Pixabay (2013), CC0/PD

I was unexpectedly home alone for dinner tonight. In between working and stressing out over packing the house for next week’s renovations (we basically have to move all our stuff out, and live someplace else for the duration of the job), I figured I’d grab some takeout for a quick dinner.

There are Chinese takeout places all over, but I chose the one around the corner, because it’s around the corner so it would be faster.

I chose poorly.

I called to place my order at 5:50. I waited at least 15 minutes before heading over there, only to find 4 people waiting ahead of me and a 10-year-old running the store. They were slammed. Her mom was doing all the cooking (there are usually two adults cooking and a teenager taking phone calls and filling orders). Two smaller boys (the bigger one was no older than 7) were running around.

The little girl told me my food would be ready in a couple of minutes.

The back door to the restaurant was open; the whole family was working with coats on. I don’t know what kind of crazy had happened today, but it was definitely not business as usual. I slid into a small booth to wait for my lo mein.

I waited.

And waited.

It was after 7 PM and I still didn’t have my food. Other people left. Some politely canceled their orders before leaving, at least, so that overworked mom didn’t have to try to figure out whose food she was cooking for no reason at all.

I texted my husband and told him what was happening, concluding that if I ever got my food, I was leaving a big tip for that kid.

Because really, it was not her fault. She was working hard: running around taking orders, filling orders, going to the freezer for her mom, and manning the deep fryer (except for the time the 7-year-old did that. YIKES.). And her mom was handling multiple woks and answering the phone and keeping the two little boys in line.

Maybe I’ve used up all my anger at situations I cannot control by directing it at other situations I cannot control. I don’t know. I was cold (my feet are still not warm, and I’ve been back home for an hour now) and was working on a hunger headache but I figured that it would be worse to abandon ship and leave that mom and her little girl to try to figure out what other order to cancel, and with one fewer dinner check for the night.

So I stayed, and commiserated with a couple of other customers and expressed my admiration for the poise this kid was showing.

And at 7:25 when they finally called me up to get my food, 95 minutes after I’d ordered, I left $5 in the tip jar after paying for my $7 bowl of lo mein and a spring roll.

I can only hope that the customers behind me did the same.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

"Two small kindnesses" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (Franciscanmom.com)

Two Small Kindnesses

"Two small kindnesses" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (Franciscanmom.com)
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Yesterday was quite a day.

My daughter had her wisdom teeth out. That was a 4-hour chunk of the day, almost half of which was devoted to driving. All went well and she’s sore but not sick, so we are grateful. That’s the part of the day that went right.

As for the rest of it:

TheKid found a dead bunny in the backyard when he was mowing the lawn.

I’d been up since 4:30 AM getting the hang of my new job and trying mightily to stay caught up on my first job. (“Just keep swimming … “)

My daughter is dog-sitting and since she’s not allowed to drive until tomorrow because she had anesthesia, I had to drive her 4 miles each way two times to take care of the dog.

TheKid had soccer practice from 5 to 7:30.

I was supposed to sing at Mass at 7 PM with the folk group, but Hubs was in New York for the day for training, so he wasn’t going to be home in time for the end of soccer practice, and my daughter can’t drive. So … no church for me. I’ll have to go tomorrow and take my chances on the music.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand … the dryer is broken.

My daughter’s boyfriend arrived, milkshake in hand, while I was getting TheKid after practice. He drove an hour each way after working all day to bring her a vanilla shake.

It was well after 8 PM by the time I’d cooked, we’d eaten, and I got things put away, then headed out to the laundromat with two heavy loads of wet laundry and the pots and pans still in the sink.

I bundled all the socks and towels into two big dryers and settled in with my Kindle to wait for it to be done.

My daughter texted me to ask if I wanted her to finish the dishes. I told her not to worry about it; she was hurting and I was giving her the day off from chores. Then, a few minutes later: “My boyfriend washed the dishes.”

He’s a keeper.

Then the dryers buzzed and I started the foldathon before heading home. I was one sock short, but figured it had just gotten separated out at home. As I piled everything into my basket, a lady unloading her washing machines turned around with my other sock in her hand to ask if it was mine.

Then she went and held the door open for me as I carried my overloaded basket outside.

Earlier, I had almost been reduced to tears by the small erosions of things going wrong. The tears finally came as I slid my laundry basket into the back seat of my car. Gratitude. Relief. And, yes, exhaustion.

Two small kindnesses, when the day had very nearly gotten the best of me.

They might not seem like a very big deal, but when the day is full of little things that go wrong, two little kindnesses mean a very great deal.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Balancing It Out

I woke up today in one of those moods. You know the ones:  they come on for no good reason and they poison your whole day.

I have been trying very hard not to let that mood poison my day. I’m not succeeding. So I thought I’d try writing a bit and see if I can derail these negative emotions.

