Saturday, December 5, 2009

Value of relationship

I believe in the value of relationship. That's why I shop in independently owned stores and use the services of professionals. I know their name. They know mine. When push comes to shove, I want help from someone who actually knows me (the freshest brownie - Chris at Lilac Bakery; an emergency shoe repair - Brian at The Shoe Doctor; the most sensible investment advice - Darryl at National Bank).

Today's case in point: My travel agent, Linda Burndorfer of Out 'n About Travel.

Yesterday (Friday), I was headed to Edmonton for a 50th birthday party this evening (Saturday), but when the Air Canada desk agent suggested the weather was wicked and the plane had only a "fair" chance of landing, I rebooked for an early morning flight instead. However, when I checked on its status well before dawn today, it said DELAYED and then delayed again. What to do? Head to the airport only to wait around and be sent back home? Or call in the professional?

I picked option #2 and called Linda's office telephone number.

Within 15 minutes she called me back (and it wasn't yet 8:30am on a SATURDAY! Thank you iPhone that keeps her fully connected) and within 30 minutes of that she had worked some kind of travel agent magic and rebooked me onto an already-full flight this afternoon.

I don't know how she did it. And I don't need to. I only need to know that she can. That I can call her before it's really reasonable to do so on a Saturday morning. And that she'll know my name and do her magic, adding value like the professional she is.

Moral of this tale? Personal connections make life better - and easier. And, next time you need to book a trip, contact Linda at Out 'n About Travel:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Beginner mind

At a local business meeting, I won a short consultation with a speech coach. The timing was good, as I will soon be giving a short speech at a friend's significant birthday celebration.

I was a bit nervous about testing out my speech with the coach as I teach speech writing and oral presentations at the college level. What would the coach say about my skills? Do I really know what I'm talking about in the classroom or am I just a fraud?

I forged ahead, not wanting to mess up - at any level. I wrote a draft of the speech, I practised it a few times. I went to the appointment. And I experienced a huge rush of satisfaction from being in the student seat instead of the teacher seat with this topic.

What a relief and a joy to simply give myself over to an expert and receive her comments on my content and performance. The coach gave me her undivided attention and honoured me with a critique of my content and performance.

The result? I am more confident as I approach the giving of this particular speech. And, maybe more importantly, I have been reminded of the value of approaching an expert with 'beginner mind': go as a prepared and willing student, open yourself to critique, be vulnerable, sit tall in that student seat and receive the teaching of an other.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Don't ditch that propane lantern!

We moved into our new cottage on a gorgeous weekend in mid-September and were already looking forward to having Thanksgiving there – more food, less work! Or so we thought.

We arrived late afternoon on the Friday. Slushy snow was on the deck and the weather was getting worse – like winter was arriving in October.

Although it wasn’t yet dark outside, it was dim inside the cottage, so I switched on the light to my left. Nothing happened. Oh, I thought. Maybe that switch doesn’t operate that light...And I tried another switch. Nothing. And nothing again in the living room. Every electrical item was off.

Finally, it dawned on me. There’s no power!

No power, for us, meant no heat as we were relying solely on baseboards because we hadn’t yet been cleared by our insurance agency to use the fireplace. No power also meant no teakettle, no coffee maker, no stove or oven – and no phone, as ours is a cordless jobbie that needs plugging in.

Ah, this would be interesting.

It was too late to head back to the city, so we unpacked the car and, as we were going back and forth, a phone started ringing. Can’t be ours, I thought, as we have no power; must be the neighbour’s who didn’t appear to be up yet. But the noise persisted and Val, being the natural-born explorer she is, followed it into the old shed where the noise got louder.

Yup, you guessed it. There’s an old (and I mean old) phone in there, hardwired in and, despite its grimy state, as welcome a sight as any you can imagine. We weren’t entirely cut off! We phoned Hydro and learned a line was down and power would likely be out for a while.

Ah, this would be interesting.

We hauled out our trusty old 3-ring propane-powered cooktop from the back room and cooked up a proper dinner, which we ate by candle- and our jackets, toques and gloves. We left the dishes for morning in hopeful anticipation of power (and, thus, running water) and went to bed. Man, those sheets were cold!

