Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Soggy Potato Chips

This past weekend I completed a facilitator training course called, "Becoming a Master Instructor (BMI 100). At one point in the course I'd moaned about those people who refuse to budge from a job they hate, making themselves and their bosses miserable. My instructor, Dan Jelinski from Wisdom Speaks, told me about the soggy potato chip theory. Give a child a choice between crisp potato chips and soggy, and he will take the crisp every time. Give him a choice between a soggy potato chip and none at all and he goes for the soggy. (I've found the source, How to Discipline, With Love: From Crib to College by Fitzhugh Dodson).

It's like a light bulb went off in my head; of course! This ties in also with my thoughts about selective observation, how some people miss obvious opportunities. If we aren't primed to find the good in situations, we'll miss our chance altogether.

I'm very lucky that way. My mother taught me to be a bird watcher, and I see more birds in the bush by the chirps and rustles and flashes of brown and red. My art teacher taught me to see the complex play of light, shadow and color that brings objects to life. My deaf friend taught me to catch flashed hand signals, the language of emotion that plays across the face. My dad taught me by patient sanding, to find the play of grain glowing across fine wood. The world is a much richer place if one is taught to see.
For a person who has allowed the job to grind them down, who are convinced that their leadership is at best indifferent and at worst openly hostile, they can't see the opportunities presented them. In that sort of compromised existence, a paycheque is better than nothing at all. I am reminded also of an old preacher who said to try and take a dirty old bone away from the dog and he might just bite you. Throw down a big, juicy steak and he will be happy to drop the bone. (Remembered from The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson). For those who are blinded to the opportunities around them, they first need to find new ways of seeing the world around them.

We spend far too much of our lives at work to put it all to waste. Make sure you love what you do.

I borrowed the picture from Granny's Old Fashioned Common Sense blog.

Taking Care

Well, with the changes these past few weeks; unemployment, changes in benefits and services, and my son finally discharged from the hospital today, I've had an avalanche of intake experiences. I am living in uncertainty. I am not sure what the future holds, I don't know which applications will succeed, and who will get back to me. Most of the time I keep my sense of balance, but it is awfully easy to be pushed over the edge. This happens very quickly if a service representative is cool, or if I sense the crushing gears of bureaucracy grinding ever closer....
So far, no calls from potential employers. The pleasant strangers I have been talking to are all bureaucrats. It's a sad state of affairs, isn't it, when the bureacracy is a well-oiled and efficient machine, quick to snap me up? In the past couple weeks, I've talked to two insurance representatives, Blue Cross, Shaw, nurses and physiotherapists at the University of Alberta Hospital and the General, and Service Canada.
Most of the service representatives were sensitive that I was in some degree of anxiety, and behaved accordingly. Their tone was kind and they gave me their full attention for our short time together. A notable exception was one of a pair of counter clerks at Service Canada Northgate location here in Edmonton. I headed for the kind looking one. His bouncy, pimply-faced partner, however, still managed to distract. The other one bounced in and out of his chair, up and around the counter several times. During my sixty minute stay as I worked through the online form, he bounded down the row of terminals...checking...on our progress...I guess. I wondered how a hyperactive like him could have been so mismatched.
I received a mildly disturbing call from Service Canada within a day. They found a mismatch on my last name. Not surprising as I haven't accessed their services in over two decades. The operator would not say what the mismatch was - I understand why - they want to take care that no fraud is taking place. I explained my change in name and I was advised to get it updated, in person, at the local Service Alberta counter. Be sure to bring two pieces of ID, my birth and wedding certificates. So I get another opportunity to observe pimple boy. I wonder if I will get him to "help" me next time, just to see how he holds up.
The Shaw support technician could not have been nicer. I'd struggled to re-establish internet service for over an hour and the technician guided me through the steps in short order. What struck me most of all is he sounded genuinely happy to help me, that he was having a great day, and he was glad to help me have one, too.
What is the moral in all this? These service encounters are critical, both for the peace of mind of the people seeking help, and to the image of the organization. Do they care? Do they show that they care? The service representative must be empowered and motivated to provide the kindest, most helpful service possible.
The picture comes from a YouTube clip, "Bureaucracy" by dudayadna.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Best Women's Fashion Store

