Tag Archives | Community

My New Best Friend


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DSC_0829-1024x681 - Version 2I have to tell you a story.

I had a job interview a few days ago, one I was very excited about. I had made it through two cuts after submitting a cover letter and answering ten essay questions. I went into it – and came out of it – very excited about the opportunity, working to help grow a small company to the next level. Their materials talked consistently about two things near and dear to my heart: Community and Curiosity, and it would challenge me to use skills acquired throughout my career.

The interview went pretty well; I felt like we had pretty good rapport. He had me start with questions for him, and I was ready. This isn’t his first startup; what had he learned from launching previous companies? What did this job really entail? The description hadn’t been very detailed.

I liked his answers. Thoughtful. Honest.

He asked me about my strengths, and my challenges. I talked about my organizational skills, my abilities to build and improve processes, my communication skills, my facilitation skills, my relationship building skills. Regarding challenges, I’ve had to learn to deal with conflict using the tools I coach others on. Keeping my writing short and succinct. Living with my voice. He asked about my voice, and I explained it has been diagnosed as Spasmodic Dysphonia, a neurological condition that is similar to stuttering, except it affects the vocal cords. I have had some success with speech therapy, and I have chosen not to pursue the recommended medical treatment – there is no “cure” – Botox injections to the vocal cords. It can be challenging, I said, to get on the phone, to do Skype calls, but it doesn’t stop me.

We went on. He asked, What am I passionate about? I told him I’m passionate about building things. About solving puzzles. Holding the space for people to do their best work. Almost as an afterthought, I added, “Working with horses. I am also a coach, and I incorporate horses into the coaching process.” He made a note, and told me he had just hired someone for another role who also works with horses. He said, “You’ll probably get along.” That was encouraging.

At the end, he asked the Million Dollar Question. This is a start-up, he said, and we expect everyone to give it everything they’ve got. What do you think about that?

I was ready for that question, as it was my only concern. I told him I had worked for start-ups before, and worked in a variety of roles where I put in long hours. And it had taught me the importance of setting boundaries, of reserving space to do the things that feed me so that my work is sustainable. So I am careful about setting boundaries, and I encourage others to set boundaries too.

He kind of grinned – or maybe it was a smirk, this is a guy who sends emails at 10pm and 5am and on Sundays – and said it was always interesting to see how people responded to that.

We wrapped things up, and he promised I would hear from him by the end of the week.

I sent him a Thank You note by email, thanking him again for the chance to talk. And I reiterated that, while they couldn’t have “everything I’ve got,” what they would get would be really damn good.

I was cautiously optimistic. But he was interviewing 11 other people, and I suspected that my unwillingness to work 100 hours a week would eliminate me.

Much to my surprise, I got a response later that afternoon. He thanked me for my time, and said,

“There’s a lot to like. On reflection, I think the speech condition must be a non-starter for us. I need you forward facing in many many situations and roles, and with people much less sympathetic than myself.

Best to be straight about that.

It’s possible at some further point that there are additional roles, but for now, presentation in diverse situations is too critical.”

I was stunned.

I had to read it several times.

Not because he cut me.

But because he cut me because of my voice.

And he might be willing to hire me in the future if he could hide me.

I sat with it for a little while, then sent him a reply. I thanked him for his honesty, and said I understood – and that I had to push back. I pointed out that I don’t let my voice stop me, and I lead meetings, conference calls without video, and even workshops – all very successfully, because of my facilitation and presentation skills. Making a lot of cold calls would not be a good fit, but when it comes to facilitating meetings and building relationships my voice has not been an issue. In fact, it has been an asset in two ways: I tend to not waste my words and I have been told that my being “soft spoken” causes people to lean in and pay attention.

Then I got furious.

And had a good cry.

I was stunned. And angry. And disappointed. He went for my underbelly. That’s not “sympathetic.” He could have just said there was someone else who was a better fit. He could have said he really needed someone willing to give it all they’ve got.

But he didn’t.

He revealed himself.

*  *  *

Four different people checked in with me to see how it went, and I told them. Each one was appalled, not just for my sake but because, as each one of them put it, “I don’t think that’s legal. Did he really put that in writing?”

Yes. Yes, he really did.

I had another good cry.

The next morning, he replied to my reply, saying,

“Of course I trust you won’t let it stop you! I’m only saying that I personally found it a distraction.”

*Facepalm*

I wrote a response, saying (among other things), that I actually expected him to tell me he was looking for someone willing to work 100 hours a week, or that he had a candidate whose skills were a better fit, and I would have understood. But he had self-selected himself out of the people who appreciate me for the quality of my character and skills rather than a physical characteristic. I suggested he consider getting sensitivity training before someone else with a distracting physical characteristic reacts less kindly to being excluded.

But just before I hit Send, the wise Voice In My Head said, “Just walk away.” So I saved it to Drafts. I sent it to one of the dear friends who was appalled on my behalf, someone who has been a hiring manager herself, because I was torn between wanting to get The Last Word (and maybe even helping him somehow) and just walking away. She sided with The Voice In My Head.

So I let it go. I took a long hot shower and went to an interview with a different company – which went very well and we are going to the next step. Then I spent the rest of the day sending invitations for my new series of retreats and workshops.

*  *  *

I have sat through many tedious corporate compliance videos in my career, but I now understand first hand that this is why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 are the law of this land. They were enacted to help us become comfortable with being uncomfortable, so that we could look through the differences that distract us to see each person’s gifts and abilities.

