Don’t Be Ranunculus!

Ranunculus

Photo courtesy of Daniel Wanke on Pixabay.com

Somehow I became a fan and collector of Marjolein Bastin’s work without knowing it and without intention.

Marjolein is a 75-year-old Dutch artist. As a very young girl, she fell in love with nature. Every walk or venture outside found her collecting flower petals, pinecones, feathers, and seeds. To this day, she follows the same routine. Every afternoon she walks outside in nature to soak it all in. She has an uncanny knack for ferreting out the tiniest interesting detail of a scene. She collects items from nature on her walks and then arranges them into scrapbooks for future inspiration.

Rising at six and working on her art until evening is a clear indication that she loves what she does and doesn’t consider it labor at all.

Her work is found worldwide since she and Hallmark have a partnership. Actually, I think the first piece depicting her art I ever bought was at a Hallmark store. It’s a small, short table with metal legs and a garden scene on top. Then at a consignment store, I found a dozen salad plates, half of them with the same scene as on the table. Then I was given a candle with a winter scene etched on the glass and top; later I found a free-standing ornament that repeated the same scene. Through the years I’ve bought her planner calendars. There are another half-dozen items with the famous MB stamp on them around my home, many of them bought without my realizing it was her work.

The salad plates have the botanical names of the flowers written around the outside edge of the plates. One of the flowers pictured and named is ranunculus. When my children were teens, we thought that was a perfectly good word to use in place of ridiculous. “He said what? Oh, that is absolutely ranunculus!”

We still say it today.

And in fact, my daughter chose ranunculus as one of the flowers in her wedding bouquet.

That made me smile.

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Three-minute interview

Her calendars

And It’s Not Even My Birthday

Be loved. Be lifted. Believe. Photo by Norma Thatcher

Aren’t unexpected gifts just the best? On birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas or Hanukkah, and other holidays, we are conditioned to be in the receiving mode. On those special days, we are not surprised to find a brightly wrapped package with a big bow or a festive gift bag, tissue paper popping up as if to beckon us, “Open me!”

So on Saturday when my husband brought in the mail on a non-special day and said, “You have a package,” my face lit up.

The package contained an unexpected gift from my friend Jenn. I knew that she had been having a rough summer. Her family had owned some retail shops including Hallmark stores. Sadly, with online shopping overshadowing sales at brick and mortar retail stores, coupled with the next generation of the family living out of the area, they made the difficult decision to close the stores this summer.

In a note accompanying my gift, Jenn wrote that the last purchase she made from her store was chosen from among the 2018 Hallmark ornaments, and it was for me. As you can see in the photo attached to this post, my gift is a white porcelain feather inscribed with these words:   Be loved. Be lifted. Believe.

Say those words out loud with me. The phrasing is a tad unusual, right? Usually we hear the admonition TO love one another and TO lift up others.

But these words are more of a request. This is grace-filled phrasing.

No matter what we’ve done or not done, or said, or accomplished…we are loved.

One response to “be loved” is, “No, I just can’t accept the gift of love. I don’t deserve to be loved because I’m not _____ enough.” (You can fill in the blank for yourself.)

The other response is to say Thank you and accept the gift; to be willing to be loved even if we feel we fall short of being our best.

The same concept applies to “be lifted.” There is much tragedy, injustice, and sorrow in our world. We may not want to give up our piece of whatever has broken us. In fact, we may have held on to it for so long that we’re comfortable with it. Not happy, but comfortable because it’s what we know.

But allowing ourselves, permitting ourselves, to be lifted from the brokenness can be life-changing.

As the late Mr. Rogers shared his mother’s advice for coping in difficult times, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Yes, others will help us; will lift us up if we will be lifted.

And then finally, “believe.” It’s out there on its own. There is no request to “be” something but simply believe. Believe what?

My gift-giving friend Jenn and I are linked in love by the loss of our sons to drug overdoses. Our daughters are brotherless; our grandchildren are without sweet and funny loving uncles.

But Jenn and I believe in the never-ending power of love. And together we are lifted up.

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Mr. Rogers advice

The old hymn Love Lifted Me

Your Words Are The Best Words

journal words

Photograph by Norma Thatcher

I have terrible handwriting. Even my printing is bad. Sometimes I can’t read my own writing. In the past, it was frustrating for me to come across a scrap of paper with a name or idea that I’d jotted down and that I could not decipher.

I’ve learned to stop with the scraps of paper. I keep notebooks or tablets handy so that if I have trouble figuring out my hieroglyphics, at least the notes around the mystery words may provide some context.

