Reflections of Summer

Summer 2014 has come and gone.

Today I was out in the yard for almost five hours for my annual “put the yard to bed” marathon. While I was tarping patio furniture, cutting down the irises and mulching in the flower beds, I got to reminiscing on the events of the summer. I’ve gotten used to the idea that there’s no such thing as an uneventful season, no matter how much I might wish for such; the only thing that’s constant is change.

So here are the top ten highlights of my eventful summer:

1) Welcomed Royal Mae Providence Schwartz to the world. She weighed in at 8lbs 15 oz and is still rock solid at 4 months.

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2) Celebrated my *gulp* 50th birthday with a fabulous back yard party. There was a band, and dancing, great food and many wonderful friends. It was wonderful.

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3) Made sure I worked out of “office #3” (the deck) as much as possible, even though the birds and butterflies are super distracting. We also extended the deck width by 2 feet and built a privacy screen which was a big project but made a huge difference to our outdoor living space. Highly enjoyable.

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4) Learned some valuable lessons about what it means to be a contractor (picture not available).

5) Floated down the Red Deer River twice (really wanted to do it more but there just aren’t enough weekends!)

6) Celebrated two weddings with dear friends.

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7) Got in a couple of great weekend camping trips.

8) Was happy to attend the annual Latin-Canadian party at my sister’s place, but sadly their dog passed away during the party. R.I.P. Toby Sanchez.

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9) Called in the big guns  to eradicate the massive infestation of ants that was destroying our lawn and invading our house. We have a long way to go in the lawn recovery department, but it is such a relief to have them gone. These nasty creatures took up wayyyy too much of my time and energy this summer.

10) Formed a partnership with Resource Management Innovations. This is more fantastic than you probably realize.

 

So there you have it – the summer of 2014. Autumn’s been lovely thus far. As I start to ponder winter and the prospect of 2015, I wonder what it has in store. I hope I’m ready for whatever it brings.

Here’s  hoping you had a lovely summer as well and that you are enjoying the glory of Autumn. Cheers, my friends.

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In Praise of Women in Business

Happy October! In addition to its many other holidays and highlights, October is also Women’s History Month, apparently, a fact I did not know until I read an article posted on Twitter this morning.

The history of women, of course, goes way back (that’s supposed to be akin to the joke “I was born at an early age”. Place laugh here); so does the history of women in business. I would venture to say that women entrepreneurs have always been as plentiful as their male counterparts, but it’s not been until this last couple of centuries that we have really seen women creating and/or managing successful business empires. Still, with only 16% of SME owners in Canada being of the female persuasion, we have a long way to go.

Anyway, agree with the youinc.com author’s list or don’t; it’s an interesting look, I think, at how some women have made it to the top.

Here’s the article. 

Tell me what you think. And hug a woman this month – y’know, if (only if) she gives you permission.

Let’s try a different approach

Unless you live under a rock or have been in the mountains camping without any cell coverage, you likely heard the news that Robin Williams committed suicide sometime between Sunday night and Monday mid morning. I am so sad that we’ve lost him and heartsick about the way he left us. I phrase it that way because I feel that, given his profound contribution and influence on my generation and those to follow, on some level he belongs to all of us. Another post may well be dedicated to some of my favourite clips from his extensive portfolio.

 

Naturally the manner of his death has everyone discussing suicide and mental illness such as bipolar disorder and depression. These are painful topics shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. And what happens when people feel like they need to understand something in order to process it is that they:

rush to judgement

oversimplify

speak rashly and emotionally

and maybe some other things I can’t come up with right now.

 

I don’t remotely pretend to have any kind of expert insight into these topics, but some of the posts I have seen on social media yesterday and today were like a punch in the throat. I don’t know why I am still surprised at the idiotic things people say on the internet, but here we are. Colour me stunned.

 

So yep, I’m gonna jump right onto the band wagon and share my own opinions on the matter. Why not, right? I hate to be left out. And, while I don’t consider myself a contrarian by nature, I think I might have some thoughts that (I hope) might offer a different perspective than what’s being put out there by others. It’s a bit of a rant (!) so buckle up.

