Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Ten in 2010:#2

Playing in the dirt!

I've learned a lot about gardening with little boys this year:

Focus on learning the skill, not accomplishing the task.

It's ok to water the empty don't spill any seeds that way.

Gardening fun increases the more dirt you can put on your person.

Seedlings and weeds look a lot alike.

Simple is good.

It's about the boys, not the garden.

I have enjoyed every second that Mrs. O and I have spent with our boys in the garden this year.  It's especially fun when the boys are picking fresh peas from the vines and eating them like candy!

Top 10 in 2010 #3
Top 10 in 2010 #4
Top 10 in 2010 #5
Top 10 in 2010 #6
Top 10 in 2010: #7
Top 10 in 2010: #8
Top 10 in 2010: #9 
Top 10 in 2010: #10

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top Ten in 2010: #3

Making Cookies!

I wish you could taste these cookies!  We found the recipes on another blog that Mrs. O follows.  It's great!  We've tried a couple of the things she features on her blog...I wish we lived closer and could take personal lessons!  She's much better than we are, but we're having fun. 

I'm thankful for the fun things that we find to do together.

Top 10 in 2010 #4
Top 10 in 2010 #5
Top 10 in 2010 #6
Top 10 in 2010: #7
Top 10 in 2010: #8
Top 10 in 2010: #9 
Top 10 in 2010: #10

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Ten in 2010: #4

Summer days in Maine.

Today it will get up to about 27 degrees here on the coast of least that is the prediction.  The ground is snow-covered, the wind is whipping and I'm closing my eyes and imagining that I am living in USDA zone 7!  Oh well, it is time to order my seeds and browse the catalogs for hours on end.  It will soon be summer again and we'll be lounging in our adirondack chairs, sippies in hand!

Top 10 in 2010 #5
Top 10 in 2010 #6
Top 10 in 2010: #7
Top 10 in 2010: #8
Top 10 in 2010: #9 
Top 10 in 2010: #10 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top Ten in 2010: #5


Who isn't thankful for pancakes!  I'm also thankful for the whimsical wife who makes them rainbow colors.  Mrs. O takes great care of her boys!  She is constantly looking for fun new things for us to eat.  She makes sure that we are getting the healthy stuff along with the fun stuff.  She takes all of our opinions into consideration...right down to the littlest among us!

Thanks for loving us in so many tangible ways, Mrs. O.

Top 10 in 2010 #6
Top 10 in 2010: #7
Top 10 in 2010: #8
Top 10 in 2010: #9 
Top 10 in 2010: #10 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Top Ten in 2010: #6

I'm thankful for snuggling.  Sometimes with little boys, snuggling looks a lot more like wrestling than actual snuggling, but I enjoy it in all its forms.  I love being the safe place.  I don't even mind that my shirts get all gooey!

Top 10 in 2010: #7
Top 10 in 2010: #8
Top 10 in 2010: #9 
Top 10 in 2010: #10 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Top Ten in 2010: #7

Lazy days on our first family vacation: Sorrento, Maine

Lounging in a chair on the deck in the Maine summer sun.  We had a blast hanging out as a family!  Our vacationing habits have changed a bit over the past couple of years.  When we first got married, I wanted lots of vacation time to either do nothing, or work on home projects...Mrs. O wanted lots of vacation time to do fun touristy things, go to the city, museums, etc.  Now, we seem to expect similar things.

There are times when this new phase of marriage can seem less than exciting.  We now have young boys who rule our schedule, more or less.  We have to find childcare if we want to go out on a date.  Due to our early morning waking hours, we don't like to stay out late.  We are starting to really know each other such that there aren't that many surprises anymore.  The adrenaline level is just generally lower.  It is in this 'comfortable' stage that we have to create our excitement.  We have to be intentional.

I'm thankful for the 'boring' days at home, because home is my escape from the world.  I'm thankful for the lack of surprises, because it means I am known.  I'm thankful for the lower level of adrenaline, because I have greater security.  I'm thankful for early waking, because it means I have two amazing little boys.  I'm thankful for lazy days of reading in the sun, because I have my best friend beside me.

Top 10 in 2010: #8
Top 10 in 2010: #9 
Top 10 in 2010: #10 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Top Ten in 2010: #8

Silliness...yes, I'm thankful for silliness.  There was a time--shortly after being married--that I was less than thankful for silliness.  There was the time when Mrs. O was hollering, "Oh, no!  What's that?"  She was pointing to a brown fuzzy spot on the floor.  It was fuzzy to me, because I wasn't wearing my glasses.  I can only see about 6 inches from my face without my glasses, so I ran to rescue my new bride from the horrors that were lying on our bathroom floor.

It was a leaf.

She was teasing me.  She knew that I couldn't see without my glasses.  First thing in the morning, she was teasing me.  I was not thankful for silliness that day.

Now, I am thankful for silliness.  I have learned to be thankful for silliness.  I have learned that you don't have to be good to sing in the car.  I have even become comfortable singing with Mrs. O which is a big step for me.  I have learned that the best joke is the one you play on yourself.  I have learned that I have more fun when I don't take myself too seriously.  I have learned that a real smile reaches my eyes.  I have learned how to laugh with abandon.