These laws don’t cover everything. But if we are able to cultivate a willingness to look past certain attributes, that helps us be willing to look beyond all kinds of distracting attributes to really see the person.

* * *

But that’s not the point of this story.

Even though this episode hurt, it gave me a great gift.

It has given me the chance to reflect and articulate how my voice has been an asset in various ways, including helping me exercise courage and compassion for myself – and for others. I applauded myself for all of the times I have chosen to get on the phone, to lead the conference call, to schedule the workshop. For all of the times I haven’t let fear of my voice stop me.

It also has helped me to appreciate more than ever the people who haven’t been “distracted” by my voice and who have valued what I bring to the table, including people who have asked me specifically – and repeatedly – to use my voice in leading workshops, moderating panel discussions, facilitating team meetings, leading difficult conversations, coaching them through rough spots, asking powerful questions, and speaking truth to whatever is happening.

I am immensely grateful for all of the people who are more interested in what I have to say than in how it sounds.

They are my tribe, these people who see Me.

He is not. He can only see my “distracting” voice.

I am grateful that he revealed himself.

I am grateful that I, too, have been revealed. I got to watch myself handle this differently than I might have several years ago, when I might have taken the bullet and let it make me feel Less Than. At one time I did let my voice hold me back, let it reinforce some story that I’m not good enough. But I have chosen, and worked, to not hold myself back. I need not be ashamed – of my voice, of anything. There is no secret to hide, to hide from.

And I’m grateful for something else.

When I received the diagnosis of Spasmodic Dysphonia five years ago, I chose not to go with Botox shots in my vocal cords for a variety of reasons. Some people do; good for them. But I do not. Because…

…Botox. It’s a poison. Eew.

…I can still sing. And no one could promise that the Botox wouldn’t give me a different speaking voice but take away my ability to sing. I’d rather sing.

…Botox doesn’t work for everyone, and when it does it is temporary. It also causes people to effectively lose their voices for approximately a week after each shot. I’d rather have some voice all of the time.

But most importantly, I chose not to go down that path because for ten years I had increasingly hated my voice. I saw it as The Enemy. But when you hate one part of yourself, you hate Yourself. I didn’t want to live like that anymore. I wanted a truce. I wanted peace. I wanted to make friends with my voice again. And I felt like shooting it with poison would be stabbing my voice in the back.

That’s not what you do to your friends.

So I have spent the last five years making friends with my voice. Taking it everywhere I go, being willing to be Seen. And Heard.

And this week I realized that my voice has paid me back handsomely with a great gift.

By showing me what I’m really capable of.

That’s what friends do.

Today I can say, loudly and clearly,

My Voice. And I. Are Friends.

Grace


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It has been one of the most humbling yet uplifting times of my life.

And the word that keeps coming up?

Grace.

It is a word with several meanings.

One is connected to being “graceful,” the opposite of being clumsy.

Another is related to being “gracious,” which I think of as being kind, polite, warm.

Yet another is the blessing that is said before a meal, sometimes recited from memory, sometimes made up in the moment.

There is also the mystical idea of grace. Growing up in a fairly religious family, and taking theology classes in college, I heard phrases like “state of grace” and “grace is a gift.”

But what does that mean?

Well, two times in my life I have (consciously) experienced it. And, in my experience, grace is laced with irony. And it is, like the song says, amazing.

Ironic because it is humbling without being humiliating. Humbling, yet exalting. And amazing because… well, you’ll see.

The Story

My path began shifting earlier this year, in many ways. Most were delightful. Others, not so much. After a breakthrough year with my business, I suddenly found myself at the end of this summer not being able to “close” any new clients and not being able to support myself. A humbling – humiliating – admission for a business coach.

I had been planning to move as part of the shift in direction that has been growing over the last six months, but being forced to move – for financial reasons – was not part of my plan.

My Plan.

Sigh. “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

Surrender

I fought the situation for as long as I could, until I finally surrendered and put out the call for help. And when I did surrender and put out the call, I was amazed. (I told this story to a friend, and he said, “Because no one responded?” No.)

Amazed because people came out of the woodwork in response. To help.

I received four offers of places to live. People showed up to help me prepare for a Moving Sale. They showed up to run the moving sale. They showed up to buy things. They brought food, they brought coffee. They brought boxes. They showed up to help me pack. They showed up to help me move. They took me to lunch, they took me to dinner, and they plied me with margaritas. And every time I was about to dissolve into a puddle of tears (like when I sold my plants and the fountain I built), someone was there with a hug.

Some people showed up for a couple of hours. Some people showed up over and over. Some people sent emails of encouragement, or cards. Prayers were offered on my behalf. People did what they could do, even if it was just send love. And that was enough.

Wow.

I surrendered, and asked for help, and help appeared.

It wasn’t the help I originally wanted.

It was better.

Friends

The day of the Big Move, ten people came just to help me move! That night, four of those friends took me to dinner. One of them looked at me and said, “A lot of people showed up to help you.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You have a lot of Friends,” he said.”

“Yes, I do,” I whispered.

“You’re very lucky,” he said.*

“Yes, I am,” I whispered with tears in my eyes. (*Actually, I don’t remember exactly what he said, because I was crying. But it was something to that effect.)

Help appeared.

So much help I could never have imagined it. And no one said, “You should have,” or “You ought to…” They did ask questions about my plans, and make suggestions, but there was no judgment, no looking down on me.

They just showed up. To Help. They lifted me up and carried me through. And what could have been a messy dropped motorcycle on the highway of life, with a bad case of road rash, turned into… a gift.

