Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Power of a Handwritten Note

I recently read an article that advocated continuing to teach cursive writing in elementary schools.  The article, found at, lists five strong reasons.  Of the five reasons listed in the article, I found the second one most compelling: “It’s good for our minds.”  I’ll quote it directly: “Research suggests that printing letters and writing in cursive activate different parts of the brain. Learning cursive is good for children’s fine motor skills, and writing in longhand generally helps students retain more information and generate more ideas. Studies have also shown that kids who learn cursive rather than simply manuscript writing score better on reading and spelling tests, perhaps because the linked-up cursive forces writers to think of words as wholes instead of parts.”

To this well written list I would like to add a sixth reason we should continue to teach cursive writing in schools:  There is power in a handwritten note.

There is power in business.  I have often asked people to share their knowledge or research in technology forums or other informal educational venues.  And I have always sent a handwritten card after they have presented, thanking them for their presentation.  While I didn't get to visit the office of every person I had ever asked to do a presentation, those people that I did visit in person had posted my thank you note on their bulletin boards.  Have you ever printed an email thank you message and posted it on your board?  These people were often strangers to me at first.  I truly believe the thank you notes helped to solidify relationships as colleagues.

There is power in volunteer organizations.  Think about it.  Volunteers work without pay; our compensation is the way helping others makes us feel.  But it’s always nice to receive a note of thanks for our efforts.  Those handwritten note may be the catalyst to keep your volunteers in your organization and showing up for your projects.   And as for your sponsors/contributors/benefactors – yes, send them the form letter with their tax deduction information, but also send them a note thanking them for their contributions and letting them know how much their gifts mean to your organization. 

There is power in relationships.  A handwritten note can express love, gratitude, even apologies in a way that an email just can’t match.  Every child should be taught to send a thank you note for gifts received in the mail.  This gesture not only assures the sender the gift was received, but also assures the sender that the gift was truly appreciated and that the giver is highly regarded.   

So yes, let’s keep teaching cursive writing in schools.  It’s a skill that will pay off for our children – now and in the future.

Friday, October 17, 2014


We were the most unlikely of caregivers.  Mom is actually my husband’s stepmother.  He never lived with her.  He was never disciplined by her, nor was he ever consoled by her.  She did not read to him or help him with his homework.  She had six children of her own; the step-children were weekend and vacation visitors.  They never really bonded.

Surprisingly, they are quite a bit alike.  Both have strong personalities.  Both are very frugal.  Both have strong political opinions, and since they resided on opposite sides of the aisle, their discussions could be lively and vociferous. 

So when, after Dad died, she asked him to help her with her finances, he was more than a bit surprised.  He was brutally honest with her about how much money she had and what her limits were.  She respected that.  He was even more surprised at the level of control she allowed him. 

We visited every two weeks at a minimum.  I would clean her kitchen and prepare lunch while they went over her bills and income.  She told us that she looked forward to our visits. 

As she became less and less able to care for herself, we found that the finances were no longer top of mind for her when we came to visit.  She looked to him for comfort, for strength.   And then, on a Sunday morning, she called him and asked him to come.  She was alone.  She was scared.  She didn't know what to do.  And that was when he called his sisters, and the youngest started making arrangements for assisted living.

She lived only six weeks in assisted living.  We continued to visit every other week.  Our visits were personal and precious.   We talked.  We laughed.  We remembered the good times.  We remembered Dad.  I watched him hold her hand, and the love I saw in their eyes brings tears to my eyes to this day.

They have bonded.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Meal Planning 101

Lately I've been seeing – and hearing – advertisements for services that, for a price, will help you plan healthy and tasty meals for your family, all the while preserving your grocery budget.  Frankly, I don’t see what all the hype is about.  I've been doing this for over 30 years.  Wow – if I had had the foresight to put my system online and market it 30 years ago, I might be the one raking in the bucks.  Oh, wait – there was no “online” 30 years ago.  I guess I was ahead of my time.

My system is very simple.  Once a week, I take an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of lined paper, write the days of the week at the top, and plan my lunch and dinner menus.  The remainder of the paper becomes the grocery list.

Input to the meal planning includes:

1.  The ad for my local grocery store.  I try to plan my menus around what’s in season and what’s on sale.

2.  What’s in the freezer.  We buy all our meats in bulk at Costco.  I repackage them into meal-sized containers and label them with the date.  The rule is “nothing in the freezer beyond 90-days.”  If something is coming close to violating the 90-day rule I put it on the menu.

3.  My notes from the previous week – written down on the back of the meal plan.  I’ll explain this in the next paragraph.

4.  The recipes.  I always check to make sure that all the ingredients I need for the week’s meals are either a) in the fridge/freezer, b) in the pantry, or c) on the grocery list.

I go to the grocery store once a week – for the most part.  Yes, sometimes I forget something or run out of something, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.  After the groceries are put away, the top of the list goes in the kitchen as my plan for the week; the list is recycled.  

As I go through the week, if I run out of something I keep around the house, I write it down on the back of the meal plan.  If I think of an idea for a meal, I write it down on the back of the meal plan.  If I find a new recipe I want to try, I write it down on the back of the meal plan.  If I find a new restaurant I want to try, I write it down on the back of the meal plan.  You get the idea.

Does it take organization?  Absolutely.  Does it take time?  Yes, but not nearly as much as you might think.  In fact, if you add up the time you spend going to the store or to the local take-out every day, you might find that the time you spend up front in planning saves you twice the time in execution.  Happy planning!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Emotional Intelligence – What if it’s me?

I remember the meeting vividly.  I was trying to work out a schedule with a project manager, and it seemed like nothing I said worked for him. In fact, the more possible solutions I proposed, the more agitated he became.  What was I doing wrong?

Afterward I chalked up his negativity to his “having a bad day” or something like that.  But I have to wonder – what if it was me causing his negative emotions?

We've all met people who've rubbed us the wrong way.  The person with the high pitched voice.  The person with the off-the-scale energy levels.  The person with the Pollyanna-like positivity.   Or if you’re referring to me – the person with all three of these potential flaws.  The question is, “Can I learn to identify when I am the cause of someone’s negative emotion?”  And the follow on question, “Can I learn to do something about it?”

Through all these years that I've been supposed to be amassing wisdom, I've learned that I am much better at dealing with my own emotions when someone annoys me than I am at dealing with the emotions of the person I happen to be annoying.  Because basically I have to figure out how to step back, figure out what I’m saying / doing / projecting that is annoying the other person, and then correct it.

The easiest thing to do, of course, would be to ask the other person what it is about me that s/he finds annoying.  Unfortunately, that puts the other person in the position of having to tell me – which they may find uncomfortable.  I did try this once – a long time ago when I was in college.  Her reply?  “You should know.”  Not very helpful.

So I keep plugging along.  I try to make a conscious effort to slow down when I speak and to sit still in meetings.  I practice at home by not bouncing every time I think of something I should be doing.  Or fixing.  Or writing down.  (This is hard.) And I use my emotional intelligence skills to calmly accept any feedback I’m given and sincerely thank the giver.