How Do I Love Thee?

love language

It seems as if some people I don’t even know love me. Maybe it’s happened to you too.

Don’t get me wrong: I do believe I’m a fairly lovable person, and I’ll take all the love I can get. But the person saying it needs to really mean the words for it to count. Otherwise, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth since I know (because how could they?) that they don’t actually love me.

To whom am I referring? I’ve noticed that the last few newsletters / training updates I’ve subscribed to have come with an email signature of “Love, (the writer’s name).”

As in, “Thanks for subscribing! Love, Bob.” Or “I hope you found these writing hacks helpful! Love, Janet.”

And every single automated “touch” from these folks ends the same way: “Love”

Sometimes that automated touch is once a week. Sometimes it’s several times a week.  More often than that and I hit UNSUBSCRIBE.

I think I understand how these businesspeople believe they can get away with saying love. We love everything from a story on Facebook to a photo on Instagram. We say we love the smell of coffee in the morning and watching a sunset. We love our friend’s new outfit as well as a just-read book. And Heaven forbid, don’t forget that I love dark chocolate! But when we love so many things, it’s difficult for a true I love you to stand out from the crowd.

Dr. Gary Chapman, marriage counselor and best-selling author/speaker, is famous for his Five Love Languages. He discovered in his earlier counseling years that how we prefer to be loved can be identified in five ways: “Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Each individual has at least one language that they prefer above the other… and this is where it gets interesting.” (According to his website!)

For instance, it seems I favor “acts of service” as a demonstration of husbandly love. When Richard asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day, I responded, “The front porch and its furniture cleaned for spring.” And he was happy to oblige! If he had instead bought me a $5 card tucked into an Edible Arrangement, I would have pretended to be excited. But I was truly thrilled to have a clean front porch without having to do the work myself.

As always, differences make for an interesting world. Someone who needs the affirmations as a display of love would have been very dissatisfied with a clean porch.

Love and how we prefer to receive it does make the world go ‘round. Except in an email from a stranger.


Five Love Languages

Lend Me A Hand, Please

Lend me a hand

Have you ever given much thought to how important your hands are?

Last week I taught a class on the effective impact that body language has on a successful presentation. One aspect that novice speakers seem to have the most difficulty in managing is their hands. Those body parts at the ends of our arms can help us relay our message, so why stuff them into your pockets or let them dangle by your sides?

And that got me thinking about all the ways we use our hands.

We wave both hello and goodbye. We make a heart shape to signal “I love you.” We touch our lips and extend our hands outward to throw a kiss. In non-COVID times, we shake hands with our customers. During COVID times, we make the 1970 hippy peace sign during the “passing of the peace” at church.

Unofficial sign language can be read by our hand motions to come forward, to stop, to speed up, or slow down.

Gardeners plant seeds and pull weeds. Costume designers feed material through on a sewing machine. My friend pieces together the clothing of a deceased loved one to produce a memory bear. A waiter or waitress writes down our order and then places our food in front of us.

Players throw a baseball, catch a football, and shoot a hockey puck. Jugglers juggle. Magicians amaze us as they perform sleight of hand tricks.

If we don’t want to see something, we cover our eyes with our hands. And if we don’t want to hear something, we cover our ears.

I can think of some contradictions: We can use our hands to write a message of love on a Mother’s Day card or use them to hold a phone while we spew a text message or Facebook post filled with hate. We can lift a baby into the air or lift a rock and throw it to break a window. We can carry a bouquet of flowers or a weapon. We can strum a guitar, play Beethoven’s 5th on a piano, beat on drums, or beat down another human being. A maestro uses his hands to conduct a symphony, and a rioter directs an insurrection by holding a bullhorn.

Use your hands to apply sunscreen on yourself or to peel someone else’s sunburn. (Or am I the only person who likes to do that?)

Fingerpaint, paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (oh wait, that’s already been accomplished), or spray paint graffiti on an outside wall.