Thank you, Mrs. O for teaching me to expand my serious comfort zones and laugh until I cry.  I dearly love to laugh.  I didn't know what I was missing!

Top 10 in 2010: #9 
Top 10 in 2010: #10

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top ten in 2010: #9

I'm thankful for replaceable things that remind us of the things that aren't.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dreaming of a white...Black Friday!

Little E. staring at the winter wonderland!

The day after Thanksgiving we all woke up to a thin crust of sleet covering...well, just about everything.  Less than impressive.  Unless you're little E. that is.  Shortly after waking up we heard shouts of joy coming from the living room, "It's Christmas...everybody look: snow!  It's Christmas!" 

We spent our Black Friday in our jammies, put up our Christmas Tree, made some sugar cookies, paper chains and read news stories of all the Black Friday injuries.

Hope you had a SAFE and happy Black Friday!

The last lonely cluster of scallions left in our garden.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Top ten in 2010: #10

It's chilly and gray.  I sometimes want to be grumpy about that, but today I'll think about other things.  In fact, to get me through the darkening days of winter, here begins my top ten things of 2010--in no particular order:

Moments of Reflection

Little E and I spent a wonderful afternoon riding with Mommy around the farm on Grandpa's "jitney."  We paused along the way to toss rocks into the water and to watch the sticks and leaves float under the bridge!  Mommy photographed us along the way.  

I used to have somewhat of a tough time taking a moment to relax.  I felt like I had to always be doing something.  I'm thankful to have these liberating moments, and to have a wife who has taught me that pausing for a moment of fun is "doing something."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Photos: what a difference a moment makes!

Our boys playing on the slide. . . aren't they cute. . .

. . . moment's later. . .

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sex God . . . In Review

Sex God
Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality
by Rob Bell

Must Read: This was such a fantastic book.  I picked it up because I was intrigued by the title.  I turned to the table of contents which produced more questions and still more intrigue.

Introduction: This Is Really About That
One: God Wears Lipstick. . .

. . . Eight: Johnny and June
Nine: Whoopee Forever
Epilogue: More Balloons, Please

See what I mean?  I could tell within a few pages that this would be a paradigm shifting book, and indeed it was.

Rob Bell starts out by introducing the concept of symbolism in our lives.  Material objects that mean more to us than what they are in and of themselves.  They draw their significance from the relationship that they have to something else that has significance to us: the person who made, gave, or used them before us, for example.  Then he begins to talk about us.  Our biology.  Our instincts.  He adds layer upon layer of symbolism until all of a sudden, we're talking about spirituality. . . and it makes sense!

The transition is elegant.  I didn't even realize when it happened, but by the end of the less than two hundred pages, the conversation had shifted.  In the last few chapters, it's a seamless fusion of humanity, biology, relational connection, and spirituality.  He has superimposed the human marriage onto the spiritual connection between man and creator.  The symbolism has never been clearer for me.

Rob Bell has a great writing style! It is unique: a string of vignettes, each building slightly on the last. He handles a delicate subject with skillful sensitivity. He leads the reader down a logical path to support his complex connections in such a fun way that you don't have to feel the weight of the subject matter.  You get to concentrate on the journey.  His thoughts are perfectly articulated and the subject matter is totally relevant. 

Oh, and the epilogue is the icing on the cake!

See all Must Read books I've reviewed

*I borrowed this book from a friend.  I did not receive any compensation whatsoever for reading or reviewing it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Perfect Gift--20 questions

One of the things that has been the most helpful in choosing the right gift for Mrs. O. is asking the right questions.  I mentioned in a recent post that it helps me when I don't limit the questions to, "Do you want a blank for Christmas?"  It's much more helpful to ask, "What kind of gift makes you feel treasured, cherished and pursued?"  Think of it like the game Twenty Questions: if you ask the first question and the answer is 'no' then you have only dealt with one gift and you haven't gained any good ideas.  If you ask the second question, it doesn't matter what the answer is.  You'll likely end up with at least a couple of springboard ideas.

I also asked Mrs. O. about the types of gifts she likes for different holidays.  It turns out she likes the gift to match the occasion to some extent.  For example: Birthday--gifts that reflect her love of music, Mother's Day--items that the kids have created or that involve the kids in their use, Anniversary--events enjoyed as a couple, sans kids, and help us remember what it is like to be friends.  Some of them are items, but sometimes an event is fun, too.  If it's an event, she likes me to take care of all the details: reservations, childcare, transportation, parking, etc. 

Every question takes some of the mystery out of buying the perfect gift, and she always appreciates that I'm asking!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The young, the smooth, Mr. O.

I'm doing a lot of reminiscing lately about the early days, when Mrs. O. was not yet Mrs. O.  I was thinking about a funny story of our first 'real' date.  Thank you Mrs. O. for sticking with me!

We had begun spending a lot of time together and had become really good friends.  Inseparable, really.  So, we decided to go out to the Macaroni Grill for a date.  We had not actually been out on a date yet.  It was an interesting experience and we learned a few things on this date. 

