There is No Magic To It!

Treat them well, pay them well, and they will come. There is no magic to it. This has always been the case, but it is even more true in current times.

Help wanted signs are everywhere. Staffing is short everywhere. Waiting in stores to be helped tests our patience. Many registers are not staffed. Twice in Belk recently I have had to take my linens merchandise down two floors to the beauty counter to be waited on. I do not know why the makeup counters are staffed so well and the rest of the store isn’t, but that is the reality.

There are businesses that remain successful even in these trying times. Starbucks and Chick-fil-A are two examples. There is a staff shortage at Starbucks, but people are willing to wait. Why? What is the Starbucks culture that keeps it so successful? I do not even like Starbucks coffee, but I go there for other items that I do like. It is usually crowded, and people are willing to wait. I think the usual Starbucks customer likes to loiter anyway!

Chick-fil-A is a major success story. People are willing to wrap around the building in long lines to get their food, and Chick-fil-A has systems that make the wait manageable. The staff is neat and well-groomed, nice, and efficient. There is obviously the “ideal” Chick-fil-A associate that the business hires, trains, and manages well. More businesses could learn from the Chick-fil-A model. And I imagine the fact that I haven’t even mentioned the food makes this success story even more amazing. Yes, the food is good, but there is good food at lots of places, but the other variables that I mentioned are lacking in too many restaurants and businesses-food businesses and otherwise. There really is no magic to it, but the determinants of success seem to be missing in many businesses.

What about pay? Yes, pay matters. It will continue to matter, so we need to adjust for it. And yes, the government programs that have provided financial relief for some people without them having to work has been a factor for some not wanting to work. But it is time for us to let go of that argument and get back to the business of hiring good people, treating them well, and paying them well.

There really is no magic to it. Simple, but not easy.

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What Makes People Care?

What made the Delta agent in the Sky Club in Raleigh this morning care? What made him decide to go out of his way and change our flight from one with a stopover to a direct flight and put us in first class? This was outside of the rule book. No one told him to do it. It took more of his time and effort to make this change. There was no obvious benefit to him, and a significant benefit to us. What made him care enough to do it?

Virginia and Alice gave Drew such great attention when he visited recently.

What made a man tell all in line at the Dollar General in St. Marys, GA to put all of their items on the belt, and he then paid for everyone’s items? He did not know the people in line, one of whom was our daughter. This decision cost him money. There was no obvious benefit to him, other than probably the momentary feel-good behavior this gesture created, and the appreciation of those he helped. What made him care enough to do it?

What made my dear cousin, Lolly, get many boxes and packing paper for us, and spend hours of her own time helping me wrap, box up, and haul items from our home into the garage, helping me to prepare for a home showing and sale?  She has many other things to do with her time. What makes her care enough to spend her time helping me?

What makes some people go out of their way to do nice things for others, and other people never even consider doing so? You know what I mean. You have your own examples.

Some of the reason relates to personality. By personality, some people are others-centered, and some are self-centered. If one is self-centered and wants to change that and become more caring and giving, that change can be made.

Some of the reason relates to upbringing. This reason isn’t as clear cut as it might appear on the surface. Some people are loved and nurtured as children in such a manner that they naturally want to “pay it forward.” Some others are not, and may in fact be neglected and even abused. Some of these in the latter group turn their pain into a giving spirit, breaking the cycle of neglect and abuse, becoming a much better person than was modeled to them.

Some of the reason may relate to busyness, and not thinking about reaching out and touching others in a positive manner. If those in this group slow down, look around them at the needs of others, and care enough to, they can become more giving and caring to others.

Which group are you and I in? Is our answer to this the same that others would give for us? If we do not like the answer, we can change. But only if we want to, and find ways to reach out and touch someone in a positive manner.

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When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned

Many people plan their lives, and sometimes those plans work. There are other times that regardless of our planning, our lives go awry. Sometimes things happen to us that are outside of our control, and sometimes our choices create difficulties for us. Regardless of the reasons for the failure of our lives to go smoothly and consistent with our plans, we can all think of current situations that are examples of this, and some of these are tragic.