My dad used to carry around a teeny notebook in his shirt pocket. He’d record the weather, the shifts he was working at the steel mill, and any noteworthy events that may have happened on that day. I actually have one of his books that includes the date September 16, 1950, where he wrote, “Baby was born.” Happy birthday to me!

Journaling is an activity that many experts recommend. Maud Purcell, writing on PsychCentral.com, identified health benefits of keeping a journal. One of them is the strengthening of immune cells and another is decreasing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis!

Along with bodily health benefits, journaling can also help our brains work better and more creatively. A link to the full article follows below this post.

There are no hard and fast rules for keeping a journal. Write about whatever you want, at whichever time you want, as often as you want. You don’t need an expensive Moleskine notebook or a Montblanc pen.

I go by the advice of “big paper, big ideas.” No shirt-pocket-sized versions for me. I also prefer wide-lined paper, which isn’t always easy to find in a grown-up notebook.

In case your brain is saying that keeping a journal is too similar to when you kept a sappy teenage diary, tell your brain to chill. Remind it that many famous people over the years have kept diaries and journals.

Just start writing. Buy a blank journal from the dollar store. Use an old Bic pen. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you write the first word.

What influenced me to write on this topic tonight? Why, thanks for asking.

I had bought two Penman Paper Company wide-lined large journals over twenty years ago. Sadly, I think the company may be out of business because their website domain name is up for sale. These are beautiful, sturdy spiral-bound journals. I had saved them for special occasions. I’m now using them because I’ve decided my life is a special occasion.

The photo at the top of this post is my favorite journal. Today I discovered that in the back of that book, I had hand-written a quote by Frances Mayes from her 1996 book Under the Tuscan Sun.

I do believe it’s just for you:  “A Chinese poet many centuries ago noted that to recreate something in words is like being alive twice.”

Go write the first word. Please.

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Maud Purcell article

Link to images of Penman Paper Company journals just because I’m a geek about paper.

 

It’s On The Tip Of My, uhh….

Tongue

Photo by Mona Eendra on Unsplash

Last Thursday my brain couldn’t come up with the phrase “scavenger hunt.” I was telling a story to friends in which this fun game played a role, but I just couldn’t pull out the phrase.

It’s likely that you’ve had this happen to you as well; you know what you want to say – you can describe it – but you just can’t produce it. It’s on the tip of your tongue but refuses to come out. It’s frustrating.

I have noticed that the older I get, the more I start to panic when this happens. It’s as though the roller coaster of aging fears creeps nearer the top, about to crest over and race down toward a destination of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

But then I wisely apply the roller coaster’s brakes and remind myself that this is a common occurrence. According to a 2017 New York Times article, a “tip of the tongue” state is VERY common.

“You can’t talk to anybody, in any culture, in any language, in any age group, that doesn’t know what you’re talking about” when you describe a tip-of-the-tongue state, said Lise Abrams, a psychology professor at the University of Florida who has studied the phenomenon for 20 years. Researchers have even found occurrences among sign language users. (Those they call tip-of-the-finger states.)

The article also noted that it’s more common for words we use less frequently to be the ones we can’t spit out. I do believe scavenger hunt falls into that category.

If you happen to Google “how common is forgetting a word or phrase,” you will be met with nearly one billion results.

What a relief to know I’m not the only one thinking about this tonight.

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New York Times article about tip of the tongue state

Alzheimer’s link  because no way is this disease a laughing matter.

Internal Bleeding

Words can cause internal bleeding

Photo courtesy of Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Vetigel is a miracle product used on wounds with severe bleeding. It’s an algae-based polymer that’s injected directly into the wound. When it meets tissue, the gel forms a mesh-like material with an adhesive component that holds the wound together.

Currently, it’s a veterinary product only. Joe Landolina was just 17 years old when he invented this product that causes blood to clot in as little as twelve seconds.

A similar product (TraumaGel) for human use is under FDA testing.

Can you just imagine its use on the battlefield or in emergency medicine? How many lives might be saved if “bleeding out” can be stopped almost immediately?

A similar product called XStat is a syringe filled with tiny sponges. They are injected directly into a bleeding wound to compress it from the inside. A femoral artery wound can be sealed in about twenty seconds.

Amazing.

It’s too bad that we can’t create a product to instantly heal the wounds we create by using careless, thoughtless, or even deliberately mean words.

Once spoken or written, we can’t take ugly words back. They are part of our permanent record. An “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t mean it” will not undo the damage. While the wound may not be visible to others, it causes internal bleeding of our soul.