 

First of all, I need to deal with the horrifyingly disgusting position I have seen posted by some “Christians” that suicide is a “choice”. Christian or not, this is a very destructive point of view, but I am beyond incensed that those who purport to have the inside track on love seem to so often be the ones to come up with the most judgemental, unloving, grace-lacking positions (maybe that, too, is another post for another day…). So to those who have offered that opinion, I say: Shut. Up. You do not have the foggiest idea about what drives a person to suicide. Or, perhaps you do; perhaps you have struggled with mental illness and suicidal ideations yourself, and you overcame it. That is great – really, truly, I am happy for you. I would never wish that experience on anyone. But that doesn’t mean you can decide what someone else can do. You can’t see inside anyone else’s head, heart, life and struggle. The individual who commits suicide may be making a decision, but they do not necessarily have a choice. Mental illness, and in particular depression, is crippling, overwhelming, and for many, beyond bearing.  There is individual genetic make-up at play, along with all kinds of psychology and even physiology. You do not know.  I do not know.

 

The people who experience these things are VICTIMS. You are victim shaming. You are re-victimizing. And worst of all, the person to whom you are doing this is not even here to respond – but their family, who are immersed in an ocean of grief, receive your thoughtless, unkind words like a knife to the heart. How dare you.

 

Next, let’s address the “news” broadcaster who called Robin Williams “selfish”. He has since apologised, but not before many people took to Twitter and Facebook to agree with him. Know what’s selfish?  Deciding that the microphone in front of your face is a license to say whatever you think or feel about other people – people you probably have never met. Reread the last five sentences of the above paragraph for the rest of what I think about this.

 

How about this as an alternative: we recognise that we can’t know the pain and struggle of another and we have no place to judge. How about we try to understand that we don’t understand? How about we just try words of comfort, sympathy and compassion? If you can’t manage that, then saying nothing is always an option.

 

Now, to the topic of depression and mental illness, two things:

 

1) I saw a tweet from a provincial opposition party member choosing this moment to politicize the issue, chastising government for not doing enough about mental illness. This sets my teeth on edge. Someone DIED. How dare you use it to make political hay?! I think you might want to go dig out your human suit and try it on a bit more often; you’re forgetting what it feels like.

 

2) Many people have posted well-meaning statements asking people struggling with depression and mental illness to reach out, call someone, talk to someone, get help, etc. I realize that this is well-intentioned. The problem is that mental illness and depression typically cause people to withdraw, not to mention the fact that these things impair one’s judgement, impact ability to think clearly and are, frankly, utterly exhausting. Perhaps they are unable to reach out, or to talk to anyone. We wouldn’t expect someone with no legs to get up and walk around, and we would not expect someone with cancer to turn up for work every day, so we perhaps need to stop assuming that people with depression and/or other forms of mental illness are in a position to help themselves. Maybe they are, but you don’t know that. It’s easy to put the onus on the sick because that absolves us from having to do anything. Because doing stuff is harder.

 

So how about this instead: if we know of someone who struggles with mental health issues and depression, we reach out to them? We can offer words of kindness, maybe take them to help, or do errands for them, or just check in on them.

 

As the late Jack Layton said in his final letter to the nation, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

 

Again, not a doctor, not an expert. Just a regular person, wishing that those of us who DO have a choice would choose to be better, so that the world would be changed and maybe despair could be eradicated. Maybe if we can think differently and try a different approach we could save someone and their loved ones from this having devastating experience.

A Great and Terrible Day

Last Thursday, April the 11th, our community experienced a disaster. In some sort of bizarre BBQ/Smoker accident, a fire was sparked that, with alarming speed, burned the 18 unit apartment building at the south end of Penhold to the ground.

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We are a small community of just over 2500 people. Of course, a fire of this magnitude would be horrible in any community, but you’d think that a small town like ours, with fewer people and limited resources, would be completely overwhelmed. No so! A series of things went right. A fire fighter who lives in the building happened to be home; he smelled smoke, alerted the fire department and immediately began evacuating the building. The Peace Officer on duty arrived within a very few minutes and also worked feverishly to get the building emptied. Everyone (except possibly some cats still unaccounted for) exited safely. It cannot be overstated: these two gentlemen made the difference between life and death.