Imagine a women's fashion store where every taste and every size is accommodated. Imagine racks and racks of clothing to choose from. Imagine the feeling as you slip on a great dress for the first time and it fits.
I was reminded of this shopper's paradise as I reconnected with an old friend last night. It really does exist, and it is centrally located in downtown....Stettler.
Lou’s Fashions Ltd. Stettler
4811 50th St
Stettler AB, T0C 2L0
Lou's does not have much of a web presence. It doesn't have to. It's the place to go for women's fashions for a good part of central Alberta. I credit Lou's success to location. Stettler is just far enough away from the major centres to be competitive. Combine that with a fine sense of it's market - providing a variety and range of sizes and styles to accommodate the entire community - and you have a hit.
Stettler is best known for it's railway tours in the summertime. If you happen to be in town, ladies, take a tip from me and check out Lou's.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cork on the Ocean

I resolve to blog a little more often, now that I am at home looking for work. Today I thought I would record one of my frequent illustrations on life. The cork on the ocean.

Too many people go through life as victims of the winds of circumstance. Like a cork on the ocean, they bob up and down, happy or sad, based on whatever life throws at them. Down in the trough of the wave, they are sad. Raised to the peak, they are happy. Then sad again. When asked how they got where they are, they can't tell you. Life is something that happened to them. These people could write fantastic autobiographies of all the things that have happened to them.

Compare the movement of the cork to a small boat. I sailed as a teenager, and I vividly remember how a light boat responds with the lowering of the keel. Instead of floating wherever the winds pushes it, the keel gives the boat force and direction. Combined with the sail and the rudder, the sailor now has control. If the wind pushes harder, the boat surges forward. If it pushes in the direction you want to go, you may tack in to the wind, back and forth, and slowly make headway. Combine your little boat with intent, and you may go wherever you want to go on the high seas. You respond to the winds and storms that come our way. People with intent and purpose treat life as an opportunity.
We all have storms. Circumstances change. The world economy rises and falls in big waves. The difference between success and victimhood may be as simple as the choices we make in how we respond. At the very least, paying attention to the winds and waves, and responding in kind, will push is in the way we want to go.
Take, care, however, not to blame all victims as corks. Even the best built boats can be overwhelmed.
I borrow the picture from Euphoria sailing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Transit Nightmare

This is a story of my late night attempt to use Edmonton Public Transit (ETS). I am a fan of public transit, comfortable with the system, but during the day as a rush hour commuter. This is a story of missed signals that is so painfully funny that if it happened on daytime television, we'd all be rolling on the floor laughing.

I must give some context for this story. Two weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon my son was hit by a car when riding his bike. His shoulder was seriously damaged and he underwent surgery that night at the University of Alberta hospital. I am happy to say he is now at a rehabilitation facility and well on his way of recovering use of his arm. I am now relieved enough to write lightly of my trials as a mom visiting her son.

I live in northeast Edmonton close to the Belvedere Light Rail Transit (LRT) station, and the University of Alberta hospital has a convenient station on the same line. When I got news of my son's injury, hubby and I rushed down to the hospital on the LRT. No use, we thought, of making the tangled journey by car, or worry about parking. The trip on transit was fast and efficient. When we got to the hospital, my son was already wheeled in to surgery, and was expected to be there for some time. I decided to stay, and I sent hubby home. He promised to pick me up from the Belvedere station when I was ready.

I was still dressed in my Sunday best, including girly-girl shoes not meant for much travel; but then I didn't have very far to walk, did I? I found the visitor's pod with a stiff couch and a television with no cable. I settled in and made calls to family on my blackberry until it ran out of juice.

I now had three strikes against me for a late night Canadian winter; light clothing, dead blackberry, and wobbly shoes.