You have likely heard of two recent events that fall in the tragic category. The first is the kidnapping of the missionaries in Haiti. It is difficult to understand how people who have dedicated their lives to serving and helping others can be the victims of such violence. I am reminded of the book that was popular years ago about this, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. People of Faith struggle with this as much as others, although they ultimately accept that God is in control, and while they/we can’t understand this, we can accept it as a difficult to understand fact. I am not stating or even implying that God creates these tragedies, but he allows us as people of free will to do unimaginable things. Nor am I trying to preach about God. All I am doing is recognizing that some things are outside of our understanding and control, and we must accept that, or we will not be able to live in this world that can at times be full of bad things. It is, of course, also full of good things.

The other recent event that comes to mind is the accidental shooting of two people by Alec Baldwin while on the set of a movie production. While all of the facts are are not yet known about this, what has been reported is that Alec Baldwin shot a prop gun killing one woman and injuring a man. The lives of the family members of those tragedies will never be the same, nor will Alec Baldwin’s.

Many of us will never face tragedies of the nature of these two events. But we will all face a life that is different at times than the one we imagined or planned. Examples of events that we can face include serious illness and death of loved ones, including ourselves. We may also face job insecurity and disruption and serious financial hardships. COVID certainly has taught us that in spite of our best plans, our lives can change on the dime.

How are we to adjust when our lives change in a manner that is difficult? How do we continue to go through each day, trying to remain positive, yet dealing with serious problems? While I do not profess to know how others cope and manage their difficulties, I do know what has worked for me. Perhaps some of this will be helpful to others.

1. Remaining healthy emotionally and physically. This includes eating well, sleeping well, exercising, and being alone with myself. Walking and listening to podcasts provide a healthy outlet for me. Recognizing that as much as I like to be in control, the only thing I am really in control of is my own behavior and choices, never those of others. Not drinking alcohol for the last two years has been life changing for me in a very positive way.

2. Reading. Reading for pleasure and reading for insight.

3. Staying connected to my close family and friends. This is an area that needs more attention, but I treasure time with those I love. Healthy relationships keep us physically and emotionally healthy. I make time for connecting with others as much as possible.

4. Making decisions that obviously need to be made. For me, the best example of this is being open to selling our home in Raleigh. This is something we have been considering for a couple of years, and that some of our family and friends have encouraged us to do. The house is too much for us at this time in our lives. It is too big and has a second floor that we only visit when preparing for company. Mike and I travel a lot, so the physical and financial upkeep of our home no longer makes sense, other than emotionally. We have finally accepted that we need to make a change in this area, and have begun the process to do so. You will hear more about this as our plans evolve.

5. Staying positive, and being grateful for our blessings. While there is tragedy all around us and life seems out of control, we can remain positive and grateful. Sometimes we have to dig down deep, but we have the resources within us if we keep at it.

Enough about me. How about you? Are you finding that some of your plans for your life have gone awry? What have you found helpful in dealing with changes outside of your control?

Prayers continue and hope for a good outcome for the captured missionaries in Haiti. Prayers for comfort and peace for those affected by the Alec Baldwin tragedy. Hope for positive outcomes for those dealing with other problems, whatever their nature.                           

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New York Is Back!

After an almost two-year COVID break, Mike and I travelled to NYC this week. Business for him, pleasure for me. I did not know what to expect in the city, but it felt normal. While there were not as many people as there normally are, that was a nice change. While I recognize that the economy of the city needs more visitors to really return to normal, I know that will happen naturally. Now that more people are comfortable getting out and about, soon the positive impact of that will boost the economy. Of course, there are some people who are not yet comfortable getting out and about, for a variety of reasons. Each of us has to do what makes us most comfortable about the risks of COVID, the vaccine, and other variables related to all of this. Mike and I have chosen to go about living our lives as normally as possible.

