Who Are Your Friends?

October 27, 2009 § 6 Comments

There is a saying that people come into your life for a season, a reason or a lifetime and once you figure out where they fit, you will know what to do.

I have always enjoyed the verse because it has helped me numerous times understand others better and made sense of situations, sometimes after the fact, even years later.

People who you think you may enjoy lasting relationships with, you don’t for whatever reason, perhaps differing priorities. Often these folks move to another community and time and distance take their toll. A falling out can end what one might have thought was a lifetime friendship. Other individuals linger in your life a little longer and you realize later that they had a definite purpose and helped you grow from your experience with them. Then, there are people who seemed inconsequential with little in common when you first meet them … individuals you thought were simply fulfilling a reason or, at most, there for that symbolic season, who’ve endured, not just as friends, but almost like family.

For me, those lifetime people easily fit the bill with words I expect to see in a true friendship or even a business relationship – trust, respect, honesty, loyalty, and dependability.

The verse came to mind on my recent holidays to Ontario.

I was reminded of it after my wife, Joyce, and I went for dinner with two couples in Sault Ste. Marie that we have known for many years. And as one year has led into another and then we returned to Alberta after 20 years away, nothing has changed when we get together with these people after two years living in Alberta. These are definitely in the lifetime category.

They are genuine people that you know you could always call on, no matter what, and vice-versa. All friendships are to be treasured, especially ones you have built up for years. But it really is priceless to just be able to pick up where you left off.

With some people, even family members, there seems to be a reaquainting you have to go through before you get into your visit. Not with these friends. It was like we had never left.

One of the couples, we had known longer and spent more time with than the other – in fact we’d become so close that every year for about 16 years, we took turns hosting Christmas back and forth between our homes. If members of our respective families happened to be visiting, they were welcomed in. Summers were never complete without at least one camping trip together at Pancake Bay Provincial Park, north of Sault Ste. Marie, on the shores of Lake Superior. Here’s to you, Jeni and Jim!

The other couple had invited us to their wedding and that was already a dozen years ago! Wow. Nothing had changed with Johnny and Maria Murtha. Always the same down-to-earth, kindhearted people. Cheers to you, too. Actually, it is more like good luck. With two precocious daughters, they will have their hands full in a short time, Dad with a shotgun.

How does it happen that some people just become these kinds of friends that you can so easily reconnect with after two or three years apart?

Technology will certainly help, whether email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, to keep the ties strong. And we can even pick up the phone every once in a while.

Speaking of technology, it was my interest in learning more about enhancing our City of Grande Prairie website and examining the potential of social media that connected me with my now friend and blogmate, Wendy Peters.

We met by attending the Website Strategy Conference last May in Calgary and hit it off immediately while waiting for one of the presentations to start. More chat ensued after and we exchanged business cards and agreed to stay in touch. I was interested in the validity of getting into the use of Twitter and she encouraged me to try it out. The rest is history.

We intend to write books together and seek other business opportunities, so the status of our relationship has to be at least in the reason category. Perhaps we will go our separate ways after we make a few million dollars together. However, every time we talk on the phone or chat on Facebook, more ideas come out, so it seems more likely that further opportunities would arise.

In fact, what really got our partnership started was my noticing on Twitter how profound some of Wendy’s sayings are. I felt these should be in a book. Wendy immediately jumped at the thought. We decided blogging would be the best way to develop our material together, and faster.

What is really neat is how in sync we are, despite our distance. I live in Grande Prairie and Wendy in Calgary. A reader of The Muse and Views noted that Wendy and I clearly have a lot of chemistry. We both agree wholeheartedly with that statement. It seems comparable to being a figure skating pair who produces great results together. What we do away from the “ice” does not matter and we might have little or nothing in common.

As it turns out, Wendy and I have become great friends and talk regularly on the phone and online. But I was floored when she told me that she had been a figure skater growing up, feeding direcly into my analogy.

In fact, it seems that every time one of us says something, the other has a complementary experience or idea to relate.