Bad:  I found a bunch of dishes I still had to dry this morning, because Middle Sister doesn’t turn things upside-down when she puts them on the drying rack.
Good:  Middle Sister did the dishes last night.

Bad:  I had to take out a bag of stinky kitchen trash because Little Brother put me off with “I’ll do it later” when he was told to take it out. Later never came around.
Good:  I’ve got nothing.

Bad:  Hubs’ car is still in the shop (it’s been 2 weeks now. How long does it take to rebuild a transmission?) so he has my car.
Good:  I’m a whole lot more productive at home when I don’t have a car to distract me with the possibility of errands.

Bad:  My car is about to turn 100,000 miles and I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see it happen. (OK, so I’m a geek. What of it?)
Good:  Hubs texted me this morning to let me know he thinks it won’t turn over until after he gets home tonight so I may still get to see this happen.

Bad:  The curtain rod I installed yesterday was 2 feet too short, and I extended it with a dowel, but there weren’t enough rod brackets and the weight of the window treatments made the rod sag. I walked to Target this morning to look for extra brackets but they don’t sell that type of hardware.
wpid-0506140920.jpgGood:  I remembered that I have a small box of curtain hardware in the garage, and I found the exact 2 brackets I needed, plus screws that fit. In ten minutes I’d finished the installation of the window treatments.

Also good:  While I was in Target, I remembered to look for Hubs’ favorite coffee, because he ran out of it the other day. AND it was on sale:  buy 3, get 1 free.

Even more good:  After Target, I walked to Dunkin’ Donuts and got a completely FREE latte with my Dunkin’ Rewards coupon.

And more good on top of that:  The school called to ask me to substitute tomorrow and 3 days next week.

Best of all:  I think this helped!

Dead Leaves and Sloth

You know those chores that nag at you and nag at you while you put them off? The ones that bug you because you know they need to be done, but you just don’t feel like doing them?

stopwatchI did one of those just now.

There’s a place at the back of our house where we keep the recycling buckets. All winter long, dead leaves from trees several yards over collect into the corners and spaces between the buckets. And now that it’s spring, it was time to do something about it.

So I pulled out the can and got a rake and a snow shovel and cleaned out the mess.

It only took 15 minutes–and what a lift it gave me! Now that spot is nice and neat.

The consequences of laziness:  those tasks that take very little to do will just eat you away. And for what? Why do I always put these things off, letting them get to me, when only a few minutes and a bit of effort will get the job done?

Today I began to shovel and rake away that sloth in the form of a big pile of dead leaves. I wonder what tools I’ll use tomorrow?

image source

Small Success Thursday: DST Jetlag Edition

Small-Success-Thursday-400pxIt’s Thursday, so that means it’s time to stop over at CatholicMom.com for a celebration of our Small Successes!

(By the way, have you noticed the spiffy new site design over there? Nice.)

I have a couple of posts scheduled at CatholicMom.com today:  a review of a very good novel for middle-schoolers and my own reflection on social media prayer warriors. I’ll link to them after they go live. I love reading middle-school and YA books that have both a great story and a great message. You can win a copy of the book I reviewed–and the other book in the series by entering the contest here.


My cholesterol is down! It’s not as far down as my doctor would like it to be, but I’m making progress. And tendinitis has been acting up in my foot again (and in the other foot) so the podiatrist is ordering me some orthotics. I was all set to go in there and fight for orthotics or physical therapy or something more than just another shot, but he walked into the room and informed me that I wasn’t just getting a shot this time. No fight necessary–we were on the same page. (Now hurry up with those orthotics, doc!)


american saintI got a couple of long-overdue reviews written:

American Saint, in which I managed to overcome my temptation to be snarky about the author’s obvious political agenda. Diplomatic success!

peppermint bark talenti gelatoand (now for the fun part) Talenti gelato!


As usual, Daylight Savings Time jetlag is kicking my butt. Sleep patterns are off, and I decided that while I need to be off my feet a bit, I’d get some of those annoying little jobs done. I had 2 small baskets and one grocery bag of things in the living room that belonged somewhere else. Today I put them all where they belong. Next on my list of places to attack:  the coffee table! Then, at least, the living room will be nice and neat. Every little bit helps.

I wish I still had some of that gelato. Guess what’s going on my shopping list?

Stop by CatholicMom.com and read about the other Small Successes! Share your own by linking your blog or adding them in the comments box.

Conference Time

CWCO_live_smI’m getting ready for an adventure this week:  I’ll be attending the 3-day Catholic Writers’ Conference that’s being held right here in my home state. It’s more than an hour away (and way more than that given the traffic on the major highway that leads to the conference center) so my family has graciously agreed to hold down the fort here while I *stay overnight* for two whole nights.

(Does anyone have any idea how far out of my comfort zone this is? I’m a homebody to the max. I don’t like to stay overnight anywhere that’s not my own bed.)