Babies hold a security blanket and drivers hold the steering wheel (preferably at 10 and 2).

We use our hands to care for ourselves from brushing our teeth, lathering up in the shower, toileting tasks, combing our hair, buttoning our shirts, and tying our shoes.

Our hands are instrumental in both writing a children’s book and illustrating one.

We wring our hands when we’re in distress, and we use them to wipe the tears of someone else in distress.

Our hands come together in applause for a speaker we enjoy, and they take notes so we may recall the speaker’s message.

These are just some of the ways our hands have a language of their own. Why then, when we’re giving a speech, would we NOT want to take advantage of enhancing our message with our hands? Let your hands help deliver your message.

And please,  let it be a kind one.


Adorable nine-year-old girl named Nandi playing the drums on Ellen. If you don’t like drum music, at least watch the interview!

M.C. Escher, Drawing Hands from 1948

Beethoven’s 5th 


Say Cheese!

Say Cheese

Keypoint Intelligence estimates that during 2021, humankind will take around one trillion, four hundred forty billion photos.’s data on weddings reflect that professional wedding photographers shoot up to 100 images per hour. Another source offers that the professionals take around 2000 wedding photos, culling for “keepers” before offering a selection to the happy couple.

And National Geographic suggests that a photographer whose work is chosen for just a dozen published photos takes at least 20,000 shots.

That’s a humongous number of photos.

As I continue to sort through old family photographs, carefully selecting a representative sample of the best ones to capture the essence of our family’s story, I consider the luxury of today’s photographic choices. Whoops, someone moved. Did someone blink? Oh no, the dog’s butt made its way into the scene. Not a problem; we just take one or a dozen more in order to choose the best, the perfect photo. The rest are deleted with a poke at the trash can icon.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy oldster, I’ll mention that when my children were young, we used a camera with film. There was no instant, “How does that look?” moment after a shot. We waited until the film roll was used up, took it to a store to drop off, and then waited for the photos to be returned. If they came back to us and were of focus, or too dark, or whatever, oh well, because that ship had sailed.

My Aunt Winona has this photo of her younger sister Wanda on a pony. It was taken close to 1929 when Aunt Wanda was about two years old, and Aunt Winona was around six.

As the family story goes, there was a traveling photographer who owned a pony. The Great Depression was just in its very earliest days, and the man was trying to make a living by traveling from town to town enticing parents to have their child photographed on a pony. My Grandmother Elizabeth was out with her two youngest daughters when the pony man convinced her to have Wanda pose for a photo.

My Grandfather Luther had been working on a bridge out of state and was not expected home for weeks. But due to the economic times, he had been laid off and arrived back in town that very day. As the photographer was making his final adjustments, Winona turned and saw her father coming down the street. She called out, “Daddy!”

Following her big sister’s lead, Wanda’s head and eyes turned slightly from the photographer and just as FLASH! the photo was taken, Wanda had started to raise her hand to wave to her much-loved Daddy.

And that, my friends, is the perfect photo.

Putting Stuff Away

putting stuff away

I can’t stand not being able to find stuff. Since I consider myself to be a highly organized individual, it’s an affront to my mental well-being to be unable to locate something.

Case in point: A couple weeks ago my husband asked, “Where is the soil analysis the Co-Op did a month ago?” I knew what he was referring to and what it looked like. I recalled that I had intended to file the papers in the “landscaping” folder because that seemed to be a likely home.

It wasn’t there. Nor was it in the “to be filed” stack or the 2021 paperwork box. I called the Co-Op, and (with exemplary customer service) they scanned and emailed me another copy within minutes. So problem solved. But still, I was upset with myself for misplacing the test results.

Intending to write this post on how to improve organizational skills, I was surprised to find that a search of “best organizational skills” first brought up a slew of work-related and resume-related answers.

The employment listing company Indeed says that: “Organizational skills are some of the most important proficiencies you can have as an employee. Being organized will allow you to meet deadlines, minimize stress, and carry out your duties more efficiently.”

