Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stress: You CAN Manage It!

Stressssssssss...that word even sounds stressful, doesn't it? Stress can be positive or negative. In fact, from the moment our big toe hits the cold floor on a chilly morning, our body is experiencing stress because stress is simply change. Hans Selye, a Montreal stress researcher, talked about stress as the body's fight or flight response to a situation. We either stay and deal with the stress or we flee from it, avoiding it. This topic is certainly timely given the stress we often experience at the height of the holiday season.

What is it about stress that has us so stressed out? Our bodies tense up. We may feel nervous and sweaty. We may experience knots in our stomach, chest and at the back of our neck. And we worry, wringing our hands as the stress engulfs us. In effect, it feels like we are losing our stripes!

Certain techniques can help when we are in the throes of a stress reaction. One is to tell yourself "STOP" and then take a deep breath, hold it for 10 seconds, and release it. Do this three times in a row and you will begin to feel the calm settle in your body. This is a great technique to practice right before an exam, or job interview or while driving in heavy traffic. Another effective technique for managing stress is total body relaxation. This involves lying flat, and starting at the top of your body, tense and release each muscle. Doing yoga and meditation also help release stress.

Prevention is key to managing stress rather than letting stress manage you. Here are some of my favorites:
  1. Have a balanced lifestyle
  2. Eat nutritious foods - whole grains, fruits and veggies and drink plenty of water
  3. Exercise daily - take a walk!
  4. Do what you enjoy and learn to enjoy what you do
  5. Engage in meaningful activities and hobbies
  6. Set realistic goals and work to achieve them
  7. Set aside some quiet time daily to reflect and meditate
  8. Learn to say "no" to others when you must and "yes" to yourself more often
  9. Reach out - develop a support network of friends and family and surround yourself with positive people
  10. Play and laugh often - we forget to do this when we are feeling stressed

So when you find yourself stressing out this holiday season, STOP and ask yourself: "Is this really worth losing my stripes?"

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Seeing is Believing

    This is not what you think about seeing something and then believing it. What I am about to tell you is that what you see in your mind's eye and what you believe, actually comes to fruition in your life. Some people call it coincidence, others providence or serepindipity. It's linked to a process involving creative visualization and I believe that it comes from a power greater than ourselves.

    We go over something in our mind, seeing it unfold. Then we find ourselves there, living it, experiencing it! How did we do that? How can we NOT do that? This is the power of life, love and the greater good aligning to help us along our journey. We need only have faith that all is unfolding according to a greater plan and exactly as it should. We don't force it, for that would be unnatural..

    An important part to this seeing is also believing that we are worthy, that we deserve what we see in our mind's eye. When I know inside that I must do a certain something, I simply let myself be led and the rest follows. It's a miraculous process, and the way life falls into place is a miracle. We often hear that Christmas is a time of miracles. I think that maybe, just maybe, we are a little more open to the miracles of life around Christmas time. Are you open and attuned to the miracles in your life?

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Transitioning Through Change

    "Changing to face the strange..." This song aptly describes a process that evokes many feelings in us around life transitions. When we encounter change, we encounter strangeness and face a whole host of emotions. Transition is an amazing journey. It's that point between the familiar and the strange. We're caught in a netherworld, neither here nor there, but somewhere in-between that feels so new and so uncomfortable that it might feel painful. It brings me back to my little child within who faced so much newness once upon a time. She may have had the safety of her mother's skirt to hide behind. Or maybe she was thrust into that change so fast and furiously that the safe haven was whatever space she could create for herself. We learn to adapt in the face of change--such is our resiliency as humans.

    We're constantly transitioning through change, negotiating and navigating that unchartered territory of a life journey. We come out on the other side, wiser and hopefully better as we may realize how that change helped us to grow. I believe that there can be no personal growth without it.

    How do you deal with change? Is it scary? Do you embrace it? Is it dependent upon whether that change is your choice?

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    Coincidence, Happenstance or Maybe the Natural Order of Things

    Have you ever thought about a friend you haven't seen in awhile and then the phone rings and it's her? Or you receive e-mail from someone who crossed your mind. Have you ever been in the process of making a decision and then noticed how all the pieces just fall into place around making that decision?

    I believe there are no accidents in life. Nor do I believe that these events are unrelated and coincidental. I think that something greater is at play in these instances, some guiding force helping us along a chosen path. I simply need to be open to the possibilities and let myself see the signs. When life unfolds according to the natural order of things, it is not me rigging the outcomes. Rather, I am allowing the development of a process that is neither coincidence nor happenstance. And then I notice the synergy. This can ultimately be reassuring as I just let myself go with it and trust that every thing works out for a greater good.

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    Facing Adversity

    Someone told me yesterday what Winston Churchill once said: "When you're going through hell, keep going." How wise! How many of us back down when facing adversity? I know that I would rather crawl under a rock or run and hide in the woods rather than face a difficult situation head on...sometimes. But other times call for us to rise up and walk through the fire. First we put our big toe in and it feels hot so we retract it. But then we dare to step right in because we realize that we cannot go around it, over it or under it; we just have to go through it. It is said that our challenges make us grow stronger. We never really know that until we get to the other side of the problem, do we? It involves so much faith that there's a greater plan. We just need to trust that things will and do work out.