The surgery took longer than expected, lasting seven hours. It was 1:30 in the morning when I came out of rumpled slumber and got a good first look at my son as they wheeled him back to his room. The orderlies gave me a moment to hold my son's hand. I looked him deep in the eyes and told him it would be all right. After they got him settled in his room, I bustled with the necessary things. I asked what he needed. His chief concern were his clothes, blood spattered. The hospital would burn them unless someone took them home. I offered to wash them and I told him I would see him the next day. He asked if hubby would be taking me home. I told a white lie. Yes, of course he is picking me up (from Belvedere station). We said our last endearments, and I picked up the two hospital bags of clothing. I called hubby at a phone booth and asked him to meet me at Belvedere, and I made my way to the hospital entrance closest to the transit.

Are you keeping track? I am now a sleepy bag lady, in light clothing, a dead blackberry, and wobbly shoes.

The first entrance I tried was locked for the night, so I made my way to the doors farther south. I crossed the now barren street and made my way to the empty station. I bought a ticket. And I waited. I read the poetry etched in the glass panels of the shelter. A cold wind blew through the cracks between the delightfully etched panes of glass. I huddled under the cattle heater. I shivered. And I waited.

It must have been about twenty minutes when I realized something must be wrong. I went to the free transit phone to ask about late night travel times. The reception was so bad, we couldn't hear each other. As I huddled closer to the mic, I noticed posted travel times over the phone. Uh, oh. LRT service ends after 1:30. I needed a new plan. I thanked the fuzzy lady for her inability to help, hung up, and headed back to the hospital.

Phone. Must find a pay phone. Call a cab.

I tried one set of doors back in to the hospital. Locked. So is the second set. There is no pay phone on the exterior of the hospital. The only open entrance, declares a sign, is on the other side of the huge building. And I am in my girly-girl shoes. I look back over at the transit station, at the only pay phone in shoe distance. I make my way back to the station.

I call directory assistance to get the number for a cab, and murmer the number under my breath so I don't forget. I put my last change in to the phone, and the machine eats my change. No call.

I am now desperate. I call 411 and ask for help. The phone has eaten my last quarters and I need to call a cab. The operator patiently explains their policy; no free calls. If I give her a number she can charge the call to, she will gladly reimburse me for my lost quarters. I tell her I can't charge it to my home number; there is no-one there to confirm the charges. Hubby is waiting at Belvedere station. I give the only other number I have memorized. I ask the operator to charge the call to my daughter. I make the call.

I hobble back across the street with my bags. In short order a cab is at the hospital entrance. I have a pleasant late night conversation with the cabbie and he takes me to my patient hubby waiting at the Belvedere station. Twenty dollars and twenty minutes later, I am back in my warm bed, rubbing my sore feet.

The next morning, my daughter checks in with me. What happened? Uh, oh. She had feared the worst from that late-night call, and worried all night if everything was OK. Well, sort of. I have a flash of role reversal. I get these flashes more and more these days.

To add insult to injury to my intimate relationship with the University of Albert LRT station that night, ETS was testing the system. I watched three trains pass through without stopping, my lonely shivering bag-lady self having no effect on the drivers.

This city is becoming more cosmopolitan by the day, no longer a rural outpost. Surely it is time to offer round the clock LRT service. Ridership may not pay at first, but surely to save a stranded passenger or two, it is worth it?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

3, 2, 10...Takeoff!

Yesterday, March 2, '10, was my last day of work with my employer after twenty-five years of service. The timing was impeccable, and the decision was mutual - the company must downsize, and I must follow my life's path. As I cleaned out my office, I came across a bundle of quotes on change.

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave
behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter
another - Anatole France

There has been deep emotion threading through past week, as my friends and colleagues come to terms with the enormity of this change. This is twenty-five years of relationships! I know myself; the full impact of this decision has not hit home yet, because I am too busy readying myself for the road ahead. We'll have ourselves a good cry later.

This blog is in to it's third year, now, isn't it? Though the audience is not large, it has given me an opportunity to sharpen my vision and share my thoughts. In the past few months, I have been engaged with my community as never before. I see new opportunities for improvement, to make life better for the whole neighbourhood. I must see what is possible with what I am able to give.

We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance -
Harrison Ford

I'll never forget the story of Harrison working as a carpenter when work as an actor did not pay. To have a strong sense of self, to know what I am good at and what I can do is a gift. I'll do my best to put it to good use.