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.