Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Story snippet: If only...

First, a quick plug: 

This coming Sunday (October 4th) from 1 – 3 pm, Andrea Lovett, Michael Anderson, and I will be telling stories at Shelburn Farm

Already a fan of storytelling?  Then come on down!

Not really sure what storytelling means?  Then come on down!

Rain or shine, we will tell.  The performance is free and will be family friendly. 

Three Apples MassMouth!

Shelburne Farm 

Then, a quick aside:

One thing that listeners sometimes forget is that a story captured in a book is like a photograph.  As lovely as a snapshot of something you cherish may be, it’s not quite the same as the thing itself.  

The nice thing about a story is that it gets stored in a teller’s pocket like a little acorn.  When that story is pulled out, how it stretches up toward the sky depends entirely on the conditions surrounding it.  How does the storyteller feel?  How is the audience responding?  What is happening in the environment?

Now, onto the story:

The kernel of the story, which is what I’m sharing, kind of reminds me of a story Jay O’ Callahan tells about his path to becoming a storyteller.  If you’ve heard Jay’s story, let me know if you see the same connection.

Coming to this country is often an act of desperation and bravery --this was certainly the case for Seth.  However, he had always been a hardworking man and was certain he could find work in the New World.  Where he came from, he worked as the caretaker for the grounds of his place of worship.  It was a respectable job and one for which he was well qualified. 

Unfortunately, landing a job was much more difficult than he had anticipated.  Initially impressed by his experience and honesty, each potential employer immediately dismissed the possibility of hiring him when they learned that he was illiterate.  It soon became clear that Seth had no chance to resume the same livelihood that had supported him in the past.

Unsure of what else to do, Seth gathered the few remaining coins in his pocket, bought a few spindles of thread with them, and then set up a makeshift “shop” at a busy corner.  Once the spindles were sold, he used the money earned to buy some additional spindles and proceeded to sell them as well.  Eventually, he was able to make enough of a profit that he could buy needles, and then cloth, and then sewing machines…

After years of hard work, Seth owned a large, profitable chain of sewing supplies stores.

One day, Seth met with a bank manager to discuss a potential deal.  Eager to move forward, the bank manager handed Seth some paperwork to review which Seth admitted he could not read.  The bank manager, aware of the Seth’s success, was floored.  “I don’t mean to be rude, sir… but do you ever wonder what you could have made of yourself had you been able to read and write?”

I don’t need to wonder,”  Seth smiled, clearly not offended, and pointed to a building visible through a window behind the banker.  “If I had been able to read and write,  I would be the caretaker of that building over there.


Now, on to October!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There's a buyer for everything

broach At a friend's wedding reception years ago, I met a lovely, elderly woman who made her living as an artist.  At some point during our conversation, she pointed out the self-made broach on her lapel.  Before I had a chance to respond, she smiled in a way that let me know it was okay if I didn't like it.  Which was a good thing, because I really didn't like it.

Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she let me in on a secret.

"Honey, there's a buyer for everything."

In her experience, even pieces she wasn't nuts about found their way into the hands of people who were.  Knowing this helped her relax about the whole process.  Instead of worrying about "will anybody like this", she  focused on the act of creating and trusted that somewhere, someone would.


For four weeks, I have been writing posting  every day.   I cannot count the number of little mantras of self doubt triggered by my cursor hovering over the “Publish” button. 

Little thoughts like “Well, that wasn’t very interesting” or “That might not be so bad, after another 50 years of editing” seem determined to pull my pointer over to Solitaire.

But instead of turning to computer games for solace, I remember that conversation from years ago -- there’s a buyer for everything.  Every day this month has been an exercise in letting go of wanting everyone to like everything I do and trusting that somewhere, someone will at least like this.

Thank you for reading.   

Monday, September 28, 2009

Weighing the cost

scale In today’s consumption-focused society, we are conditioned to look for bargains.  Before jumping headlong into a “great deal”, you must first understand the full implication of saving in one way when there is a chance you may be making up for it in another.

