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 


Heave-Ho to Upheaval

heave-ho to upheaval

Photo by Norma Thatcher, April 2021

This has been an unusual year in America in many ways including weather. In the mid-Atlantic states, we saw some winter days hit the low 70s, and then we endured recent spring days in the low 30s. My husband just noted that the weather channel is predicting that Denver will get five inches of snow today. Our poor plants, bushes, and trees have every right to be a bit confused.

We had one upsetting issue over the winter with frost heave. You may know that pressure from alternating freezing and thawing conditions can actually lift the soil and plants right out of the ground to produce the condition termed frost heave.

We had a lovely Viburnum bush at the corner of the house that also had sentimental ties; it was a transplant from my sister-in-law Alice’s yard and replanting it in our own yard was one of the last landscaping projects in which our son Tim assisted.

The power of nature is awesome to behold even when we’re unhappy with the results. That Viburnum bush now sits at a very odd angle, roots and ground heaved up from the earth, as you can see below.

frost heave

The most common English definition of heave is to lift or move something heavy. We can also produce a long breath by “heaving a huge sigh of relief.” It can mean an attempt to vomit as in retching.  In nautical vernacular, it means to pull, raise, or move a boat or ship by hauling on ropes.

Heave-ho is a nautical anachronism and was a command to sailors to pull hard in unison on a rope or cable. Today we might say someone was given the heave-ho if he was dismissed, rejected, fired from a job, or forcibly ejected.

Upheaval is closely aligned to heave. It’s a sudden change or disruption to something; a radical change. The pandemic was surely an upheaval to our way of life. But though we may have endured radical changes to what we perceived as normal, at our core, we are still US. We remain the kind and thoughtful people we were, and perhaps are even more so. Our capacity for compassion has grown.

Just like my Viburnum that endured the violent upheaval from the ground during the winter and yet has just blossomed and has hearty “fuzzy” dark green leaves, we can emerge from our upheaval with more beautiful souls.


A post-Covid prayer by Nadia Bolz-Weber

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

Have You Found It Yet?

Found it

Who knew that finding your own voice could be such a joyous discovery?

I could see the understanding dawn on the adult students’ faces last week as they grasped how important each individual voice is in the spoken symphony of life. And they also experienced a little fear in the realization that if your speaking voice isn’t interesting enough, your listeners may tune you out or change the channel.

My blog post from March 6, 2018 (link below) identified some common issues that cause our voices to be less receptive to listeners.

I often find that men drift into the grey zone more than women do. A “grey zone” speaker contains one (or several and sometimes many!) of these aspects:

►monotone    ►flat    ►dull    ►boring    ►safe    ►neutral    ►predictable    ►ambivalence   ►cautious  ►forgettable

In my opinion, the #1 positive aspect that can help a voice be more receptive to an audience is what I term “vocal vitality.” This is a voice that uses some variance in rate, inflection, and pitch.

RATE – This is how quickly or slowly we speak. If you speak too quickly, your audience may not catch everything you say. Conversely, if you have a tendency to speak quite slowly, your audience has time to daydream instead of listening to you. The best pace is a medium one AND then to say some words quite quickly and others (such as a main point) more slowly. That creates the variance in rate.

PITCH – This is how high or low our speaking voice range is. Very high-pitched voices can be grating and sound childlike. Think of a two-year-old whining for a cookie. And when we speak in a very low pitch, it can easily turn into a mumble or at the least, cause our last word or syllable in a sentence to drop off into an indistinguishable sound. A lower voice is often interpreted as more professional. When we vary our voice range in a speech, it creates interest. Top-rated voice coach Roger Love does a super explanation of this by using a piano. I’ve included the link below.

INFLECTION – This means giving stronger emphasis to words that help our audiences understand our message. I’ll use the phrase “I didn’t say he stole the money” as an example. If you emphasize the word “I” the meaning will be Hey, I’m not the one who said it; it was Betty. Not counting the word “the” that phrase can have six different meanings! Try it; say it aloud and put emphasis on various words.

So treasure your own speaking voice and improve by making sure you add vocal vitality to it!

