blogging · Toastmasters

So tired … busy weekend Toastmastering at District Conference

I will never drive back from a District Conference on the Saturday night after it ends … I left Myrtle Beach at 1 1 p.m. and got home at quarter of 2.

But the conference itself was fantastic. My friend Ray Schnell won 1st place in the International Speech Contest. He’ll represent South Carolina (District 58) at the 2013 International Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, this August. Sorry for the fuzzy photo; I was moving around.

Ray Schnell
Ray Schnell is congratulated by International Director Kristina Kiehlberg, left and District 58 Governor Phillip Woody. Phillip is a tall guy and he has to look up to Ray here!


The conference was held at the beautiful (and pricy) Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort at Kingston Plantation. I got there around 7:30 p.m. Friday … the sunset from my oceanfront room balcony was a gentle display:

Serene oceanfront view
The view down the beach at Kingston Plantation in North Myrtle from my balcony was serene.

More pictures and commentary to follow ….

educational · Gratitude · Introspection · Toastmasters

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.

Gratitude · Toastmasters

Not just nice, but necessary

This is the text of a speech I gave at my Toastmasters club the Friday before Thanksgiving.

In 1988 a columnist for Newsweek disparaged the winning presidential candidate, saying he had “thank-you noted his way to the top.” It was a swipe at his many connections. It was no secret that George H. W. Bush, or Bush 41 as he later became known was an “establishmentarian.” And many observers give partial credit for his winning campaign to his habit of sending a thank you note to every host he and Barbara met on the campaign trail.

As I read that article, that phrase rankled. It stood out so much that I remember it 23 years later. I did not care for the whiff of insult to the thank you note.

Thank you notes are as writer Bob Morris said a “grace note in our age of dissonance.” Thank you notes aren’t just nice. They’re needed – in today’s coarse society, more than ever.

But thank you notes have fallen out of favor for several reasons:

  • They’re time consuming to write.

Oklahoma First Lady Cathy Keating wrote thank you notes to everyone who gave after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. She didn’t have time – but she made time – because it was important. She’d write in the car in between appointments, wherever and whenever she could.

  • The price of stamps is  — well, if they get any more expensive, we’ll just paste dollar bills on envelopes
  • The whiff of cynicism that sticks to the act:

Job seekers write thank you notes. Are they sincere – or just selling themselves further?

Nakedly ambitious social climbers write thank you notes to their hosts.

Schemers who want to ensure they stay in the family patriarch’s will always write thank you notes.

A thank you note doesn’t have to be formal. One of my favorite thank you notes, which I sent to a friend, had a picture of Garfield on it with the legend Muchos Gracias! –The inside said, “That’s Spanish for if I were any more grateful, I’d give you my car!”

The Southern girl knows is taught how to write thank you notes. Always include a personal anecdote. As Southern writer Gayden Metcalfe said in her book: Being Dead is No Excuse: the Official Southern Ladies’ Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral, “A Southern girl has to stop herself from gushing more than Old Faithful. If she is writing a thank you note for a toaster, she doesn’t just say thank you, she tells you about every single thing she’s ever toasted in that toaster, or ever will toast.”

What about you – you’re not a cynical job seeker, and you’re not a gushing Southern girl. Why should you write a thank you note?

1)   Do it to teach children courtesy.  How will they learn, unless they see you modeling it?

2)   Do it because it makes the recipient so happy.

Only 3 percent of our mail is personal. Most of the actual mail most people get these days is junk mail. Here’s a sample from my recent haul one day this past week: Several circulars for grocery store ads; ValPak coupons, Three letters from political campaigns begging for donations; A card from the local Goodwill telling me the next day the donation truck would be coming around; flyer from a new restaurant, two bills and a personal card. What do you think I opened first?  What would you open first?

Why write a handwritten note – or sign an actual card? You can send an email, and I certainly appreciate a genuine email of thanks.

But seriously – Are you really going to tie a ribbon around emails? Will you save those?

3)   Do it because someone needs to hear the words you say. Your thanks may be the encouragement that they need.

4)   Do it because the very act of writing a thank you note it turns your thoughts to gratitude. Think of all the corny songs – count your blessings instead of sheep. “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, don’t mess with Mr. in-Between” as Johnny Mercer sang.

5)   And finally – write a thank you note because we’re in the season of giving thanks.  Now is the time, when we celebrate the holiday dedicated to remembering how our Founding Fathers gave thanks for surviving their first tough year in the New World. Now’s the time to reach out to someone who has made an impact on your life – and let them know. Thank them for what they’ve meant to you. Is there an old teacher, a mentor, or an old schoolmate who played a significant role in your life? Reach out to them. That “Thanksgiving letter” – a thank you note – will be cherished long after mass-produced seasonal cards are thrown away.

Remember – thank yous aren’t just nice – they’re necessary. They help keep the veneer of civilization on the rough framework of our society.