 

Over fifty fire fighters responded and fought that fire for about 20 hours (more or less; I couldn’t find information on the exact length of time). I was at a conference in Kananaskis when news of the fire broke; when I drove into town at 12:30 AM I was devastated to see a few sticks burning where there once stood a three-story building.

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It was, by all accounts, a terrible scene. All of the belongings for every person, couple or family in that building are completely gone. Gone. Nothing left. It’s hard to grasp.

Now comes the great part.

Within two hours of the onset of the fire, community members, in droves, began delivering food, clothing, bedding and other supplies to the community hall (Facebook, among other forms of communication, be thanked!). I peeked in upon my return to town and was more than a bit choked up to see the entire dance floor covered in out poured love.

The next morning I went to the hall to help move all the donations to the Multiplex (we needed to do this because the hall was booked for a wedding). I drove up in my pick up and fell in line behind about a dozen other trucks. There were easily 30 or more people there sorting donations and loading them onto the vehicles. When my truck got to the front of the line, there were at least ten more behind me. I’m going to guess that over the course of Friday, more than 50 or 60 people volunteered in one capacity or another.

Here are some of the awesome stories:

– One of the residents of the building went into labour and gave birth to a baby boy. Several people offered to purchase a new car seat. Many have donated (and are still donating) formula and diapers.

– The Jr Generals hockey team were having a weekend tournament in the Multiplex. They donated the proceeds of their 50/50 to the cause (estimated at around $1200).

– The Sheraton in Red Deer offered to bring in food.

– People from all around the region messaged that they could offer lodging to people and families affected by the fire.

– Community members have continued to use Facebook to ask for specific donations and the generosity continues to flow unabated.

– Town Council and staff worked tirelessly in a well-coordinated effort to organize everything. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army were prompt, compassionate and very helpful.

These are just a few of the wonderful stories I know about… I’m sure there are dozens more (if you know some, feel free to post them in the comments!).

 

We must not forget that this is a really bad thing and that the devastating effects will linger for the foreseeable future; but, in the face of it, there’s a triumph of community spirit, a conquering of compassion, proof that we still know how to be true neighbours. We won’t stop helping, caring, giving.

It’s easy to slide into disconnectedness and apathy, even negativity about community. April 11th, that terrible day, is a great reminder that we’re all in this together and when push comes to shove, we’ve got each other’s backs.

Thank you, Penhold.

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Shame is an Extremely Poor Motivator

Last night I read this poignant post, written by a young lady I respect and admire. She has zeroed in on a truth many people live an entire life time without realizing.

 

Please read her post and pass it on to everyone you know suffering through the debilitating effects of shame, and also to those who love those folks.

 

In addition to my respect and admiration, Amy Veenstra has love (but moms are allowed!).

 

Enjoy the post: Shame and Motivation

Trolls be all Trolly

Someone posted an interesting article on Facebook this morning, about trolls. If you are [blissfully] unaware, a “troll” is an internet colloquialism describing someone who is, in essence, an online bully and general cyber ne’er-do-well. Often, but not always, these folks create fake accounts on social media sites so that they can wage war with the world with impunity. Since I administrate a couple of Facebook groups, I am constantly having to vet requests to join the group. In some instances,  I have removed people from these groups, based on their trollish behaviour.

My favourite quote from this article is: “… trolls are, by far, more likely to have narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopathic, and sadistic personality traits. Okay, so that’s not so surprising. But Buckels and colleagues [the folks who conducted the study discussed in this article] wanted to take it a step further: how much enjoyment are these trolls getting from their online shenanigans? The researchers constructed their own Global Assessment of Internet Trolling (GAIT), which asked such questions as “I have sent people to shock websites for the lulz” and “The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt.” (Sadly, some people indeed answered these questions with a “yes”).”

Here’s the article.