There are at least two major types of cost swapping that you should consider to avoid paying more than what you bargained for.

One for the other 

There are many different types of costs.  To name a few, there are costs to your wallet, costs to the environment, costs to your  quality of life, costs to your reputation, and costs to your time.  Often, the lowering of one cost will be accompanied by the increase of at least one other cost.  For example, DIY furniture impacts your wallet less, but can be a drain on your time.

When making a purchase, preparing to sign a contract, or selecting a particular path to take in a project, make sure to consider all the costs that are important to you.  Also, recognize that a cost you may not care about could ultimately impact one that you do.  (e.g.  Perhaps costs to the environment don’t bother you so much, but the impact this fact could have on your reputation does.) 

Now versus later

How many advertisements hype how little you have to pay up front?  Zero downNo initiation fee!  Gack.  The housing bubble, in part at least, is indicative of how bad things can get when folks cannot see tomorrow’s cost over today’s.

No matter how good today’s cost looks, take the time to consider all the associated future costs and incorporate that information into your overall decision.  Here is an example of future costs associated with a car purchase:

  • Maintenance costs
    • How regularly does this type of car tend to break down? 
    • How costly are the replacement parts? 
    • Does the local mechanic know how to service this type of car?  (Will I have to take time off of work in order to get my car repaired?)
  • Fuel costs
    • What type of fuel does the car use and how expensive is it? 
    • How efficient is the car?  (How much will it cost to keep the car full of gas?)
  • Insurance costs
    • How much more does my insurance provider charge to insure this type of vehicle?

With practice, asking these types of questions will come more naturally.  Start today for less costly tomorrow.


Good luck!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sharing: Productivity, organization, and backups

I made quite a bit of computer-oriented, organization-related progress this week.  As a result, productivity, organization, and backups are fresh on my mind.postit_2 

  • Productivity
    Christian shot this link my way with an impish smile.  “You should try this, it will help you be more productive.”   

    Straight forward and to the point, The Ultimate Productivity Blog offers some sage advice.  

  • Organization
    I have tons of notes from storytelling sessions, conferences, projects, you name it.  Ever Note allows you to capture, organize, and then easily find this sort of stuff.  I’m currently using their free service and am enjoying it so far.  Depending on how much use I get out of it, I will likely consider upgrading to their premium version available for $5/month.
  • Back ups
    I had experienced two separate, catastrophic personal data events -- a laptop theft and a laptop death.  Despite this, figuring out what to do about backups was one item that took forever to get off of my to do list.  Until I discovered Carbonite, I walked around with a nagging worry in the back of my mind -- what if it happens again? 

    Oh, what a relief this product is.  It’s easy to set up and automatically backs up files when they change.  It’s already saved my hide more than once and offers me peace of mind.  I heartily recommend it.

See you tomorrow!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another piece: "Time's running out!"

I was taken by how much "park" a quarter can get you in Bradford, PA.  Christian took the snapshot for me, so in fact, I can take very little credit for today's overall "original piece".  But I'm taking the little credit I can:

This last Monday, I started a pottery class with Christian's mom.  In my clay covered state, it didn't occur to me to take pictures of the lump I ended up with by the end of class.  So now you will just have to imagine it.

Go and make something!


Friday, September 25, 2009

Get over yourself! (And other attitude-shifting tools.)

Let’s just jump right in, shall we?
  1. Get over yourself 
    I once knew a guy (let’s call him Al) who literally shook his fists in frustration and wailed – yes, wailed -- “Why does this always happen to me?!” when he came to a STOP SIGN at an intersection.    
    Fine, he was running late.  But come on, couldn’t he see that what he was perceiving as the world personally stepping in to mess with him was something that any driver would have come across in the same situation?  It didn’t seem to occur to him that his response was over-the-top melodramatic.  Just in case you’re wondering, he also responded this way to rain and, no he was never really able to see the humor in it all.  (No matter how frequently I pointed it out, with tears of laughter streaming down my face.)
    Guess what?  If you ever find yourself annoyed when waiting in line, feeling put upon when stuck in rush hour traffic, or absolutely inconvenienced when called in for jury duty – it’s possible you’re pulling an Al.