But I had to surrender first. And ask for help.

And help arrived. Help that was unexpected, and unearned. Help that reminded me that we are all connected.

That is Grace.

It would be easy to say that help was undeserved, but I believe we all deserve it. We are not entitled to it, and we don’t earn it. But we are deserving.

Help that is unearned, yet deserved. We all deserve it. Because we are all One.

Humbling and uplifting.

That is Grace.

Grace is a gift. A gift is not an exchange, as someone recently said to me. Grace delivers gifts that are not earned, even if we have worked hard, and for which the only payment we can make is to Pay It Forward.

Doors

Many doors have been opened to me, so many that I get to choose which are most true to the new path I am on. I don’t know where this path is taking me, exactly, but that’s OK. I get to make choices that strengthen good choice-making muscles. I now have two jobs in addition to my coaching, jewelry making, photography, and writing. I am living with a generous and delightful host. I am being introduced to people who can open additional doors.

I had to surrender and allow the decks to be cleared for something new to come in.

And for a new appreciation of something I already had to come in.

Saying Grace

Today when I say Grace, it has a whole new meaning.

Thank you for the many people who have blessed my life. Thank you for the opportunity keep learning and not be stuck, and not be trainwrecked. Thank you for adventure. Thank you for a roof over my head, for health, for laughter, for Connection. Thank you for music, and for play, and the opportunity to work, and for people to share all of this with. Thank you for all the blessings in my life, those I have worked hard for and for those I did not earn but came to me anyway. Thank you for opportunities to pay it forward, for awareness to see those opportunities. Thank you for memories, and for clean slates. May I have the opportunity to be a blessing for others as others have blessed my life.

Thank you all. May you enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving, and may you have the opportunity to say Grace every day.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Defeat of Our Intuition


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This morning I watched John Bohannon’s TED talk, “Dance vs. powerpoint, a modest proposal.” It’s pretty fabulous. You can watch it here:

Cool, huh?

I don’t know if you caught it, but in the middle of his talk, one statement in particular caught my attention:

“This is the great pleasure of science: the defeat of our intuition through experimentation.”

I don’t know about you, but I hate it when my intuition is proved wrong. For a second, at least. And then…

That moment is a choice point. A choice between clinging to Being Right, and learning something. Exploring.

It can be really hard to let go of the security of Being Right, of that Beautiful Idea, and be willing to accept that there might be an even more beautiful idea. Or a less beautiful idea that is right.

I hate that.

And I love it.

We are Learners, as well as Teachers. Which means not only adding new knowledge, but often replacing knowledge. And it isn’t adding new knowledge that can be hard, but allowing the replacing of knowledge, allowing for the possibility of being wrong. The beauty of that is that once we (I) allow for the possibility of being wrong, we (I) allow the entry of the new idea.

Brene Brown talks about vulnerability and shame and it is those, the fear of them, that can keep us (me) from allowing the possibility of being wrong, allowing the defeat of our intuition. The desire to protect our (my) ego.

Which is where Curiosity comes in. “Hmm, what could work better?” I ask myself. “If this thing I was sure was true isn’t working, then what will work better?”

Sigh. It’s hard to know when to keep trying, and when to shift to a new approach. How long does one keep trying, applying persistence, before remembering “If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you always got?”

Perhaps we (I) have to trust our (my) intuition.

Ha! ‘Tis a puzzlement.


OK, I was just about to hit Publish when I had another thought.

It requires both. Trusting our (my) intuition and being open to new evidence. And this is where Community is important – having people to listen to, to bounce ideas off of. Which requires vulnerability (again), being willing to let my community see me be wrong, and change.

Maybe that’s an important part of the definition of Community: The people with whom it is safe to learn, to be wrong, to grow. And to be a part of that Community, I have to offer that safe place to them, too.

Anyone feel like dancing?

Being With


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Yesterday I went to the wedding celebration of a friend of mine. A friend whom I hold dear, although we don’t spend that much time together.

I almost didn’t go.

I looked forward to it all week, but when the day came I was reluctant.

I would be going alone, and I didn’t think to call anyone to carpool. Would there be anyone there I knew? I feared going and being surrounded by others but feeling isolated. Would my little gift be good enough? They wouldn’t miss me if I didn’t go…

Wait a minute. I would miss them if I didn’t go. And, I said to myself, there were a lot of people she could have invited, and didn’t. She invited me.

I wrapped up my little hand-made gift, with something for each them, something personal, far more personal (aka Vulnerable) than something I might have gotten from Pottery Barn or wherever, and wrote in my hand-made card with one of my own photographs on the front. And off I went.

I arrived at the wedding party and, as soon as I arrived, a friend I hadn’t seen in months waved at me and said, “Come sit by me!” We chatted and caught up while we ate plates of Mexican food and drank margaritas, watching as party-goers learned salsa dancing. Other friends came and went from our little group, dear friends, new friends, acquaintances I hadn’t seen in several years.

Then a man appeared in front of me and held out his hand, inviting me to dance.

I have never salsa danced. Ever.

And I feel very awkward when it comes to any dance that requires Following.

And.

Remember the movie, “Risky Business?”

Sometimes you just have to say, “What the fuck.”

I put down my plate and got up. And danced. And it worked! “It’s just like walking,” my teacher said. “You’re doing great!”