First, conversation is more difficult when you're sitting directly across from someone.  I had never really thought about that before.  We usually had such an easy time talking to each other but there was a subtle awkwardness about this evening.  It's way easier if you're sitting on adjacent sides--close enough to talk comfortably, but not staring each other down.

Second, and this is the good one, we learned that our families dine in distinctly different ways.  Not-yet-Mrs. O. grew up in a family that shares every bit of food--no beverages.  I on the other hand grew up in a family that protects our food like Fort Knox protects gold bullion.  I was not offended by the offer of sharing food, but not enticed by it, either!

The nexxus of our dining experience came with dessert.  I don't remember what I got.  My memory of the evening is completely devoted to the events that surround the chocolate cake covered with a conservative splash of ganache.  It was wholly unappetizing to me.  I mean, who would bake a cake and 'forget' the most important part: the butter cream icing.  What is ganache anyway, but a thickened chocolate syrup that belongs on an ice cream sundae.  I, they bring the dessert and not-yet-Mrs. O. offers up a share of her un-iced (for all intents and purposes) chocolate cake.  To which I replied...are you ready for this?  "If I'd wanted it, I would have ordered it!" 

No, really.  I'm not kidding.  I said that.  Smooth.  Classy.  I do fancy myself something of a lady's man.

I thought she was going to cry.  She was humiliated.  Embarrassed.  I don't even remember whether I smartened up enough to have a piece of the cake, but she was gracious enough not to shove her fork down my throat the next time I opened my mouth! 

Ahhh,  good times!

Note to self: Eat the cake.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gifts--part two.

Read part one.  

With Halloween behind us the Christmas decorations and advertisements are coming out whether we like it or not!  Every retailer wants to get into our wallets and they’ve got big plans for Black Friday, and some even having sales the Friday before Black Friday.  So, the big question is: Who gets your money?  What are you going to buy...for her?  Tough question, right?  We’ve still got two more months to go, so why think about it so early?
Maybe you just take one holiday at a time.  Maybe you just got over an anniversary and want a break before diving into the next gift buying fiasco.  I hear stuff like this from guys around me all the time.  Guys who are frustrated by the fact that they never seem to get it right.  Guys who are tired of feeling like they are doomed unless they happened to pick up on that one obscure comment way back in February when she mentioned that thing she wants.  What if she never mentions it again?  How is he supposed to know what she wants?  Well, I don’t think it’s as tough as it first appears.
It’s actually really easy, but it takes a long time.  Buying a gift needs to be a process...kind of like buying that big screen TV or your dream car.  You don’t need someone to point it out to you and tell you, “This is the car of your dreams!”  You just know.  You see it and instantly you know.  You know, because you’ve been learning a little bit at a time.  Every time you read a magazine or browse the electronics store you learn a little more about what is available.  You learn a little more about which one is better and why.  
Where do we go wrong?  
We don’t think like girls.  How many of us think jewelry is a waste of money?  How many guys think a bouquet of flowers is a waste of money?  Greeting cards?  Waste of money, right?  Lots of guys tend to be too practical to want to buy that stuff.  We think in terms of what we get from our purchase...$50 bucks for a bouquet that lasts a week?  Hundreds of dollars for a piece of jewelry that you might wear a couple of times each year?  But, it doesn’t matter what we think.  For her, there’s a connection between the relevance of the gift and her value--as a person and as your girl.  She doesn’t think in terms of the market value of a gemstone or a bouquet of roses, she thinks in terms of her value to you.  The gift is a valueless token of a priceless relationship.
We don’t ask enough questions.  When was the last time you asked your wife about her favorite kind of flower or her favorite gemstone?  Do you know how she feels about jewelry?  Do you know about her preferences in clothing, handbags, perfume, chocolate?  If not, ask.  If you were going to buy a giant TV or a hot rod you’d ask the experts, right?  So, before you run off and buy your wife something for Christmas, ask a few questions.  Don’t limit the questions to, “Do you want a blank for Christmas,” but ask, “What kind of a gift makes you feel cherished/treasured or loved?”  AND, be content with whatever she answers!
We don’t think far enough in advance.  Have you seen the number of men out shopping on Christmas Eve?  There are tons of them!  I wonder how many of them thought about their shopping list before the left for the store.  If you haven’t started thinking yet, don’t wait.  There are just over six weeks left.

We don’t practice enough.  One of the most beneficial things for me has been taking some trips to the store strictly for the purpose of learning what Mrs. O. likes.  During trips around the mall you can stroll through different stores and watch what she picks up.  Notice which stores she wants to shop.  Then look around and pick out two or three things you might pick up if you were looking for something she’d like.  Ask her which she likes most, or ask her to rate them each one to ten.  You won’t get all tens--no worries.  You’ll quickly learn a lot!
When you give a gift you’ve chosen intentionally, don’t be afraid to tell her what you’ve noticed about her that made you choose that gift.  She wants to know you and she’ll appreciate knowing the thought process that went into your purchase. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Roots and Fruit