So there’s a bunch of stuff–some silly, some not-so-silly, that’s on my mind. I figured that maybe if I write about it a bit, I’ll be able to make some sense of this nonsense. If not, well, then at least I’ve gotten it out of my head, and sometimes that’s half the battle right there.

  1. I haven’t written a book. I do have an idea for a book, and part of the reason I want to attend this conference is so that I can learn what to do with that idea to turn it into a reality.
  2. I worry about talking about my idea for a book. It’s a nonfiction topic, and I guess there’s some fear that if I talk about it, someone else will hijack it and write the book before I do. How awful is it to have that fear when we’re talking about a faith-based topic and a faith-based conference…but there it is. I am hoping that at this conference I will be reassured that this won’t be a problem, and that I can gain valuable insights from people with whom I discuss my idea.
  3. I’m an introvert (in case you hadn’t already guessed). And I’ll be rooming with people I’ve never met “in real life!” One of them seems to have the same Introvert Problems I do, so at least we’ll have a mutual understanding that sometimes we just need to hide out.
  4. Here’s the really shallow part:  I’m worried about wardrobe. I want to look nice…but I have very few clothes that fit properly around my abdomen after my surgery (why didn’t that doctor give me a tummy tuck while he was there?) There’s going to be a good amount of driving on 2 of the days, and plenty of sitting in uncomfortable chairs on all 3 days, and I know what that does to me when I’m wearing my comfiest clothes, never mind “business casual” wear. I’m devoting an awful lot of mental energy to this problem.
  5. I’m also worried about budget. I’ll have to get about 6 meals (including 2 dinners) while there, in addition to lodging. And there’s the Catholic Marketing Network going on, and I’ll want to get stuff.

On the upside, I’m looking forward to meeting Ellen Gable Hrkach, Daria Sockey and Pat Gohn–I think we’re all transplanted Jersey girls! I live in South Jersey now, but grew up in North Jersey, so I’m a “transplant” as well. South Jersey is pretty much a whole different state.

And I’m looking forward to learning everything I can, and to being among people who love to write!

Spelling Errors

Little Brother sorted through the mail after school yesterday and found some Christmas cards to open.  After I reminded him to save the envelopes for me so I can check return addresses and remove the cancelled stamps for the mission collection, he got busy opening the cards and inspecting the photos he found inside.

But since he wasn’t just shredding the envelopes like he usually does when he opens mail, he took a few seconds to notice the names and addresses.

“Mom, guess what?  On both of these cards, our last name is spelled right!”

When you’ve got a last name like ours, that’s a pretty tall order.

I mentioned on Facebook that Little Brother is proofreading all incoming Christmas cards.  That got some interesting reactions, ranging from suggestions that people sending cards to my house should write illegibly to disguise the errors, to the declaration from my sister that she’ll spell it her way no matter what.  She’s been spelling it consistently WRONG for almost 21 years, being a little extra generous with Z’s in an already consonant-heavy name.

One of my aunts, a first-grade teacher, remarked that Little Brother should keep a list of the people who’ve spelled it right so he can give them a special sticker as a reward.

That brought me right back to the days when I was teaching first-grade Spanish, before Little Brother was born.  Each teacher in that school, no matter what the subject, was to make and use a bar graph that could be regularly updated in the classroom:  quite a tall order for a traveling teacher who had only 35 minutes per group as it was.  I wound up asking the kids to bring in those stickers off the bananas that showed the bananas’ country of origin.  We would paste them onto a big poster that I hung on my travel cart.  Every time we got a new sticker, we’d count the number of stickers each country had (it was a good year for Honduras, if I recall correctly.)

It’s really tempting to make a similar chart with all the variations on our name…I won’t, but it’s tempting.

This, That and the Other Thing

This morning when I went outside to grab the newspaper, I could see the morning star.  Had to rush in and get Little Brother away from his breakfast so he could see it too.  (He thought it was worth it.)

Speaking of breakfast, Little Brother is a major-league toast eater.  He’ll go through 6 to 8 slices each morning.  But that wasn’t enough to get him through until snack time.  Now I serve him 1/2 cup of vanilla yogurt before the toast.  For snack, he has fruit and a string cheese.  He says mornings are much better now.

I am doing my best to resist the open bag of candy corn that’s sitting in my kitchen.  But I’ve got some Count Chocula in the house…my kids had never eaten it before so I just HAD to get a box.

Generally I am not a flavored-coffee person.  But I highly recommend Godiva Coffee’s Pumpkin Spice.  It pairs equally well with candy corn AND Count Chocula.  Note to self:  go back to Wegman’s and get another bag of this coffee before it disappears!