But when it comes to personal organizational skills, I’m willing to bet that most of my readers have heard of tidying expert Marie Kondo. Her premise is that we’ll be happier in a tidy, uncluttered, simplified home and life. One of her oft-repeated phrases is to keep an item ONLY if it sparks joy.

Just looking at her website has a calming effect on me.

I don’t recall where I read it, but I believe it: Clutter is the enemy of a peaceful home. And, as it turns out, it’s also the enemy of good mental health!

An article in Psychology Today cites studies that show clutter at home and the workplace can cause us to be less efficient in visual processing and thinking as well as spur a deterioration in good mental health.

Clutter and disorganization can spark a sense of uneasiness in me. And it can happen even when I’m watching something. I recall the (now canceled after nine seasons) tv sitcom The Middle about the Hecks, a middle-class family in Indiana. I loved the show, but their cluttered house gave me anxiety. Seriously.

And even watching a one-man bell ringing performance of the Lord’s Prayer (wow, that’s a mouthful, right?!) made me nervous because the guy didn’t systematically put the bells down in the same spot where he picked them up! I found I could enjoy it more if I just listened and didn’t watch.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and tidy up.


Marie Kondo

Trailer for The Middle where you can see snatches of their home

The Lord’s Prayer in bells on Facebook

or another way to watch the bells if you’re not on Facebook

Psychology Today article on clutter disrupting mental health

I’m a Wee Bit Irish

I'm a Wee Bit Irish

Riley Cramer Thatcher, 2017

Saint Patrick’s Day was a few days ago, and I came across some information that I did not know about the man behind the day.

While the holiday for the primary patron saint of Ireland is held on the anniversary of his death, Patrick wasn’t actually Irish. He was born in the late 4th century Britain when it was ruled by the Romans, so I guess that makes him Italian. It’s thought his birth name was Maewyn Succat, and that he changed it to Patricius (or Patrick), which derives from Latin for “father figure,” after he became a priest. While raised in a wealthy Christian family, there’s not much to support that his family was deeply religious. Though his father was a Christian deacon, it’s believed he took on the role for tax incentives. (Yes, even back then!)

Patrick was 16 when a group of Irish raiders attacked his family’s estate and kidnapped him. He spent a number of years as a captive in Ireland, working as a shepherd. Lonely and fearful, he turned to his religion for comfort and solace and became a devout Christian.

In his diary, Patrick wrote that after six years, God’s voice spoke to him in a dream, telling him to go home. Walking some 200 miles to the Irish coast, he escaped back to Britain.

There he began his formal religious training and studied for about a dozen years. After he was ordained as a priest, he was sent back to Ireland to minister to the existing Christians and to convert the pagan Druids to Christianity.

His conversion process incorporated many existing Irish traditions. According to, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter as the Irish pagans had a custom of honoring their gods with fires.

Patrick is also thought to have “invented” the Celtic cross by adding a circle to the center of the cross. The sun was another strong Irish symbol. Another train of thought is that the shape represents the Druid circle.

So how the heck does the life and death of this fine man translate into the kinds of celebrations that take place in America today? Because until the late 20th century, everything in Ireland (including pubs) was shut down for March 17 as it was a holy day, not a holiday.

The swigging of much beer can be traced back to the Budweiser marketing plan of the 1980s. The then-Vice President and Director of Marketing for Anheuser-Busch, Michael Roarty, was very active in the Irish American community. According to Wikipedia, Irish America Magazine named him “Irish American of the year” in 1991.

Now, around the world, St. Patrick’s Day has almost become synonymous with beer drinking.

We’ve come a long way from the original meaning of the day.