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Assertiveness Skills Part II

    Have you ever noticed the way a young child keeps repeating her request for something? She just keeps asking. I've heard friends say "until they wear you down." Well, that's a rather sophisticated assertiveness technique called The Broken Record. It involves calmly stating your truth over and over to the other person. I remember watching my mother apply this technique in a small dry cleaning/retail outlet when I was a little girl. She wanted to return a pair of pants she'd purchased only the week before. The owner said "No," citing store policy. My mother planted herself at his counter and began her mission: to return the pants and get her money back. Like a mantra, she repeated: "I understand it is your store policy, but I want my money back." My mother had just read the book: When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith, and she immediately put into practice the tenets of assertiveness, including other skills you might also find useful:


    Self-Disclosure - sharing information about yourself, your thoughts and your feelings. 
                      I become upset when when you show up late for our meeting.

    Negative Inquiry - prompting criticism from your speaker in order to use the information in your argument, to build your case.

    Fogging or Negative Assertion - calmly acknowledging to your critic that there may be some truth in what she/he is saying:
                      That may be true...
       I know. I have been late picking you up the last three times...

    Workable Compromise or Win-Win - when you feel that your self-respect is not at stake, you can work to achieve a solution that benefits all parties involved. However, if your self-worth is in question, there can be no compromise.


    It didn't take long for that retailer to refund my mother her money because as she stood there calmly stating her truth, clients came and left. The retailer had a dissatisfied customer on his hands who was driving business away! Yeah, Mom! It was truly inspirational and impressionable to my young mind. Back then I didn't know that one day I'd be teaching assertiveness to classes and in workshops.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Giving Thanks

    Post Canadian Thanksgiving and I am reminded of the beauty around me and in all that I have. I may not have everything I want, but I know that today I have everything I need. As my little family and two friends assembled around our dinner table yesterday evening for an impromptu Thanksgiving meal, we did several activities in celebration of the day. Between the turkey and the dessert, we took turns saying what we are grateful for in our lives. We each expressed gratitude for the people in our lives and the chance to share a delicious meal together. Over warm maple apple crisp and vanilla ice-cream, we did another activity involving drawing around small symbols on the page, and what these mean for the perception of self, love, security and others impacting our existence. It was a wonderful sharing!

    What does Thanksgiving symbolize for you? For what do you give thanks--perhaps not only today but every day?

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Effective Communication for Dealing with Difficult People

    Yesterday I facilitated a workshop on Effective Communication for Dealing with Difficult People. The  group consisted of about 70 administrative support and clerical staff from across a local school board, courageous dedicated front-liners who deal with parents, students, colleagues and all manner of people in general across high school, elementary school and adult education. We talked about triggers and hot buttons and how these get pushed by difficult people.We discussed how dealing with difficult people can be draining. Then we talked about listening and assertiveness as the first line of defense when dealing with someone who is rude, sarcastic or downright hostile.

    Call it bullying. Call it intimidation. Many of us sometimes face someone's aggression toward us. We cannot control the way other people react. They own their feelings--good or bad, which in and of themselves are neither right nor wrong. But, it never gives someone the right to treat us badly and with disrespect.

    When our personal boundaries are crossed, our bodies alert us in terms of the resulting strong feelings we feel. This is when we need to assert ourselves. In fact, it's how we take care of ourselves and maintain our self-respect. Respect of self begets respect from others.

    So here are a few tips distilled from today's session that might help you:

    First, just listen…
    When someone feels strong emotion, they will NOT hear anything you have to say, so start by simply listening (See my previous blog post about Active Listening).

    If the angry person makes you the target of their anger, you don’t have to take it. There are ways to respond professionally.

    Let the person know that you will not help or deal with them so long as they are:
    ·       Shouting at you
    ·       Being rude or sarcastic
    ·       Being abusive, hostile or otherwise difficult

    If they persist in their behaviour:
    ·       Hang up the phone, or put them on hold
    ·       Ask them to call (or come) back
    ·       Tell them you will not help them if they continue to show hostility


    The Non-blaming Four-part Assertion Message or "I-message"

    This is the message you calmly deliver when you feel your rights have been trampled on or when you want to say something positive:
    When this happens ____________________ (state an observable action that has affected you)
                   I feel  ________________________(state how this action makes you feel)
                   Because  _____________________ (state why it makes you feel this way)
                   I need  _______________________ (tell the other person what you need in terms of tangible
                   outcomes)

    * This formula works for the delivery of both positive and constructive feedback.

    Example:
    When you yell at me, I cannot help you because I feel stressed. I need you to calm down so that we can sort out this problem together.

    Human relations requires that we constantly negotiate our boundaries. This can drain our energy and time, especially when we feel hijacked by someone else's anger. By practicing these simple techniques, you'll find yourself refusing to engage with the difficult person. In the process, you'll preserve your self-respect and command the respect you deserve.

    My next blog post will explore other assertiveness skills that complement the non-blaming I-message. Come back and look for it!

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    I think I CAN...I think I CAN....I CAN!

    It was an awesome sight: a young man getting into his van, quickly and agilely...but with no mobility in his two floppy legs! We watched, only aware that we'd been staring after he shut his door and using a hook of sorts, slid close the side door into which he'd just loaded his wheelchair. He did all this maneuvering with only the strength of his arms!

    My son and I just looked at each other, eyes wide and mouths agape. We agreed that here was someone who made a complex task with many steps, look simple to perform despite his handicap. And here we are with full mobility...

    This has me thinking about the ways in which we handicap ourselves with: "I can't do it." How often do we say we can't do something? Courage--the courage to try and the courage to do. First it starts with the courage to admit that yes, something may present difficulty. What a humbling experience to watch someone accomplish their goal while challenged! It might give us pause to think about our own good fortune: "For the grace of God, there goes I..."

    What limits might you impose on yourself based on that negative self-talk or tape playing over and over in your head? Now tell yourself this thought by Henry Ford: "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right."