How does such magic occur? Why do two people with very different circumstances work so well together and feed off each other so readily? At times, it has been freaky.

I am not going to question the magic. I just want to ride this train to success. On the other hand, just like with our friends Jeni and Jim, the relationship cannot be taken for granted, either. Good friendships and business partnerships are nurtured.

And when Wendy realizes her dream of working in Africa for a while, I better be ready to either go visit or have the ability to conquer even greater communication challenges.

I don’t think there are too many ice rinks in Africa.


Word Bans

October 12, 2009 § 14 Comments

There are words I would like to ban, not necessarily for their being negative, but more because they are not positive. Words and phrases like may, hope to, will try, could, and so on. Most often, these phrases could be replaced with WILL.

While we do fall short in our expectations from time to time, I think a mindset develops around the not-so-positive phrases I alluded to. But in the words of Yoda of Star Wars fame: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

We should train ourselves to talk and think in terms of “I will” versus “I will try” or “I hope to” … more positive things may happen.

I have found that often what follows after the hope to, may, will try, etc. is a coulda, shoulda, woulda.

Oh yes, I know some people feel the word hope is important because they say it is all some people have. There are people who have led challenging lives. There are others who have overcome incredible odds. I want people to realize there can be more than hope.

Another phrase to eliminate is  … I think. Either you know or you don’t know.

Wendy is right about the different interpretation of words. I think people sometimes just don’t realize the meaning of what they are saying. How many times have we been in a restaurant and the server has asked us, “Is everything okay?” In some diners, I have been tempted to respond, “shouldn’t it be?”

I know I can be anal, but okay to me is mediocre, nothing to write home about. When I have received exceptional service, I have even tried to do my part to train the server by responding, “Everything is much better than okay. It’s great, especially the service.”

Of course, the server should be rephrasing the question away from putting a standard on dining experience in the first place by getting the patron to describe their own feeling about the visit to the restaurant. Something like, “How is your meal?” Or “Have you enjoyed your visit to our restaurant?”

To me, okay is just … okay.

What’s in a word?

October 5, 2009 § 1 Comment

When everything I tweet about is interesting, eventually I need a new word for interesting, because the meaning I once held with the word ‘interesting’ has been diminished and diluted by my own abuse of it.

What’s in a word?

So often companies and individuals alike have a list of the words we use and the words we don’t use.  Over time these lists have developed as we have tied certain meanings to each of the words and attempted to create our own identities and brands.  Using ‘proud’ vs. ‘pleased’.  Eliminating negative words, ‘I don’t want any debt’ vs. ‘I will be abundant’.

Words are what help us to frame our world, our perceptions and our existence.  Words can have a variety of different meanings for the person using them depending on what our past experience has been.  ‘Dog’ can instill fear in someone who was bitten as a child, or joy in someone who grew up with a family pet.  ‘Party’ can mean a great time to some, but petrify those who don’t like crowds.

Catch phrases can often become tiresome to the user and listener alike.  For example, I find so many things ‘interesting’ on the web.  But because I use it so often as a quick description of what I just read, the meaning I once held with the word ‘interesting’ has been diminished and diluted by my own abuse of it.

There are also plenty of words that I have chosen to banish from my vocabulary because of the connotations I associate with them: don’t, need, should, have to.  To me these are negative words, and they attract negative elements.  Don’t think about an apple.  Don’t focus on the negative.  Focus on the positive.  Which sentence actually entices you to think positively?

My day to day is continually bombarded with a variety of statements, but as I begin to question my own outlook and use of vocabulary, I begin to question the use of words by others and the motivations behind it.  Whenever someone says to me ‘You should be doing this’ or ‘You need to try this’, those to me are trigger words to stop and ask ‘why?’  Is their suggestion something that will actually help me?  Or do they have something to gain from my actions?  And if they do, is it a win/win scenario?  Or focused solely around their own wants?

