Find the unexpected


My tracks, the dogs, and the coyotes!

SNOW! When I looked out the doors in my room, the world looked different. The sun was just rising and it bounced off the cedars in sparkles and light. I climbed into my coveralls, got the dogs ready, and out we went to trek down driveway and get the newspaper.

Like the musician who tries to find truth in his music, or the writer who searches for a story using her words, I try to find meaning in the natural world. There are messages there that I can use for both my business and personal life. What did I notice on my walk through this new, snowy world? Paw prints, grass and worms…

My dogs follow a scent that I can’t see. They read all sorts of things in the air that I cannot experience. This morning, because of the snow, I could see what intrigued them – coyote tracks! Lots of them. The tracks told me that there had been a race across my fields between 2 animals, a bit of a tussle, and off they’d run again. Without the snow, I would have missed that entire story.

The gravel driveway had a few inches of snow covering it, but peeking out through were a few pieces of grass that seemed to stand taller and their dark brown/green colour contrasted with the white snow. I would not have seen how tall they were without the snow.


The great Christmas snow worm?

On I trudged, head down, wanting to get to the end so I could pick up the paper and go home for coffee. But I kept seeing what I assumed were tiny, one inch sized leaves lying in the snow. I must have walked half the length of my 900 foot driveway before I stopped and picked one up, only to learn (upon close inspection) that they were tent caterpillar worms! Holy cow, I would never have expected to find them in the snow!

Then I stopped in my tracks and grinned. Because I’d found meaning in this early morning stroll that made my day:

  • Sometimes others can see and understand things you can’t, and it takes a completely different perspective for you to understand what is going on.
  • Without that different perspective, you won’t recognize things that might be bigger, taller or more important. Things may appear the same until the perspective changes.
  • We tend to assume things, because that is what we expect to find. Don’t assume; take a moment and really look at things, and you make be completely surprised by what you discover!

Quite a lot packed into a brief morning walk. I am now on the look out for more tracks, grass and worms…you know what I mean.


Eleanor and the sock monkeys!

You may be wondering what inspired me to finally do this social media/blog/website thingy. I blame it entirely on Eleanor Matte, fiddler, proud grandmother, musician and over all brilliant human being. I met Eleanor at the Tuesday Night fiddle sessions with Sandy MacIntyre. I realized Eleanor was one of the best fiddlers there, but more importantly, she laughed a lot. I shrewdly determined I’d play better if I sat near, and I’d get to laugh a lot. I was right on both counts.

No sock monkeys present, but she's laughing while playing!

No sock monkeys present, but she’s laughing while playing!

Eleanor called me in September to see if I want to attend an “Artrepreneurs” workshop hosted by the Orangeville and Ontario Arts Council. We would be exploring ways to enhance our artistic businesses. Eleanor and I are always looking for more gigs and this might give us some ideas to get more, so off we went.

There were some good speakers, but there was one who really got me thinking.

Kim McBrien runs Indigo Dragonfly, a unique company that focuses on dyeing, knitting and spinning wool, promoted over the internet.  From her presentation, Kim could also be a stand up comedien because she kept us all laughing (and spellbound). Kim talked about using social media to advance your business, and how she was able to best use her particular skill sets to grow Indigo Dragonfly. I started thinking about a musician friend of mine, wondering if he had ever used any of these ideas to grow his music business, and began furiously taking notes for him. But as I paused to see what I had written, I realized that Kim’s advice not only worked in the arts world, but in the business and consulting world as well!

Set up a website, write a blog, update the blog regularly, use your best skills, do what you love…her advice was useful for getting more gigs, and growing GAEL.

Thanks to Eleanor, I attended this workshop, listened and learned from Kim, and in no time at all, I committed to spending time on my business to attract business, instead of doing what I usually do – crossing my fingers, clicking my heels and hoping someone will call with a contract. So far, so good!

And the sock monkeys? Eleanor, in what little spare time she has, makes sock monkeys. Hundreds of them. I’m trying to get her to create her own website devoted to the art and science of the sock and monkey-isms! Maybe we’ll add a sock monkey page to this site! Wait for it!

Barb, Tom and the Gemini Twins

I’ve been hammering away trying to get this proposal done, and sometimes it seems like it is the most important thing in my life. When that happens, I find I need to take a step away for a moment and look around me. Trouble is, when I get like that, stepping away is not so easy. Thankfully, three things conspired to make me take that step the other night. Barb, Tom and the Gemini Twins.