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    A Hundred Rejections

    A rejection came in my e-mail box this morning just after the other one that arrived last night. Now they just roll off me like water off a duck's back. Rejections that is...Or rather, refusals--someone's decision not to use your idea, your story, hire you, _________ (You fill in the blank). No one likes them. We all get them. And as writers, we actively put ourselves out there to get them!

    Someone in sales once told me: "Look to get 100 no's first." I'm still counting as I've run out of fingers and toes. It's not yet one hundred (Do I really have to wait?), but I must say, these refusals have been sporadically interspersed with "Yes's". So where does that leave me? Where does that leave us as emerging and even accomplished writers looking to put our voice out there?

    It strikes me that while I wait for that "Yes," I should be writing more, not less. I should be working on my next great piece of writing that will get me a yes. For that just might be the creative piece that does it--and if I had sat there wallowing in my self-pity from the no's I'd gotten, then I would never write again. Writing is funny that way. For some reason, the creativity flows, despite the no's.

    How do you handle your no's? Have you reached 100 yet? Does it make the "Yes" sweeter?

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Lists: a Give-Away and Fodder for a Blog Hop!

    Lists: Grocery lists, shopping lists, to do lists, invitee lists, checklists, listing pros and cons...Do you make lists?

    There exists a legion of listy type books out there, devoted to all kinds of lists, what to list, how to make them, what to make of them. I found one I'd purchased at a second-hand bookstore recently, called Lists to Live By: For everything that really matters (The Third Collection) by Alice Gray, Steve Stephens and John Diest (2001). It's a handy little tome that got me thinking about my life as a list or as a series of lists.

    We list things that are important to us. What is important to YOU? Here is a blog challenge. Become a follower here, then send me an e-mail (kelhowarth@yahoo.com) with the link to your blog with your creative list post by October 12, 2010. I'll then create a specific blog post, listing each of your links so people can blog hop to read your lists. Some themes to ponder: Self-Esteem Builders, Time Management, Being a good friend. Get creative! There will be no limit to what people can choose to list.

    Each person who participates will receive via e-mail, my FREE pdf format Just Do IT To Do List, a tool I created to track tasks and projects.

    Happy Listing!

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Waiting to Worry

    A friend sent me a most interesting e-mail...you know, the ones you find in your Inbox with some tidbit of wisdom. This one was different: it was an excerpt from a book called Attitude is Everything by Vicki Hitzges, who talks about the concept of waiting before you start to worry. Isn't that a wonderful idea? You tell yourself that Event A has not yet happened and that you will not worry about it until it does. When it happens, then you can worry! Chances are you'll be too busy handling it to worry about it. Or chances are greater that it will never happen.

    Sounds simple and actually simplistic, doesn't it? Much of our worry happens because of the messages we tell ourselves--you know, that little 'nAgative' tape that plays inside our head. The idea to apply this act of detaching from the outcomes and thus from worry, to our every day lives, makes sense. It helps us conserve valuable life energy for what really matters in the present. So next time you're tempted to worry about something, take a deep breath, count to ten...and then shelve it.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    You listen...but do you REALLY listen?

    Listening is a funny thing. We have two ears and one mouth, yet which do we use the most? Mostly our mouth. I want to speak here about active listening...so listen up!

    What's so active about listening? You may think that all listening entails merely hearing. That's the biological function of our ears. Listening can actually be a very creative and intellectual endeavor. But it's not something to take lightly or for those of us who are not in the mood. Let me explain...

    Active listening  is NOT: interrupting, judging, taking over the conversation, tuning out, giving advice or pretending to listen.

    Active listening is:
    • Acknowledging
    • Paraphrasing
    • Reflecting feelings
    • Empathizing
    • Genuinely showing interest


    We acknowledge our speaker by saying, "Go on," "Uh huh," or "Tell me more...."

    We paraphrase, not parrot, by repeating in our own words, what the speaker has said: "So you're saying that..."

    Reflecting feelings can be applied to both strong positive or negative feelings from our speaker. Example, someone slams the door. What are they saying? Rather than respond by telling them not to slam the door, you can say, "Seems like you're angry..." or simply, "You're feeling angry (frustrated, etc.).

    Empathizing is not showing pity or sympathy, but rather understanding. Instead of saying "I understand," say what it is that you understand: "I understand that you are feeling worried about that..."

    Be mindful that we often tune out when we disagree with what the speaker is saying. It's important to detach if you disagree, not take it personally. Understand that "the opinions expressed here..." --you know the drill! You need to be genuine and genuinely interested. Sometimes it's okay to let someone know you aren't particularly interested in discussing a topic. I do that with my DH when he talks about football because I just don't get it and don't wish to! Otherwise, I feign listening and my eyes glaze over. You know how that happens. We all do that at times.

    Listening begets listening. Sales representatives know this--good ones anyway. When they listen to you, you often listen to them. When you listen to someone, you're giving them a gift. They feel good and cared about. When we actively listen, we relieve ourselves of the burden of solving other people's problems.

    So next time you're tempted to say something, just listen...REALLY listen, with both ears and an open heart and mind.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    To be or NOT to be

    Is your writing bogged down by the verb "to be"? Words like "are," "were," "is," and other derivatives of "to be" don't contribute to moving your story forward. In fact, they slow it down or stop it dead.. The passive voice makes your story weak.

    As writers we often suffer from To be-itis. This is no surprise, and it parallels the same disease that stops us dead in our tracks as we navigate our lives. The wanna-bes, the shoulds and should nots, the if only I could be's...all contribute to our life stuckness as well as the stuckness in our writing.