Accentuate the Positive! · Gratitude · Toastmasters

Blessing 10 – a chore-free evening

Today’s gift: not having to do laundry tonight! I’m so glad that everything got done this weekend – and I actually have time to think about something besides chores. Between chores, working, club activities and running errands, sometimes I feel like the proverbial hamster on the wheel.

But’s that really another blessing (No. 11) – having so much to keep me busy. As often as I get stressed over my schedule, it’s so much better than not having anything to do at all. Lots of great stuff is happening this week. I’m getting together with the girls tomorrow for Singles Awareness Day (that’s how we’re cheerfully dealing with it.) Dinner and a movie! Wednesday, I’m meeting with representatives from a local college about starting a community Toastmasters club on their campus. When that happens, I’ll get club sponsoring credit. And we’ll be spreading lots of Toastmasters enthusiasm to a whole new group.

me · Toastmasters


This is part of a speech I gave to my Blue Streak Toastmasters club March 3. Note the dated reference to Charlie Sheen.

Procrastination and I go way back. We have a long-standing relationship – probably one of the longest of my life. I’ve procrastinated over things as small as buying a DVD player (so many choices!) to as large as finishing a work project.

I’ve been concerned about my tendency to procrastinate for a long time as well. In fact, to prepare this speech, I consulted a fantastic book “The Procrastinators’ Handbook – Mastering the Art of Doing it Now” by Rita Emmett. The book is packed with useful tips. Trouble is, I bought the book in May 2003. And I didn’t read it until this week.

The book has lots of funny bits too. Like the Procrastinators’ Club “Top Ten” list: Continue reading “Procrastination”

Accentuate the Positive! · Introspection · me · Toastmasters

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.

just plain fun · Toastmasters

From earlier this year

Earlier this year I got to participate in a musical presented at the Spring District 58 Toastmasters convention in Greenville.


On the Stage!
On the stage at the Spring Musical


The musical, presented at our Toastmasters convention, showcased a “mock” Toastmasters meeting. I got to give a funny speech which poked fun at the bad use of gestures. There I am flapping my wings like a chicken. The next song we sang was “I had a chicken”:

I had a chicken – No eggs would she lay – I had a chicken – No eggs would she lay. One day a rooster came into the yard – He caught that chicken right offa her guard.


She’s laying eggs now

Just like she used to

Ever since that rooster

Come into the yard!

And so on with additional verses which go downhill from there.

We all had a blast with it. The gentleman below is a father of eight, respected pastor, noted singer and championship speaker:

Henry takes the stage at the Spring Conference.
Henry uses all his talents in the Musical at the Spring Conference.

The Theatre in our time has known few such moments.

hostess with the mostess · Introspection · me · Toastmasters


Hi kids,

Don’t ever promise more than you can deliver. There’s a universal business saying “Under-promise and over-deliver.” That way you can make your customer very happy. Amazed, actually. (As Mark Twain once said, “Always do the right thing. It will gratify some and astonish the rest.”)

When 2011 started, I made just two New Year’s Resolutions – Be Healthy* and Be Hospitable (which translated means “throw more dinner parties and don’t be such a hermit.”) But every January when we turn the calendar over to a bunch of shiny blank pages, I’m seized with the urge to do more, accomplish more, make this the year I GET IT ALL DONE!!! Whew.

So naturally I went a little nuts in January with the hospitality. I threw a drop-in Jan. 1, then right after that a dinner party on Jan. 14 – a Friday, mind you, and I work for a living! I made plans to throw a dinner party every two weeks thereafter. I was busy drawing up guest lists for parties into March. I had a spreadsheet with guests, menu ideas, notes on food allergies, notes on previous menus so I didn’t serve the same thing twice to a guest, etc., etc. (On Jan. 1 when I thought about serving the same meal twice to a guest, I thought, how gauche. Now looking back over the whole Excel mania, I think, how bonkers.)

The dinner party frenzy has slowed down. Specifically, it has come to a halt. Why, Aunt Jim? Well, since you ask, while I was aiming to be the hostess with the mostess, I also was going into overdrive to achieve several different educational goals in Toastmasters. I’ve joined two clubs in addition to the club I belong to at work and agreed to be a club coach for yet another club. I’m going to be giving four speeches in a three-week time frame. (One of which involves memorizing Elizabeth I’s “Golden Speech” and interpreting that.) Oh, and I agreed to help assist at a Toastmasters training event February 26 by chairing a volunteer team.

Then there was that insurance certification class at work, which I signed up for in November thinking that the February exam was a LONG WAY OFF and I had plenty of time to study. (I passed on Feb. 11!!)

So, as you can see, I’ve been a tad overcommitted. Just a tad. But finally, finally, I had the backbone to say “No” to a request. A friend in our Adult Bible Fellowship at church asked me to serve on the leadership team as the outreach chairman. I would have loved to have done that; after all – outreach – that’s hospitality, isn’t it? But it would have involved going to five additional meetings a month – plus more tasks! I just couldn’t do that after all the other commitments I’ve made. What made it worse for me was this was a request to do something for my church. Ah, the guilt! But you can get so busy doing church work (no matter how well-intentioned) that you neglect your own inner spiritual and prayer life. So I found the guts to say no.

