 days party), we were looking forward to meeting the girls’ teachers when we got back home. We arrived at the airport relatively early; it was crowded but not too crazy. After getting the girls some breakfast at one of the to-go restaurants, I decided to grab a coffee for myself before we headed to the gate.

Although it’s no secret that I’m a Starbucks devotee, I try to patronize Caribou Coffee whenever we’re in the Twin Cities. I like the local-ness of the chain, and the Caramel High Rise is particularly delicious. The line at the airport Caribou was fairly long; they were brewing more decaf, which caused a bit of a back-up, so there were a lot of people milling around. Factor in that the patrons were, you know, due to leave on airplanes soon, and you get a relatively tense and impatient atmosphere.

The cashier asked for my order in a no-nonsense manner (not rudely or brusquely, but she was definitely trying to just move things along) and I was about to reply when one of her coworkers – standing behind her – leaned toward her (and me) and sang, with a tiny, sly grin, “Whaddaya want from me?”

I haven’t watched American Idol in years, but I was quite the fan many seasons ago and immediately recognized the barista’s query as a line from the chorus of (season eight runner up) Adam Lambert’s pop hit, “Whataya Want From Me?” (I never knew before right now that it was spelled like that. Hm.)

(If this makes absolutely no sense, check out Adam’s video…)

The barista looked pleased with her sing-song joke but seemed positively stunned when I sang right back, matching my new words to the melody of Lambert’s tune: “I’d like a coffee, please!” Looking up, she grinned back at me without missing a beat and crooned in kind, “I’ll get that right a-way! I’ll get that right a-way-ay!”

No one else seemed to pick up on the barista’s attempt at humor (and song); we didn’t care. Neither of us really knew the melody beyond a few lines of the verse (or, if she did, she preferred the verse because that’s all she mimicked), but it didn’t matter.

“I’ll take it with caff-eine! I’ll take it with caff-eee-eine!”

“Right now she’ll give you change!”

“Hey, I ap-prec-i-aaaate that!”

Nick had asked me to get him a decaf (which I had to wait for), so our “conversation” lasted longer than it otherwise would have. The cashier – the one who was actually taking the order – looked mildly annoyed at first that her coworker and I were slowing down the transaction… by singing… but as we escalated our back-and-forth duet, a slight smile began to tug at the corners of her mouth.

“Would you like a muffin, too? Or maybe a croi-sa-aaannt?”

“No thanks, I’ll be okay! Don’t want the cal-or-ieeeees!”

When I moved over to allow the person behind me to place their order, the cashier could no longer hide her smile. By the time I finished adding sugar and cream, she was laughing out loud at the goofy audacity of the barista’s and my exchange. SINGING. MADE-UP WORDS! ABOUT COFFEE!! AT THE AIRPORT, FOR THE LOVE!!!!

“I’m going to add some cream!”

“Hope that your flight’s on ti-iime!”

“Thanks, have an awesome day!”

“You too! I hope it’s grea-aaaat!”

In a moment, Nick’s coffee was ready and it was over; I was walking to my terminal, backpack on, coffees in both hands. There were planes to be caught, miles to be traveled, bags to be unpacked, dogs to be petted upon our return.

But for that moment? In that moment? It was awesome.
I mean, does it really get much better than an impromptu, ridiculous musical exchange with a complete stranger about coffee? No. No, it does not. 

I hope that barista is still singing to her customers, and I hope at least some of them are singing back. Maybe she’ll still be there the next time we’re in Minnesota. I’ll be sure to brush up on my pop tune knowledge, just in case.
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Check Yourself (aka Pride, Pups, and Poop)

This afternoon, I took Fenwick with me to the store. Once we were in the car, the radio came to life with “Connections,” one of our local, daily public radio programs. I’m almost always interested in what the interviewees have to say (I got a lot of information for my Common Core post through one of this show’s broadcasts), but today’s discussion was especially riveting because they were talking about service dogs.

More specifically, they were discussing facility dogs in the courtroom and how they help witnesses – particularly children – feel safe and comfortable enough to testify. I found myself nodding (and, okay, speaking out loud ’cause that’s what I do) in agreement with the expert (“That’s right! These dogs are totally All Business once they have their capes on!” “They really DO love working!”). Many graduating CCI dogs go on to become facility dogs, helping out in situations similar to this. That’s why we raise CCI puppies – so that, just maybe, they can go on to do this kind of life-changing work.

When the pre-recorded segment ended, our local host (Evan Dawson) announced that they only had time for a few more callers. (I assumed that the service dog discussion would continue, so when the next caller had a question about her cat’s dental hygiene, I was confused. I guess this is part of a monthly Pet Show, not necessarily a show about service dogs. Anyhoo.) Seeing my opportunity to spread the word locally about CCI – and maybe, just maybe, attract even one other local puppy raiser – I pulled over and called in, assuming that the lines would be busy or they wouldn’t be able to take me but crossing my fingers nevertheless.