The power flickered on briefly at around midnight, but did not stay on, so the cottage was just as cold in the morning, although it was bright...from all the snow outside! In fact, it looked like a winter wonderland: Inches of snow had fallen, but at least it wasn’t really cold.

I explored outside to discover trees laden with heavy snow arching over our driveway; getting out would be a challenge. Then I looked down the road and it was worse: trees were so weighed down that the road was impassable. For better or worse, we were here to stay – at least for a while.

Neighbours were out and we exchanged info about the state of things and who had what kind of supplies. We were in this together! Then, from up the road, a convoy of about four vehicles approached: They were, literally, cutting and running: Cutting their way out with a chain saw and heading back to the city. Not a bad idea, I thought.

But Val would have none of it. The sun was beginning to come out, it was truly gorgeous outside, we could continue to cook with propane and, if we were desperate to get warm, we could make our way on foot to Blacks Point (it’s quite a hike from Islandview) where the power was back on and friends invited us to share their woodstove warmth.

In the end, we got warm enough puttering around figuring out just how many trees were down, so, when the power came back on at noon, we were happy to make coffee, wash the dishes and settle in for a snowy Thanksgiving stay.

Our friend Yvonne came up on Sunday, we roasted a delicious chicken and reveled in tales of fortitude.

The moral of this tale? No matter what the season, be prepared. Know where the matches and candles are. Never leave your propane tank empty. Don’t ditch the Coleman stove or lantern. And, always, keep an old fashioned phone in the shed.

Slow Mind

You've heard of the Slow Food movement? Well, I'm instituting a Slow Mind movement in my life.

Instead of trying to do as much as possible in any given day, hour, moment, I'm consciously NOT doing as much as possible. I'm doing everything that needs to be done and nothing that doesn't need to be done. It's remarkable to realize, consciously, just how different those two states are.

I'm taking the time to think rather than simply doing everything in the time I have: Why not amble down the sidewalk and scuff through the leaves? Why not do one errand at a time, instead of all the errands in one go? Why not take the time to read the entire Saturday newspaper instead of just skimming the headlines of the main section?

It means making room in my mind to enjoy the moment, rather than always looking ahead to prepare for what is coming next. It's more than just being mindful. It's being deliberate about slowing down my moment-to-moment living. It goes against the 21st century grain of constant connectedness, and it's liberating.

Go on. Unplug yourself. Slow down. Embrace a slower pace.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Working system

System not working: One minute Val is standing upright getting ready to go out, the next she's on the floor because her prosthetic hip slipped out of joint.

System working: For the first time ever, I dialed 911. The paramedics came. They were kind, capable and effective. Took Val by ambulance (no sirens) to hospital.

System working: The clever emerg doc assessed, advised and performed effectively. The joint was popped back into place (thank goodness for drugs).

We spend a lot of time complaining about our healthcare system, but at times like yesterday I bless Tommy Douglas for universal coverage: At no time did anyone ask us if we could pay, if we had coverage. Everyone simply did their job the best they could. Nothing happened quickly, but it happened effectively.

Let's remember that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Editing the fridge

A tidy fridge is like a well-written text: elements carefully placed, correctly sorted, well structured. Open it up and you know what you're looking at, what you're getting into: post-modern chaos or zen-like haiku.

Like any text, the content of a fridge can benefit from a good edit, a ruthless sorting, a thorough proofing. Dig behind the mayo jar for the carton of cream, bring it forward, on the right - where the dairy goes. Move the cat food down below, where it belongs - beside the leftovers from (human) dinner. Keep the veggies in the bottom left drawer, the fruit in the bottom right.

Want the yogurt? Check up top on the right. Unless a post-modern user was there before you, in which case it's as likely mixed up in the cat food as it is on the dairy shelf. Makes me crazy!

I like my fridge in haiku form: tidy, clean, spare. My partner favours post-modern chaos: anything goes...anywhere. Sigh.

The solution? I edit the fridge.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Virtually hooked

I tried it. I liked it. I got hooked. I signed off.

I'm talking about the Facebook app World Cafe, which gets you playing at being a virtual chef in a virtual restaurant. All very fun until the pull towards that online spot becomes stronger than the pull out of doors for a walk in the sunshine. Then it's time to quit.