How funny, I thought, not long ago I needed help walking after a horse stepped on my foot, and my walking partner said, “We’re just dancing, and you get to lead.” “That’s good,” I remember thinking, “I suck at following when I dance.” Now I was dancing, and my partner was telling me it was just like walking, and I was doing great at following. Hmmm.

We danced, and I danced several times throughout the afternoon between conversations and hugs and laughs. Ultimately I ended up in a corner with three other friends (two old, one new), just talking and Being With. It was lovely.

As we were helping our friend load up her car with gifts and leftovers, one of her friends, with whom I had danced, handed me one of the last flower arrangements to be given away and said,

“Here, Wild Thing, you need some flowers.”

Wild Thing? Me?

I laughed, and accepted. The flowers, and the name.

This morning I got up and drank my coffee and caught up on blogs I follow, and I noticed a distinct theme. The first, What We All Need, was about the importance of just being with. The second was about belonging, and how it is a distinctly 21st Century Challenge that requires stepping outside of our comfort zones. The third was about belonging to ourselves, receiving what is here and receiving the sacred. Through just being with it. Hmmm.

Belonging. Comfort Zones. Accepting. Showing Up. The truth is that if I am willing to step out of my comfort zone, I sometimes find greater comfort. I’m glad the voice that says, “I do belong” is louder than the voice that says, “I don’t belong.”

Which voice do you listen to? Which voice do you encourage others to listen to?

Want to Make a Difference?


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In a recent post I told the stories of three friends who have either recently embarked or are getting ready to embark on Great Adventures. I’d like to say more about one of them.

LaVonne Ellis – Complete Flake, Voice Coach, Customer Lover, Writer, Adventurer

I first met LaVonne Ellis soon after I started blogging. I joined a couple of online communities for bloggers and people wanting to promote their businesses ethically and responsibly online, and LaVonne showed up in both of them.

LaVonne didn’t just show up, she welcomed me. And in the faceless, potentially anonymous world of virtual “communities,” that meant a lot. Then she started following me on Twitter. So I started following her blogs and Tweets. (Two years and one week ago today, in fact!)

As it turned out, part of LaVonne’s fascinating story is that she used to work in radio. Which, of course, means she has developed (or was born with) a wonderful Radio Voice. And one of her businesses was providing services as a Voice Coach.

Well at about this time, my frustration with my voice was reaching critical mass. For ten years my speaking voice had been deteriorating, making telephone work, public speaking and online presentations well, difficult. To say the least. And my frustration hit its last nerve when I was interviewing someone over the phone and she said, “I think we have a bad connection, can I call you back?”

Sigh. “No,” I said, “It’s just my goofy voice. It’s not the connection.” *hungheadinshame*

So I reached out to LaVonne, who was offering promotional half-off half-hour voice coaching sessions. I ponied up the money and sent her my pre-session questionnaire with a recording of me interviewing someone. I was so excited to get started!

She turned me down.

LaVonne Lives By Her Ethics

LaVonne read my description of my voice problem, and listened to my recording, and declined to work with me: She said it appeared to be a medical condition which had not been confirmed and could be serious, and said her strategies wouldn’t be effective for me. She encouraged me to see a medical specialist, and she immediately refunded my money.

I was crushed.

I had finally worked up the nerve to do something – again, after being disappointed by multiple doctors who couldn’t solve my issue and brushed me off to others – and she turned me down.

She did The Right Thing.

LaVonne could have taken my money and coached me and then said, “Hmm, too bad, so sad.” But she didn’t.

And it kicked my ass into trying one more time to get my voice diagnosed – this time successfully. Which has led to a two-year process of discovery, which is still going on.

I later reached out to LaVonne to thank her, and she told me how bad she had felt about saying no and disappointing me. But she did it anyway. The right thing.

Tough love.

Customer Love

Not long after that, LaVonne and much of the online world read a post by Naomi Dunford, “Make Them Love You. THEN Ask For Money.” Like many others, LaVonne was inspired. Unlike everyone else, LaVonne decided to do something.

And she invited us to come along.

And the Customer Love Challenge was born.

I won’t go into all the details about the Customer Love Challenge – you can read the backstory here.

What I will tell you is why it matters to me, and why I hope it matters to you.

Why It Matters

The Customer Love Challenge quickly grew into a Phenomenon. A website was born. Tweetchats were held. A community formed. A free ebook was published. 28-day Customer Love Challenges were launched. Formats were experimented with. Budding business people who really didn’t have a clue – or an audience – found support and encouragement.

Nearly all for Free.

For Love.

LaVonne provided a catalyst that helped people (us) focus their (my) attention on their (my) customers rather than exclusively on making money. She helped people (me) put the horse where it belonged, before the cart. Love your customers, she taught, and the rest will follow. And she led by example.

She provided a platform, a forum, for people to connect and support each other in figuring this stuff out. Guest posts were solicited and published. Ideas were incubated and loved into life.

Ironically enough, LaVonne helped me find my voice – as a writer. I wrote four guest posts for Customer Love Challenges in less than a year and a half. I am not alone when I say the opportunity she provided me to develop my thoughts in this area and be exposed to a wider audience meant a LOT to me. And I met a TON of fascinating, inspiring, hilarious, creative, dedicated people, many of whom have become friends and some of whom have become colleagues. Several of my Customer Love confreres, including LaVonne, went on to write Captains Curious guest posts for my blog – what an honor for me! And that is just an example of another of the lovely benefits that grew out of Customer Love – members found people with complementary skills who could help each other out.

In other words, LaVonne helped me see the positive power of the internet for Good.