As we wind down our home garden harvest, I was thinking about a few parallels between the fruit of a good garden and the fruit of a good marriage.  It occurred to me that sometimes the solutions doesn’t immediately seem to relate to the problem.  Too often, I focus on the fruit--the symptom--and not on the root cause.  
For example, this year we had some tomatoes that were beginning to form with bad spots on the bottom of the fruit.  I was confused at first because I tried to make sure I wasn’t splashing any mud on the leaves or fruit when watering, which has been a problem in years past.  I eventually resorted to googling some photos of tomato problems and took a specimen to the garden center.  
The solution?  Calcium.  It was a soil problem.  There’s not enough calcium in my soil.  So, I bought a little bag of ‘Tomato-tone’ a slow-release fertilizer containing calcium.  I also sprinkled some crushed egg shells around the roots of my tomato plants.  Believe it or not, problem solved.  This is not the only example, though.  Whether you want better blooms on your hydrangea or more fruit on your blueberries, you’ve got to have good soil for healthy roots.
Incidently, you can also graft a plant onto the roots from another plant in order to avoid some external problems.  The grafted plant’s ability to grow, bear fruit and the fruit’s ability to resist disease will be largely determined by the properties of the root stock.
Too often I neglect the roots and think that a quick pruning will take care of the problem.  I just pick off the bad fruit or the wilted and yellowed leaves.  This works if there is an external problem, or if the problem is improper growth.  But, more often, the external problem AND the improper growth will be remedied by amending the soil and fixing the roots.  When we fix the roots, the fruit often takes care of itself.
The roots of a healthy marriage are not really that complicated.  As in the garden, however, the roots are often ignored.  What are these roots?  From my perspective:
Talk: Mrs. O. needs to hear that I appreciate her for who she is--I enjoy her sense of humor, I appreciate that she takes such good care of me and our boys, I want to spend time with her.  She needs to hear that I love her.  It is good to show love with actions, but I don’t think this is wholly adequate.  It is essential to hear it.
Touch: From a simple affectionate touch to making love, touch can be calming and disarming.  Mrs. O. told me once that when she sits next to me with her legs resting on my lap it makes her feel like she’s getting away with something.  I had no idea that it meant so much to her, but I’m glad she let me know.  What a simple way to make her feel treasured.  I’ve also noticed that when we get into a tense discussion, sitting on the couch next to her solves half the problem instantly.  It’s just not possible to fight as intensely with that kind of posture.
Recreation: Date nights are essential to that mysterious feeling of being ‘connected.’  Whether reading, shopping, gardening, or playing video games, we both need that recreational time regularly.
Security: I think this one can be pretty simple, but easy to overlook and sometimes uncomfortable to implement.  For Mrs. O. security builders include: locking the doors before I go to bed, whisking away bugs before she even knows they’re nearby, and handling the difficult conversations with friends and family.
Trust: At first, I thought security and trust were kind of the same, but I think differently now.  I build Mrs. O’s trust by doing things as simple as making her aware of my daily schedule--where am I going to lunch, how many appointments do I have, what will my tasks look like today.  She feels trusted and I become trustworthy to her when I share the details with her.
These are just a few of the things that I would call the roots of marriage.  Whatever the symptoms, I find that these are often the solutions.  Sometimes they don’t even seem related to the issue that is giving me pause, but when I feed these roots, the fruit takes care of itself.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Family Vacation 2010: Sorrento, Maine

We're just getting back from a family vacation this weekend.  We spent a week at 'The cottage at Oak Bluff' on Doanes Point in Sorrento, Maine."  It's across the bay from the famous Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.  Here are some brief highlights:

The Cottage

 It was beautiful as you can see.  It sits only a few yards from the water.  We enjoyed many hours of reading on the deck. . .

 . . . enjoying the view of the bay. . .

. . . cooking lobsters. . .

. . . warming by the fire . . .

. . . eating ice cream. . .

. . . and hunting for creepy crawlies under the rocks and seaweed.  We found crabs, snails, eels, clams and a sea urchin.  Oh, yeah.  There were mussels by the billion. 

We took a short hike into the woods to swim at Little Tunk Pond.  

We also watched a few bald eagles, an adult and two juvenile eagles, fishing and eating their lunch!

All in all, a great week.  Now back to real life!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Me Time

'Me time'...what's that?  Is that when I get to mow the lawn, or clean the car or fix the garbage disposal?  Sometimes it feels like being a husband and dad of small kids is all about chores.  I don't even know what I like to do anymore.  I have so little time to do chores that it feels like that's my recreation!  When do I get to 'decompress?'  When do my needs take priority?

What about coming home from work?  I've had a tough day.  I need a break.  Just a few minutes to clear my head and get ready for the evening with two energetic little boys.  Can I just get a few minutes to decompress?  How do we fit that into the schedule?  Mrs. O. seems to need the same thing.  Who gets a break first?  Maybe I'll take the kids for 10 minutes and then she'll take them back for 10 minutes and, this is getting confusing.  If not that, then what?

Recently, we hosted a marriage study at our home.  We read the book Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs.  The book was mediocre, but we came up with a lot of interesting questions like the one about 'me time.'  We never really answered it, though.  Then, a few weeks later I was reading Little E. a Bible story from his Beginner's Bible.  I had been thinking about this issue and talking it over with Mrs. O. so it was on the fore front of my mind.  We were reading the story about Jesus feeding the crowd of 5000.