It reminded me oh so strongly of my brief affair with TV soap operas. Oh goodness - I got pulled into that maelstrom more than 20 years ago and found myself bereft at Friday's end when I would have to live with the cliffhanger of a plot (ok, that's a slight overstatement...story, then) until Monday afternoon. Could I do it? Would I make it?

Finally, a decent-paying job came along and saved me. Threw me into an entirely different (so very different?) maelstrom of pulls and pushes and plots and stories.

My online restaurant was fun while it lasted. But now it's closed. Reality I come!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


It's a new term I've recently learned: Whuffie. It's about building social capital through online tools. Very interesting. I'm going to see what I can do to explore this concept for myself and build some whuffie for me! Stay tuned for updates. BTW, the author of the book I've been reading is Tara Hunt.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

And more!

It just gets better. I came home the other day to a message from the chair of the creative arts department asking me if I'd consider teaching a section of the Freelance Business Management course in the Creative Communication program at the local college. It took me about a nanosecond to say yes. The last five years of my professional life have perfectly prepared me for this teaching...and I cannot wait for it to begin. Yet another excellent payoff for having said no earlier in the year to other offers.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Got there!

Patience pays off if we use the time to persist in our pursuit of what we truly want to do...and achieve. It's mid-summer and I am looking ahead to a fall of work that includes teaching at the local college. Only by saying "No thank you" to offers that popped up along the way have I been able to say "Yes thank you" to the one offer I've been waiting for. It takes real guts to turn down work, but the payoff is real joy - and it's worth waiting for. The biggest challenge is maintaining confidence in yourself and staying focused on your long-term goal. Now THAT'S a full-time job!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Open space with NO

I've been reminded recently of the power of saying NO, even when the offer seems positive. Sometimes we have to say NO to firmly close one door in order to keep another wide open. In these days of seemingly limitless options (even despite the recession), saying NO is a vital skill. Only when we can say NO with intention can we say YES with equal intention. If we only ever say work, to contracts, to new experiences...we deprive ourselves of experiencing the difference between duty and desire, between reaction and action, between living our life and creating our life. 

Give it a try. Say NO to something today and see what happens in your head and your heart. It may surprise you! 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

4-legged family members

Ah the joy of having cats. Let me count the ways:
1. purrs of contentment when held in one's arms
2. food dishes licked clean
3. bright little eyes watching the BarnYarn toy about to be tossed
4. body curled tight against my leg

Oh the frustration of having cats. Let me count the ways:
1. waking schedules that precede dawn
2. fussiness with food flavours
3. desire to be outside when inside is the rule
4. limbs flailing at nail clipping time

And yet, our 4-legged ones make me laugh and make me love.

So it goes with cats. As with humans.
Joys. Frustrations.
Life in all its richness.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

social media

You might call me a reluctant adopter...I was dragged screaming away from my electric typewriter to the new computer back in the mid-80s. Why did I need all that fancy stuff? Wasn't the two-line erase function on my typewriter as sophisticated as it needed to get? Of course, once I started using the computer for my writing work, I never looked back. Today, it's social media tools I'm being pulled towards - and the more I explore them, the more I "get" the power and purpose. I'm still just dabbling in the mainstream of Facebook and this blog, but I GET how online communication tools change how we connect, relate and communicate. Who knows? Maybe I'll soon be twittering with the best of them!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Time without shape

Having time is not the same as having balance. I had all the time in the world in December but spent most of that time gnashing my teeth about the lack of work on my desk. In the end, the month passed and the time was used, but I felt frustrated more than fulfilled.

As a business owner, it's essential be fully in charge not only of my time, but also of the shape I give that time. Hours and minutes are just that - hours and minutes. Time becomes meaningful only when I shape those hours and minutes into productive endeavour. Doing so with conscious effort, with intention - that's the way to 'have a good day'.

I've come to realize that lists are my friend. Make a list. Follow the list. Check off the items. Move through the day by following the shape of it the list supplies.

Lesson learned. Lists on every surface. Discipline exerted. Time has shape. Shape gives meaning.

Have a well-shaped day, my friends!