Even though many of us want to think that we are strong people and that we simply won’t let other people bring us down by what they say, the truth is that words can hurt. My calendar-a-day page for yesterday was a quote from Oprah. “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” That is an inspiring sentiment, but in the moment of raw hurt, it does not feel like any kind of wisdom.

Words from others have an amazing array of power over us. They can make us laugh or make us cry. Lift us up or tear us down. Inspire us to do better or convince us to give up. Fill us with hope or add to our despair.

Yes, they’re only words. But they have deep meaning beyond what we can possibly imagine.

Transitioning from Point 1 to Point B

Transition

Photo courtesy of Mathew Schwart on Unsplash

Transition can be defined as an in-between state. It’s a journey, a passage, from one stage to another.

In architecture, a transition is a connecting space between two confined areas. For example, a foyer serves as a transition by connecting the entryway to a living area space.

In life, we may say people are in transition when they’re between life stages such as having just graduated from college but not yet working.

A company may be in transition as they move from one ownership and management style to another.

In the theater, we may be prompted to recognize a transitional state by a change of scenery or by the use of music or light.

So yes, it’s a passage from one state to another, moving from A to B.

The proper use of transitional words or phrases is vital for anyone who performs training or does any type of public speaking. Our audiences (whether in a classroom, boardroom, meeting room, or a large venue) need to be able to follow us if they are to learn from us.

Perhaps, as an audience member, you’ve found yourself out of sync with the speaker and asking yourself, “Is the speaker still on point 3 or has he moved on?” That means the speaker has not done a good job of transitioning.

An effective speaker will leave many breadcrumbs and road signs throughout a presentation or talk. Our audiences need to be able to follow us if they are going to understand, believe, and remember our messages. Here are some ways we can help our listeners follow us.

  1. If naming your main points, be consistent in how you name them. Unlike the title of this post which is purposely misleading, if you use numbers, stick with numbers. (Point one or First) If using letters, stick with letters. You may be saying, “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” but I often hear speakers mixing them up.
  2. It’s not necessary to actually name the points. You can use phrases such as another action item is, moving on to the next idea, a similarly interesting factor is, OR that takes us to the final point. What IS necessary is letting our audiences know we are moving on.
  3. When you provide supporting material for a main point, use transitional phrases such as these to let the audience know you’re not just giving your own opinion: as an illustration, to demonstrate this point, let me show you, to emphasize the importance, experts have noted that, as recent scientific studies show, and other similar phrases.
  4. Time sequences need to be noted; otherwise, our listeners may become confused. If a speaker is covering several time periods, it’s vital to clarify the timing. Say, “That summary was our company’s focus for the first five years. But in 2015, we moved our attention to…. Then last year, we targeted improving employee retention.” These timing transitions help the audience to move right along with the speaker.
  5. The final transition I’ll mention today is the close. Do you see how I set that up? By saying, “The final transition…” I let you know that this post is coming to an end. Endings are meaningful but are often overlooked. I’ve heard speakers cover their last point and then abruptly say, “That’s all I have.” OR “I’m done. Thanks.” Endings may be what your audience most remembers, even if they really liked the entire talk! So let them know you’re transitioning to a close by using phrases similar to these: before I close, in conclusion, in summary, finally, as we come to the end of today’s workshop.

May all of your transitions be both smooth and easy to follow.  

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Good idea words from John A. Dutton e-Education Institute

 

Searching for Just the Right Word

Original word

Photo courtesy of Gavin Allanwood on Unsplash

Do you repeat yourself? No, I’m not inquiring whether or not you tell stories repetitiously. (“Say, have I ever told you about the time I….”)

Instead, I’m asking this: Are you word lazy? Many of us are. We get in a rut, using and overusing the same small vocabulary of words.

In a coaching session last month, I pointed out that a client used the word “thing” seventeen times in a fifteen-minute talk.

She uttered phrases such as, “The number one thing we need to watch for is…” and “The important thing to do first is…” and “Which thing has the most impact?”

I’m fond of speech coach Patricia Fripp’s take on the overuse of the word thing. Fripp has been quoted as saying, “Specificity builds credibility.” When we refer to issues, problems, and solutions as “things” we’re being overly non-specific and so we come across as lacking credibility.

Personally, I overuse the word great. I use it so much it has lost its meaning:  A great meal, a great visit, a great time, a great movie, a great friend, a great idea, a great TED talk…..”How are you, Norma?”  I’m great, thanks for asking.

Great is beginning to grate on my nerves.

Thanks to the online site Thesaurus.com, using the section of synonyms, I’m now building my own list of words to substitute for great. Although it’s not listed as a possible synonym for great, I like the word spectacular.