Evolution

As time went on, LaVonne noticed that many of the Customer Lovers, as we called ourselves, needed technical help with their websites and making all of the bits of online business work. So she branched out, and launched Trust Wanda. Since LaVonne had figured out how to do all this online WordPress, shopping cart, hosting, eeek, stuff for herself, she began offering that as a service. First to Customer Lovers, then to a broader audience.

And something interesting began to happen.

Just as many of the Customer Love peeps grew in confidence and began to stand in our abilities and plant flags on the tops of the mountains of our dreams – or at least make progress up the sides of those mountains – LaVonne grew in confidence too.

First, it became clear that the Complete Flake identity behind which LaVonne had been masquerading was, in fact, obsolete. A Complete Flake she clearly was not. So that website – and alter ego – was retired.

Then, LaVonne launched One Blue Berry and had us all hanging on the edges of our chairs, waiting for the next installments of her Green Card story.

And then, LaVonne knocked us out with her announcement about deciding to pull up stakes and set out on her Road Trip. Charles-Kuralt-style, LaVonne intends to set out and roam the continent (or at least a big chunk of it) and write about her adventures.

I, for one, can’t wait to read about them!

But first, she has to leave. Set out. Make it so.

LaVonne has helped so many of us make our dreams come true and find our voices (literally and figuratively). I want to help her make this dream come true.

How? Well, Moral Support is important and, I’m sure, always welcome. But there are other ways we can help.

  • Although the Customer Love challenges have run their course, you can still have access to three of the Customer Love tools to help you love up your customers and build your business on a firm foundation:
  • Hire Wanda – I mean LaVonne – to build or maintain a WordPress website. She’ll even help you with recording and editing audio files to post on your website. Interviews? Webinars? Piece of cake. With coffee.
  • And, of course, you can Chip In and provide direct financial support to the Road Trip in the amount of your choice.

LaVonne is someone who has made a difference in the lives of many, although she’ll probably blush to read that. Let’s make a difference in her life.

Please join me in supporting LaVonne on her Road Trip! I’m so curious about what adventures she will have, the people she will meet, the tales she will tell, and how she will be changed by it all. Are you curious? Let’s make it happen, and make LaVonne’s voice heard.

(My thanks to Jenny Thomas of DesisisterJen for inspiring this blog post. Thanks Jen!)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sweet Moments


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My aunt was the first to arrive for our combined Mother’s Day/Birthday Party. She began assembling a tray of appetizers, and I leaned over and whispered, “Did you forget to bring Uncle Jim?”

She straightened up and said, “Oh! He’s coming separately in the Austin Healey, so he can take you for a ride.”

Squeal!!!!!

My uncle has loved these feisty little British sports cars for as long as I can remember and, although he’s had one for years, I’ve lived elsewhere since he bought this one and I’ve only ever heard about it and the rallies he and my aunt go to, much less ridden in it. Ooooooh, the excitement!

We had a lovely family dinner – my mom, sister, aunt, uncle, cousins, their spouses and kids. I only get to see them once or twice a year when I come to town, and we just pick up where we left off with stories and catching-up and lots of silliness.

As dinner wound down and we heaved a collective sigh of contentment (except for six-year-old Daniel, who had asked several times to be excused from the table but hadn’t yet been released to his own devices), my uncle and I made eye contact across the table and said, “I’m ready.”

I leapt up and ran upstairs to get my jacket (the fastest I’d moved since hurting my foot three weeks earlier). We went outside into the evening and walked up to the little white roadster at the curb. He unbuttoned the leather cover and opened the door for me, and I lowered myself in and fastened my seat belt. He got in, and pushed the button to start the electric fuel pump and started the car. The engine roared to life, and we drove off into the sunset.

(Seriously, how often do you get to say that?)

He took me on a route I knew well, down a long winding road overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains on the horizon, which were backlit by a deep orange sunset. I knew the route, but it looked different from that little roadster with its tiny windscreen, close to the ground and with nothing between me and the evening sky.

We headed down toward the water, and he told me all about the little white Austin Healey. It was a 1957, the first year they made them with six cylinders instead of four. He told me the history of the Austin Healey in general, what type of fuel he uses, the different things he’s had done to the car, what’s on his wish list for future upgrades.

We drove down to the beach and cruised through the deepening orange-purple evening. I waved a Princess Wave at people in a restaurant facing the water, and they enthusiastically waved back.

I asked him when he knew he first wanted one of these, and he said, “I tell people I was standing at a bus stop when I was in high school and one drove by, and I fell in love.”

This is my uncle, who told me I looked pretty when my mom and my aunt were hemming my first formal gown for a big high school dance and my dad wasn’t around to tell me. My uncle who called to commiserate and make sure I was ok after my first (and, knock-wood, only) accident in the Corvette two years after Bruce died. My uncle who doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s good. He talked all the way around Alki Beach.

So I asked him, “What’s the best thing about driving this car?”

He didn’t answer at once, but different things came to him as we cruised along. Here is (in no particular order) Uncle Jim’s Top 5 List of The Best Things About Driving a 1957 Austin Healey:

  • Just driving it around, and having people look.
  • The stories people tell him: “I used to have one of those,” “My first boyfriend had one of those,” “I’ve always wanted one of those.” Not envy, just sharing stories.
  • Feeling the wind in your hair.
  • Being part of a group that has something in common. (They’re members of an Austin Healey club and go to several events a year.)
  • Driving the stick shift – it’s just fun.

In other words, Joy. Fun. Community. And Making a Dream Come True. And encouraging other people to make their dreams come true.