Now, I just have to work on my prayer life.

*An entirely different discussion for another time.

me · Toastmasters

How I De-Cluttered My Spare Room (and Found Inner Peace)

This is the speech I’ll give to my Toastmasters group which meets on Saturday mornings:

Fellow Toastmasters: My name is Jennifer, and I’m a packrat.

The joys of living simply and traveling light do not resonate with me. For years, I saved every single paystub from my job. This sounds good and responsible until you consider I’ve worked there since 1999. When my company implemented electronic Notices of Deposit it didn’t really help. I simply printed the NOD and shoved that paper in the bulging file.

Accountants say you should save all bank statements for seven years – just in case the IRS decides to audit your tax returns. But my motto is why do when you can overdo? I had shoeboxes full of statements going back to my first professional job in 1990.

I say had, because two years ago, I bought myself a paper shredder for Christmas. Some would call that an odd gift to buy oneself, but it made me happy. I wanted to take control of my clutter. I was starting to fear that one day the TV news would blare “Irmo woman trapped in home by falling towers of paperwork. Film at 11.”

The day I brought home my shredder, I happily shredded for six entire hours, until the machine jammed and quit. I can’t blame it for wanting to rest – even after that six hours I had a weeks’ worth of shredding left to do.

For a while (a very short while) I had my hoarding tendencies under control. Then, in 2009, I enrolled in an accelerated graduate degree program. For over a year and half, I let everything else in life slide while I studied. Come August 2010, I graduated to find myself sitting (once again) amid piles of paper.

The problem had come to a head: I was too embarrassed to have friends over. Anna Quindlen once wrote that she had closets which she didn’t let visitors open for fear they’d be injured in the ensuing crash. I had an entire room I didn’t want friends going into! That doesn’t sound so horrible until you consider, my little patio home is only 1100 square feet. I couldn’t afford to lose the space.

This is what my little spare room looked like before:

The bed before decluttering
The spare bedroom before decluttering
The office before decluttering
The other half of the spare room before decluttering. Books askew everywhere!

My road to recovery started with an ad I e-mailed to a few friends. This is the text of the e-mail and ad:

Dear Ladies,

I need your help. This is embarrassing to admit but over the past 18 months my spare bedroom has turned into a junk room or perhaps more accurately a landfill. More books than I have room for, an old computer monitor, reams of paperwork and old bills cover the bed and floor.

I’m looking for one person to help me “declutter.” I do NOT expect this person to work. All I need is someone to stand over me and make me do the job. Every time I start to declutter on my own I’ll pick up an old book and start reading. Two hours later nothing is done. I want someone who will give me advice on what to keep, store or throw out and keep me from reading the books instead of organizing them.

In my e-mail I included this job description:

Wanted – one good-natured but strict supervisor to monitor one lazy worker prone to goofing off. Job expected to take one hour. Set your own schedule. Pay: Soft drinks while on the job, reciprocal supervisory service if requested, undying gratitude and invitation to dinner party at future date.

I have great friends. Five immediately volunteered.

My friend Dee came over the next Saturday afternoon and immediately whipped the room (and me) into shape. She didn’t just supervise – she was a drill sergeant intent on a wholesale re-organizing. She’d point at items and fire questions at me: Do you need that? Have you used it in the last year? Are you ever going to read it again?  She was relentless, forcing me to throw away items that I wanted to keep but will never miss. She even got me to make a stack of books to give away to the library.

Far from supervising me, Dee did most of the work. I really tried to help, I did. I’d pick up a book, and show it to her, saying “oh this is a great book, you should read it!” As Dee rearranged my bookshelves her work was punctuated by me saying over and over “Oh, I like this book.” Oh, I really like this book.” “Oh, now this book – I like this book.” After hearing that for the umpteenth time Dee turned to me and said “Jennifer, you’ve never met a book you don’t like!”

After three excruciating hours – not one – the job was done. We had stuffed several Hefty bags full of junk ready to throw out, and boxed up:

  1. One box of supplies to take to my office
  2. One box of computer parts to donate to charity
  3. One ENTIRE box of books to donate to the library …  and
  4. Seven boxes of books to store neatly in my attic.  (Hey, I wasn’t giving away everything!)

Here’s what the room looked like after Dee got through with it and me:

The spare room after Operation DeClutter
After Operation De-Clutter
My desk after Operation De-Clutter
I can actually use my desk now after Operation De-Clutter.

We are so obsessed with stuff in this country that we’ve created an industry – Self Storage – with $22 billion dollars in annual sales. Naturally, there are web sites devoted to this.  My favorite is “the Fly-Lady” – yes, that’s what she calls herself – who will send you daily e-mails for free telling you what to organize that day. I love her de-cluttering method. As she goes through a room deciding what to give away, she sings “Please release me, let me go!”

But George Carlin really deserves the last word on stuff. I can’t repeat everything he said, but George’s Youtube routine on stuff says it all. Like he says, all your house really is, is “a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”