To my surprise, I got through to a lovely-sounding lady (I’mma call her a producer ’cause it sounds more official) who asked why I was calling. After a brief explanation, she brightened and quickly told me she’d put me on air. (Score!) Moments later, I heard Evan say that they had time for one last caller (me!), so I turned off the radio and began my schpiel.

I knew the program was about to end, so I did my best to cram in the most important information: we’re puppy raisers raising our fourth puppy for CCI, a lot of these dogs go on to become facility dogs just like the ones mentioned in the broadcast, CCI is an incredible organization that offers dogs for free (FREE!) to people who need them, you can find them online, and if anyone in the Rochester area is interested in becoming a puppy easier, that would really be amazing. It was over in maybe 60 seconds, but when I was done, this crazy high flooded my system: I did it! I gave CCI a shout-out! CCI is awesome! YAY FOR MORE PUPPY RAISERS!
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(Image is from their webpage; you can find the “Unleashed – Diabetic & Courthouse Dogs” podcast here. I’m the last caller of the segment, at 47:00.)

Still glowing while we trotted into the store (after stopping to let Fenwick relieve himself), I actually said aloud, “This is an awesome afternoon!” We’d hardly been in the store a minute when we were approached by two woman who asked if they could pet Fen (side note: always ask if you can pet or even greet a dog that looks like its working). They loved on him, we chatted about what CCI does, and Fen did what he always does when we’re out and about: waited patiently, being a marvelous CCI representative. I beamed with pride.

After putting a few items in the cart, I could feel the joyful adrenaline still coursing through my system and began to grow a little more full of myself. Look at me, making a difference! We are going places! We are gonna change the world! GO ME!!

I had just turned jauntily into a new aisle when I felt the tug on the leash that indicated that Fenwick had stopped moving. Curious as to why my furry Ambassador Of Change had halted so abruptly, I turned back just in time to see him taking a dump in the middle of the home goods section.

Making a difference, all right.

In a ridiculous stage whisper, I hissed at him to let him know this behavior was unacceptable (as though, you know, he could understand), whipping my head in all directions to see if any of the other customers had seen the Special Dog dropping a deuce near the scented candles. Thankfully, it appeared that no one had noticed (although I did steal a second glance at a woman who had paused momentarily when she heard me violently whispering), so I immediately picked up the poop (and cleaned the floor)… and, ever classy, promptly put the poo bag in my purse so that no one would see it.

Fenwick and I hightailed it outside so he could finish making a difference (naturally, despite walking on a grassy embankment for a good 10 minutes, he didn’t do a thing) and then, after disposing of the poo bag, returned to finish shopping. This time, however, I wasn’t feeling quite as ecstatic as I had when we first entered. Getting your pride thoroughly checked will do that to you.

So, to recap:
– Public radio = awesome
– CCI = awesome
– CCI puppies = awesome (even when they pop a squat in home goods)
– Being full of yourself = not awesome

They say that true change starts at home. Perhaps, before changing the world, I could work on that whole pride thing just a bit.
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Adorable, even after causing me to dial it back a notch. You know you want to become puppy raisers… C’mon!

To learn more about CCI, go here.

In Kind

Nick cannot hold onto gifts to save his soul. Once he’s purchased something – a birthday present, a Christmas package, a trinket from the airport – he has to give it to the intended recipient absolutely as soon as possible or his hair will fall out or something similarly dire. He’s just too excited; holding onto items for future giving is not going to happen.

It took me a few years to understand that his last-minute shopping wasn’t necessarily because he forgot about the upcoming event or because he didn’t put any thought into what he was purchasing. Okay, sometimes he forgets and needs to pick something up at the eleventh hour (thank God for Amazon Prime), but other times, it’s very purposeful because he knows he will simply burst with the anticipation of giving the gift.

I, on the other hand, tend to shop year-round for birthdays and Christmas. If I see something that is just right for a friend or my sisters-in-law or whoever, I’ll buy it – even if it’s July – and tuck it away until the “official” day arrives. This baffles Nick as much as his habits baffle me. Let’s just say that there have been a lot of compromises over the last two decades.

A few years back, we selected a hat for Bill (my father-in-law) on one of our family trips. I intended to hold onto it until Father’s Day – a bird in the hand, after all. Nick wanted to ship it off to Minnesota right then and there, just because. We argued. Nick won. He sent his dad the hat, which Bill happily wore. We lost Bill not too long after that, and I was damned glad that we’d mailed him the darned hat – just because.

For the last seven or so Christmases, I have made my grandma, Phoofsy, photo books containing pictures from the previous summer at the lake. Phoofsy adored photographs – she had them all over her apartment and the lake house – and just loved the photo books. She took them with her to the lake each summer and, whenever family visited, you could find someone poring over the many volumes, reliving another year’s memories.