    Do what I do when I recognize I’m pulling an Al -- take it up a notch.  Shake your fists, stomp your feet, wail a little…  In other words, do whatever you need to feel as silly as Al sounds.  If you don’t manage to get a laugh out of this yourself, believe me, someone else will.

  2. A joke

    Late one night a thug and his lady friend were walking down a window-shop lined street.  
    Oooh” the lady friend cooed at the first window.  “Look at the beautiful necklace. I would love to have a necklace like that.

    The thug looked up the street, the thug looked down the street.  Seeing that the coast was clear, he pulled a brick out of his pocket and smashed the window.  “There you go!” 

    Ahhhh” the lady friend sighed at the second window.  “Look at that lovely jacket.  I would love to have a jacket like that.” 

    Once again, the thug looked up the street, the thug looked down the street.  Seeing that the coast was clear, he pulled a brick out of his pocket and smashed the window.  “Voila!” 

    Wow” the thug lady friend gasped at the third window.  “That Ipod is so cool.  I have always wanted an Ipod!” 

    The thug looked at her, annoyed.  “What, do you think I’m made of bricks?”

  3. Something ridiculously cute

Have a great weekend, folks!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

A horned tree, which by the way reminds me...

I spent a few minutes getting chewed up by ants outside the Thomas Crane Public Library.  It was worth it – the yard is nice with its green grass, park benches, and lovely trees. 

While admiring this beauty, I got to wondering about the shape of trees in general.  Sometimes I forget that a majority of the trees we see around the city have been pruned to our taste or convenience


Doesn’t this tree look like it’s reaching toward the camera?  This intrigued me, so I decided to get a closer look.  I’m sure this is just a stretch, but what I saw next reminded me of a little critter Christian and I admired at an aquarium recently.

095 three_horned_4

I told you it was a stretch.  But if you try hard enough, you may be able to see it the way I do.  :)


A Story Snippet: With a Little Help

I have heard many versions of this story over the years.  At times it is attributed to Aesop and at others, to traditional Zulu storytelling.   To be honest, I am still not certain of the origin.
I have always enjoyed this story, but I believe I fell in love with it after hearing Lani Peterson describe her experience of watching Jane Goodall tell a version of this story as a means of personal introduction.  (If you ever get a chance to hear Lani tell, make sure to seize the opportunity.)
Please excuse my version.  I’ve decided to have a little fun with it.
Some bird couple must have been tying the knot.  Or maybe it was a nest cluster party and feathery neighbors were invited.  Whatever the reason, all the birds were there – from Turkey to Titmouse, from Pigeon to Peacock.
Everyone was having a merry old time.  But the next thing you know, after a few squawks here and a couple of hoots there, feathers were getting ruffled.  Things were getting out of hand.
A few responsible birds, including Wren, tried to contain the situation.  Unfortunately, anytime they tried to politely say “Ahem, excuse me, but maybe you shouldn’t be throwing that chair over your head” or “Um, pardon me, but maybe playing with matches is not such a good idea” they were met with a rude response: “You’re not the boss of me!”
This went on all night until the place was completely trashed. 

The next morning, all the birds gathered in the same place, hanging their heads in shame.  Many blamed their bad behavior on mob mentality.  Wren related her experience – nobody listened to the responsible birds the night before because they lacked authority.
The idea of having a Bird King was born.  No one would have been able to say “You’re not the boss of me!” if the Bird King had asked them to stop their shenanigans.
Afraid that an election of a Bird King would turn into a silly popularity contest, the birds decided on a contest -- Whoever stayed in the sky the longest would be crowned.