What were the changes in the city? If one has been vaccinated, masks were not required in many places. Other than in restaurants, it was not necessary to prove vaccinated status. Restaurants had stricter rules, requiring one to show the vaccination card to enter. That was true in most restaurants, but not all. My understanding is that the requirement to be vaccinated before dining in a restaurant is a city-wide requirement, so some restaurants must be bending that rule. All restaurant staff were wearing masks, which is certainly not the case in some of our restaurants at home. There was more social distancing in New York than is common in other places I have been. It seemed that the people in New York were in general taking the COVID risks seriously, yet not allowing the risks to stop them from enjoying the city.

I did my usual walking the city for hours, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There is nothing like the entertainment of walking through the city, enjoying the views of the storefronts, and stopping for a cappuccino along the way. I was so entertained by just the city that I did not even listen to podcasts, which I normally do while walking.

I did notice that the city streets were not as clean as they have been, and there were more homeless people. There are also more homeless people in our hometown city. Both probably as a result of an economy hit hard by COVID. I also saw a couple of people who seemed to have trouble coping, who were yelling obscenities and slinging trash from trash cans. I recall this same behavior many years ago in the city, before the streets were cleaned up, and other positive changes were made. I was saddened by this more than frightened.

Saks Fifth Avenue has been my favorite department store for many years, especially the flagship store in NYC. I have always enjoyed shopping there. Saks has done a major overhaul in its Fifth Avenue store. The store was always beautiful, and now it is even more so. However, one change that I did not understand is the public restroom facilities. On the lower level, there is a men’s room and two “all gender” bathrooms; no women’s room. I am not opposed to all gender restrooms, sometimes called gender neutral restrooms, but I do wonder why the men’s room is still available and the women’s room is not! The male salesperson to whom I posed this question had no answer for it.

Bloomingdales may be replacing Saks as my favorite department store in the city. This is because my favorite Sisley skincare salesperson who worked at Saks, then at Bergdorf Goodman, is now at Bloomingdales. I am now a Bloomingdale’s customer. I told her that I have followed her all around NYC! She is the absolute best customer service oriented salesperson I have ever known. I will follow her anywhere! I have written about her in a previous blog.

The city is open, welcoming, and recovering. It is once again alive.

New York Is Back. Are You?

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Different Levels of Customer Service

Have you noticed how difficult is to get a parking space at many businesses? This was true before COVID, and since COVID, it has gotten much worse. Unless you are pregnant, a veteran, a mother with children, handicapped, or coming to pick up a phone or online order. If you are in one of those groups, it has become easier to find a parking place. I really do not mind having to park far away and walk, because I am healthy. And I certainly do not mind letting those who need the parking space closer to the business have the space, such as those who are truly physically handicapped. That does not include those in the family of the physically handicapped person who just happen to have the car and the handicapped tag! If I did not fall into one of the select groups mentioned, and I was overweight and sickly, I think I would just stay home and do without whatever I thought I needed from the business. 

Of all of the select groups mentioned above, I really only mind those many spaces allocated to the people who have ordered by phone or online. I do not understand why so many parking places right at the building need to be allocated to people who have called in orders or ordered online. Do walk-in customers not deserve some consideration?  I think of this the same way I think of a customer calling on the phone getting all of the attention of the salesperson while other customers standing right in front of the salesperson wait, and wait.

I hope that my perspective on this does not seem selfish. I am fine with parking far from a business to make room for those who need to be closer to the door for health reasons. I just do not agree with having to park in Timbuctoo for every special group.  

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Key West and COVID

Mike and I made our annual trip to Key West recently. If you did not know that COVID is a real phenomenon, you would certainly not experience it in Key West. This recent trip highlighted the differences in how the COVID virus is being managed across the U.S.

Mike and I have been fully vaccinated, and we have been traveling for more than a year. We are careful, mask up, and stay as far away from others as is practical. But we have chosen to live life as normally as possible, and for us, that includes travel. We travelled to St. Maarten in April and August, and found the masks and social distancing restrictions far more rigid than in Key West.