Listening to yourself is a rewarding experience as I wrote about on March 6.   I understand that can be a daunting exercise. Maybe as you work up your courage to try that, start by paying extra attention to yourself while you’re speaking. See if you can hear/find your own word laziness. Then use the synonym search tool to replace the word.

Note: If you’re hearing too much swearing (as some of my students admit to!), you should cut that out anyhow. You know who you are.

Stuck on a nonsense word or phrase like a parrot? Examples are “Gotcha” and “Right, right,” as your go-to response to let someone know you’re following what they’re saying.

How many words are there? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are “full entries for 171,476 words in current use and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries.”

Figures are all over the place for the vocabulary of the average American. Links to some articles are below. Do we know 20,000 words?  40,000? 70,000  or more words? But how many words we KNOW and how many words we USE are two different categories.

Let’s step away from our word laziness and use a wider variety of words to tell our stories.

That will be a great thing.

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Article on how many words are there in the English language

Here is one test for how many words average American knows

Here is a test you can take

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe I Just Needed a Hammer

Tripod

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

I know I am not dumb. Over the course of my life, I have figured out a lot of “stuff” on my own and by reading.

But when it comes to mechanical engineering problems, how things fit together to work, I come down with a violent case of brain freeze.

Case in point: I bought a phone tripod through Amazon so I can start doing videos. There were seven pieces of equipment in the box. Here is the “assemble instructions.” No, that is not a typo; yes, it said “assemble.”

  1. For phones, attach the phone mount to the tripod.

 That’s it! There is no instruction #2, 3, or 4.

I looked for a YouTube video to help me. The only video for this brand of tripod had a background of loud noise. (I honestly believe it was intended to be music, but they failed.)

Then a pair of disembodied hands was shown opening the box, holding up each piece, turning each piece around to show every angle, then laying each piece down. I turned that off at about 45 seconds.

I finally figured out how to stretch the “jaws” of the holder to go around my phone, but it wouldn’t quite accommodate it. Look, I know I have a big phone. It’s a Motorola Droid Turbo 2. It’s so big that my grandsons think it’s a miniature tablet and that I’m very cool to have such an advanced electronic device. I let them believe that’s true.

Anyhow, the blurb on Amazon said that my tripod contraption fits phones up to 3 ½ inches. I measured the phone and it’s under that. But the phone seemed to be stuck at a precarious angle. I envisioned my “mini tablet” suddenly ejecting from the holder, flying across the room, hitting the wall, and lying in ruins.

For the first time ever, I’m making an Amazon return, regardless of the message from the manufacturer on the back of the non-instruction sheet. “We’re committed to helping our customers achieve a happier, healthier, and more creative approach to life.”

I had no idea that a phone tripod could provide such magnificent benefits for me.

Moving on to the web camera I bought to attach to my laptop: This device had NO written instructions, just pictures as shown here:

 

Are you kidding me? OK, I get step #2: plug cord into the laptop. But the rest of it, I just don’t know.

This is probably why I have never enjoyed jigsaw puzzles—trying to figure out how the pieces fit together. And maybe that’s why I consider myself geographically challenged. I get lost quite easily. It could be that I see myself as that puzzle piece trying to fit itself into a warren of streets, searching for a destination.

Thank you, God, for inspiring someone to create Google Maps for my phone.

Word puzzles I love. Creative thinking games and word challenges, yes, I adore. Charades, Pictionary, Tribond….let’s play!

But please don’t ask for my help in assembling anything.

Let’s Have a Heart-to-Heart Talk

heart

Photo courtesy of Pexels.com

The traditional symbol for heart is, of course, this: 

Even though the real human heart looks nothing like that.

My guess is that this symbol, a stand-in for the word love, is the most easily recognized and most-used shape in America.

We see bumper stickers that read I    (fill in the blank) such as NY, my Border Collie, or mountain climbing. Symbolic onscreen confetti hearts flow when you love something on Facebook. Our kids display their affection by making us heart-shaped construction paper cards in kindergarten.

heart

Photo courtesy of Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash.com

We take photos of ourselves making hearts with our hands, and we see hearts in nature.

heart

Photo courtesy of Omer Salom on Unsplash.com

Some of my friends have seen hearts in the foam of their caffe latte.

There is a whole website devoted to the heart emoji to help us express the exact type of love we’re feeling.

We use compassionate phrases such as, “My heart goes out to you.” In happy times we say, “My heart was bursting with joy.” In grief and loss, we describe ourselves as being broken-hearted. Feeling fear, we offer up, “My heart was in my throat.”