On the day of the contest, excitement and nervousness swept through the crowd.  Wren noticed that everyone wanted to be crowned the Bird King, but not everyone seemed to understand what a huge responsibility it would be.
Birds soaring against the sunset At the starting signal, the sky was so thickly peppered with feathered critters of every shape and size that you would have thought it was night time.  As the morning progressed, bird after bird landed softly, disappointed and exhausted, but keen to see who was still in the running.
Oooh, look at Eagle” they admired, he seemed to hang in the air with no effort.  A few of the responsible birds looked worried – Eagle was nice and all, but had been one of the biggest offenders the night before. 
Eventually, Eagle’s majestic silhouette was all that could be seen against the sunset lit sky.  Looking down at all the birds looking up at him, Eagle surmised that it was time to land.
Just as his powerful talons touched the ground, Wren hopped off of his back and fluttered in the air.  “I win!  She announced.  Eagle was surprised, not only by the fact that Wren had beaten him but by the feeling of relief that washed over him as a result.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I looked right past my good fortune

eye chart

Normally -- from the moment I wake up to the minute I am ready to hit the sack -- I wear corrective lenses.  One morning a few weeks ago, a random "let's try something new" mood swept over me and I decided to go through the day without them.  Oh how fun!

Guess who didn't make it past breakfast?

Throughout my meal, I felt frustrated that I couldn't clearly see the details of the morning I am accustomed to enjoying.  The adorable squirrel sitting on the lunchbox affixed to the behemoth beech tree?  A brown blob.  The big bush we refer to as grand central station, peppered with chirpy little sparrows?  A big green blob.

I felt as if something had been taken away.
It took me a few minutes of sitting alone, annoyed, to realize that nothing in fact had been taken away -- this is the best my eyes can do on their own, without assistance. All these years of 20/20 vision have been a gift that I had been completely overlooking.

But I can see it today.  And that's something, right?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nailing customer requirements

ladder If you want to do your client justice, approach gathering customer requirements as a full contact sport. Your job is to tackle initial proposed solutions with "why" after "why" until you clearly understand what your client is ultimately trying to accomplish.

Each layer of "why" you peel away will create an additional layer of flexibility for designing the appropriate solution.

Here is an example I refer to as "build me a ladder" that demonstrates the point: 

Build me a ladder

If a customer asks you to build them a ladder, ask them what they need the ladder for.  If it turns out they need a ladder because they need something to sell in their ladder store, then you know that your solution has the constraint of "it must be a ladder". 

However, if it turns the ladder is needed because there is a shelf the client wants access to, you have another level of options you can work with.

I need to reach that high shelf

Once you understand that your customer needs to reach a certain shelf, ask them why they need to reach that shelf.  If it turns out they are entering a shelf reaching contest, then you know that your solution has the constraint of "it must enable the client to reach that high shelf".  Among a number of things, you can suggest a stepping stool, stilts, a trampoline, or super-high high heels. 

However, if it turns out that reaching the shelf is needed to access a specific book, you have another level of options you can work with.


Get me that book

booksOnce you understand that your customer needs access to a specific book, ask them why they need that book.  If it turns out the book is due at the library, then you know that your solution has the constraint of accessing that particular book.  Among a number of things, you can suggest putting the book on a shelf the client can reach without assistance or hiring a tall assistant. 

However, if it turns out that they need to be able to read a specific passage in the book, you have another level of options you can work with.


This peeling away can go on for some time.  As you dig further down, more options will become available for designing the optimal solution for your client. 


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sharing: PSA, a marmalade cat, and childcare.

Hooray for Sharing Sundays!  I don't know about you, but I tend to notice (or remember) more things worth sharing when I have venue for sharing them:
  • Patient Involvement
    Good news in my family this week reminded me of a favorite public service ad which covers a topic I feel strongly about -- patient involvement.  This ad, put together by the Ad Council stresses that questions are the answer and recommends that individuals create a dialog with their health care providers. 