    Consider this simple example: "They were at the party, dancing." Now, let's rephrase that to: "They danced at the party." Which sentence is more readable? Which one makes you feel like you also attended the party?


    What "to-be's" do you use in your life and in your writing? Look closely and you'll find that the best way to move your story along is to use active verbs, the same action verbs that provide the fodder for a life well-lived.

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    What could you do with just 20 minutes a day?

    Busy. Busyness. Running. Here and there. No time. Let's suppose you could carve just 20 minutes out of your day to do something you're passionate about. Let's suppose that passion is writing. Molly Peacock, poet and creative nonfiction writer (CBC.ca) talks about finding 20 minutes in your day to write. In fact, she assigns her students the task of writing just 14 lines of poetry in that 20 minutes using a timer. I love this idea! Just 20 minutes of your day...every day: part of a lunch hour, a fragment of a commute, a period of time spent waiting in the myriad of lines and offices (See my very first post called Wait Mode). Peacock even suggests that you can produce the material for a book with a year of 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week and 14 lines at a time! What a concept! What can YOU do with 20 minutes a day? Now go set your timer and get busy doing what you love for 20 minutes!

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    At Home Learning

    Eighteen years ago we embarked on a special family journey and this past weekend I read about it in The Globe and Mail. It was the decision not just to keep our son out of school, but to actually unschool him--let him take the lead in his own learning using life as curriculum. We did this for his entire elementary and high school years.

    At the time, I felt like a pioneer of sorts. Today this practice of unschooling or deschooling is becoming more mainstream, and according to this Globe and Mail article, schools are taking notice and learning from it.

    It is said that you never regret the things you do, but rather the things you don't do. I have only one regret around unschooling: having second-guessed myself the whole time!

    To learn more about our unschooling journey as it unfolded, visit At Home Learning, my web page dedicated to unschooling. If you're unschooled or unschooling, I'd love to hear from you! Tell me about YOUR journey.

    Read The Globe and Mail article "More families are deciding that school's out--forever" to learn more.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    The Color Purple

    Purple is the color of passion. Purple can also describe the passion we apply to writing. Flowery descriptions can overshadow the message we're trying to convey. It's called purple prose.And it weighs down our writing. Next time you write a piece ask yourself if you can say it with less adjectives and adverbs. My writing colleague who graciously edits my work says, "Show, don't tell." Sometimes it's a matter of a well-placed metaphor rather than a long flowery description. Aim for economy of words to create a vivid picture for your reader--one of many colors, not just purple.

    Saturday, September 4, 2010

    Baring it All

    Today I'm wearing pink underwear with green polka dots. Can you see them? NOT! But if I tell you where I live, I may as well be showing off my underwear. We seem to have become a transparent society through the Internet. People show and tell all via various social networking sites: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. I recently read someone's Facebook page, filled with their summer travels, followed by a post with an open invitation to a summer party, along with their street address. As much as I'd like to believe that people are inherently good, I draw the line at openly sharing personal coordinates on a forum where we just don't know who may be viewing them and for what purpose. I also notice the way proud parents list the names and ages of their minor children, complete with updated photos. It makes me wonder if this is prudent parenting, especially given what we know about predators trolling the Internet for vulnerable children.

    While the Internet provides a fabulous tool for promotion and self-promotion, we need to guard our core privacy. That includes the privacy of our littlest ones who cannot speak for themselves. We live in an era where the media glamorizes and popularizes baring it all by the likes of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and countless other celebrities. Some of us may fall prey to utilizing the Internet to carve fame of our own. Let's be real here--how much do we respect these people who display for the world to see, the not-so-flattering aspects of their lives? Learning that Paris has been caught with cocaine is no different to me than reading someone's Facebook entry about going on a drinking binge last night and feeling hungover today. It's just not enlightening.

    What are you telling the world about yourself? Is it really what you want people to know? Are you inadvertently showing YOUR underwear?

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Returning to School? Learn to Study Smarter, Not Harder

    As the lazy days of summer reluctantly give way to the chill in the autumn air, new fall routines begin once again and these may include studying and school. If you're a returning student, you may quickly rebound, but if you're new to school and studying, perhaps returning after many years away, then read on. This article explores how to make your journey easier.

    First of all, know that most adults return to studies because of some life transition. It is this life transition that can rear its head time and again throughout your studies, to challenge you so that you may lose sight of why you embarked on this in the first place. Be gentle with yourself.

    You may find yourself walking into your new program of study asking yourself if you really belong there, questioning yourself and wondering if you can do it. YES, you can! And you will. Before you know it, you will adapt as it begins to feel like you've always been there. Again, be gentle with yourself.

    I'm not here to tell you the obvious: be organized, set goals, manage your time, etc. You know all that and more! You've likely been running your life and household for years, so you know what you need to do. However, successful studying is not about quantity or studying harder. Rather, it's about studying smart. Some people believe you need to study a lot or often. Actually, it's about studying efficiently. Did you know that we spend six years of our lives waiting in line, waiting in general and watching television? Think of what you can now do with all that time in the face of your studies. Get into the habit of toting with you, your materials, books, notes...and use these times to read and reread. You'll be well prepared for exams because you won't be cramming (A little note here for writers who feel they just can't find the time to write: you, too, can use wait times to write!).

