Bittersweet….

Even though the liturgical season of Christmas isn’t over (not by a long shot!) I’m falling in line with the secular American way of doing things. The lights have come down; the wreath is off the door, and now the tree is coming down too. Last year in this house! It’s been a good Christmas.

Christmas lights 2015
I wanted to create a “river of light” between my house and my neighbor’s – we settled for a puddle around the tree. We both wanted to charge admission to the street.
Outdoor Christmas lights 2015
The lights at my house 2015, The tree with the lights is on the left.
Christmas tree 2015
In the background you see my Christmas tree. Gotta get some better glassware on the table next Christmas.
Christmas tree 2015
Last shot of the tree for Christmas 2015. ‘Til next year!

Happy Birthday to a lovely lady

Today, March 5, is my Mom’s birthday.

When I think of Mom, I think of the time the two of us went to Savannah together for the weekend. I was worried about what we’d say to each other for 72 hours of togetherness. It was the first time in some years we’d spent that much time just by ourselves. What would I say to her all weekend? Would it be awkward?

I needn’t have worried. The minute I picked her up she started chatting about anything and everything. She chatted happily all weekend, the extrovert. All I had to do was listen.

Another memory I have of Mom is of her making cocoa for me and my brother after school on cold, rainy days. And of her being the Girl Scout cookie captain for five years running – as well as the Cub Scout den mother for my brother’s pack. (Never forgot one of the Cubs eating so many cupcakes he made himself sick.)

Mom was the modern day Centaur, as Erma Bombeck said – half woman, half station wagon. Or in her case, a light blue 1970 Ford LTD. She chauffeured me and my friends to kindergarten, ballet class, piano rehearsals and later high school band practice.

She was a dedicated worker. She was never late to her job as a nurse – in fact, she’d get uptight about her schedule and be ready 30 minutes before she had to leave for her afternoon shift, just to give herself time to relax. In my memory she didn’t get sick and hardly took time off. At her retirement party the organizers limited the 10 speakers on the program to two minutes each. That was after the presentation of the plaques from the mayor and the governor.

For all her talents, Mom was not Julia Child – and she didn’t pretend or try to be. She was firmly out of the WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) mode of cooking – boil it to death because water is a spice. I couldn’t eat green beans after I left home until I discovered steaming.

But Dad liked his green beans that way – and he was the one she was cooking for, not us kids. She always catered to him, making him a priority. Cookies Dad liked – he got them. Dishes he liked – he got them. Even today she cooks a hot lunch for him most days. Funny tale about that: right after they moved into their current patio home community, Dad got a part-time job at the model home across the street. Mom would cook his lunch and carry it over to him each day at noon. One day the neighbors reported that a few minutes after they saw Mom return home, she was back out the door to go to Dad – with a ketchup bottle in her hand.

Mom understands loyalty, fidelity, service and love. A 54-year marriage (and counting), as well as a 25-year career, is proof.

Happy 75th Birthday, Mom. May you have many, many more.

Mom laughing
Mom (far right) with my Aunts: Anne, Marlys, Audrey and Elaine; at the Rust Family Reunion in Downtown Sioux Falls, Sept. 2012

On friendship

It’s been a long time since I posted, but now’s the time to start again. I’m going to take the pressure off myself by posting only once a week – and maybe only once every two weeks. Another time I’ll explain the long gap in posts. Today is about friendship.

Tomorrow my friend Jill moves to Alabama to be closer to her family – especially her 70-something father. Jill and I have known each other since 1999, the year I moved back to Columbia. 15 years! We celebrated our 40th birthdays together with a trip to New York City. Every year for the past eight years we’ve been going to the S.C. Book Festival together, coming home laden down with new books. She is one of my oldest friends and I’m going to miss her terribly. I’ve already planned my first road trip to Alabama on the first weekend of April.