    (I have a thing for public service ads.  To find out if you do too, check out the adcouncil youtube channel and browse through other public service ad campaigns.  If you don't end up finding something you love, you will at least walk away more informed.)
  • Marmalade Cat
    This cute card designed by Maria K. Bell can be found on Zazzle.  You can modify the card before purchase -- add a note, a poem, or a greeting -- to make it your own.

    sleepy_marmalade card

  • AuPair in America
    I have been hearing more and more people express frustration about a lack of options when it comes to quality child care.  Through someone I know and respect who works as a Community Counselor for AuPair in America , I have learned about the work and care that goes into setting up a great match -- from identifying a qualified candidate to fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between an au pair and her host family.

    It's surprisingly affordable.  Plus it provides your entire family the opportunity to develop a lifelong friendship with someone from a different part of the world.  If you have a bedroom to spare, look into this!

 Enjoy the rest of your weekend!


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ahoy, check out me wares!

This week, in honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day, I took an old design of mine and tweaked it. 


Yar, now it’s chock-full of  piratey goodness.  And don’t ye be minding the wording – if you click here, you can change it to yer taste. 


Friday, September 18, 2009

Digging up and taking it from there

Have you ever had one of those days where nothing seemed to go right?  If not, please contact me immediately and let me know who your patron saint is or what rainbow deity I need to start praying to.  Otherwise, you might want to bookmark today's post for future reference.

  1. Dig up.
    Getting piled over with snow, as in an avalanche, can be incredibly disorienting -- as a result, many people who find themselves in such a situation accidentally dig in the wrong direction, using up their energy while making their situation worse.  The same thing can happen when we are down in the dumps.  The natural tendency for some people is to dig down, focusing on how the current situation is as bad as it is. 

    There is a trick for figuring out which way is up if you are piled under snow -- after clearing some space around you, grab a handful of snow and see (or feel) which direction it falls.  (If physics is not your forte, objects fall down and the opposite of down is up.)  Similarly, there are tricks for digging up when you are at an emotional low point.  One that I like to use can be referred to as digging for something positive.  You don't have to be a digging up ninja for this to help, but you do have to be willing to let go of the notion (subconscious or not) that your particular issue is some sort of sacred cow.

    The exercise:  Take something you are currently upset about and dig for something positive about it.  Note: The positive does not have to outweigh the negative.  The goal here is to identify anything -- little or big, silly or serious -- that can help you remember which way is up.
    An example:  Years ago, a good friend of mine injured her left knee and had to have surgery.  After she had fully recovered, she had a second accident that injured her right knee and would require the same sort of surgery.  She called me, upset and then dared me to come up with something positive about the situation after I attempted to suggest that it was possible. 
    "Now you'll be symmetrical again?
    (I was relieved to hear her laugh on the other end of the line.)   

  2. A joke.  (This one is one of my favorites)

    Q:  What did the number 0 (zero) say to the number 8 (eight)?
    A:  Nice belt!

  3. Something ridiculously adorable.

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Free hugs on Park Street


downtown 017 downtown 018

On my way home from the Rally Agile Success Tour  in Boston, I barely noticed the usual hustle and bustle of Park Street.  There were a few people taking surveys, a couple of Mormon missionaries, a homeless person, and some street vendors, but they were a mere backdrop to the young woman holding up a FREE HUGS sign.

I was hit with a pang of shyness, so I sat back for a moment and watched a few people as they approached her.  Some walked toward her tentatively while others strode right up.  Heartened by all this, I too was ready.

I asked her what this was for.  “To make people happy,” she said, as she accepted my embrace and embraced me in return. 

I said thank you.  But for some reason, I feel like I should say it again.

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Story's Story: Why I tuck the sheet under my feet

First a disclaimer:  I remember the gist of things.  If someone tells me that Jeff walked into the Diesel Cafe and ordered an espresso, I might store that sequence as "a guy walks into a bar and orders a drink".

When a stranger tells me a story about their life, my brain takes what it hears and processes it through a weird gist filter.  If I run into that stranger again, even if it's years and years later, I will have no problem recollecting most, if not all, aspects of the story that moved the plot forward.  But heaven forbid I remember any of the details most people consider essential; Visual descriptions, locations, dates, or character names are all lost on me.  And, what?  Did the stranger have a name, too?