    Know thyself! How do you learn best? Are you auditory and learn best by listening? Are you visual and learn best by observing or reading? Are you tactile or kinesthetic and learn best by touching or doing? Good teaching involves all three types of delivery of the learning. As learners, however, it is important to know how you learn and then use this knowledge to become a better learner. To understand your learning style, type into GOOGLE, the keywords "Learning Styles" and do one of the quizzes online. Also see my page above titled Multiple Intelligences to learn more about your natural gifts as a learner. When we know ourselves, we can get what we need. This takes the guesswork out of our learning.

    You never stop learning; it's an endeavor you do from cradle to grave, both formally and informally. Whether you're taking a course for fun or for professional reasons, you are responsible for your success. Have a wonderful start to your new beginnings as a learner!

    Have you had to go back to school and retrain as an adult? What tip or advice can you offer? What worked for you?

    Saturday, August 28, 2010

    And the winner is...


    Thank you to all who participated in my Summer Reading Give-Away! The prize of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestseller Eat, Pray, Love goes to...Hen Jen! Please contact me, Hen Jen, so I can mail this read off to you. Congratulations!

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    Writing as a Fingerprint

    As no two people's fingerprints are alike, so their writing style is unique as well. It amazes me how 3 people will produce a different piece of writing using the same prompt. We each have our particular writing style and voice that is our fingerprint.

    When our writer's group meets for a writing day we bring prompts. Each person's style shines through their writing and the ensuing sharing is truly enlightening. We get to hear the different perspectives. And we come to realize that no matter if a story has been told before, it always differs in the retelling by someone else. If you want to see this in action, visit Sunday Scribblings. This blog posts weekly prompts, inviting readers and writers to share their stories and link back to their own blogs. You'll be amazed at the many unique perspectives on one topic!

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Customer Service Personified

    Have you ever simply wanted to get some good in-person customer service when making a product decision? Yesterday my son and I were in search of just that at our cellphone provider. Our contracts were up for renewal and with Fall routines beginning in mere days, we decided to go update our plans. Nobody wanted to deal with us in person as we were told to call for the promotions. Both of our phones were broken and we wanted to transfer my son's plan over to his name. We urgently needed to replace his phone. "You have to do it by telephone," came the refrain from two separate service outlets of this well-known provider. We had two frustrating visits to downtown outlets. At the main Montreal service outlet, after taking a number and waiting for an hour, the female sales rep told me that all the phones were the same, to just choose one as she waved her hand magically over the display of shiny rectangles. She was looking ahead to the next customer in a long line. But I wanted to be sold a phone! If I could just choose one, I would be online and doing the transaction over the telephone. Sometimes we need the tactile experience of the product before buying it, and the in-person sale is the chance to educate the customer.

    So we decided to stop by another service outlet where we'd experienced good old-fashioned customer service in the past. What others had all lacked in creativity, we made up for in our own quick thinking with the Sales Representative, Mathieu: call the provider while standing at the phone distribution kiosk. All it took was the cliche of thinking outside the box. While my son sorted out his plan over the phone, our wonderful sales rep showed me his own cellphone, one of the shiny rectangles on display that I hadn't considered. I was sold. He also found one for my son. And he even stayed 10 minutes late to finish up the sale. Using my accumulated plan dollars, we walked away satisfied and with new cell phones.

    Now, why I am complaining? I facilitate a college course called The Customer Approach, that's why! And these people need to learn how to help customers! Why can we not get personalized and enthusiastic service any more? Why is it that I have to club the sales rep into awareness? Why did I have to work so hard as a client to get my needs heard and met? And that is what burned me yesterday. Here were two loyal customers, in need of phones and willing to sign 2-year agreements, and the best these first sales reps could do was tell us to call, that they did not want or have the creativity to deal with us in person.

    Today as we have our plans and phones in place, Mathieu is our hero. And his boss who was standing right there knows it! Thank you, Mathieu at Fido in Ville LaSalle!

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    Summer Reading Give-Away Extended!

    For your chance to win bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love, tell us here what corner of the world you'd go to eat, pray and love. Become a follower of the One Word Pundit and your name goes into the drawing, which will take place on Friday, August 27, 2010.

    Good Luck!

    * Open to Canadian and U.S. residents only.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Finding Truth in Fiction

    The truth can be stranger than fiction. Consider this cliche phrase for a moment. We read and write fiction based on the various truths of our lives or the lives of others. Fiction, that delivered through all manner of storytelling genres--film, writing, plays--offers us a peek through someone else's window, into another realm of possibility.

    A writing colleague of mine recently attended a workshop that explored how fiction teaches us about important social cues. There is shared experience in narrative. It was said that children perform better at social tasks when they read fiction. If we think about the early reading we did on the knees of our parents, this makes sense because we've been exposed to all kinds of moral lessons and values through the fiction in children's picture books.

    I've been told by people who only read non-fiction, that fiction is escapist entertainment. I beg to differ as many important life lessons can be potentially transmitted through various forms of storytelling. It's about the message, not the medium. There is truth in fiction, even strange fiction. It may not be our truth, but we can and and do learn from it.

    What important life lessons or truths have you learned through fiction, as either a viewer, reader or writer?

    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    Summer Reading Give-Away!

    Summer's in full swing, you've got your beach chair out, and you reach for a book from that pile you've been meaning to delve into all year. After trying to talk yourself out of it, you tell yourself, it's summer so you can just kick back with a wonderful book and chill. Ah, the feeling of cracking that book open and settling into a great summer read...What makes a good summer read? Is it something that pulls you into the story so you forget the hotness of the sun on your skin? Or is it a book about something you've always wanted to learn?