Words are funny things.  Their use and their interpretations, whether consciously or unconsciously, influence so much of our day to day.  What words would you consider ‘trigger’ words?  What words have you eliminated from your vocabulary?  And vice versa, are there any words you attempt to use more often?

To whoever gets my dog…

October 2, 2009 § 3 Comments

This isn’t my story.  I received it a couple of days ago in an email.  And it made me think about how many times I jump to conclusions about something before I know the full story.  Sometimes, we can only dig so far before a decision must be made… but sometimes it’s worth digging a little deeper.  Hope you enjoy the read… Wendy


They told me the big black Lab’s name was Reggie as I looked at him lying in his pen. The shelter was clean, and the people really friendly. I’d only been in the area for six months, but everywhere I went in the small college town, people were welcoming and open. Everyone waves when you pass them on the street. But something was still missing as I attempted to settle in to my new life here, and I thought a dog couldn’t hurt. Give me someone to talk to. And I had just seen Reggie’s advertisement on the local news.

The shelter said they had received numerous calls right after, but they said the people who had come down to see him just didn’t look like “Lab people,” whatever that meant. They must’ve thought I did. At first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things, which consisted of a dog pad, bag of toys (almost all of which were brand new tennis balls), his dishes, and a sealed letter from his previous owner.

See, Reggie and I didn’t really hit it off when we got home. We struggled for two weeks (which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home). Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust, too. Maybe we were too much alike. For some reason, his stuff (except for the tennis balls – he wouldn’t go anywhere without two stuffed in his mouth) got tossed in with all of my other unpacked boxes. I guess I didn’t really think he’d need all his old stuff, that I’d get him new things once he settled in. But it soon became clear that he wasn’t going to. I tried the normal commands the shelter told me he knew, ones like “sit” and “stay” and “come” and “heel,” and he’d follow them – when he felt like it. He never really seemed to listen when I called his name – sure, he’d look in my direction after the fourth of fifth time I said it, but then he’d just go back to doing whatever. When I’d ask again, you could almost see him sigh and then grudgingly obey. This just wasn’t going to work.

He chewed a couple shoes and some unpacked boxes. I was a little too stern with him and he resented it, I could tell. The friction got so bad that I couldn’t wait for the two weeks to be up, and when it was, I was in full-on search mode for my cellphone amid all of my unpacked stuff. I remembered leaving it on the stack of boxes for the guest room, but I also mumbled, rather cynically, that the “damn dog probably hid it on me.”

Finally I found it, but before I could punch up the shelter’s number, I also found his pad and other toys from the shelter.. I tossed the pad in Reggie’s direction and he snuffed it and wagged, some of the most enthusiasm I’d seen since bringing him home. But then I called, “Hey, Reggie, you like that? Come here and I’ll give you a treat.” Instead, he sort of glanced in my direction – maybe “glared” is more accurate – and then gave a discontented sigh and flopped down. With his back to me. “Well, that’s not going to do it either,” I thought. And I punched the shelter phone number. I hung up when I saw the sealed envelope. I had completely forgotten about that, too. “Okay, Reggie,” I said out loud, “let’s see if your previous owner has any advice.”

To Whoever Gets My Dog: Well, I can’t say that I’m happy you’re reading this, a letter I told the shelter could only be opened by Reggie’s new owner. I’m not even happy writing it. If you’re reading this, it means I just got back from my last car ride with my Lab after dropping him off at the shelter. He knew something was different. I have packed up his pad and toys before and set them by the back door before a trip, but this time… it’s like he knew something was wrong. And something is wrong… which is why I have to go to try to make it right.

So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it will help you bond with him and he with you. First, he loves tennis balls… the more the merrier. Sometimes I think he’s part squirrel, the way he hordes them. He usually always has two in his mouth, and he tries to get a third in there. Hasn’t done it yet. Doesn’t matter where you throw them, he’ll bound after it, so be careful – really don’t do it by any roads. I made that mistake once, and it almost cost him dearly.