PS – The “Grey Zone” was first identified by author Ron Hoff in his book I Can See You Naked, which is hands-down my favorite speaking advice book! Contact your local bookstore and have them order you a copy!


Blog post Find Your Own Voice from March 6, 2018

Bradley Cooper on purposely lowering his voice for the movie A Star is Born

Roger Love — The piano portion is around the five-minute mark if you don’t have the time to watch the entire video  

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

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.


When Enough Is Not Enough


I vividly recall a children’s book I had. It was small in size with mostly words containing a trio of stories.

One of them told the story of a brother/sister set of squirrel kids named something like Frisky and Flossie. They went with their mom to visit an elderly neighbor. When the older woman squirrel greeted the three at her door, she suggested that the kids play outside while she and their mother visited over a cup of tea.

The squirrel kids spied an arbor heavy and abundant with plump, juicy grapes. As they looked at it longingly, the neighbor said, “You may help yourselves to some grapes.” The kids asked, “How many may we have?” The neighbor replied (unwisely, as it turned out), “As many as you want.”

Those little squirrels gobbled up the entire crop of grapes. When their mom and the neighbor opened the door to look for the kids, they saw the ravaged arbor. The mother was mortified and asked, “Frisky and Flossie, whatever have you done?!”

Frisky and Flossie unabashedly replied, “She said to eat as many as we wanted. Well, we wanted them all.”

Greed is an ugly characteristic for anyone to possess. Indeed, greed is noted as one of the seven deadly sins, although the synonym avarice is commonly used in place of greed. (Avarice is defined as “extreme greed for wealth or material gain.”) Perhaps there is a greed continuum around somewhere. You know, it starts on one end with a toddler hogging all the blocks instead of sharing them. And perhaps toward the other end is Tom Brady applying for and receiving a Paycheck Protection Program loan for nearly a million dollars for his health and wellness company.

Greed is most often associated with the obsessive quest for more money. But people can be greedy for power, material items, food, land, or social status. Or during a pandemic, for toilet paper.

Psychologist Erich Fromm once defined greed as “a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”

In my opinion, greedy people are rarely ever truly happy since they live in a continual state of thought that whatever they have, however much that may be, is not enough. Like Frisky and Flossie, they want it all, even if it’s at the expense of others.

It’s unfortunate that the “greedsters” existing among us now don’t have a wise person to guide them.

Because Frisky and Flossie’s mom had them empty their piggy banks. With that money, they bought fresh fruit (including grapes). Then they put in labor tying the fresh fruit to the empty arbor’s latticework so that the neighbor would find the surprise the next morning.

“Greed, in the end, fails even the greedy.” – Cathryn Louis


Tom Brady’s company took a Paycheck Protection Program Loan for $960,000

Mindful Availability For All

mindful availability

Writer Sue Monk Kidd authored a lovely article on mindfulness way back in September 1997. It appeared in a Christian quarterly journal called Weavings.

She said that when she began to observe her interactions with others to discover just how available she made herself, she was surprised at the lack of true attention she provided.

Kidd wrote, “I watch my restless heart, the mercurial way my mind sweeps from one thing to another, the way my ego holds forth, keeping me abreast of my own expectations, wants, and preoccupations—criticizing, comparing, competing, imposing views. I realize that I can be with someone, but on a deeper level, I’m not available to them at all. I have attention deficit disorder of the soul.”

Distraught in what she found in herself, she took up mindful availability as a spiritual practice. It was hard! Yes, it IS hard!

When I teach mindfulness as part of public speaking, I come clean with my students and share my own failings. When I worked and led a team of people, I seemed to be always so busy, busy, busy. Why, there was no time to stop typing an email or crunching numbers for a report when a team member would pop her head in and ask, “Do you have a few minutes?” Even if I did remove my hands from the keyboard or lift my eyes from the monitor, I would (surreptitiously, I imagined) sneak looks at work to be accomplished. I offered people who certainly deserved more just a fraction of my attention.