First, Barb Imrie, full time outdoor education instructor and in her spare time, is the President of the Albion Hills Community Farm. She and her husband Russell went to Hugh’s Room to hear The Good Lovelies the other night. I was slaving away at my computer and I received an e mail from her as they were waiting for the Lovelies to perform. I was SO JEALOUS!!!

Then she proceeded to tell me that Tom Power was the announcer for the evening. Tom hosts the Morning Show in CBC Radio 1, meaning he’s up early to help the rest of us every morning. Plus, he’s the lead guitar player for the Dardenelles, a trad band from Newfoundland (that I just went to hear at Hugh’s Room a few weeks ago).

Because she was at the concert, Barb wasn’t going to get home till late, and she still had to teach the next day. Because he was at the concert, Tom wasn’t going to get home till late, and he still had to be on the air the next day. Me, I was feeling sorry for myself for working so hard and not taking time to do anything other than sit at my desk and feel consumed by paperwork and writing. Unlike either of them, I wasn’t doing anything to remember that there is life outside of work.

And then my alarm went off. 11:30 pm…I had set it to make myself go outside and watch the Geminid Meteor Showers. I hesitated – it was cold out there – but I donned my big parka, dragged my son outside with me and went out to lie on the roof of my car to look up. Rory and I ended up talking about religion, about the vastness of space, and as we watched the shooting stars dance and fall throughout the sky, we marvelled at how enormous the world is and argued about how insignificant we were.

I lay looking up at the stars for a long time, well after Rory went inside. I did, because I needed to remember that work, proposals and paperwork have their place in my life, and I do love what I do. But the spell-binding magic of a meteor shower trumps it all, if only for the moment that you watch that star accelerate, burst and fall.

Work hard. But like Barb and Tom, play hard too. And don’t forget to watch for the magic. For me, it was hearing Barb’s joy at the concert, talking to my son, and watching the stars.  It is all around us, we just have to take that moment and look for it.


Russell surrounded by his own stars…the Good Lovelies!

Susan’s 3 Simple Steps

I’m in the middle of responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) from the feds. I’ve done a million of these, and though each is different, there are plenty of similarities in approach, requirements and process. That often means I can use an old proposal as a template and customize it according to the RFP. However, too often, it also means that I tend to ignore some of the finer details that make the RFP unique. In doing so, I miss things that I should include and I find my proposals lack focus and ingenuity.

After I lost a few bids because of that lack of effort on my part, I realized I needed to have a more focused and innovative way of doing proposals. So here are my 3 simple steps to creating something you can be proud of:

  1. DREAM: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? That’s the attitude I take whem I start dreaming about the proposal. Then, anything I include, in terms of requirements, actions, activities, whatever, is possible. This kind of attitude means I don’t just follow what I’ve done before. Instead, I allow myself to dream.
  2. PARTNER UP: Now that my proposal is filled with dreams and big ideas, I turn to a partner – right now, I’m working with Gail and Sue. They can look at my dreams, winnow out those that may not suit what we are trying to achieve, and make the proposal even better. A second or third set of eyes poses questions I hadn’t considered, and has answers to those I have.
    Partnering up before the Prince Edward County Half Marathon

    Partnering up before the Prince Edward County Half Marathon

    Partnering again, after the marathon!

    Partnering again, after the race!

  3. BREAK THE RULES: Napoleon broke the rules on the proper way to conduct a military assignment. Beethoven, one of my personal heroes, broke the rules on how a symphony should be written. At this point in the proposal, I’ve dreamed, I’ve had new perspectives shared, and now I can revisit the proposal by challenging the rules.

Try this approach the next time you write a proposal, a research paper, or pretty much anything related to your business. Dream, partner up, and break the rules. You won’t win every contract, but you will transform the way you work for the better!

Moose kissing!

A few blogs ago, I wrote about coming up with 10 new ideas each day. I’ve been trying it out, and finding two things:

  • it’s hard to come up with 10 new ideas each day. I tend to create “to do ” lists instead of new ideas; but
  • it gets easier over time to come up with ideas!

So, here are my 10 ideas for today. They relate to my business and to my life, and I imagine you’ll figure out which is which.

  1. Respond to everyone who writes me an e mail today, as if he/she was my friend
  2. Use Roger Von Oech’s “Creative Whack Pack” for increasing my creativity  (it is amazing!)
  3. Start an Ideas Notebook for these daily ideas. And carry it with me.
  4. Put bird seed for the feeder on the front deck near the front deck.
  5. When Lucy wants to play with her toy, stop typing and focus on playing with her for a few minutes. (If I try to work while I throw the ball, the work suffers, and Lucy doesn’t have as much fun either)
  6. Add something completely new and different in the latest proposal I’m doing. Follow the template provided, but create a Value Add section that highlights my team’s unique attributes as necessary for a successful project
  7. Don’t use the word “creative” in the proposal at all. Find alternative words that are not as over-used.
  8. Do one thing completely unexpected today – like Kira, kissing the moose!