My dad is not the most talkative man in the world.  But as the daughter that followed him around passing him tools as he fixed things around the house, went with him on his daily walks, and kept him company whenever he ran errands, I was often lucky enough to be within earshot on those rare occasions a story escaped from wherever he normally kept them.

The stories my father shared with me were told as anecdotes, told as if he or his father witnessed them firsthand.

This particular story has had a significant impact on my life, as in it changed me forever
When my grandfather was younger, travel often required cutting through large tracts of private property.  When you were ready to call it an evening, you would ask the land owner or a ranch hand for permission to stay the night.  If you were lucky, they might have a lean-to you could use for shelter.

On one particular trip, my grandfather lucked out.  The landowner had a free standing guest "house" (a shed with a single bed perhaps) that he could use.  He was shown to the room and, as the landowner bid him goodnight, was told "It's okay if you leave the light on overnight."

That was unheard of, it was so wasteful.  My grandfather thought nothing of it as he crawled into bed and, ready for a good night's sleep, turned off the lights.

The moment the room went dark, my grandfather felt a tug at his big toe.  Immediately jumping out of bed, he turned the light back on and began to look for the culprit.  Under the bed: nothing.  In the closet, below the sink, right outside the door: nothing!

Thinking it was his imagination, he crawled back into bed and turned the light back off.  Sure enough, the moment it got dark, he felt another tug at his toe.

For full effect and timed perfectly, my father would tug playfully at my elbow.  Yikes!  "What did he do then, dad?", I would ask, a little afraid things would end differently with this telling.  I still remember the delight in his voice that was evident in his answer, "He slept with the light on, mija." 

I have tucked my sheets securely under my feet ever since I first heard this story.  What started off as a scheme for leaving no room for anything mysterious to reach my toes undetected has turned into a necessary routine for recreating a foot snugness I now rely on for sleep.  I'm pretty sure this will remind me of my father for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

From where you're standing

In college, over a Border Cafe dinner one evening, some friends and I discussed something one of us had read about that day: a young woman in some impoverished country had been prostituted to put food on her family's table.

One person at our table was disgusted.  "I would never..." she began before going on to explain how she would rather die than demean herself in that way. 

DIE?!  Yes, that's exactly what she said.

In my opinion, many people are pretty bad at imagining themselves accurately within the context of hypothetical situations.  (This is one reason many interviewers opt for behavior based questions.)  How many times have you heard a love struck romantic utter the words "I would give my life for ..."?

Don't get me wrong -- I do believe there are some folks out there that would jump in front of a train if they knew it would save someone else.  And I believe the evolutionary hard-wiring programmed into parents, mothers especially, provides all the ingredients a hero could ever need.

But, I also believe that the body has all sorts of defense mechanisms against things that would cause it harm.  Mechanisms that are incredibly difficult to short circuit, no matter how smart or how dedicated we may be.

So, back to the dinner conversation.  I had to ask -- had anybody sitting at our table ever truly been hungry?  The kind of hungry that goes on for days, if not weeks, with no end in sight?

The hungriest I had ever been was on a bus trip from Boston to Texas.  (I had packed no food and bus stops along the way wouldn't take credit cards or accept checks.) 

A nice woman gave me a Snickers bar, and I knew my parents would whisk me off to a restaurant upon my arrival, but I still could not get FOOD off my mind for the entire duration of that trip.

I won that hungry contest.

I met a man who served in three wars (WWII, Korean, and Vietnam) who said he absolutely refused to speak about them. In conversation, he began to explain why -- people ask you questions that, when answered in the absence of context, are judged harshly or make you feel terrible.  "'Have you ever killed a man?' How do you answer that?"  How do you explain that your job is to not question, but to do what is asked of you and to trust that, if something doesn't make sense from where you're standing, there is a bigger picture you do not have access to where it does.

From where we are standing, we have a limited view of the world around us.  Certain things may not make sense from that point of view, but here's to hoping we will remember to take context into consideration before judging too harshly.


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