Monthly Archives: April 2015

Diamonds shatter, steel breaks

When we think of strength and resiliency, two substances usually come to mind: diamonds and steel. Diamond is the hardest naturally occurring mineral, transforming from carbon undergoing tremendous pressure and heat for millions of years. Steel is an affordable metal alloy that when properly forged can support heavy loads without torsioning into a pile of scrap metal. Like everything in this existence, even the strongest substances fail: diamonds shatter, steel breaks.

Nothing in nature is perfect. Naturally occurring diamonds have impurities which affect the crystal’s strength. Imperfect humans make steel. Steel strength varies by ingredients and forging temperature. A slight variation results in the steel being too brittle or too ductile.

Our closest interpersonal relationships are much like diamonds and steel. Spouses and best friends are the two closest relationships a person has. Each relationship exists because of absolute trust, absolute openness, and a willingness to sacrifice for the other person. Yet the most important thing, the thing that seems to be a deep secret in any successful relationship, is open, honest, and frequent communication. We all face adversities, we all have bad days, and sometimes, bad things happen to good people. People in close relationships may seem psychically connected to the point of finishing each other’s sentences and anticipating what the other person may say. It does not mean the other person may understand what is occurring. Shutting down, bottling up, or deflecting adds unnecessary pressure to the relationship. Remember what happens when pressure becomes too great: diamonds shatter, steel breaks.

There is an old saying that a marriage (or other close relationship) is a 50%/50% proposition. It is actually a 100%/100% proposition. Each party must fully commit to keep the relationship healthy. There will be times when one party is giving 105% and the other gives 95%. Relationships are fluid and evolving because the people entering into the relationship are fluid and evolving. The important thing is to keep striving for 100%, to trust the other party, to find a way to work together through adversity, to forgive imperfections, to not hold on to transgressions, to believe in the other person even when that person does not believe in herself or himself. It is not an easy job, but it is easily the most fulfilling job in the world.

Keep your lines of communication open. Be honest, be forthcoming, be compassionate, but most of all, be supportive.

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Colorfully resplendent

Spring is a fascinating time of the year, even if winter unpleasantly returns for this week. Besides sharp changes in the weather, the color palette undergoes dramatic changes. White, gray, and black snowdrifts give way to brown and yellow grass, which gives way to verdant yards speckled with an occasional white clover or yellow dandelion. Flowering shrubs, early blooming flowers, and brightly plumed songbirds are colorfully resplendent. Seeing plants poke up through the ground and mature is always awe-inspiring.

The seasonal change is not just a feast for the eyes. There are treats for the other four senses, too. Seasonal sounds also change dramatically. Red winged blackbirds arrived early this year and in melodious droves. House finches and cardinal songs start just before dawn. The owls are quiet because they are most likely feeding their young. The wind rustling through trees with small leaves sounds so much nicer than icy branches clattering together in a gale force howling blast from the northwest.

Taste gets a smaller workout than the other senses. It is warm enough to barbecue outside without worrying about igniting several layers of clothing or dropping food because one cannot feel the tools in a gloved hand. Gas grills are very hard to light at temperatures under -20°F. It is true that catching snowflakes on one’s tongue is a treat, but only until frostbite sets in, which is usually about 90 seconds or six snowflakes. Taste’s season is summer, when fresh home-grown vegetables, fruits and berries are abundant. Frozen raspberries from last summer still taste sweet, even if they turn to mush when thawed.

Touch is the least affected sense, but it has a very special treat: the weather is no longer numbing cold. The sunshine is warm rather than biting. Green grass feels better on bare feet than jagged chucks of ice. Everything feels softer when it is not frozen solid.

One cannot understate how important smell is during springtime. There are few smells available during the winter because the nose freezes rather quickly. Once the snow melts and the sun warms the soil sufficiently, the fun begins. Daffodils are an early spring arrival and have a nice fresh smell. Crocuses have a very faint and delicate smell. Magnolias, rhododendrons, lilacs, and azaleas release delicate perfumes in the warmer air. A few weeks later, fruit trees bloom and their fragrance attracts pollinators and the occasional human admiring the scent.

Along with the sensory treats, there are a few, um, “gotchas” which become prevalent with the warmer weather. For example, I picked my buddy up from the airport last Friday. It was a very warm day, so I had the air conditioner running in the car. Once we got back to the drop off point, I shut off the air conditioner and rolled down the window. The pungent odor of recently thawed and now decomposing dog excrement stunned both of us. Of course, both of us remember the Cheech and Chong “Cheborneck” routine off the “Los Cochinos” album, so I said “Good thing we no step in it!”. At the end of “Cheborneck”, the dialog is “Let’s go eat!” and “Yeah, eat!” We had a good laugh because of it before grabbing the burger, fries and chocolate milk shake topped with whipped cream special at the Uptown Diner. Taste did get a little workout that evening.

Enjoy these seasonal treats with a loved one, especially a treat of touch. Hugging your special someone is easier without seven extra layers of clothing, holding hands is easier without mittens or gloves, and one does not have to scream sweet nothings past ear muffs. Touch seems to get shortchanged in the treat department, so do your part to correct that oversight.

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Three years

Today marks three years since Lucy passed away. Please take a moment to remember her and the joy she brought to our lives. She was an exceptional person and she is deeply missed but lovingly remembered. Her courage and determination during her cancer battle was inspiring, and yet she remained compassionate and generous to those she loved. I have always gravitated towards strong, intelligent women. Lucy was the strongest person I have ever known, and her intelligence made her an ideal partner. I am so grateful to have spent nearly 28 years with her, including 24 years as her husband. Cancer may have stolen her life, but it never stole her spirit, her strength, or her love. That is why I can never say she lost her cancer battle, but rather that her battle ended.