In the Beginner's Bible, the story begins by saying that Jesus and his disciples were tired.  They were looking for a place to rest.  They got into a boat and crossed the lake, but the crowds followed them.  Jesus took pity on the crowds.  He healed.  He taught.  Then, it was getting late.  The disciples suggest--tactfully, I'm sure--that Jesus send the people away to fill their bellies.  Jesus responds by telling his disciples that they are to find something to feed all these people.

Where am I going with this?  Well, it struck me that Jesus was tired.  Tired enough that he crossed a lake to find a quiet place to rest.  In fact, Jesus had just learned that John the Baptist had just been executed.  He was wiped out, sad and needing to be alone.  But when he got to the other side of the lake, he saw the people and had pity on them.  He served first and rested later.

How can we do this in real life, though?  How did He operate like that?  Well, here's my theory: He made a habit of spending solitary time in His favorite places.  He had regular 'me time' and He could count on it.  He kept His 'me time' tank full.  Try it.  This has worked wonders for me.  I've been getting up at 5 am for quite a while now.  I don't need to do that in order to get ready for work.  Six or 6:30 would be plenty of time, but I get that time to read, blog like I'm doing right now, check email, browse through the garden for harvest or pestilence, and enjoy a cup of coffee.  It makes all the difference for my day.

Now, when I get home from work I don't have an expectation that I'm going to get to check email, or write another post.  I don't plan on working in the garden or reading more of whatever book I'm working on reading.  My reading time is scheduled.  I have created for myself, an expectation that I will get to do those things in the tranquil hours of the morning.  When you have 1 1/2 hours of peaceful silence in which to read your favorite book, you won't even want to try to do it any other time!

Note to self: make time for 'me time.'

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On talking like a girl.

Over the past couple of weeks, Mrs. O. and I have been involved in some pre-marital counseling with another couple set to get married in a few weeks.  We just finished up and we had a lot of fun.  They also seemed to enjoy it, as much as we did, I hope!  Anyway, it got me thinking about our pre-marital counseling.  It was great.  Very helpful.  It helped to dramatically improve one thing in particular: conversation.
Conversation was the toughest part of being with not-yet-Mrs. O.  She’s big on conversation.  Me...not so much.  At work, occasionally I would travel for a couple of hours with my boss or co-worker and we would go long stretches without either of us saying a word.  Neither of us appeared to have any problem with that.  Didn’t work the same way for not-yet-Mrs. O.  
We would meet up early in the morning.  I would take her dog, Reuben, for a jog.  We’d have breakfast.  Then I’d take her to work.  She didn’t have a car for a few weeks right before we got married. . . that’s another story.  One day she commented that I would never say two words to her until we got to a particular intersection on the way to work.  Then, I would apparently wake up and start talking.  This was no good.  She felt like she was missing out on all this time we were spending together because we weren’t talking!
So, I decided to start talking.  She would ask me how I felt. . . to get the conversation going.  “Hmmm. . . how do I feel?  Uhh.  Well, I could turn the A/C down a little more.  It’s still a bit warm in here.”
*sigh*  “That’s not what I meant.”
“You asked how I feel.”
“Yes, but I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Well, that’s how I feel!”  
Not-yet-Mrs. O. and I had been dating for close to a year.  We were going through our pre-marital counseling and we got to the part about the need for conversation. . . specifically her need for conversation.  Our sages, K. Woo and his lovely bride, were talking about the very obvious disparity between our conversational needs.  K. Woo told me that I may never really be able to meet the need for conversation for Mrs. O.  Now, maybe I’m just ornery, but that sounded like a challenge.  On the way home I talked with not-yet-Mrs. O. about how we were going to find a solution.  It took a lot of talking.  Perfect, don’t you think?
At first, we tried simply talking about what made good conversation and what didn’t.  That was tough because how precisely do you remember every conversation?  Not to mention the fact that it was tough to declare one entire conversation to be ‘bad conversation’ or ‘good conversation’ if you could remember the whole thing in the first place.  We did come to the conclusion that it was not the she wanted me to ‘tell her what she wanted to hear’ as far as the specifics go.  She was looking for a specific type of information.  Now we’re getting somewhere!
Plan B: I asked not-yet-Mrs. O. if I ever got it right and told her the kinds of things she was looking to learn about me.  She said yes!  Well I was having a tough time categorizing exactly what it is that she wanted me to tell her.  Remember, I'm an analytical type.  So, I said, "When you hear me accidentally offering exactly the kind of conversation you want, just tell me.  Then, I’ll work on figuring out in my own head how to keep doing that.”  It was a great plan.
Several days later, I had a really bad day at work.  Nothing big, but that doesn’t matter in the moment.  I was telling not-yet-Mrs. O. about it, “I had a bad day. . . blah, blah, blah. . . and I just felt like a dork!”
“That’s it!!!  That’s the kind of thing I’m looking for!”  She was elated.  I was perplexed.  
“You’re kidding.”  But no, she wasn’t.  And there began an interesting journey into figuring out that all verbal communication is not conversation.  When she asks how I feel she's not looking for the news: I'm cold; I'm hungry; I'm tired.  She really wants to learn about what makes me tick: the things that make me feel good about myself, the things that make me feel like a dork, the things that try my patience.  She still tells me when I've succeeded in the art of conversing.  I’m still learning, but it just keeps getting easier.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Insects and In-Laws...

