Ah, that thief of time…stealing hours from my CBAP prep

I’ve written before on procrastination.  It’s still a challenge. When I wrote my most recent post I had it all planned out: I would journal each night in my lovely “Keep Calm and Write On” journal a friend gave me for Christmas. Then I’d post regularly each Sunday. Maybe I’d slip a random cat picture in on Saturdays. (“That’s Caturday” says Pickles.) Then both the reality of my new exercise schedule (6:30 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 8 a.m. Saturday), and my inherent sloth kept that from happening. So here we are. On Thursday, writing a post I meant to publish last Sunday.

It’s also making hash of my study schedule for the Certified Business Analysis Practitioner exam. Actually, I should reword that – I’m allowing distractions to make a hash of my schedule. “Procrastination” isn’t something that happens to me – I’m doing it. And I’m doing it to avoid dealing with the dry-as-dirt text of the review manual I must cover. I’ve never read anything so boring. I’ve taken economics and accounting classes in college that had more pep and dramatic interest. It amazes me that the IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) could wick the life out of my job and drain it of all interest. My day-to-day job – helping to build or add on to web sites for a large company – is fascinating. You’d never know that if all you knew of business analysis was this Business Analysis Book of Knowledge and the review text. After a month I am still on chapter five of a nine-chapter book.

So here’s the plan to conquer procrastination and get this over with: Get up a little earlier on Mondays and Wednesdays, head to work early, and study for one hour before starting work. Tuesday nights – study from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday nights – study from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays – do at least one hour of catch-up review.

Will I do it? I can’t let this drag on forever. Readers, keep me honest and cheer me on!

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.

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.

The minor irritations

Of the following four items, select which has bothered me the most today:

A) Discovering the wonderful drugs the doc prescribed for my back pain make me nauseous
B) Being woefully behind at work having missed yesterday for medical appointments and part of Friday for holiday as well as roughly 1/3 of last week due to back pain-related concentration issues
C) Sighing over my sloppy house (I hurt too much to bend over and pick things up)
D) Failing repeatedly to advance beyond level 6 on Angry Birds

The correct answer is “D.”

I’m drinking soda and eating crackers for the nausea; staying later to catch up at work, and starting to clean again (slowly.) But this game — Argh! I got nothing.

Thoughts on joy

How many times have you heard that joy and happiness are NOT the same thing? Happiness is emotional; it is inconstant; it depends on your mood, the weather, circumstances. Joy comes from the hope we have within –the hope we have in Christ. As Christians we have joy. Deep, abiding joy.

Our culture doesn’t understand joy because our culture is built on fun, which can only provide happiness – not joy. The messages our culture sends are numerous: If it feels good, do it. Don’t worry, be happy. Life is short. Go for the gusto.

The confusion about what joy is and isn’t seeps into Christianity. Even though we tell ourselves that joy is different, we are beaten up if we are not radiating positive thinking 24/7/365 and going about with smiles on our faces. We feel guilty – as if we’ve failed. This confusing message creeps into ministry – Live Your Best Life Now was written by a minister. So was The Power of Positive Thinking.


To say you are joy-filled doesn’t necessarily mean you are happy all the time. You may not be going around with a smile on your face. Yet you can still have joy. It may be a quiet confidence, a knowing that “all things work together for the good of them that believe.” It is still joy.

Gratitude, no. 1

Since Thanksgiving I’ve been wondering what I want to do with this blog. (You’re sure to have noticed I haven’t posted since … early November.) Most blogs focus on a theme, something more narrow than a general catch-all web diary, which this one has been. Over Christmas I read the book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. A friend dared Ann to capture one thousand blessings, one thousand things she was thankful for, in her journal. The experience changed the way she saw thanksgiving – eucharisteo.

That’s what I’m going to be doing now with Notes from Aunt Jim. Maybe I’ll even change the name one day. But I’m going to start documenting at least one blessing, one gift, per day. From simple to profound. From a clean pair of slacks that didn’t need ironing on a day when I was rushing out the door, to … who knows where this will lead. But I do expect it to change my attitude, and so my life.

Today, my gift was being able to hear Beth Greer. She spoke and sang at our church tonight for the Ladies’ Night Out. Her passion for Jesus revitalized my flagging spirit.

Begin with the end in mind

This post is the text of a speech I’ll give to the Two Notch Toastmasters Friday morning. It’s part of a series I’m doing on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

“Begin with the end in mind” — it’s the habit of vision.

All behaviors stem from a thought pattern, a paradigm – a way of seeing the world.  The paradigm for this habit is: I live by design. To be ineffective all you have to do is adopt the opposite paradigm – I live by default.  The principle behind this habit is that mental creation precedes physical creation.

When I was in college, in my first journalism lab class, our professor assigned us to write our own obituaries. Now, that’s beginning with the end in mind! I’ve learned this is a technique sometimes used in therapy. The object is to get you thinking about how you’d like others to remember you. It’s also a goal-setting technique – what do you want to have accomplished in life?

Sadly, I can’t remember much of what I wrote then, twenty-something years ago, except that it was all fanciful. Even as I was writing it, I thought at the time the exercise was nothing but fantasy. I even re-wrote my beginnings to state I’d been born in Paris, which I thought sounded romantic. I wasn’t too goal-oriented then, because I really can’t remember anything else I wrote.