Watch this hysterical St. Patrick’s Day video from the Holderness family article on St. Patrick’s Day article on Saint Patrick

Budweiser’s 2021 “green beer” plan for this year article on beer drinking to celebrate March 17


See You Down The Road

See You Down The Road

When it came up in conversation half a dozen or so years ago that my husband had never ever been to a circus, I knew I had to remedy that. The next Christmas, he found front row, center arena tickets to the Ringling Bros. / Barnum & Bailey Circus for the following spring in his stocking.

We both thoroughly enjoyed the entire show. From the crazy clown antics, to the animal acts (elephants, tigers, and horses, oh my!), and then to the balancing, gymnastic, dazzling feats of the performers, there wasn’t a single moment where we were left to wonder what might be coming up next. The following act began as the prior one was exiting stage left.

Citing diminishing ticket sales, after 146 years Ringling Bros. / Barnum & Bailey Circus closed down in May 2017. For years, animal rights activists had fought them over the mistreatment of animals. And in fact, elephants were removed from the show in 2016. An animal lover myself, I would never defend any person or any business that mistreated animals.

But that left me to wonder, what with the variety of entertainment and non-animal acts, why couldn’t the show go on? I’m sad that this feature of American life is gone. Up for consideration is whether the diminished ticket sales were affected by our own and our children’s ever-increasing screen time.

We are mesmerized by what we can find online instead of being fascinated by real life. There was just something unbelievably magical about the circus performances happening before us.

It was a magic that cannot be duplicated by staring at a screen.

I have to believe that the success of the movie The Greatest Showman, released seven months after Ringling Bros.’s last performance, was in part due to theater audiences remembering with awe the last time they attended the circus. The movie grossed $435 million worldwide and became the fifth highest-grossing live-action musical of all time.

Yes, there are other circus companies around (see link below). And Cirque du Soleil, in its various forms, with what they dub “theater circus,” is certainly captivating. But for young children, there’s nothing like the proverbial three-ring circus.

I hope as America recovers from the pandemic that the circus (even without the animals) will rise from the ashes; that people of all ages will once again sit underneath the big top tent and simply be amazed at what unfolds before them.

Circus folk hate to say goodbye because of its finality. Instead, they offer, “See you down the road.” I like the sound of that.


Clip from The Greatest Showman


A Ringling Brothers farewell video

Other touring circuses

Goodnight Who?

Goodnight Who

Have you ever read a book so many times that it literally starts to fall apart? As you can see in the photo, such is the case with my children’s copy of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.

First published in September 1947, total sales have reached over 48 million copies. It’s identified as a calming story to get very young children ready to go to sleep. Having a routine of looking around the bedroom, seeing beloved objects, and saying goodnight to each one is reassuring to a child.

But did you know that this book goes against many of the current recommendations given for writing a best-selling children’s picture book?

  • Have a likeable main character that children can identify with. The main character is the young bunny, but we’re never told what the bunny is thinking or feeling.
  • Make the characters identifiable. The two characters have no names, unless you count “a quiet old lady” as a name.
  • Have an easy-to-follow plot with plenty of action. There is no plot, no sequence of action. The bunny is in bed from the first page to the last.
  • Choose strong verbs! Here are the verbs used: was, were, jumping, sitting, and whispering.
  • Change the scenery often. The entire story takes place in one room during about an hour’s time.

So against all odds, young children love this book. Mine both did. When we took long car trips and the children got restless, I would turn to the back seat and tell it from memory. I guess that’s why I can still recite it word for word.

In our copy of the book, on the “Goodnight nobody” page, we taped a photo of my daughter Laura’s favorite stuffed monkey named Georgie. He’s “hanging” from a bunch of bananas at Longwood Gardens. (You can see me in the background holding baby Laura.) So when we reached this part of the story, instead of saying, “Goodnight nobody,” we said, “Goodnight Georgie.”

When I was doing research for this article, I came across some opinions about the book that were a tad unsettling. One writer feels this book is about a bunny that is AFRAID to go to bed and so is stalling by naming things in the room. How dare you?!