Next, commands. Maybe the shelter staff already told you, but I’ll go over them again: Reggie knows the obvious ones – “sit,” “stay,” “come,” “heel.” He knows hand signals: “back” to turn around and go back when you put your hand straight up; and “over” if you put your hand out right or left. “Shake” for shaking water off, and “paw” for a high-five. He does “down” when he feels like lying down – I bet you could work on that with him some more. He knows “ball” and “food” and “bone” and “treat” like nobody’s business. I trained Reggie with small food treats. Nothing opens his ears like little pieces of hot dog.

Feeding schedule: twice a day, once about seven in the morning, and again at six in the evening. Regular store-bought stuff; the shelter has the brand. He’s up on his shots. Call the clinic on 9th Street and update his info with yours; they’ll make sure to send you reminders for when he’s due. Be forewarned: Reggie hates the vet. Good luck getting him in the car – I don’t know how he knows when it’s time to go to the vet, but he knows.

Finally, give him some time. I’ve never been married, so it’s only been Reggie and me for his whole life. He’s gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can. He sits well in the backseat, and he doesn’t bark or complain. He just loves to be around people, and me most especially. Which means that this transition is going to be hard, with him going to live with someone new. And that’s why I need to share one more bit of info with you…. His name’s not Reggie.

I don’t know what made me do it, but when I dropped him off at the shelter, I told them his name was Reggie. He’s a smart dog, he’ll get used to it and will respond to it, of that I have no doubt. but I just couldn’t bear to give them his real name. For me to do that, it seemed so final, that handing him over to the shelter was as good as me admitting that I’d never see him again. And if I end up coming back, getting him, and tearing up this letter, it means everything’s fine. But if someone else is reading it, well… well it means that his new owner should know his real name. It’ll help you bond with him. Who knows, maybe you’ll even notice a change in his demeanor if he’s been giving you problems. His real name is Tank. Because that is what I drive.

Again, if you’re reading this and you’re from the area, maybe my name has been on the news. I told the shelter that they couldn’t make “Reggie” available for adoption until they received word from my company commander. See, my parents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I could’ve left Tank with… and it was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq, that they make one phone call to the shelter… in the “event”… to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption. Luckily, my colonel is a dog guy, too, and he knew where my platoon was headed. He said he’d do it personally. And if you’re reading this, then he made good on his word.

Well, this letter is getting to downright depressing, even though, frankly, I’m just writing it for my dog. I couldn’t imagine if I was writing it for a wife and kids and family. But still, Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as the Army has been my family. And now I hope and pray that you make him part of your family and that he will adjust and come to love you the same way he loved me. That unconditional love from a dog is what I took with me to Iraq as an inspiration to do something selfless, to protect innocent people from those who would do terrible things… and to keep those terrible people from coming over here.

If I had to give up Tank in order to do it, I am glad to have done so. He was my example of service and of love. I hope I honored him by my service to my country and comrades. All right, that’s enough. I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off at the shelter. I don’t think I’ll say another good-bye to Tank, though. I cried too much the first time. Maybe I’ll peek in on him and see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth. Good luck with Tank. Give him a good home, and give him an extra kiss goodnight – every night – from me.

Thank you, Paul Mallory

 I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope. Sure I had heard of Paul Mallory, everyone in town knew him, even new people like me. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star when he gave his life to save three buddies. Flags had been at half-mast all summer. I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the dog.

“Hey, Tank,” I said quietly.

 The dog’s head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright.

 “C’mere boy.”

He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor. He sat in front of me, his head tilted, searching for the name he hadn’t heard in months.

“Tank,” I whispered.

His tail swished. I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posture relaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him. I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my face into his scruff and hugged him.

“It’s me now, Tank, just you and me. Your old pal gave you to me.”

Tank reached up and licked my cheek.

“So whatdaya say we play some ball?”

 His ears perked again.

“Yeah, ball. You like that ball. ”

Tank tore from my hands and disappeared in the next room. And when he came back……he had three tennis balls in his mouth.

Where Am I?

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