Pretty cool stuff.

By the time we got back, it was full dark. But I suspect the grin on my face lit up the neighborhood more brightly than the moon.

Thanks, Uncle Jim.

What do you love about your life? Where do you find joy, fun, community? Have you made your dreams come true? If not, what are you waiting for?

Image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Playing Chicken Part 2


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The other day I met a chicken. And wrote about it here.

It still prickles me, though, because of the difference between her people’s assumption that it’s OK (safe) to let her range the entire neighborhood and my assumption that it is not.

Perhaps that is at the heart of cultural conflict. Not only the difference between those assumptions but how we act on and navigate them. Was KF (the chicken) bothering me or impinging on my rights? No. I was just concerned for her, and her family. They were not. OK, she’s not my chicken. When we fail to respect those differences, there is conflict.

If she were in great danger, or causing damage, would I have the right to do more?

What if she were a child?

KF (the chicken) is a living metaphor for the delicate balances we must navigate when we live in community.

This is a different aspect of community than I have thought of before, and rather than identifying the thing that binds a community together – the thing we have in common – it is a thing we have in uncommon. But the respect for that uncommonness is another important ingredient.

It is even another thing we have in common.

Hmmm.

PS – I kind of like the idea that there is a Free Range Chicken in the neighborhood.

Photo Credit: “Australorp Pullet In The Henhouse” by Paul L. Nettles


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Playing Chicken


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Today I was folding laundry, absent-mindedly looking out the window. A movement caught my eye, and I saw…

…a chicken.

I live in a fairly busy residential neighborhood and, even though we’re only two blocks from the county fairgrounds and we are almost out in the country, we are also one block from Main Street and this is a bustling neighborhood. Even so, I’ve seen raccoons, possum and all manner of birds – but no chickens.

Until now.

I shouldn’t be surprised; backyard chicken-keeping is becoming more and more popular. I have even considered it.

What to do?

Hmmm. I had seen the man who lives across the street outside a few minutes before, looking at his house. Maybe he was looking for a lost chicken.

So I went outside and starting talking, clucking and chirping to the chicken, slowly getting closer and herding it away from the street. It – she – spooked a couple of times but not too badly, and after a couple minutes I was able to pick her up, clamping her wings to her sides so she couldn’t start a flap (so to speak).

I took her across the street to the house on the corner. As I got to the gate, a woman and her little girl were walking down the street toward me.

“That’s a chicken!” the little girl said.

“It’s a pretty one, too,” the mother said. (She was, too: A very pretty black chicken with green highlights in the feathers. “Does it live here?”

“I hope so,” I said. “I just found it across the street, and I saw the man who lives here a few minutes ago walking around; maybe he was looking for it.”

“Let me open the gate for you,” the mother said (since my hands were full).

She did, and I went up onto the porch. Dilemma: How to ring the bell? I tried to poke it with one finger, then leaned on it with my elbow. The chicken just clucked.

No response.

Sigh. Now what?

Well, I figured, if it’s their chicken, I should just leave it. If it’s not their chicken, at least it will be safe behind their white picket fence. (Yes, a white picket fence.) So I put her down and said goodbye and let myself out, and went back to my laundry.

I couldn’t just leave it there

It didn’t feel right, though, and I was curious. Was it their chicken? What if it wasn’t?

So I finished folding my laundry, while peeking periodically out the window. She was still in the yard across the street, happily foraging in the lawn, eating seeds and bugs. When I was done, I went back across the street.

This time, without my hands full of chicken, I was able to open the screen door and knock on the door. The Man of the House opened it.

“Hi,” I said, “I live across the street. Do you keep chickens?”

“No,” he said, “but there’s one in my yard.”

“I know, I put it there,” I replied. (He must think I’m nuts, I thought.) “I found it across the street, and I saw you outside looking around a little while ago so I hoped it was yours.”

“No,” he said, “it’s not mine, but I have a dog that would probably like it.”

At this point his wife and little girl came out to see what was happening. “We saw that chicken a few days ago,” they told us. “It was almost dark, and I thought, ‘Is that a chicken?’” the mother said. They went on to tell me they had seen it a few houses up, so I thanked them and turned to retrieve the chicken and leave.

“So, we meet again,” I said to the chicken, and started to herd her toward the fence, clucking and chirping at her. She clucked back. I tried not to think about the family peeking through the curtains, watching me. This time I tucked her under one arm and lifted the latch on the gate, let myself out and pulled the gate closed.

Not so fast…

Well, the hen didn’t like being tucked under my arm, so she started to scratch with her legs and got one wing loose. I dropped her on the parking strip.

She wasn’t a particularly ambitious chicken; happy to be set down, she contentedly started scratching and pecking at the parking strip. I slowly herded her away from the street and toward the fence, and soon picked her back up, wings clamped to her sides, and started walking up the street.

She just clucked.

“I must look pretty funny,” I thought to myself, “walking down the street with a chicken.” Oh well. It certainly wasn’t the first time I had looked silly and certainly wouldn’t be the last.

What if I couldn’t find her home? I wondered. She was a really nice chicken, pretty, well cared for, no bald spots, gentle. Someone must certainly miss her. If all else failed, I decided, I would take her back to my apartment. (Although I didn’t know how I would navigate opening the front door and opening the slider to my patio with both hands full of chicken. And I couldn’t imagine what my cats would think when I set down a bird bigger than either of them to open the door.) Anyway, I figured I could let her roam on my big patio, which is enclosed by a tall privacy fence. (Which hasn’t kept raccoons and possums from visiting and eating the goldfish in my fountain, but at least she’d be safe from dogs and traffic until I could get a coop built.) But I would put up signs before committing to keeping her permanently.