In Key West, there were no restaurants that we went to that required masks. Granted, all of them were open air, but I was still surprised. In fact, the only place that I went that required masks was a bookstore. While there were some people who wore masks, most did not.

We were aware that Florida as a state has very loose COVID restrictions, but we were still very surprised that mask requirements were almost non-existent. This is a public issue for us, not a political issue. We believe that it has been proven that the vaccine and masks work. We were glad to get the vaccine as soon as we could, and will get the Moderna booster when it is available.

Key West is an area that I am not really excited to visit, until I get there. It happens every time I go that I wonder why I forget how much I enjoy the area. While I do not enjoy the vulgarity, such as some of the sayings on t-shirts and the profanity of some of the musicians, I have found that I can ignore that and focus on the beauty that is all around.

If you want to get away from COVID, go to Key West. Or, perhaps in going to Key West where COVID restrictions are almost null and void, you can come face-to-face with COVID. It may depend on your perspective.

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Our Impact On Others

Are our words helpful or harmful? Once spoken, we cannot take them back. While it is too late to take back words we have already spoken, we need to understand their impact. Once understood, we can improve our communication and have better relationships.

We can all remember hurtful words spoken to us, long after they were said. We can also remember caring words spoken to us, but the caring words do not negate the pain of the hurtful words. In fact, it is human nature for the negative to have more impact on us than the positive.

While sometimes it is the words used that are hurtful, at other times it is the tone of voice. There are also times that the words are harsh, and the tone of voice is as well. The combination of harsh words and a negative tone of voice can create a dynamic that permanently damages a relationship. And we may not even know it, until it is too late. 

Would others use any of these words to describe you?

Most likely many of us have said a harsh word, even in a negative tone of voice, perhaps more than once. But how often? The frequency with which our words build others up or tear them down is the question. And do not think that our intent in saying what we say excuses us. The point is the impact our words have on others. Is the impact of our words positive or negative?

I read a comment in a Facebook memory of a priest who perished on 9/11. The following words were used to describe him. Grace, Humor, Kindness, Forgiveness, Joy. This person’s memory, reflected in the words used to describe her friend twenty years after his death, painted a picture of someone who built others up. What a powerful and positive legacy.

What words would others use to describe you and me?  This is a question worthy of pondering. If we do not like the answer, we can change. Before our legacy is permanent.  

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We Must Never Forget

It is a dreary day in Raleigh. No sun, and it looks like it will rain. I know that my mood is affected by this, and I am doing what I can to shake it. There are reasons other than the weather for my gray mood. Since my readers have their own stuff to contend with, I will not share mine. And, I need to get this blog written, and writing always helps. This writing in particular lifts my spirits.

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 occurred last Saturday. There has been much attention paid to this anniversary. So much, that I almost did not add to that. But these photos are too good not to share.

The fire station in our coastal town of Southport, N.C. honored 9/11 with several displays. It is hard to look at these and even think for a moment about a gloomy day, or even, our problems. Anything I can think of pales in comparison to what the 9/11 heroes (not victims) suffered that day. Their families suffered that day and every day since. Life does go on, or we could not survive the pain.

But we should never, ever forget.       

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Fall Is In the Air

It happens so quickly. Summer ends and Fall begins. Well, not so quickly, but it seems like it. I realize that Fall does not technically arrive until Wednesday, September 22nd.  But today with lots of rain and no sunshine in Raleigh, and temperatures in the 70’s, and having just returned from the sunny and hot Caribbean, it certainly feels like Fall. If I didn’t have a trip to sunny Florida next weekend (I know, back-to-back sun is nice!), I would put up my Summer clothes and get out my Fall clothes. But not quite yet. Regardless of the weather, however, it feels like Fall, which means it is time to think about a few things. The first of these things is change, which the changing of the seasons represents.