    It's not too late! If you haven't yet treated yourself to a good book this summer, take the plunge! What are YOU reading this summer? Tell us here for a chance to win Elizabeth Gilbert's New York Times Bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. All you have to do is become a follower of my blog and post a comment about your summer reading (who, what, when and where?). I love browsing other people's book shelves for reads I might not normally consider. A good book is too good not to share.

    You might be telling yourself that summer reading is way too decadent an activity. Imagine lounging about reading! I couldn't even imagine not doing so! You see, there's something soul-cleansing and healing about allowing yourself the space to read for a period of time. Whether you read while away on vacation or take a vacation while reading, that briefest of respites allows you to come back to your other tasks refreshed and possibly with a new perspective.

    I will draw one name on August 21st. You'll still have time to receive this inspiring book AND read it by summer's end.

    P.S. Open to US and Canadian residents only.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Wanting More for the Other

    Have you ever wanted more for someone than they want for themselves? As parents, teachers, writers and even friends we might find ourselves in this trap. We see someone struggling and we rush to their aid, hoping to have some influence over how they decide or take their next step.

    Often, we think we know what's best for someone and we spend our energy trying to get them to follow our advice. Sometimes less is more and we just need to take a step back, trusting that the other person knows what to do and can (and will!) do it for themselves. I take this approach with my adult learners. I try to take it with my family and friends. It doesn't mean that I don't care, just that I care enough to let them figure our their lives. It's called loving detachment and I need to remind myself daily to practice this attitude. In doing so, I put the focus where it squarely belongs: on my own life!

    What (or who) do you need to step back from today?

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    The Name Game

    I love naming things--pets, children, characters, you name it (grin)! It was a common complaint by my brother that as children, I was the one to name all the family pets. My son has noticed my hankering over the years for doing the same with our pets. Have you ever given thought to what's in a name? I am often amazed and intrigued by the way some people's names just fit either their profession or expertise or something about them. It took four days to name our son. We gave him a name that has a spiritual sound to it and quite interestingly, he has interesting spiritual views which I think belie his name. Consider what your name says about you.

    When writing, what names do you give your characters or your stories? Do they just seem to fit? When I write, sometimes a character's name eludes me. Then all of a sudden, it comes of its own accord with no forcing. Even titling my writing, at times daunting, eventually just comes.

    Here's a little game: become aware of names. Next time you're reading something written by an expert, pay attention to their name. Consider the not so coincidental coincidence of the conservation officer named James Phish, for example. Did his parents think he would end up patrolling lakes and hanging around fishing outposts to ensure legal fishing practices?

    We like to name things and need to reassure ourselves that everything has a name and meaning. It helps us feel secure in our world. Do you like your own given name? What might your family name say about you?

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    How do you learn?

    Education is the process in which we discover that learning adds quality to our lives. Learning must be experienced.-William Glasser

    You bring your new DVD player home. What is the first thing you do? Do you open it and then read the manual carefully? Do you set it up and just press buttons to see what it does and how it works? Or do you ask someone in the know to show you how to use it? These are learning styles and we all have one or many. If you are a visual learner, you learn by observing. If you are an auditory learner, you learn by listening. And if you are a hands-on learner, you learn by doing. We often have a bit of all three styles, although one is more predominant. I ask my better half to explain to me how to work the DVD player because he likes to read the manual. There is no one right way to learn. Learning is never linear...we wend and weave as we learn something new, drawing upon a host of styles, skills, experience and past learning to make the vital connections.

    There's an exercise I do with my adult learners. It's called '50 Things I know how to do that I can teach others.' We make a list. Often it's difficult to think of 5 things for their list. Maybe it's the fact that the spotlight is shining on them. Perhaps it's because they take for granted, like we all do, what they, in fact, know. I suggest they start by listing simple things like tying their shoes, fixing something, making a dish, dancing a dance, or singing a song. Then we find a partner and teach each other one thing from that list. This is a great ice-breaker, warm-up activity, or party game.

    According to Glasser,

    “We Learn . . .
    10% of what we read
    20% of what we hear
    30% of what we see
    50% of what we see and hear
    70% of what we discuss
    80% of what we experience
    95% of what we teach others.”



    What new thing have you learned today that's worth remembering and how did you learn it? What have you taught someone else today?

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Life is a Bowl of Cherries

    Life is a bowl of cherries and I am merely a pit. A few weeks ago we awoke to an abundance of red globular cherries dripping off the branches of the cherry tree in our backyard. What bounty! We talked about the symbolism of this tree of plenty, bleeding red like life itself. Birds perched in the top branches feasting while we coped with the yield of cherries on the lower branches. There was more than enough to share! We nestled a ladder against the sturdy trunk so we could go higher to pick this luscious fruit. We gave some to good neighbors and froze what we couldn't eat. It struck me that despite its small size, the cherry is so much bigger than I am, that here I am at its center, its lush red meat the great community and world around me. It made me consider the abundance in my life.

    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    Today I am grateful for...


    Have you made your gratitude list yet today? It takes just a moment, somewhere between the family stuff and the household tasks. Go ahead, take out a fresh white piece of paper and write down everything for which you are grateful today. And a quick tip: rather than say "For my this or my that..." write about what you have given yourself. Perhaps you had the courage to stand up for yourself today. That is worthy of gratitude! Rejoice in the little things for these are what count the most.

    Today I am grateful for...
    1. A wonderful visit with my family, brought together from different parts of the area and from across Canada, for brunch.
    2. My creativity--I wrote over 2000 words today!
    3. The quiet time in sitting with my mother-in-law who has Alzheimer's and reading her my poetry. She's a delightful audience!
    4. Current life challenges that are making me stronger.
    5. Another sunny warm day spilling vitamin D onto my skin

    When we take the time to appreciate what we have, we get more of it. Such is the law of the universe. What are you grateful for today?