I’ve had it happen where folks will cry “troll” just because someone has a differing opinion in an online debate. I think this article very well spells out what constitutes troll-dom. The conundrum remains what to do about these folks and how to expunge them from cyber space.

I’m interested to hear your experiences with and perspectives on internet trolls.

Let it Rise

The fact that the holiday season can be a painful reminder of losses for many people, along with a recent Facebook post by a friend about facing and overcoming grief got me reflecting on an important life lesson I learned through an experience about 14 years ago.

I had a back injury. It was, as one might expect, pretty painful. When I started physiotherapy, the attending therapist announced to me that she was going to use The MacKenzie Method with me. This method involves laying in certain positions that people with a back injury typically avoid, because these poses cause an increase in pain.

When she first explained it to me and we began to undertake these exercises, it seemed to me to be the most counter-intuitive and bizarre treatment program I’d ever encountered. Why in the world would I purposefully do something to make the pain more intense? What strange manner of medieval torture was this?!

As I would lay on the treatment table in the position instructed by the physiotherapist, the pain would rise. Everything in me would scream, “Move! Get up! Avoid! Stop! Make this go away!!”

But here’s what I discovered:

After about 60-90 seconds of increasing intensity, the pain would actually crescendo, and begin to subside. I mean, who knew, right? I’d never sat through the pain long enough before to experience this. Within about another 60-90 seconds, the pain would be completely gone. Yeah, I had to first bear up under the pain, but if I pressed through it, relief – medication-free, jazzy-high-tech-treatment-free relief – was on the other side. In fact, more than relief; by choosing to position myself to invite the pain, to let it rise and to wait patiently through it, I was actually facilitating healing. Within a month of undergoing this treatment I had a stronger core and was almost completely pain-free.

As I have pondered grief and loss in my own life, it occurs to me that this is much like that. Grief can be overwhelming. I have, like many people, often gone to great lengths to find ways to avoid that pain. I’ve thought that if I reached in and touched it, really felt that pain, that I would not survive. But it isn’t true. In order to avoid that pain and just “make it stop”, I have to engage in all kinds of self-medication and avoidance activities and employ coping mechanisms that are short-term band-aid solutions and do nothing to foster true healing.

But I can position myself instead to give that grief, that pain, room. To let it rise. And if I can wait through that rising wave of pain, just sit in it and let it wash over me, and discipline myself to hold still and face it, that pain will surely peak, and subside. And healing is on the other side.

grief

This isn’t an exercise that is done just once and then “There! All better!”, you understand. It requires repetition, maybe daily, with grit, courage and determination. But it’s worth it. You won’t die; the pain will not conquer you. Let it rise and press through it, and in so doing, you will overcome; you will find healing.

Tell me what you think.

Now that you’ve elected your neighbour…

Municipal elections, as with any bit of news that happened more than a week ago, are now but a distant memory. Those who were not successfully elected are recovering from the sting and beginning to emerge back into community and figure out what’s next for them. Those who did win are moving from the rosy glow of “You like me! You really like me!” into the stark reality of “Holy Smacks, this is a ton of work!”. And the community at large is falling out of its munipolimance settling back into the regular and familiar routine of “us vs them”.

For the newly elected, the uninitiated, the change in the temperature in community relations, also and truly called neighbour relations, can be quite unsettling. I remember it well from my early days as a local elected official. It seemed to me that it often went one of two ways (this is just my perspective, you understand):

1) People I barely knew who had perhaps never even let a greeting pass their lips prior to my election suddenly behaved as if we were besties; or

2) People with whom I thought I had a pretty decent neighbourly relationship suddenly became cool and distant.