Another author brought up the safety issue of an open fireplace without so much as a screen in the bunny child’s room. One guy wondered why a bunny would have a tiger pelt rug in the room when tigers EAT bunnies.

Someone else wondered why the bunny is sleeping in the mother’s room. She believed that to be true because there is a phone on the nightstand and a rack with laundry drying; who would have that in a child’s bedroom? And some wondered just who that old lady is? Grandma? A babysitter? A nanny? One minute the chair is empty, the next minute, there she is. And then she’s gone again, with just her knitting left behind.

It just goes to show that you can pick anything apart and find fault or at least put forth comments or questions to stir the pot.

Speaking of stirring the pot, I wonder if that bowl of uneaten mush will go bad before morning? Maybe the mouse in the story eats the entire bowl and then falls to sleep while resolving to get back on its diet in the morning.


The Power Of A Routine

power of routine

I am off my game. I’ve been wasting time and have been having a tough time getting myself to focus. Never one much for politics, I became absorbed in the election three months ago. I have been consumed by wanting to stay on top of knowing the latest, regardless of how ugly and upsetting it might be.

My plan is to get through the next three days and then take a deep breath and get back to a routine.

My favorite routine story is about Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who started swimming when he was seven to burn off his excess energy that drove his mom and teachers crazy.

When local swim coach Bob Bowman became Phelps’ coach at around age 9, he knew Phelps was under a lot of stress. His parents were divorcing, and Michael had trouble calming down before races.

Bowman had a strong belief in the power of a routine.  Coach Bowman helped Michael Phelps develop one. A routine leads to a day of small wins. There is much to be said about the power of small wins. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win, and another.

Go back in time with me to the 2008 Olympics. Michael Phelps followed his routine:

  • He woke up at a designated time and started following the routine he used before any race. He pulled on sweats and then ate the same breakfast he eats before every race.
  • Two hours before his first race, he started his stretching regime: arms, back, ankles.
  • By 8:30 he was in the pool doing an exact warmup routine for 45 minutes.
  • At 9:15 he exited the pool and started squeezing into his racing suit.
  • While he waited for the race to begin, he listened through earbuds to the same mix he likes before a race: hip hop.

His habit of a routine has taken over. He’s been successful at everything he’s done so far.

The first race of the day was the 200-meter butterfly. Back to the routine: When his name is announced, he stepped up on the block, then stepped back down…like always. He swung his arms three times…like always. When they announced the race, he got back up on the block, got into his stance, and when the gun sounded, he leaped into the water.

And he knew that something was wrong as soon as he hit the water. A leak caused moisture to seep into his goggles. By his second turn, everything was blurry. As he approached the third and final lap, his goggle cups were completely filled with water. He couldn’t see ANYTHING.

He couldn’t see the line along the pool’s bottom, not the black T marking the approaching wall. He was swimming blind. But he did not panic.

Everything else that day had gone according to plan. So on the last lap, he estimated how many strokes the final push would require and started counting. On the 21st stroke with his arm outstretched, he touched the wall.

As he burst from the water and ripped off the leaking goggles, he looked at the scoreboard. Not only had he won, but he had set a new world record.

A routine of focus on small wins is a beautiful thing.


I wrote about “small wins” back in October 2016

Video of the race

Real, Plastic, or Ceramic?

ceramic tree

Putting away Christmas leaves me a little blue. After all the lights, bright colors, candles, sparkle, ribbons, and decorations are boxed up, my house is bleak. Blah.

Last year I began a new practice of creating winter tableaus from bits and pieces of my Christmas decorations. I’ve found that it really lifts my winter spirits.

One of the items I kept out this year is a 6” ceramic lighted tree as shown in the above photo. Although this was a gift from my mother-in-law Rosalie, it reminds me of my own grandmother Elizabeth who had a larger ceramic tree that graced the dining room during the Christmas season.

As it turns out, ceramic trees have quite the history.