Looking forward to tonight’s activities.  I schlep the kids around a lot to things they do.  But tonight’s event is really for me.  It’s the first rehearsal for the Festival of Lessons and Carols in the parish where Little Brother attends school.   Little Brother will be in the children’s chorus, and Big Brother will play various musical instruments.  I’ll be singing and playing guitar.  I have no illusions of having the kind of musical ability that many of the other singers/musicians possess.  This is an amazingly talented bunch of people!  But I find that I sing and play better when I’m challenged by being among musicians who are better than me.  Time to stretch!

I don’t get to bring my guitar tonight, though.  It’s just a vocal rehearsal for the first day, which kind of freaks me out because my guitar is definitely my security blanket.  It’s hard for me to sing when I don’t have something for my hands to do.

I’m still hoping against hope that I find the earring I lost the other day.  It’s not a valuable or expensive earring, but it was a really cute pair of earrings and I liked them a lot.  I should have an earring more than 8 days before I lose it, I think.

Last night I took Middle Sister shopping.  She had a really weird shopping list:  shoes for the Homecoming dance and a blanket sleeper (known in this house as a “woobie.”)  The sleeper is for her Halloween costume.  The last time I saw her wear one of those, she was 4!  After trying on a lot of shoes with insanely high heels, platforms, sparkles and the whole nine yards, she settled on a beautiful and feminine pair of black silk pumps.  Grown-up shoes and little-kid pajamas, all in the same shopping trip.  I guess that’s life with a teenager.

Reelin’ In the Years

Middle Sister had four of her friends here earlier, and they were all lining up to primp in front of the bathroom mirror before I drove them to the football game.  As she left the room, one of them asked, “Is there a guitar pick in your bathroom?”

She never asked about the Army Guy, who stands only about an inch away from the guitar pick.  He’s been guarding the bathroom for at least 3 years now–possibly more.  It’s been so long that he’s part of the landscape, and when I clean the bathroom I just put him back on the counter, in the same place he was before.

Sure, it would be easy enough to carry the Army Guy over to Little Brother’s room.  It’s only across the hall.  For that matter, I could just toss the Army Guy in the trash can.  Earlier this week, I cleaned out the family-room closet and toy box, and boxed up all the Army Guys along with the other stuff Little Brother no longer uses.  My guess is, he’ll never notice it’s gone.  After a suitable interval, I will donate the usable toys to our school’s pre-K or Goodwill.  (Tuesday’s good.)

I can’t get rid of everything, though.  When I pulled the battered copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar off the bookshelf, there was no way I was putting that into the donation box.  The same goes for the entire “Little Critter” series (Middle Sister was a big fan) and The Little Engine That Could, which we memorized during Big Brother’s childhood and hid during Little Brother’s.  We just couldn’t go down that road (track) again.

Some people have scrapbooks, all beautifully decorated and labeled, full of photos of their kids.  I’ve got their entire libraries, as well as a few Army Guys, Matchbox cars, and an American Girl doll.

“The things you think are useless I can’t understand…”


Barbara has been doing an occasional series on laundry.

Laundry is one of those chores that we do one way and we stick with it. Even when our system isn’t working well for us, we stubbornly stick to that system.

I freely admit to being a slave to my laundry system, which hasn’t worked well for us since we moved into this house. That was in 1998.

Our old home was compact, with no wasted space, but not much to spare either. The utility closet (big enough for furnace, water heater, washer and dryer and nothing else) was just inside the front door–in the dining room. I had room for one laundry basket on top of the dryer. So laundry got done and delivered to the bedrooms, to be put away. I had no choice–there was nowhere else to put it.

Then we moved to this house, which has a laundry room in the basement. Since I had always folded the laundry right there by my dryer in the old house, I did the same here. But it was so easy to fold the laundry and place it in a laundry basket–one for each family member.

Five laundry baskets take up an awful lot of floor space in the basement.

And by the end of the day, I would forget to hassle nag remind my kids to carry their laundry baskets upstairs and put their clothes away. So they’d go to the basement to look for stuff, and rummage through the baskets, and I’d get annoyed because they had unfolded all the neatly-folded laundry.

It wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t working too well for them, either.

So I tried something different–which, for me, is a big step. The only time I willingly try something different is when I’m cooking. I stepped out of my Laundry (Dis)Comfort Zone. When the dryer was done, I dumped everything into a basket and took it right upstairs. I folded it on my bed and delivered the folded things to everyone else’s beds. Now when they get home from school there is laundry on their beds, to be put away. There are no baskets cluttering up my basement floor, full of tumbled clothes. There is no “Mom, where’s my (insert name of article of clothing here)?” There are no mad rushes to the basement downstairs to find that missing piece of a uniform.

I deliver as I go, and it’s amazing how much better I feel about getting that done. The only thing I need to tweak is what happens to the Lonely Socks, since I’m no longer in the basement to utilize the Lonely Sock Clothesline.

It feels so good to retool a system and have it work out so much better!