I think we’re in love with hearts. That would be: We ♥  ♥♥♥.               

The word heart is used over a thousand times in the Bible, as in “Create in me a clean heart, oh God.”

Marcus Borg’s book The HEART of Christianity reminds us that in the Bible, the heart is a metaphor for the self at its deepest level—our spiritual center. God’s purpose is for us to live our lives with open hearts; to be compassionate, kind, and loving people.

Borg’s own examples of open-heartedness include those above as well as being alive to wonder, remaining grateful, and maintaining a passion for justice for all people.

The author makes the point that closed-heartedness can be termed (from the Greek) sklerokardia – a hardening of the heart.

We can believe that people who commit truly horrific acts of violence, hatred, and greed are the best examples of hard-heartedness. But Borg is clear that this type simply represents one end of the spectrum; there are other ways of being hard-hearted that are not so extreme.

Consider this: What behaviors, acts, or words do we use when we’re being hard-hearted? We may display impatience or simply want our own way. Maybe we’re unwilling to truly listen to someone with a different viewpoint than our own. Our hard-heartedness could show up in our labeling or name-calling of another person even if that happens only inside our heads. It’s looking away from someone with a physical or mental disability. It’s being too busy, too involved with our own lives, to be mindful of the world around us. When we’re critical or sarcastic, that’s our hard-heartedness on display.

The evidence of hard-heartedness in my life may not be the same as in yours. It’s up to each of us to identify and replace our closed heart with an open heart.

 that idea.

 

 

 

 

Two’s Company, Three’s Powerful

three

Photo courtesy of George Becker on Pexels

In my role as a speech coach and presentation skills instructor, I’m on a never-ending hunt for new material and ideas. Not willing to rely primarily on old standard public speaking instruction, I search for new studies on how a speaker can best engage with an audience as well as practical advice that people can use to refine their own authentic and inspiring presentation skills. “Find your own voice!” I encourage my students.

But sometimes there is older advice with such a strong backing that I suggest each student add it to their individual public speaking toolbox.

One such compelling (and simple) concept is the power of three. When you’re done reading this blog, go ahead and search online for “the power of three.” You’ll find nearly three million references on Google.

I’m going to share some examples with you and here’s my guess: You’ll start thinking about three and begin to see other instances of its use when before you hadn’t noticed.

Child-related: Goldilocks and the 3 bears / 3 Blind Mice / 3 Little Pigs / Donald Duck’s 3 nephews (Huey, Louie, and Dewey) / The 3 Musketeers / ABC / 123 ready or not here I come

Food: breakfast, lunch and dinner / 3 squares a day / appetizer, main course, dessert / vanilla, chocolate, strawberry / snap, crackle, pop

Music: 3 Times a Lady / Blood, Sweat, and Tears / 3 Dog Night / Earth, Wind and Fire

Sports: The Triple Crown of horse racing / 3 strikes and you’re out / Olympic winners of gold, silver, and bronze

Faith: The Holy Trinity / The three wise men

Phrases: Body, Mind, and Soul / The Big 3 companies today / The Big 3 auto makers / high, medium, and low / beginning, middle, and end / stop, look, and listen / stop, drop, and roll / past, present and future / see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil / yes, no, maybe / the third time’s the charm

Television: The Third Rock from the Sun / The Three Stooges / Three’s Company / and of course, the double three of Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory) knocking three times, saying “Penny” and then repeating the process twice more. Maybe I should refer to that as Sheldon to the third power.

So part of the influence of three is that we’re so used to it that we don’t notice it. We’re comfortable with having to make a choice among three options. Three is a nice, middle-of-the-road number. I encourage you to read more on your own on how three is used in successful marketing and other areas.

So how can we use this concept in presentations?

  • Have three main points such as, “Coffee is getting a bum rap. Here are three reasons why we should all drink more coffee.”
  • In a presentation with more (or less than) three main points, have three supporting ideas for each main point. “Coffee is getting a bum rap. Here are five reasons why we should all drink more coffee. First point: Coffee is actually good for you.” Then you could 1) cite a recent scientific study proving the point 2) share a recent study of people’s morning moods with and without coffee 3) share a personal anecdote about the time you gave up coffee for Lent.
  • Include within your presentation a bulleted list of three ideas.
  • Begin your presentation with a hook of three words such as Time, Energy, Moneywe seem to never have enough of these!
  • End your presentation with the same three words Time, Energy, Money…now you have a game plan of how to include more of each in your life.
  • End your presentation with a quotation comprised of three elements. An example of that is how I’ll close this post:

Mary Oliver’s instructions for living a life:

Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.