The other day, Mrs. O. was telling me that Little E. has begun killing bugs for her.  So, I started thinking about insects and how I react to them when I'm around Mrs. O.  If I am in the outdoors with Mrs O. and we see a huge spider, or snake, or (insert creepy crawly thing here.)  What’s her response?  What’s my response?  What if the spider is on me?  What if it is on her?  Well, the reaction is quite different!  For example, I learned early on that I have a better chance of removing the offending party if I don't tell her about it ahead of time.  Should I alert her to the presence of the crawling companion, she is apt to jump wildly making it nearly impossible to remedy the situation.  She, on the other hand is likely to simply let me know that I am being accompanied by a small friend and not make much of an effort to remove it.

Now, I know.  I can pick out a few friends, couples, who don't follow in our footsteps.  I can think of one or two gals that are probably thinking, "I'm not afraid of bugs!"  AND, I can think of a few guys who are thinking, "I'm not killing her spiders."  That's not the point.  The point is that there are uncomfortable situations that we all face--dragons, if you will.  All the dragons must be slain, whatever they may be.  Why do I feel compelled to act on behalf of Mrs. O?  Why does she not feel that same obligation.  Why am I not hurt by all?

Consider another situation: relational conflict.  What if your friend were involved in some sort of conflict with you?  What about the ongoing relational journey with your in-laws--think about both sets.  How does Mrs. O. respond to those types of situations?  How does she feel?  How do I respond and feel?  For us, it works much better if I take the lead on the more difficult conversations whether with friends, my family or hers.

It builds security for Mrs. O. when I take the lead in dealing with creepy crawlies and in-laws alike.  That is not to say that in-laws are creepy least not in our case!  It is also not to say that Mrs. O. can’t handle it.  I've seen her in action.  She is perfectly able to handle difficult conversations with poise.  It's really an issue of security.  She feels secure if I am willing to engage and 'slay the dragon' on her behalf.  It will not rock my security to engage with another person on issues of my family.  It will not rock my security to be the one to engage when there is danger ahead, be it the not-so-itsy-bitsy spider, an intruder, or a relational afront.  Conversely, it will not build my security significantly if Mrs. O. were to kill the spider, though I would be much obliged.

Now, like I said before, I acknowledge that these are two simple manifestations of the security issue, so everyone will not be the same.  The issue of security is a big one for a lot of people, though.  There are a lot of husbands who could do a lot of good for the environment in their homes if they did a few simple things to build the security of their wives.  It could be as simple as turning out the lights and locking the doors before you go to bed.  Just being the one who takes care of it can make a big difference.

Moral of the story: She doesn’t need me to slay her dragons for her, but it makes her feel like a princess if I do.

Do you agree?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gifts-part one

As I make the final decision about what to get Mrs. O. for her next birthday, I thought I'd write down a few of the things that are going through my head.  It's always tough to decide on a gift, but I've been practicing.  I mean, this is a sort of skill, right?  It's not least for me.  But you've got to practice when the stakes are low--when there are no expectations.  Now, when the stakes are higher I can lean on what I've learned in the past.

I made this discovery early on--quite by accident.  I was at Bath and Body Works.  I had just happened on one of their semi-annual sales.  They do one in June and one in December.  The one in June is better from my experience, and I've been going for...well, about 6 years now.  So, I was in the store and they've got all these 3-for-1 deals.  I decided to get a little of this and a little of that.  It was early in the relationship and I didn't really know what my young bride would like best.

When I got home, I took one of the items and put it in the bathroom where she would find it.  I put the rest in a box on a shelf in the garage.  I knew it would be safe there!  Mrs. O. was delighted at the surprise gift (any gift is a good gift when it's unexpected!)  After a little while when her supply was getting low, I made a secret trip to the garage for another surprise gift.  It was a stroke of genius!  The best part is that during the semi-annual sale, I can get a 6 month supply of fragrant, girly lotions and potions for less than $20.

I found that Mrs. O. loves the shower gels.  She doesn't love the lotions.  Didn't matter much when she wasn't expecting any gift at all.  She was delighted at the surprise, but I noticed she just didn't use up the lotions as quickly.  She talked a lot more about the shower gels, too.  So, when it came time for filling her Christmas stocking I got a bottle of one of the shower gels.  She likes them enough that 6 years later, I still have a stash of shower gels under the bed.  She's discovered my stash by now, but by now it's no secret anyway.

I found that the same thing worked for flowers and chocolate.  At Easter time, when the Cadbury eggs come out, or at Valentine's day when the chocolate-covered marshmallows are available in every shape and size I like to get a bunch and start hiding them around the house.  It's easy to tell which are the favorites!  After a while, I've collected a list of her favorite chocolate, her favorite flowers, and her favorite fragrances.  It just gets easier every time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The art of disagreeing

Mrs. O. and I had a disagreement today.  We were in the garage together...she came out to keep me company while I did a little work.  She was reading and I was working away when I asked a question.  "Have you ever thought that maybe...?"  It was kind of a long question, and the question isn't really the point, either.  I mean, we've had disagreements about other questions and statements.  Trouble is, I occasionally fall into the same trap as I did today.