Next stop

I walked down the block past a few houses, bird in hand. At about house three, there was a young man outside putting something in his truck.

“Excuse me,” I called. “Does anyone around here keep chickens?”

“Yeah,” he said. “She lives across the street.” He paused, then added, “She’s free range.”

Apparently, I thought. “Thanks,” I said, and crossed the street (thinking, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” “Because I carried her…”) to a pair of duplexes. As I walked toward the buildings, wondering what to do next, a woman opened her apartment door.

Going home to roost

“Hi,” I said. “Is this your chicken?”

“No,” she replied, “It’s theirs,” and pointed at the other building. I turned around and saw a teenage boy looking at me through the window. Then a woman in her forties opened the door and came out with two young children.

“Hi,” I said. “Is she yours? I found her wandering around.”

“Yes, she belongs to my fourteen year old son,” she said, looking at me like she couldn’t decide whether to be friendly or suspicious. “She has a coop in the back and she just wanders around during the day.”

“OK,” I said, and put her down in the driveway, where she happily started poking around. “She’s a nice chicken, I figured someone would miss her.”

The mom decided on being friendly. “Yes, we’ve had her for about six months. She just started laying eggs. Her name is Kentucky Fried.”

Seriously.

“I’m surprised she let you pick her up,” the mom continued.

“Birds like me,” I said. “I used to keep ducks.” That sounded weird, even to me, but it was relevant – that’s how I knew how to pick her up.

Anyway. I said goodbye and went home to put away the laundry. (After washing my hands.)

The Moral of the Story

The moral of the story is this: I was curious about finding a chicken roaming a street I wouldn’t let my cats out on. And I had to choose between a) the risk of looking silly while attempting to solve the mystery and b) doing nothing. I didn’t want her to get run over, or to have her people miss her, even more than I didn’t want to look silly or (worse) like a busy-body neighbor. Sometimes the fear of looking silly can keep us from being curious and taking risks, but we get to choose whether or not to let it stop us. And it’s usually not as bad as we fear.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. I met a chicken today. And several neighbors. I wonder what my encounter with a chicken portends for 2012?

Maybe I’ll get a chicken…

Photo Credit: “Australorp Pullet In The Henhouse” by Paul L. Nettles


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We’re All in This Together


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A Woman on a Mission

The other day I went to the local hardware store buy a broom.

Specifically, a good old-fashioned corn broom. I’ve been using a blue plastic broom for several years, but over time it has started to disintegrate, and it’s leaving little bits of blue stuff all over. And since I suspect it will never degrade, I decided to go for a “greener” solution.

At the grocery store, that purveyor of all things useful and necessary, I had two choices: Another blue plastic broom for $10.99, or a green plastic broom with a dustpan for $7.97. (I know, that seems backwards. Go figure.)

Sigh. Both were plastic, and I don’t need another dustpan.

So I went to the hardware store.

I Love a Good Hardware Store!

This is a good old-fashioned hardware store, even if it is a franchise. They have a little bit of everything, including nails in a big revolving bin. I love a good hardware store – my late husband used to tease me that this was why he fell in love with me.

And I love this particular hardware store, because the guys who work there are great. Not just helpful, they’re cool.

Story Time

One day, I went in looking for a particular type of light bulb. I stood in front of the rack that went up about eight feet, displaying 3-way bulbs, appliance bulbs, natural light bulbs, fluorescent energy-saver bulbs, night-light bulbs, chandelier bulbs. Where were the ceiling fan bulbs that could be used base-up? Ah, way up there. When I finally saw it, I pointed at it in delight.

“It won’t come to you if you just point at it, you know,” a voice behind me said. I jumped, and turned around to see a short man with white hair behind me. He pointed at the bulb, and said, “Accio, light bulb!”

The old guy at the hardware store reads Harry Potter! I love that!

The light bulb didn’t come to him either, though, so he went to retrieve a footstool and then got it down for me. I have long since used up the light bulbs, but a good story will last forever.

Anyway.

This time I went in search of a broom, and I walked in and paused just long enough to look around and let my eyes adjust. Where would the brooms be? This wasn’t something I had shopped for here before. Before I could take another look around, a man appeared and asked if he could help me.

“I’m looking for a nice old-fashioned corn broom,” I told him. “Right this way,” he replied, and led me to the center aisle.

He took down a broom and, before he handed it to me, looked back at the rack where there was another broom next to the empty slot of the one he had just removed. The two brooms looked the same, but they had slightly different labels.

“I wonder what the difference is between these two,” he thought aloud. Price was one difference; the second broom cost three dollars more. We looked at them side by side.

“That one says it’s a Premium broom,” I said.

“Ah, it has an extra row of string holding it together,” he pointed out.

“And it’s bilingual,” I said, pointing to the English/Spanish label.

“That explains it,” he said.

Then we noticed a third broom on the rack. This one claimed to be a Professional model – it was slightly larger, had yet another row of string binding it together, and it had a soft rubber grip on the handle. We were very impressed. He said it was the Presidential model.

It cost another three dollars more than the Premium broom.

“You know, I really only need the Regular model,” I said, “and the Professional model is definitely not in my budget.”

“Yeah, I understand,” he said. “Even I don’t have a Professional budget.”