    Monday, June 28, 2010

    The High School Reunion


    Why do we do it to ourselves? We get that e-mail or facebook message announcing our 30-year high school reunion and we type, “Yes, I''ll attend.” Have we not learned anything? We are willing to go back to where we once hailed from a place of not fitting in socially and where no one paid any attention to us. So why would they notice us now? Do we go back to see who’s fatter, balder, happier, most popular, or most likely to have succeeded?
    The same people who didn’t talk to us back then, won’t be making their way over to say “Hello” now. If it’s anything like my 10th the same cliques will prevail. So why would I go back? Is it to say: “Look at me now!” or “Look at her/him now!” ? I’ve grown so much (and not just poundage-wise!) since those years of uncertainty and come into my own. There’s no nostalgia for me in going back to a place I couldn’t wait to leave. Do we go back perhaps to change other people’s perceptions of us? I think we go back because we wish we were back.
    Okay, so the countdown is on—2 months to go—to the gym, shed 10 or 20 pounds, get a life, in case I decide to attend my 30th high school reunion. Who knows…maybe I’ll meet that cute guy I once had a horrible crush on and see that he’s balding, sporting a paunch and living in a cardboard box under a train bridge!

    Sunday, June 27, 2010

    Learning as a Conversation

    When someone shares their life experience, their opinions, their ideas, what can we learn from this telling? It occurs to me from all my years of formal education and informal learning that learning is no more than a conversation between its participants. The teacher relating a situation, the student sharing a personal experience, the  professor hosting an open discussion, two neighbors talking, the stranger at the bus stop striking up a conversation, the child telling of her day--all are sharing lived and meaningful experience, giving and taking in an exchange that is ultimately one of learning.

    The idea of learning as a conversation interests me because how else do we learn except through the passing on of information that is read, heard or lived? We take this information, assimilating it to mean what we need and want it to mean. We mold it into our personal rhetoric, deriving its usefulness for our own lives. Interesting how we never know what we are thinking until we say it. This becomes our learning. I heard a guest lecturer at McGill University once say that this is what makes our learning because our thoughts are on the tips of our tongues and we just need the opportunity to express them.

    As facilitators of adult learning, we experience this conversational learning regularly. Yet what can we do to keep the discussion flowing in our classes? How do we include everyone in the discourse? Just like in conversation, an open discussion requires, above all, an animator--one who knows the value of silence. Here are some elements to implement in our learning conversations to stimulate the discussion and keep it going so that each person is engaged, interested and benefits from the collective sharing:

    1. Make good use of wait times. One the question or issue is out there, as educator, don't be too quick to jump in when no one responds immediately. Let the silence prod someone else into speaking.
    2. Ask open-ended questions using the 5 W's and a H (who, what, when ...) to elicit critical thinking and discussion from your learners.
    3. Use your active listening skills to validate your learners. This is so much better than the pat response: "That's a good answer Julie!" Instead, try: "If I understand what you are saying, Julie, is that...(then pause) Does anyone else have a different opinion?"
    4. Refer back to what was said earlier in the discussion, making use of the learner's name: "Sam said x or y about the issue earlier and now I am hearing Julie say..."
    5. Include all learners in the conversation by making eye contact with and smiling at even the silent ones.
    6. Look for body language clues that someone wants to talk. If they keep getting cut off by a more vocal learner, interject with: "Maureen would like to add something to the discussion."
    7. Let the learners speak to each other as opposed to going through you just because you are the teacher at the front of the class. Better yet, if you have the desks in a circle, this sharing happens more easily. As facilitator, you should always sit in the circle.
    8. Because it is so difficult to tear ourselves away from a good conversation, summarize the main points of what was said before moving on. Then say something like: "This gives us lots to think about." Similar to the end of a good counseling session when you still have more to say, your learners will take this information away for thought and look forward to the next discussion.

    I always tell my groups that each class participant is a teacher and I am fortunate to be among them, to the point that when someone asks a question, I say: "Let's see what our panel of experts think..." So, next time you are in the throes of an exciting class discussion, use it as a golden learning opportunity for your learners and yourself. Your learners will want to keep coming back!

    * Article first printed in QAAL's Linking for Learning newsletter, Vol. 17, No. 1, Fall 1999.

    Friday, June 25, 2010

    Birth and Rebirth

    I love birth. And I love rebirth. Birth is our first chance and rebirth is our second chance. I was born once. And every day I wake up to my rebirth. It’s that simple. And what a lovely thought really, because you can’t take it back—birth, I mean. You can’t just throw down your shovel in the sand and say: “That’s it! I’m not playing anymore. I’m going home!” and then just leave. For where would you go? Oh sure, you can die, and go wherever you go after the maggots taste you, but where would you go really? I’d rather not think about it! No, I’m here, birthed because my mother loved me enough to go through the pain of childbirth and then because I loved me enough to go through the pain of each new day. Not that it’s all pain. Each day is a rebirth, a chance to do it over again differently. It’s a chance to be grateful for all that I have, to dream about all that I can have and generally bask in the idea that each day is a celebration of my own birth.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010

    Cat Mewsings Part II

    When a 6th cat showed up at our door back in November 2009, he came to steal the salmon we were curing on the back deck, readying it for smoking. We kept chasing him away as two of our own cats sat idly watching him with only mild curiosity in the midst of his crime. We’d open the door and stamped our feet, effectively chasing the smokey grey kitten away. Thus began our relationship with cat number 6! We’d open the door and he would run, each time, returning with a new and bolder resolve. By day’s end, the feline was sitting comfortably inside our home like he had always been there. Of course, we could not turn away a hungry seemingly homeless 4-month old kitten! So the cat went from stealing the salmon, to stealing our hearts!