Lucy and I had discussed our respective mortalities over a decade before her cancer battle began. Lucy wanted the best for me, but most of all she wanted me to be happy. That is what I wanted for her, too. We put each other’s feelings first, we optimized our time together despite hectic and demanding careers, we took care to not smother each other, but most importantly, we loved and respected each other. I always felt our marriage was a fairy tale come true compared to so many other relationships, and I referred to our time together as our happily ever after.

“Time heals all wounds” is an old saying, but it is not at all true. The wound of losing a loved one never totally heals. It does get easier to keep moving forward, but there are still some extremely hard days, like today. I am fortunate to have a great support network because I could not have made it this far alone.

I am so lucky to have the love and support of Lucy’s sisters, especially during the first eight months after her passing. They suffered losing their mother, their oldest sister (Lucy), and their father in under a year, but yet they were there for me, and for that I am grateful. Their goodness is because of how well Bob and Betty raised them. I miss Bob and Betty because they accepted me into the family without hesitation and because they were such warm and genuine people.

My family has provided a huge amount of support, love, and guidance. They listened to my heartache and sorrow while I tried to make sense of the inconceivable, to accept the fact Lucy was no longer physically here. I am so lucky to have both of my parents still alive and in good health. Even though I am over 230 miles away from my nearest family member, I know they are close to my heart.

My close friends rallied around me and are a huge help, too. I may not have many close friends, but I am so lucky to have some truly outstanding ones. All of them have been in my life for over twenty years, except for one, and all of them have bettered my life. Lucy met each of them, except for one, and she enjoyed their company.

I am most grateful to my buddy. After we reconnected slightly over two years ago, we went from being friendly, to being acquaintances, to being friends, to being close friends, and now we are best friends. A friendship like that is very curative for a wounded soul, and we will remain friends for the rest of our lives. Career demands conspired to keep Lucy from meeting my buddy, but I know Lucy would have gained another dear friend.

My friends have asked if I would consider dating or remarrying. My honest answer is I do not think either will happen, but that I am keeping my mind open. Dating in my teens and twenties was a humiliating and arduous time, and Lucy entered my life as I accepting life long solitude. I’m still a misanthrope, still quite introverted, and really need very little interaction with other people. Trying to make new friends since Lucy’s passing has shown me that unattached women in my age group are either vengeful and bitter divorcees, or have badly broken souls. The really good ones are in relationships, or remain focused on their careers, or are busy with their children or grandchildren, or are not at all interested in me. Perhaps that will change in time, but for the immediate to middle future it is more likely that Earth gets overrun by purple unicorns than me finding someone to date. I may remain solitary for the remainder of my life, but that would not be a terrible fate because solitary does not mean lonely. I have my family, my sisters-in-law, my friends, and my buddy. Lucy set an extremely high bar, and I will not settle for anything less.

Be thankful that you have a best friend in your life. That person is there for you in good times and in bad times, to help you mourn or celebrate, but most importantly, to be someone you trust and with whom you enjoy spending time. Those of you who have a special someone in your life are very blessed! Do not miss an opportunity to let that person know what she or he means to you. When giving that meaningful hug to your special someone (who may also your best friend) today, let it linger a few extra seconds for those of us who had our happily ever afters end many years too soon.

Three year bouquet

Three year bouquet

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Cool, cool rain

“April showers bring May flowers”, or so the old expression goes. A winter with very few major snow events left the Twin Cities area dry. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued burning bans and restrictions covering over 80% of the state. Grass fires along roadways courtesy of cigarette butts burned in the southwest corner of the state. Help is on the way with the latest round of cooler and wetter weather through the middle of next week. Some cool, cool rain has already kick started spring bulbs, greened up yellow and brown lawns, and opened leaf buds on trees. Hennepin County is finally in the low fire danger category; last Thursday the fire danger was extreme.

April Fool’s day saw the first thunderstorm of the season. It dropped needed rain but came with unwelcome high winds. Cool, dry weather persisted until yesterday. Today’s rain is enough to ensure back yard firepits get a workout when the rain finally ends. Having friends sitting around a fire, talking and joking, and enjoying some barbecued food is a wonderful change from being trapped indoors for several months.

I created a new bulb garden around the Autumn Blaze maple in the front yard and planted the bulbs last week. The twenty hyacinth and twenty tulip bulbs will take a while to poke through because of their planting depth. The fifty grape hyacinths (muscari armeniacum) should pop up quickly since the planting depth is shallower. It took three trunk loads of rocks to complete the border. Lucy would be pleased with the result. She absolutely loved spring and fall.

One treat I had over Easter weekend was watching a pair of falcons build a nest in a large cottonwood tree. Southwestern Minnesota has a surprising variety of raptor species. There are a couple of breeding pairs in the area and the mourning dove and rock pigeon population in Luverne, MN is manageable again. Turkey vultures also soared in large lazy circles overhead. The prairie is still mostly brown, but there are signs of spring and new life. Prickly pear cactus plants are less shriveled and the trees are sporting small leaves or very fat leaf buds.

While the forecast for the next couple of days is cool, wet, breezy, and windy, nicer weather soon follows. Please take the time to enjoy a nice spring day with family and friends (or a nice autumn day for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere). Having a connection to the special people in your life helps get one though the dreary and dismal days.

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