There is a Zen practice called meticulous attention. I’ve seen it also referred to as undivided presence. Simply stated, it is the giving of undivided attention to whatever is before us. If we’re eating, we would be focusing on the flavor, texture, and aroma of the food before us and not mindlessly cramming food into our mouths while watching TV or talking. Or if we’re soaking in a bathtub, ideally, we would be paying attention to the warmth of the water and noticing how it soothes our aching muscles and relaxes us. We shouldn’t let ourselves get distracted in the tub by checking Facebook likes on our phones or watching Adele parodies on YouTube. (Guilty.)

So the mindful availability we give to others is likely a work in process for most of us, me included certainly. But it’s a worthy goal to work toward for the rest of our lives.

Kidd says, “When you practice mindful availability, you are simply there with your heart flung open. Being such a rare quality of presence to another human is, in itself, a healing and transforming gift…One cannot be the recipient of mindful availability without being affected.”


Meticulous Attention article

NOTE: The Weavings Journal mentioned was taken out of print in 2017. There is still a website and you can find it here.

Weavings has been described as “committed to exploring the many ways God’s life and our lives are woven together in the world.” Each issue featured articles by various authors with a combined focus on a singular topic.

Put A Face On It, Will You?

Put a face on it

Jay Meadows is a public researcher who investigates health behaviors. He’s been studying pandemic fatigue which has settled in all over the world. Pandemic fatigue, described as our general exhaustion and impatience with the rules imposed to stem the spread, is now a contributor to the growing number of cases of COVID-19. People are demoralized about not having a “normal” life; they want to resume activities and enjoy socializing. And so they begin loosening up.

Meadows says there are two predictors of human behaviors regarding health issues that illustrate why people are now disregarding the important safety steps we took earlier in the year to prevent the spread.

  • Perceived susceptibility. In other words, just HOW likely am I, personally, really at risk to catch COVID? Magical thinking might lead us to rationalize, “Hey, it’s been nearly nine months and I’m still fine so maybe I have some type of natural immunity.” Or “There aren’t a lot of cases in my area, so I’m safe.”
  • Perceived severity. We ask ourselves, “Even if I do get it, will it be all that bad?” We look at President Trump’s case and think, “Heck ya, I can do that.” We hear anecdotal stories of people who caught the virus and recovered quickly. Even one of my readers (who is also a friend) and her husband were diagnosed and had very mild cases. My friend shared that had they not both tested positive, they would have assumed they’d had just some type of minor illness.

I’m going to add a third predictor: Ineffectiveness of our brains to process numbers well. Every day we are bombarded with new statistics. Consider these true, up to the minute data:

  • There have been nearly eleven million cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in the United States since March 1, 2020.
  • Nearly a quarter-million Americans have died of the virus.
  • Approximately 3% of cases diagnosed today will prove fatal.
  • New cases in the US have surpassed 181,000 per day.
  • In the past week in America, daily reported deaths from COVID rose over 8%.

Statistics can be mind-numbing. Our brains get overwhelmed with too many and we tune it out. What does it all mean anyhow? So we get lazy with our precautions and start whining about how uncomfortable masks are.

The New York Times has helped me keep my focus on the pandemic real and personal with their series called Those We’ve Lost. It is online and is updated every day. Here’s the explanation the NYT provides on their page: “The coronavirus pandemic has taken an incalculable death toll. This series is designed to put names and faces to the numbers.”

The COVID death stories that major news outlets cover are typically about celebrities or mildly famous people. While those folks are included in the Times’ series, ordinary, everyday type of people have their stories told in beautiful obituaries.

There’s the story of Rebecca Cryer, a Tribal judge and a survivor of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The obituary of Rev. John Vakulskas tells us of his decades-long ministry to carnival workers. Domenic Parisi was the barber who cut President Nixon’s hair. The stories include people who are described as a Sinatra fan, a prankster, a dinner party enthusiast, a miracle survivor. And then there’s Frank Cullotta, a former mobster in Chicago and Las Vegas who later joined the Witness Protection Program to testify against the mafia.

If you ever find yourself tuning out the news because you’re weary of pandemic updates, go to the Times’ page and put a face on the pandemic by reading a few stories of those who were taken too soon because of it.


The story behind Those We’ve Lost

Those We’ve Lost site

Rebecca Cryer