    “They put this bell on a collar around my neck. No wonder I chase my tail!”

    “I hate it that they insist on holding me down to cut my nails,” said one of our cats to his confreres. “Well,” we told him as we tell all of them: “Bi-monthly pedicures are a condition of living in our home.”

    During a conference at which he was a speaker, a colleague of mine commented that getting people to go back to their seats is much like herding cats…I use canned tuna to herd my 6 cats! I’ll bet a five-course sit-down dinner will do the same for humans at a conference.

    I browsed Pamela Wallin’s book about cats at Chapters Bookstore, and one of her reflections really struck me: How can you feel stressed when you're petting a purring cat?

    Isn't it interesting how you might have mice in your home and the cats only notice when you've caught them in a mouse trap.

    We live in a society where people move and leave their cats behind, where people love cute cuddly kittens…until they grow up, where people get cats and but don’t get them neutered. Responsible cat ownership means taking responsibility for their reproduction. Not neutering your cat begets more cats!

    * Image: Ginger Bear and Boo staring each other down over the prey in the bathroom cabinet drawer.

    Sunday, June 20, 2010

    Would you Rather Die than Public Speak?

    At the Book Summit in Toronto last week, I was intrigued by the notion that writers do not necessarily make good presenters and readers. I take for granted that I am a writer who has been teaching for over 15 years and how this helps me in my writing.

    My first college presentation of a psychology research project involving learning and touch was a nightmare! I conducted a study with kindergarten students. The not so easy part was reporting my findings in a 15-minute presentation. I was having an out of body experience, looking down on the blabbering idiot--me--standing before my peers!. I was hot, cold, sweaty, nervous and otherwise a wreck. What a relief it was to be sent back to my seat by a sympathetic professor!

    If someone had told me back then that I would be standing before groups of students and then professionals of 50 or more today, I'd have told them they were delusional! Public speaking still ranks up there with the fear of death. And sometimes we'd rather just die than speak in public.

    Before teaching, I found myself at Toastmasters, giving prepared speeches. I wasn't yet a teacher, but I had long known the value of being able to speak in public. Toastmasters was a wonderful way to get comfortable with public speaking. Then I took an acting course. This helped immensely with voice projection and body control.

    My own classes and professional development training sessions are completely interactive. My students come in quaking with the fear of presenting, but by the end of the course, they don't want to stop talking in front of their peers. I believe this is the single most important activity we can do and practice to become confident in all areas of our lives.


    It is important to understand the value of honing public speaking skills as writers. As a writer, you will have many opportunities to promote your work. These may include book launches and public readings. How will you survive these? It's one thing sitting in your comfort writing zone, but quite another facing your fans and public.

    Think about your reading voice. Is it monotone? Do you make eye contact with your audience? If you are giving a talk, are you talking or reading? Do you engage with your audience? Anything you put between your audience and yourself will only distance you. Power point presentations are great, but avoid using them as crutches. Use slides to simply illustrate. They should not replace you. A stage with a podium and microphone are wonderful tools, but use your floorspace rather than hiding behind a podium. Get close to your audience by coming to the edge of the stage or by even sitting on it.

    Always remember that people attend your event, presentation, reading or launch to see and hear YOU! Now, go practice by standing in front of your bathroom mirror and reading an excerpt from your latest book.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    World Elder Abuse Day

    Seniors are a vulnerable group. And this fact could not be more true today as we raise awareness about the issue of the mistreatment of seniors in recognition of World Elder Abuse Day. This means being aware of the ways in which seniors, especially those who cannot advocate for themselves, are abused: emotionally, financially and physically.

    According to the CSSS Cavendish (Montreal), an estimated 4-10% of seniors are victims of elder abuse. Elder abuse can take the form of physical and sexual mistreatment and violence, verbal abuse, financial exploitation, denial of basic human rights and neglect.

    This issue is delicate because while a senior might be dependent upon someone for their care, if that same someone is abusing them, there might be a reticence to report it. Like any abuse, the abused may feel powerless to identify it, let alone take steps to deal with it for fear of reprisal and retribution from the person they depend upon. That is why elder abuse is called a hidden problem. According to the CSSS Cavendish (Montreal), this makes it harder for the professional to deal with because the abused may be protecting their abuser out of fear of: abandonment, placement, imprisonment of a relative, vengeance or reprisals and loss of services.




    This is why seniors need to be able to reach out for help. There are help lines available for people who feel they may be victims of elder abuse, as well as victim assistance programs, which include:
    In Quebec - Elder Abuse Information/Help Line (Listening, support and resource line): 1-888-489-2287 and CAVAC
    In Ontario, available to the rest of Canada: Toll free helpline 1-800-387-5559
    State Elder Abuse Hotlines in the US

    And your local police and 9-1-1.

    As we care-give and advocate for our seniors today, let's be mindful that their vulnerability might one day be our own. We need to protect seniors and their interests as we do ours and as we would like done for us.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    How do I blog?

    How do I blog? Let me count the ways...


    In my pajamas
    At 2 in the morning
    Never the same
    Never boring
    Always with pictures and paragraphs
    Sometimes try to make people laugh
    With insight and inspiration
    And even frustration
    About incidents
    And accidents
    Coincidence
    And happenstance
    I love to blog
    Many ways

    How do you blog (or write)?