Ever since she told me she was leaving, I’ve thought long and hard about friendship – how so many of my friends have left my life, how my shyness prevents me from opening up and making friends quickly and deeply. I have so many acquaintances … and I’d like to turn them into real friends. Then I start to think, how can I show them love? How can I be a friend to them? (The best way to have a friend: be one, or so I’ve heard.) Over the years numbers of dear ones have moved away, like my friend Karen who’s now in New York with her kids. It’s been almost 8 years since I’ve seen her, but I still remember her fondly and we send each other Christmas cards. And there’s Grace, the military wife in Virginia. Now she’s one who learned to make friends quickly. I need to ask her for tips. Thank God she loves to post on Facebook and keep us all up to date. That’s the only way I know what’s going on with her and her crew.

As I look over it, I don’t think I’m too harsh in thinking I’m to blame for letting so many friendships either wither or fade for lack of care. How can I fix it? By cherishing the ones I still have and mainly by listening better. So often I find myself listening at the start of a conversation, then drifting off to think of something else. The writer Russell T. Davies once said that conversation, real conversation, isn’t so much one person taking, and the other person listening, as it is one person talking – and the other person waiting to talk. Ouch. If I listened better – I’d know so much more about the friends I have – so many more details, and be so much more a part of their lives.

But, thank God, there are new friends to make, and new friendships to deepen. In the last year I’ve started to get to know Janie, a fellow member of my Toastmasters club. She’s such a fascinating individual – and a worthy friend to have and cherish.

In our language, we speak of cultivating friendship. That makes me think of gardening. Just as it’s now time to plan for the spring planting, it’s time to get to work on friendships, to cut away the vines and dig up weeds, clear away dead pine straw and till the earth. It’s time to bring forth something beautiful.

Bark to the Park

It was a beautiful day for walking outside with a doggie … and several hundred Columbians did that downtown Saturday as part of Bark to the Park, the annual fundraiser for the local pet rescue shelter Pawmetto Lifeline. My friend and work colleague Bess invited me to join her team and help her walk her two dogs, Buddy and Pickles. Buddy was friendly and enjoyed nosing around the other dogs; Pickles was, ahem, overstimulated by all the excitement. But both behaved well and didn’t foul the streets!

The walk was led by the local police canine unit.

K-9 unit
Columbia’s finest rests up before leading the walk.

Buddy, ever sociable, was ready for his closeup:

Buddy, ready to go
Why, yes, I am ready to go for the one-mile walk.

Pickles wouldn’t consent to having a picture made by himself; we had to catch him in an unguarded moment.

Buddy and Pickles
Two pals momentarily out of mischief

The State newspaper has a great roundup of photos.

Cocky meets the dogs at Bark to the Park
Cocky at Bark to the Park – photo from The State.

Learning to speak the language of love

This is the text of a speech I gave at my Toastmasters club, TNT, the Dynamite Toastmasters.

Würden Sie gefallen langsam sprechen?

Wie bitte?

What is that? You didn’t understand me? I said “Would you speak more slowly please?”

If one of us is speaking a language the other doesn’t understand, it doesn’t matter how loudly or how often you say it. They listener doesn’t get it. We resort to pointing and gestures.

Over the course of 30 years of marriage counseling, Dr. Gary Chapman found that couples who were trying to show love to each other weren’t always getting the message across. He’d cited an example, familiar to any counselor, of a couple who’d come to see him. One partner was perplexed at the accusation, “He doesn’t love me anymore.” “What do you mean? I go to work 50 – 60 hours a week, take out the trash, mow the yard, pay the bills and visit your mother … how can you say that I don’t love you?”

Yet the other partner did say that, because she wasn’t having her emotional needs met.

Chapman found that it was the same disconnect that two different language speakers would have. He identified five ways that people speak and understand emotional love. Today I’ll briefly highlight each one of these Five Love Languages.

Before I begin – it is important to note: everyone, regardless of primary love language – likes these things. They’re all nice. But one will speak to you more than the others. One will communicate love to you, and be your preferred method of communicating love. That is your Love Language.

