Heartwood 2020

I’ve heard that the first step to correcting a problem is to admit that I have one. OK, here’s my problem: Valentine’s Day. I’ve seen the images of the tuxedo-clad Romeos who’ve been to the Jared store and have a reservation at a budget-breaking restaurant. Their table sits in a quiet spot with at least half a dozen attentive servers. The food is prepared to perfection, and the gentle strains of mood music complement the ambiance created by tiny white swans gliding under glistening rainbows and pooting potpourri in the nearby pond.

Swan heart

That’s never happened in my planning. Valentine’s Day in the past has included such challenges as kids with 103 degree fevers, projectile vomiting, plumbing leaks, ice/snow events, car problems, and so on. And that’s without the pressure of measuring up to the bar held up as the minimum by whoever determines how Valentine’s Day should be celebrated. A man can grow gun-shy after such a dismal record.

Then there are female-oriented cinematic offerings (not sure the term chick flick is PC anymore). Those lady-friendly movies with their concept of romance bug me. Who wakes up at sunrise, rolls over with perfectly coiffed hair and finds his woman receptive to morning breath kisses and a before-breakfast interlude? Anyone? That’s what I thought.

After nearly thirty-nine years of marriage to the same wonderful woman I can now keep her company during an entire romantic movie without making sarcastic comments. I think that is real progress though there is a good chance I will sleep through some portion thereof. But it’s not the movie. I have yet to see all the Star Wars episodes in their entirety due to strategic napping.


Image © Jeffrey D. Nichols

I am an amateur when it comes to the facets of today’s romantic notions. I freeze with the blue screen of death painted across my consciousness when I try to participate (hence the title). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to take my wife for granted, but I want my feelings toward her to be displayed year-round and to reflect my heart not the thoughts of someone who does not know her. By training and experience I am an engineer, a role often associated with clueless nerdery when it comes to women, romance, and matters of the heart. I admit that my practicality often outweighs frivolity when it comes to expressing my intentions toward Shawn.

Let’s start with flowers. Shawn loves them but long ago let me know her preference. The bouquet that rots in a week on the dining room table is not it. Shawn prefers that I indulge her garden whims. Move this plant over there. Add a new bed here. Remove that tree stump so I can plant this bush. And so on. As I learned her desires I formed my personal garden philosophy (PGP): no matter which window Shawn peers out or the direction she faces she will see something beautiful in her garden. I will trim and mow, move and plant, investigate and learn to whatever degree I must to make that dream a reality. Honey, I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Next consider her car. An unexpected event (alarm or burned out light, for example) prompts immediate action on my part. That issue becomes my highest priority, and I stay with it until resolution. I will purchase tires, change fluids, wash and wax, fill with gas, even vacuum—whatever is required to give her a trouble-free driving experience. Do I think she is incapable of doing these things on her own? Absolutely not. She is often by my side, grease on her hands, working the problem with me. But each time she drives that car she has tangible evidence of my care for her. Honey, I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

I retired from engineering in the recent past to write from my home office. Shawn promptly searched for a job. I will share more on that development in an upcoming book, but suffice it to say I have attempted to master some level of her domestic skills so I can help out at home. She is teaching me to cook though I have encountered turbulence. The measuring spoons are unmarked and mismatched. I learned the hard way that tsp versus tbsp matters. Her kitchen utensil drawers, loaded with an impressive tool collection, are so full that much effort is required to find what is needed. And the drawers won’t close once the contents have been disturbed.

As an engineer concerned with process and efficiency I wondered if I should fix the problems. It was a fleeting thought rapidly washed aside by safety concerns. Guys, your spouse likely views the kitchen as her territory, and adjustments made without her prior consent will negate the intended benefit. The couch is a cold wasteland in February.

I opted for diplomacy, worded a nice email using the “plant a seed and see what germinates” method of problem solving, and waited for her response. That gave Shawn time to read at her leisure, process the issue, and consider solutions. Shawn told me a couple of days later that she would love to replace the measuring spoon collection. I also learned that the contents of her utensil drawers could be divided into these categories:

  • frequently used items
  • items used once in a while but need to be easily retrieved
  • never used items that should probably be tossed

Sweet.  Now we’re getting somewhere. We jettisoned the flotsam, and I had an opportunity for a date with her at the Bed, Bath, and Beyond store followed by a stop for designer coffee. I installed our new wire basket in the corner of the pantry to house the rarely used kitchen utensils. Problem solved. Happy wife. Honey, I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Utensil Basket

Guys, we need to practice our listening. We need to master the lost art of paying attention. Her words can yield clues as to gifts she might like or changes she feels are necessary. A squeaky door? The sticking drawer? Dull kitchen knives? An unpleasant smell in her car? Exhaustion from preparing an endless string of meals?

We can handle it. Investigate. Analyze. Get it done. Establish a track record of responding to her needs 365 days a year, not just on one arbitrary date in February.

And hang on as the passion ignites.

Shawn's Tea Room Scaled

Now, back to the project I’m designing and building for Shawn, the no-dig garden. More on that later.

Men, most of us hate lectures, touchy-feely relationship advice, discussions about personal strengths and weaknesses, and advice for getting in touch with our inner whatever. If we pick up a book we want it to be one that gets to the point. Quest for The Perfect Wife is such a book. Using examples of marriages from Scripture coupled with modern day Romeos Quest for The Perfect Wife dives into the nuts and bolts of making a marriage thrive. Our relationships are one arena where duct tape will not work. We need to be nailed into solid structure.