    Moose kissing in Whistler! Why not?

    Moose kissing in Whistler! Why not?

  9. Ask everyone I electronically speak to today to bookmark this site.
  10. You can’t come up with great ideas just sitting at your desk! Get up, look around, and think!

I challenge you: stop what you’re doing (which is reading this!) and think….come up with your own 10 ideas. They can be about work, about home, kids, dogs, whatever. Don’t create a to do list, create an Ideas list. Think outside the box, find the second right answer, reverse your thinking, borrow ideas, see the obvious, make your own rules…create! Good luck, and make sure to share your 10 ideas with me. Maybe I can borrow something from you!


Artist Response Team – a moment in time

Sometimes when I sit down at my desk to work, I get overwhelmed. The phone is ringing, the papers are piling and the keyboard is staring at me, telling me to get working. It is easy to forget that life is not made up of deadlines and projects, but, if you can pause and reflect, it is made up of moments, conversations and dreams, all adding together to become memories that you can use.

This summer, I ended up in the most warm and welcoming home of Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright. Holly’s company, ART ( ), is a production house that specializes in music and entertainment that educates about nature, and responds peacefully to the environmental and social crises we find ourselves facing. ART’s mission is to shift culture, and help communities move towards sustainability, one song at a time.DSC00085

Holly and Kevin work with other musicians, educators, artists, scientists and writers to create their innovative school music programs, perform in schools, develop environmental learning materials, perform at folk festivals and other concert opportunities, do community outreach related to the environment, and generally do incredible things for our planet through their passion for music.

I was in their home for a few hours, nothing more. And I haven’t spoken to then since I drove away. But as I reflect on that brief time, I realize it had an impact on my life and my future. No, I’m not going to leave my consulting gig and go out on the road with Holly and Kevin! But when I facilitate workshops now, I remind participants to recall those moments that are special and use them for their future – explore what can they learn from them, and what can they share with others.

I’ve sent off a note to Holly, simply to see if she remembered me, and lo and behold, she did! I don’t know where it will lead, but the possibilities exist. Please check out their website. Holly and Kevin work their magic in the west right now. But I think they’ve got a future in the east, and I want to help them find it. If you have any ideas, please share them here!

Dig deeper

The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge. 
                                                           Thomas Berger 
Stop and think for a moment about the last workshop you attended. What did people learn about you? Did they learn about your work habits? Or did they learn about you favourite sports team? (Liverpool Football Club, if you want to know mine). As I sat planning out an agenda for an upcoming course I’m delivering, I realized I wanted to get the participants to KNOW each other well, not just know each other. How do I do that? Because invariably, by the time I am done a workshop, I know everyone’s favourite sports team, their preferred drink, whether they play a musical instrument, and all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the workshop.

I don’t know how I do it. I don’t focus on asking specific questions, but somehow I acquire this information. But that’s a bit problematic if I’m trying to teach someone how to facilitate a workshop, because I need to be able to help others do the same thing!

Yesterday, I helped Gail at a craft show, selling her most remarkable mittens. Within 10 minutes, I’d sold 3 pairs of mittens and knew the life story of the folks I’d sold to! Gail asked me point blank how I did it…how did I learn this information? I had to think hard but here’s what I came up with:

  • I make eye contact immediately, and hold it, so people know I appreciate their inherent value.
  • I look at their clothes, their shoes, their hands, the way they hold their head, and I draw some conclusions about what is important to them.
  • Then, I ask questions! Lots of questions! About all sorts of things. I listen to the answers. And I offer my own ideas, so we both get to know each other.
  • Once we both know each other, it becomes easier for them to decide to buy a pair of mittens from me, or equally easy to explain why mittens are not on the shopping list today. But either way, we part with valuable information about one another.

In a workshop or course setting, I do the same thing. I make eye contact with everyone, even before the workshop starts. Then I draw conclusions about what is important to different individuals. If someone has a Burton jacket, perhaps they like to snowboard. If someone has a horse head on her keychain, perhaps she rides horses. Then I start to ask questions, before and during the workshop. And I listen. To everything. And I share information about myself as well.

This works for me. It won’t work for everyone. But by digging a bit deeper, we can find more common ground and shared pathways to workshop and course success.

Oh, and to craft show success. We sold 16 pairs of mittens yesterday!!!


A happy customer! I learned all sorts of things about this wonderful lady!