Let’s look at them:

1 – Words of Affirmation

These are the verbal compliments. They are the most direct words of affirmation you can give. It’s not verbal flattery to manipulate – but to do something for the one you love.

Each love language has different dialects, just like a spoken language. In Words of Affirmation, there’s also:

Encouraging words – words to build another up

Humble words – love makes requests, not demands

Indirect words of affirmation
Pay a compliment to your partner to someone else – when it gets back to him, you get bonus brownie points!

2 – Quality Time

This means undivided attention.
Watching the TV together doesn’t count. Texting while talking doesn’t count.
Have you noticed you can tell the married couples apart from the dating couples when they go out to eat? Why is that?

A dialect of this is Quality Conversation.
Chapman defines it as “Sympathetic dialogue where two people are sharing their experiences, thoughts, feelings and desires.” It calls for active listening, watching body language and learning to talk – learning to share.

Another dialect is quality activities. What does your loved one like to do? When’s the last time you joined in?

3 – Receiving Gifts.

Gift-giving is part of every culture’s love and marriage process. It is a fundamental expression of love.
Recall how children love to give gifts to their moms, whether it’s a flower from the garden or a hand-drawn painting right for the frig.

Now – this is not about materialism. The gift is symbolic of the thought. It doesn’t have to be expensive, or even cost anything. The thought is shown by actually getting and giving the gift. It’s a visual symbol of love.

But note — If you love someone whose love language is receiving gifts, you may have to change your attitude toward money. It is an investment in the relationship.

One gift can be intangible — the gift of Self, or presence. It’s not quite the same as active quality time – it is physical presence. This is especially important in time of crisis.

4 – Acts of Service

This is doing things that you know your loved one would like for you to do. They may not be convenient; they may not be what you want to do. But you do them, to show them that you love them.

Have you noticed through life, many couples seem to act differently toward each other prior to marriage than after? The obsessive “in-love” phenomenon causes us to do things differently – then we come out of it and as Dr. Chapman says, “what we did before marriage is no guarantee of what we will do after marriage.”

This language does NOT require that you be a doormat in order to show love. Love is a choice – it cannot be coerced. Performing acts of service for your partner must be an act of free will – not manipulation. To do acts of service out of guilt or fear isn’t love.

5 – Physical Touch

Now this isn’t just sex. This encompasses a wide range of explicit and implicit touches.

Hugs will communicate love to anyone – but for someone whose love language is physical touch – it is an emphatic declaration.

Just as pulling away from someone’s body is to distance yourself emotionally, to touch someone’s body is to touch them – their inner selves.

It can be explicit and demand full attention, such as a back rub, or implicit, such as rubbing a shoulder as you pass in the hall, running your hand through your partner’s hair, or holding hands.

In times of crisis, if the mate’s language is physical touch, then nothing is more important than holding that person when he cries.

If your partner’s Love Language is physical touch, then this one can be a lot of fun to find creative ways to show love!

In summary:

The Five Love Languages are not the sum of emotional communication. But just as learning the basics of another language helps us when we travel, learning the way in which your partner best expresses and receives love means you have a greater chance of being understood.

Learning the right love language is a key to helping another person feel loved. The next time you want to show love to him … speak his language.

So thankful

Today I had brunch with a dear friend after a morning of busy activity … Exercise and a chiropractic appointment. She brought me up to speed on all the cool stuff she’s doing, like organizing a retreat next weekend. Then it was off to do errands in a leisurely, no-stress way. … Just the way I’d love to live my life if only I could be one of the ladies who lunch! Working for the man has its perks (hello, generous benefits) but that 9-10 hour block out of the middle of the day can be a little trying. Like my dad always said, the only problem with work is that it’s just so daily. . . .

Crossing items off the to-do list is one of the best feelings in the world! I have a lot more to do but my computer at home has gone iffy, so I’m taking that as a sign I should relax now.

And many other things are going well… A friend who was in ICU was moved to a regular room earlier this week. Today she’s going home! A great praise.