With group one, I was taken aback, sure, but I always welcome new friends and generally really enjoyed getting to know people. With group two, I was perplexed. At first – perhaps being a bit slow on the uptake – I couldn’t figure out what it was about. I’d scroll through a mental list of possible offenses: Is my dog barking too much? Did I butt in line at the post office? Perhaps I’d scooped up the last good cantaloupe at the grocery store… I was at a loss to understand what I had done to make people who had formerly been friendly turn to stone when I was near. Over time, I came to realize what had happened: I had become “them”. I’d joined the axis of evil known as “The Town” (which I’ve always found a bit funny, since everyone who lives here is really “The Town”).

racoon

Never mind that many of my neighbours actually installed me into this position by supporting me with their vote… somehow, even though I still lived in the same house and pay taxes like everyone else, by becoming an elected official my intent was assumed to have changed from virtuous to malevolent.

Here I shall insert the caveat that not everyone behaved in one of those two ways, and also that I say all this not to garner pity for the tough life of the poor elected official. I had a great time during my two terms on Council. I learned so much, enjoyed new experiences, made great friends and really grew as a person. But yes, there were many difficult and challenging times. There are really hard decisions to be made, some quite technical in nature, and there are team dynamics to be developed. There’s the fact we’re planning for the future without the benefit of a crystal ball, that resources are always limited, and that sometimes there is no great solution to complex issues.

The point of this post is to hopefully bring some understanding to the community as to whom you have elected: your neighbour. The person now serving in elected capacity in your town or city is just that — a person. They are who they were before you elected them, and they will be that again after they cease to be a public figure. In light of that, I’d like to ask that everyone in community bear a few things in mind:

1) Council is not out to get you and screw with your life.

2) They did not become sub-human at the swearing-in ceremony. They still have the same feelings as mere mortals. Sticks and stones will break their bones AND names will really hurt them. Make your mother proud and avoid abusive behaviour. With everyone.

3) In the same vein, the way you speak to or about elected officials is not necessarily a reflection on them — it’s really more of a statement about you. When speaking in public (or posting on social media) choose your words in a way that reflects what a nice person you are.

4) Ask them. If you don’t understand the thinking behind a decision, or the process that was followed, or the direction in which your community appears headed, ask your elected neighbour (and by the way, they may or may not ever see a random post out in social media-land). I’ve rarely met an elected person who wouldn’t be grateful for the opportunity to bring understanding and talk openly with community members.

As community members, we don’t have to like every decision that is made nor should we sit by silently while Council carries the load of responsibility. But we’d all do well to remember that we are neighbours. And, as neighbours, mutual respect is never going to be a wasted effort.

 

 

 

Think and Vote

It’s the eve of the 2013 municipal elections across Alberta. Tomorrow, citizens will head to the polls and exercise their civic responsibility to elect community leadership. It is my fervent hope that people across this province have been inspired to get engaged, to research the candidates and make educated, well-considered choices; to think and vote. 

Here are some questions upon which I hope you will reflect before you commit to putting an X next to a name:

– Does this candidate understand the role of Council and is he/she qualified/prepared to meet the demands of the job?

– Is this person running for something or against it? (hint: a negative campaign nets a negative council member)

– Is this candidate a proven leader with a solid reputation?

– Does this candidate truly have the public interest at heart? Does he/she have the strength of character to act in the public interest?

– Can this person function effectively in a team atmosphere?

– Will this individual be an honourable representative for your community?

There may be other questions to consider. I’d like to hear what you reflect on before you vote.  Add your thoughts via the comments – inspire and encourage others to think and vote.

Best of luck to all of the candidates. Thank you to all of the voters.

Here’s  to a bright future in your community and mine!

Just Answer the Dang Question

This week’s offering in my continuing series offering unsolicited advice to candidates in this municipal election focuses on answering questions and interacting via social media.

The addition of social media to election campaigning has been a double-edged sword for many candidates. Facebook pages and Twitter accounts offer candidates the opportunity to reach a much wider audience than ever before, and to appeal to demographics that otherwise may be missed. Some candidates, in fact, have chosen to go “signless” and are relying on social media as the pillar of their campaign. Its multimedia platforms are so versatile and functional; one can post videos, links to articles, blog posts, platform pillars, pictures of the family or events along the campaign trail. Rich discussion can be held without ever leaving the comfort of home. People who can’t get out to the forums can view them online. Folks for whom the sea of signs along the roadside is nothing more than a blur can use social media to sort through the list of names and actually learn about who these people are and what they purport to stand for (or against in many cases…)

Social media, though, can also be a dark and difficult place where fakers, trolls and cyber bullies can practice their craft largely unfettered. Even upstanding citizens who are genuinely nice people can find their typing fingers running away with their inside voices, posting things they would likely never say in person. Also, it can be a complete time hog. Candidates can be inundated with questions and requests to participate in groups and pages and opportunities to engage via social media.