But over the years I learned more about writing your goals down, and then working to achieve them. Some have been achieved, some not. I remember writing three goals – three ends I want to achieve – down on a notecard about seven years ago. These are three goals I still want to achieve – and am still working toward.

The first is: Weigh 127 1/2 pounds. Not 135 pounds, a goal which I’ve actually achieved once before in my adult life, nor 145 pounds, which is the top end of my healthy weight range. Or even a flat 127 pounds, which is obviously too low. But 127 1/2. I’m a member of Weight Watchers. It’s not going so well. But I made a commitment last year to join and never quit again, so I’m still a member. And, once again this week, I started over. What is a diet but the triumph of hope over experience?

Second: Write a novel. Like I said last week at Toastmasters, there are two great groups of people in this world: those who were going to go to law school, and those who were going to write a novel. I’m not going to law school.

But I haven’t yet written a novel. I’ve written newspaper articles, blog posts and long, overwrought letters to friends. But no novel. And I have not the foggiest idea how to get there. That’s what I was mulling over the idea last week, toying with it, of taking an online class called “Beginning Writers Workshop.” It’s a six-week program in creative writing. It’s more like a writing lab with lots of practice. Just reading the demo lesson got me excited about it … a stepping stone to fulfilling my goal, and my dream.

And yet – the first thing my inner critic asked is when will you have time to do this? I’m already signed up for another class for work. That’s on Database Development. I have to do that one, and it’s going to be hard. Plus, I’m an area governor in Toastmasters, and that’s turned out to be a little more involved than I first thought, what with organizing contests, District Executive Committee meetings and club visits. My appointment lasts through June 30, 2012. And then, of course, there’s my job.

But isn’t this the type of thinking that keeps us from “moving confidently in the direction of our dreams?” If I’m too busy to take a step toward my goals, then I’m just too busy.

Remember – begin with the end in mind. Do I want to come to the end of my days knowing I spent 40, 50+ years in the workforce, then came home and watched TV? No! That’s one of the reasons I got so involved in Toastmasters. But, I also can’t fritter away my time with activities – no matter how individually meaningful – that don’t move me forward in achieving my long-held goals.

So I signed up for that class. And I’m going to squeeze it in – because it is that important to me.

Ah yes – what was that third goal I wrote down in 2005?

It’s even more spectacular than the first two. (Although some would say I have a better chance of reaching this one than hitting 127 1/2 pounds again.)

Eat dinner at the White House

Actually, I’d settle for a casual lunch in the Residence – or maybe Movie Night at the White House theatre.

What prompted this outlandish goal? I remember reading about how Lou Holtz coped during a down moment in his life when his coaching career wasn’t going so well. He was sitting at home and decided to write down a list of goals he wanted to achieve in life. He wrote down over 100 goals and achieved them all. One was eating dinner at the White House.

Now, I have no idea how I’m going to achieve my goal. I can’t imagine why any President would invite me over – I’m certainly not handing out $250,000 donations. I know just writing it down won’t make it happen. I may have to write a Pulitzer-prize winning book. That’s also a stretch. But it’s a goal, it’s on my card, and it certainly would be something to talk about at the ol’ nursing home, wouldn’t it?

Begin with the end in mind … it’s a way to bring design to our days.

Moving Out of the Darkness

Two of my friends have family members who have committed suicide.  I probably know more, but those are the two who’ve told me about their experience. Last year Karen walked in memory of Mo at the  Boston “Out of the Darkness” walk. This year Dennis will walk in memory of not one, but two brothers he’s lost to suicide.  I’ll let him say it best:

I am sorry you have to read about it here, but suicide is not something you talk about much, in fact most times I go out of way to avoid it completely. In 1983, while I was a junior at college, my older brother Mark committed suicide. And if the story were to stop right there, it would be sad enough, but in 1994 my younger brother Matthew did the same. Even while just typing these words I am overcome with tremendous grief. The pain of a suicide hits you at the weirdest times and it has the power to absolutely floor you. Now it’s time for me to get off the floor and help others.

If you can get off the floor and help by tossing a few dollars his way, you can donate online at his page. Karen’s walking again this year in New York; you can donate at her page too.

The money raised goes to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Mid-year update

So how am I doing on my two New Year’s Resolutions?

1. Be Healthy – I let down the team on this one during March, April and most of May. I just didn’t want to deal with it – too much going on with work. (Thank goodness this one monster project is closing today!) But since last week I’ve been back at it – I’ve gone swimming with friends three times in the last six days. I’ll get there. Onward.

2. Be Hospitable – That was supposed to be ‘throw more dinner parties.’ Hasn’t worked out lately. However, I did contribute homemade coleslaw to my friend’s Memorial Day cookout. And I’m going to take more homemade coleslaw to a cookout Saturday. So there. I’m going to have to get it together and do something to be hospitable. I’ve been busy with Toastmasters, work, work, Toastmasters – it’s just not happening.

But – I did get my new mattress set, finally! And the last two nights I’ve slept through the night, floating on a plush firm cloud by Simmons Beautyrest.