So, for $10.99, I got a plain old-fashioned corn broom to sweep my patio. And another story.

The Importance of the Corner Store

Throughout my adult life certain small businesses have endeared themselves to me with their familial feel and personal treatment. There was Sam from Jordan who ran the corner store at 9th and Irving in San Francisco in the early 80’s, Jack and Barbara who ran the kosher deli in Portland, Maine, in the early 90’s, the sushi chef at the sushi bar in the early 00’s. Now some of our local businesses know me by name – and I know them: Dave the dry cleaner, Matt and Jim at the butcher shop (yes, a real butcher!), Steve at the wine store, Kim at the art gallery. Others just recognize my face. At others, like the hardware store, I don’t go often enough for them to know me, but they always treat me like they do.

This aspect of belonging to my local community has long been important to me, but it has become even more important since the economy began to shift three years ago. I am more grateful than ever for local businesses and I go out of my way to give them as much of my business as I can. These small businesses are run by people like me, and they are a vital part of the fabric of my community.

I Wonder…

I wrote on September 11 this year about the importance of community and connectedness and my sense of “We’re All In This Together.” Now I’m curious:

Do you shop locally? How do you support and show your love to the small businesses in your community? Do you have a small business? How do you love your customers?

What about your virtual community? Who are the members of your virtual community that you support through blog comments, retweets, promoting their businesses to others, and purchasing their books, music or webinars?

We’re all in this together. What stories do you have? How do you live it?


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Never Forget – That We Are One


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After a two-night rest at a relatively quiet hotel/casino in Elko, NV, far from the glitz and glamour of Vegas or Reno but still with all the amenities, we were ready to start driving the last leg of our move from Minneapolis to San Francisco.

We had gotten up, had our coffee, and were showering and preparing for the rest of the trip. Bruce was in the bathroom, and I was in the bedroom watching the news and packing.

I must have gasped or said something, because from the bathroom Bruce said, “What?”

“They’re saying a small plane just flew into the World Trade Center,” I told him.

“That’s not possible,” he said. “They don’t allow airplanes in that airspace.”

“Well, somebody hit one of the towers,” I told him.

We spent the next couple of hours watching in horror as the events of the morning unfolded. I will never forget watching Aaron Brown on CNN holding it together as he reported live throughout the morning. I will never forget sitting on the bench at the foot of the bed, glued to the TV, my packing forgotten.

It was horrible enough by itself, but the uncertainty compounded the horror. We had friends in New York, were they ok? What was happening, were the tallest buildings in every major city under attack? I had friends working in the tallest building in Minneapolis, were they targeted? Would they be ok?

Finally we could watch no more, and we had to hit the road. We had to be in San Francisco to start my new job on a certain day, and it didn’t make sense to stay where we were. Our next stop was to be Reno, and then on to San Francisco. I went to the front desk to check out and asked them to help me make a reservation at a sister-hotel in Reno. I couldn’t get a reservation anywhere, though, because all flights out of Reno were grounded. No one was checking out.

We debated, what should we do? Ultimately we decided to take our chances and drive across Nevada to Reno and hope we would be able to get a room when we arrived.

I will never forget the surreal nature of that day, driving across the Nevada desert with my husband and our cat, listening to Peter Jennings on the radio. That was a fitting sign of how the world had turned upside down – Peter Jennings on the radio. We set out not knowing for sure what was happening, and what shape the world would be in when we got to San Francisco. And I remember thinking at that moment that we were probably in one of the safest places on earth, in the middle of the desert. And there was nowhere on earth I would rather be at that moment than in the middle of the Nevada desert with my little family.

We arrived in Reno and had no trouble getting a room. We went out to a sumptuous dinner at one of the casinos, and it seemed anti-climactic: Everything had changed forever, yet nothing looked different.

We drove on the next day, our last day on the road. I took a picture of the row of newspaper stands in front of our hotel, all filled with headlines and pictures of the horror of the day before.

The next weeks were unlike any we had ever spent. I started my new job, and co-workers who were in the military reserves were called in for briefings about their status. For several weeks they were unsure whether they would be called up for active duty, and we made contingency plans. I was used to living in places where we had Disaster Kits for tornadoes and blizzards, but for the first time we worried about the safety of our water supply. Bruce gave me an American flag lapel pin, which I wore to work – and my coworkers were jealous because those pins were in high demand but short supply.

I will never forget driving around our little suburb in the evening, seeing people standing on street corners waving American flags, and drivers honking in support as they went by.

I will also never forget how my multi-cultural office pulled together – coworkers who had come to the U.S. were so supportive of the United States, and they were appalled that someone would attack the U.S. in this way. The rest of us pulled together to support and protect our colleagues from abroad who might suffer angry backlash against “foreigners,” especially Muslims.

Everywhere we went people were kind to each other. People were gentler with each other. People were curious about each other and were willing to learn about and support those where were different – especially since we knew this wasn’t the case everywhere. People were united by their awareness of the fragility of life and how we depend on one another.

Slowly things calmed down, and we found a “new normal,” one that included new building security, new airport security, alerts, and wars on two fronts. It includes colleagues’ children going off to join the military, and new coworkers coming out of the military.

I will never forget the horror of that day. More than anything, though, I will never forget the sense of community and connectedness that blossomed during that time. But in many ways we forgot the heightened sensitivity of those days and how, for a time, we all felt closer. Many of us regained that sense of We’re All In This Together as a result of the economic challenges we are facing, and I am motivated by hope that we can maintain that sense of community without a disaster to drive it.

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