So, Mrs. O. started answering, "Well, no.  I mean, as long as you've got people..."

Hmmm...It wasn't that she was disagreeing.  I'm fine with that.  I felt like she didn't quite understand what I was saying.  I probably didn't explain it well.  I'm not always very good at putting my thoughts into words on the first go.  I started to explain, "No, that's not really what I meant..."  I could feel her look of disappointment even though I was focused on my work.

"I think I'm trying to answer your question with a 'no.'"

Ok.  I know I've started to interrupt and I do that sometimes.  I don't want to, so I decide to stop in my tracks.  I'll just listen to the whole explanation.  I'm acting pre-maturely...or perhaps immaturely!  So, I say, "Okay," and I turn back to my work.

It doesn't quite translate in black and white.  I can't even feel the tension as I read it through, but shortly thereafter we were both hurt and the conversation was over for the time being.  What happened?  How many times have I been in a situation like this and said to myself, "How did I get here?  When did I start down this road?  Why am I so frustrated, and why is she so hurt?"

We had another awkward conversation a bit later when we decided to finish talking.  I was asking her what I could have said differently.  After a few suggestions I ask, "So, if I had said all of that, you wouldn't have been hurt?  You would have wanted to continue talking?"

"I don't know."

It dawns on me over the course of the afternoon (with much patience and assistance from Mrs. O.) that a deep conversation is more than "you say this, and then I'll respond with that."  If only life were that simple.  It seems like the problem is more related to the fact that it sometimes takes Mrs. O. a minute to separate how she feels from what she thinks.  Her thoughts don't always come out in a step by step kind of order.  I, on the other hand have little trouble separating how I feel from what I fact, if I don't think about it too much I wouldn't even realize that I feel anything at all.  All of that makes Mrs. O. feel like she's at a disadvantage when the conversation turns into a debate.  If she thinks she's at a disadvantage, she's more inclined to be hurt by what I say.

But, I still haven't answered the question: how do we disagree without insult?  How do you say, "I think you're smart, but wrong."  Once I catch myself interrupting, is there any way to turn that around?  Where is the point of no return...or is there a point of no return?  Well, I have a plan: I'm going to do my best to simply listen to Mrs. O.  Sounds pretty basic.  I should be able to do it.  Just listen until she's finished.  No comments.  No additional explanations.  If I really do want to hear what she has to say, then maybe I'll start by doing just that: listening to what she has to say.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

30th Birthday part two...

At Mrs. O's request, here's part two of the birthday bomb.  This should tell you how sweet she is to me: she says that some of the best things have come from that birthday disaster and she thinks I should write about the good things as well.  So, here's what happened in the days following her 30th birthday.

For starters, things were a little chilly in our house for a couple of days.  Mrs. O. was trying her level best to just brush it off.  She admitted having some expectations and was trying to convince me, and herself, that she was ok.  I didn't need to make up for it.  She was not upset.  I didn't believe her.  She was hurt.  Not angry, but hurt.  I could feel it.

After a couple of days, I asked her to talk to me about it.  It was killing me.  She agreed to talk.  I told her that I knew how foolish I had been.  I mean, I could have called my boss the day before and told him that I needed to leave at a certain time to make it to Mrs. O's 30th birthday dinner.  He gives family top priority.  I KNOW he would have agreed to cover for me and let me go...if I had let him know that I needed it.  It wouldn't have been that difficult.  I just didn't think of that. 

Mrs. O. started talking about how she felt.  It wasn't that she was expecting a hullaballoo about her birthday.  We had already had our 30th birthday bash at Chuck E. Cheese's.  I had given her a gift and she loved it.  But there were a few small things that put together made her feel like an after-thought.  Being late.  Being unprepared: no cake, no ice cream.  Leaving her to eat left-over meatloaf when the only thing she wanted on her birthday was to not make dinner.  She felt like she wasn't a priority.  I hadn't even thought of that.

So, I told her that I wanted to start doing things that would keep her from feeling like an after-thought.  She told me she knew that she was not, in fact, an after-thought, and that I couldn't really fix it.  I shouldn't try.  She wasn't trying to punish me.  But, that's not my point.  I realize that her one and only 30th birthday is gone.  I can't change it.  I can't take it back.  There will be no 'take-two' or 'do-overs.'  But...and this is a big but(t)..hee hee.  I don't want her to feel like an after-thought.  I want her to feel like the desirable lover and friend that she is.  I want to be in constant pursuit of her, even though I have already won her heart.  I want to think of that...of her.

So, I asked for a treaty.  Here are the terms: I will not try to make it up to her...that would only serve to minimize my fault.  I am going to name it and claim it.  I failed.  It was completly my fault.  She will agree that if when I do things differently in the future she will trust that I am not trying to make amends for past failures.  I am trying to prevent future ones.  That my efforts are not to minimize the past mistake(s), but that my goal is genuine change of habit to eliminate the possibility of repeating them.  I want to think of that.  She agreed.