Our oldest granddaughter, Mary Grace, who is 16 years of age, was talking about the changing of the seasons a few days ago when we were with her. Our daughter, Tara, and her family which includes Mary Grace, live in Georgia, as close to Florida as is possible. So, their leaves do not change colors like ours do in North Carolina. Mary Grace was talking about that, about how much she loves seeing the fall leaves when she is in N.C., and how Fall is her favorite season. That morning she came out dressed for school in a big orange sweater, although it was to be in the high 80’s to 90’s in her town later that day! The crisp morning and it being September encouraged Mary Grace to welcome Fall.

What does Fall represent to you? Are you excited about the change of the season?  Is there anything you embrace about Fall, be it the season, or something else? Are you getting mentally prepared for the busiest of seasons, which begins with Halloween, soon to arrive in October? After that, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays, all which can leave us exhausted. While we don’t yet know how the holidays will be this year given the ongoing concerns with the viruses and vaccinations, I sense that many people are ready to celebrate with family.

These first few weeks of September are a good time to think about what we want this precious time of ours to include. I am saddened by the recent loss of family and know that some of my readers have also suffered losses. For me writing this and others reading it, we still have some time, and the time we have should not be wasted. Which calls the question, what is wasted time?

Time that isn’t planned can be wasted. Does all time need to be planned? Not really, but if none of our time is planned, then we are likely wasting some precious time. For me this means that I must follow through and do a task that I promised myself to do before the end of the year. I haven’t started on that task, so I should begin, or the end of the year will have arrived, and I will not have kept my commitment to myself regarding this.

Our time should be enjoyed. For me enjoyment can be as simple as spending time with family. That is why Mike and I rerouted from St. Maarten to Georgia last Saturday when our flight from St. Maarten was delayed, which would have resulted in us missing our connection to Raleigh. Instead of spending the night in Charlotte, we flew to Jacksonville, went to granddaughter Elsie’s soccer game, and spent time just visiting with family.  

Our time should be purposeful. Purposeful can be enjoyable, and fun can be the objective. Sometimes when we think about planning our time and that it should be purposeful, that sounds like work. Well, it does take work to make family a priority. Family work is the most important work of all. 

Think about it. What do you want your Fall to include? How are you going to plan for that? How will you know you have been successful with your planning and execution?

Perhaps you can set a couple, or even more goals, for how you spend your time these next few months. After all, the time will pass whether you plan it and make it purposeful or not.

Let’s get started.

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The Friendly Island

Greetings from Sint Maarten. Mike and I are spending our last couple of days of our two-week vacation here. Assuming a negative Covid test, we will return home tomorrow. We have had a very relaxing time. We have watched the news of all the devastation in the U. S. The hurricane devastation in Louisiana and the aftermath of that storm up the east coast is tragic, as are the fires in California and surrounding areas. Having lived through Hurricane Irma in Sint Maarten September 6, 2017, we are grateful that this trip has not had any weather disruption. We pray for a quick recovery for those areas dealing with the wrath of Hurricane Ida and the fires. We are very aware of the gift of being able to travel home to a secure dwelling, and do not take our blessings for granted.

While my mind is still in vacation mode, I will minimize the narrative of this post and share some photos of this beautiful island. We have been coming here since 2000 and consider Sint Maarten a second home. We have seen many changes in these twenty-one years. What has not changed, other than to strengthen, is the friendliness of the people. Sint Maarten-St Martin is known as the Friendly Island, and our experience confirms this distinction is well deserved.

Cruise ships are finally coming back to the island, but some only to allow private excursions, not shopping.
The Simpson Bay Lagoon.
Mullet Bay Beach
Iced tea, my drink of choice! While sweet tea is not usually available, simple syrup turns unsweetened tea into just the right sweetness.
A lovely meal of salmon and vegetables at the Holland House.
Dinner at Chesterfield’s with our dear Sint Maarten family. 15 year-old Sameer, 5 year-old Veer, and Muskaan. Ron is the cameraman.  
(L to R) Harry and Ron, our favorite jewelers for twenty years at Joe’s Jewelry in Philipsburg, #1 on Trip Advisor. 
At Kakao at Orient Beach for lunch.
If you can afford it!
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