No question: social media has its good sides and its bad sides. It’s a tool, and like every other tool, its value is user dependent.

We can’t possibly discuss all the ups and downs and ins and outs of social media as a campaign tool in one post, so let’s focus on one big social media boo-boo I have observed from a number of candidates during this election: failure to answer.

So let’s say you’re a candidate. You’ve put your name out there for consideration for municipal councillor or mayor. You think it’s a great idea to start a Facebook page, open a Twitter account, join some discussion groups and start getting your message out there.

First mistake.

Social media does not exist so that you can “get your message out there”. Using it as a broadcast medium, like radio or TV ads, is ineffective.

The word “social” may be a clue.

Would you walk in to a cocktail party or networking reception, do a quick round around the room broadcasting who you are and what you stand for to every person there, and then leave? Of course not. You understand that when you are at a reception or networking event, you are there to converse; to interact. Let’s say, at this fictional networking event, that you were standing in a group of people, and someone asked you a question about yourself or an election issue… would you just stop talking? Would you say, “Well, come over here to the corner and let me answer you one-on-one”? Not likely – at least, not if you are hoping to get the votes of the rest of those people. One person may have asked the question, but everyone listening wants to hear your answer. This is how campaigning works, whether at a function, a forum, or on Facebook (and there you have your daily dose of alliteration 🙂 ).

Taking this analogy further, let’s say someone aggressively confronts you in a public place, like a community event, and there are several people who witness the confrontation. Even though the other person may be wrong in their information and/or completely inappropriate in their approach, should you a) refuse to answer them? b) complain that they are picking on you? or c) fight back, accusing them of having a hidden agenda or ulterior motive or tinfoil hat?

The correct answer is d) none of the above.

I’ve seen more than one candidate handle themselves very poorly on social media. The truth is that there are many people behaving badly in online forums, but the people who are trying to decide whether or not to put an X by your name don’t usually care about how any of those other people are behaving: they want to see YOUR response, YOUR character, YOUR values. You are the one who has chosen to put yourself out there and how you handle these types of situations can garner support or cost you votes, big time.

It isn’t right for people, no matter who they are, to be mean. It isn’t fair that some people feel entitled to attack public figures and speak to them rudely and abusively. I hate it and it should stop. But it does happen… so why not turn it into a win? Calmly answer. Use humour. Connect with people. You don’t need to argue or defend. Just answer. Once you have done that, you can henceforth say “asked and answered” and you have fulfilled your duty. Most people will be satisfied and you will have engendered new respect. Candidates who show themselves to be respectful in the face of rudeness, firm but decent in the face of aggression, forthcoming and candid in the face of misinformation and maligning, and level-headed in the face of extreme emotion are the types of strong leaders folks want. Courage. Candour. Nobility. Perhaps it sounds too grandiose for municipal politics, but it is truly what people are universally looking for in a leader.

There’s a book I read a few years ago called “In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions” by Jerry Weissman. Though it’s based on American politics, it’s a wonderful communications training tool for debaters and those seeking public office. If you have a kindle or e reader you can download it immediately from Amazon and start learning how to win the communications game. I highly recommend it!

I know you candidates are juggling the chainsaws as best you can and that you cannot be everywhere and answer every inquiry. But if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, I’m pretty sure it still makes a sound. If you are asked a question on social media and you either refuse to answer or you lose your cool, the sound we’ll all hear is you laying an egg.

If you want to develop positive relationship and rapport with people, do yourself a big campaign favour: just answer the dang question.

*Special thanks to Mike Szyszka of REaction Marketing for the use of some of his great social media training analogies.