So, to start, I'm practicing the art of gift giving.  Letters in the mail: weekly or biweekly.   Letters that I write from work on a regular basis.  I've been pretty regular at that over the past year.  Sometimes just two sentences.  Sometimes two pages.  Flowers: once in a while.  Shower gel from her favorite purveyor of all things girly and fragrant: occasionally.  And chocolate: as needed. 

Note to self: think of that.

Friday, August 6, 2010

30th Birthday Bomb

So, Mrs. O.’s birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks.  I’m not exactly sure what to get her.  I have a couple of ideas.  I want to have a great plan for the events of the day.  That is all still in the works.  One thing is certain, though.  I don’t want to repeat last year!
Last year was a big one, too.  I got her a great gift.  I got her a Wii.  She had mentioned a few times that she liked the idea and thought it would be so much fun.  I just KNEW she would love it.  She did!  I gave it to her the weekend before her birthday so we could enjoy a couple of days to play it since her birthday fell in the middle of the week and I’d be working that day.  Success!  Or maybe not...
It came down to the day before her ACTUAL birthday.  I asked her what she wanted to do...nothing.  Hmmm.  I know what that means.  You want me to know what you want to do on your birthday, right?  I mean, who wants to plan her own birthday party...well, we really already had our birthday party.  We had a combined 30th celebration between our birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese’s.  We’re so weird.  
So, I ask again...really, do you want to do another celebration?  Big?  Little?  Cake?  Ice Cream?  The answer: I just don’t want to have to make dinner.  Other than that, it really isn’t that big of a deal.  Done.  Success again...until later the next afternoon.
Day of Mrs. O.’s birthday: I go to work as usual.  We’ll have cake and ice cream with friends at 7 after having a family dinner at an Italian chain that we both really enjoy.  We’ll meet for dinner at 5:30.  I’ll be able to be out of work by then easily as long as everything goes smoothly
3:00 pm:  *Long deep breath*  What’s that law again...Murphy’s law...Yeah, BIG catastrophe.
4:30 pm: We’re up to our eyeballs in half-thought-out solutions, I’m supposed to be leaving and it’s my job to fix the problem.  What now?  I call Mrs. O.  Me: It’s ok, you just go ahead and leave for the restaurant.  I’ll be there shortly.  It’s just a!  
5:00 pm: No real progress.  Still up to our eyeballs.  I know I’ve failed by this point.  I’m not sure how to rescue the evening.  I call again.  Mrs. O.: It’s fine.  No problem.  I’ll just take the kids home.  We’ll find something for dinner.  Come home as soon as you can.  Do you have a cake?  Oh.  Our friends are coming at 7, right?  It’s ok...I’ll pick one up...Click.
6:30 pm: I’m home!  Mrs. O. and kids are eating left over meatloaf.  Friends are arriving to eat the cake that Mrs. O. herself picked up at the Wally World bakery only moments before.  Oh, good.  She get.  Ice.  Cream.  
Note to self: don’t ever let that happen again!

Monday, August 2, 2010

On security

On one of many arduous treks to Presque Isle, Maine, I learned something about reality: It looks different depending on whose seat you're occupying.  We were on our way North on Interstate 95 when it started to rain.  Not just any rain, but the freezing drizzle that all residents of the frozen north come to know intimately over the winter months.  So, we're somewhere between Bangor and Houlton which means we're in the middle of nowhere.  I can sense that Kelly is getting a little tense.  She always gets tense when we're traveling in this kind of weather.

Now, I'm traveling the speed limit.  Honestly.  There are no other cars on the road.  None.  Not on my side going North and none going South, either.  I know that Mrs. O. would like me to slow down, but knowing that makes me defensive.  She hasn't said anything.  Not a word.  She's not gripping the dashboard or biting her fingernails, but I know.  It makes me feel like she doesn't trust me.  If she really trusted me, she would know that I will keep us safe, right?

Then another thought hits me.  She's afraid.  That doesn't sound like an epiphany, but it was. Previously, I was interpreting her fear to mean that she didn't trust me.  That was not my observation, but my conclusion.   I had observed that Mrs. O. was afraid and concluded that she didn't trust me.  That must be the source of her fear.  After all, there was nothing to be afraid of...unless she doesn't trust me.  If I back up and question my conclusion, then we're back to the facts: she's afraid.

I remember as a pre-schooler being afraid of the rattlesnakes that I knew were under the bed at night...only at night of course.  They were never around during the day.  I remember as an adult being afraid and it doesn't much matter of what.  The fear is real every time.  Even when the thing I fear is not real, the fear itself is.  Totally real.  Even when I am aware the the object of my fear is not real.  The fear is still real.

So, I decide to respond by slowing down.  What is 'safe' after all?  It's the speed at which I feel no fear.  Mrs. O. noticed that I was slowing down, and she knew why.  The conversation that followed was one of the best.  I had no idea that doing something so simple would mean so much or communicate so much security.

Note to self...slow down.