This past Christmas, however, I didn’t make Phoofsy a book. You see, I’d already gotten her several gifts – ones I was quite pleased with, that I was sure she’d really like – and I figured, “Eh, why go overboard. I can make her a photo book for her birthday.” Naturally, because I had presented one to her each preceding Christmas, my grandma was eagerly awaiting the 2014 Lake Book and made it quite clear (as only she could) that she was bummed out that she didn’t receive one. I felt awful and vowed to create one in time for Valentine’s Day. And then Easter. And then Mother’s Day.

By mid-May, I felt annoyed enough with myself that I spent several very late nights on Shutterfly designing Phoofsy’s book and, when it was finally finished, ordering it with expedited shipping. It arrived the day before we were to head to the lake for Memorial Day weekend.

I almost didn’t pack it. Phoofsy’s birthday was only a month away and it would make a lovely 95th birthday present. But, for whatever reason, I changed my mind, brought it with us, and gave it to her the first night we were at the house. She spent a good half hour looking it over with Ella and Annie and I caught her intently going through the pages at least twice over the next few days. We came home on Memorial Day; that very night, she went to the hospital. Three days later, and oh so unexpectedly, she was gone.
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Going through the book with the girls.

I cannot even express how grateful and happy and relieved I am that I didn’t hold onto that blasted book until her birthday.

I guess that’s the thing with giving, with kindness: it’s pretty much always a good idea, and you pretty much always feel better afterward. Sometimes, it can be a tangible gesture like volunteering at a homeless shelter. Other times, it’s Random Acts of Christmas Kindness. Or maybe it’s donating money to important causes. Whatever the case, whenever I’ve purposefully set out to give, to extend kindness, I’ve never regretted it.

The smallest acts of kindness are often the hardest. Telling someone that I like their outfit seems so simple, no? Just say it? But when the time comes to actually extend the compliment, I freeze up like that dream where you’re naked onstage (is that just me?) and all you can do is open and close your mouth like a fish. I imagine that the person will respond poorly or I’ll be embarrassed or – I don’t know – a gazillion other things. I worry that I’ll regret reaching out and being kind. Christmas will come and there will be no presents because I will have already given them away.

I’m selfish, though, and I like how I feel after I do something nice, so I’ve been trying to just say it, already… “That mumu is such a great color!” or “I love your mohawk!” And, hey – you know what? No regret. None at all! Just happiness, which is really pretty cool.

So it goes with all of the other small kindnesses, the ones that are the hardest to do. “Liking” someone’s Facebook status even though they didn’t say hi at the mall. Sending Christmas cards to people who don’t send them to us, year after year. Inviting someone to lunch even though I wasn’t included in the last get-together. Reaching out to former friends who had pulled away from my life.

Never once have I wished I’d been less kind. Kindness always feels good.

This isn’t to say that I’m some Mother Teresa. Have no fear – I can be a real jackass (just ask my children), and there are many, many moments when I choose not to give, not to extend goodwill to others. And, to be fair, there are times when extra sweetness is not only unnecessary but potentially damaging. When someone has deeply hurt you, it’s okay to pull back instead of reaching out. When you’re completely overwhelmed, it’s all right to avoid complimenting strangers at Starbucks. My daughters will not receive their birthday presents the moment that I purchase them because sometimes, waiting is okay. There is a never-ending list of needy and worthy organizations and causes and we cannot give to them all. It just isn’t possible. We have lines to draw.

All I’m saying is that when I have reached out, when I have donated, when I have told a friend I was happy her kid made the cut (while mine did not), when I have told someone I’m so sorry about the loss of their mother instead of staying silent, I’ve never wished I hadn’t.
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This photo really has nothing to do with anything, but I wanted to put another picture in and the girls had already pre-approved this one, so… Yay! First day!

Life is really damned uncertain. In the past two months alone, I have had friends move from Rochester, move to Rochester, lose their beloved pets, lose their jobs, lose their homes, lose their parents, and battle cancer. There have been ridiculously wonderful things, too – that’s how it goes with life, the joys and the horrors – but everything can change so fast. It’s tempting (and sometimes necessary) to hole up, to self-protect, to shut out. I need to treat myself well before I can do almost anything else.

But I also need to remember that kindness feels awesome – so, really, being kind is one of the best things I can do for me. And then I can give more to other folks, which feels super, so then I feel better. And I give more.

A kindness circle. How very 1970s.

This week, with school back in session, I’ve had a little time to get to things I didn’t do in the summer. While cleaning out a cupboard, I found some Harry Potter pencils that I purchased for the girls ages ago but never gave them because there wasn’t a specific reason to.

I think I’ll have them waiting on the counter when Ella and Annie arrive home. Maybe they’ll make doing homework just a bit more fun.