According to, ceramic parties were popular in the 60s and 70s. Instead of Tupperware or Avon parties, women with a knack for crafts found themselves at ceramic parties making all sorts of decorations. In November, the crafting focused on Christmas items such as Santas, nutcrackers, and, of course, trees.

I can’t picture my grandmother attending craft parties, so her ceramic tree was likely a gift from someone.

The tree molds were manufactured by a limited number of providers, and that’s why most of the vintage ceramic trees in existence today look so similar.

When the 80s rolled around, this type of group crafting began fading from popularity. By the 90s, people were purchasing ready-made products. says, “For the next 30 years, ceramic trees entered that awkward outdated phase that so often comes between trendy and vintage.”

Enter 2020 and the pandemic. People longed for comfort foods, sweatpants, and nostalgic Christmas decorations. Yes, ceramic trees made a huge comeback this past Christmas. Like me, folks had fond memories of ceramic trees from their childhoods.

For the many people who decided to forego the usual Christmas decorating this year (why bother when no one will be around to see your house?), the ceramic tree filled the need without too much effort.

I hope that next December people will revert to honoring their full Christmas traditions, whatever they may be, and not let the “it’s too much bother” excuse of pandemic times make us lazy.

My Christmas “stuff,” none of it rare or expensive, keeps the story of our family’s Christmases going strong. And I guess I’ll keep telling that story as long as people will listen.


Article from on ceramic trees

My blog from 2018 about live Christmas trees vs. plastic

Images of ceramic trees

Summary of “how-to” make your own ceramic tree. Note, there is a cute one-minute video at the end of the article showing children painting and accessorizing a pre-cast ceramic tree.


A Brain Game That Doesn’t Require A Computer

brain game

A typical Virginia license plate consists of three letters and three numbers. As part of my never-ending quest to keep my brain active and my thinking skills sharp, when I’m driving I often play one of the games I created when my school-aged children (and later my grandsons) were with me for long-distance car trips.

One game involves just the letters on a license plate. As your turn arrives, you “get” the next car that passes you. If the car’s tags contain fewer than three letters, it doesn’t count, and you wait for the next car whose tag contains at least three letters. If it contains more than three letters, you get the first three letters.

The goal is to create the longest word you can come up with using the letters in the exact order from the tag.

Your score is tabulated by the total number of letters in your word. And if you use the letters consecutively, you get a three-point bonus. Here are some examples:

The tag reads CMT123. I can spell the word “placement” for a total of nine points.

UGL123 might prompt me to choose “ugly” for four points and the bonus of three points for using the letters UGL consecutively for a total of seven. It might be tempting to jump to the word “ugly,” but an extra moment of thinking leads me instead to the word “unglamorous” for a score of eleven.

You can boost your score by adding an “s” to pluralize nouns or “ed” or “ing” to verbs. Using the UGL example above, I could have added “ly” to change the adjective to an adverb and gain two more points.

If it’s your turn and you are unable to come up with any word, your opponent has the opportunity to steal your turn. I recall being soundly beaten in this game once when my turn presented a license tag with AAA as its letters. When I failed to produce a word, my car partner shouted, “ABRACADABRA!”  So remember that word with not just three As, or four, but five!

Some of the standard Scrabble rules apply: You aren’t allowed to spell proper nouns, abbreviations, hyphenated words, foreign words, or contractions.

This is a “just for fun” game. No official dictionary or online assistance is permitted! Timing can be as flexible or as rigid as you decide to make it. I’d suggest no more than a minute per turn.

The scorekeeper, of course, needs to be someone other than the driver. This is a fun and educational game that helps kids learn how to spell, to think, to be creative, to engage in language skills, and includes a math lesson for the scorekeeper. And it’s free.

So yes, I play this game in my head as I drive. And even though I’m the only player and there’s nothing to win, I still get upset when I get a tag with something like JXQ123. Hey, if you come up with a word using JXQ, be sure to let me know.


Harvard Newsletter on brain games