Archive for the ‘Trial Lawyers College’ Category

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Flourless Chocolate Cake, Guiness Ice Cream and Irish Whiskey Caramel Pecan Sauce

February 26, 2012

Several folks have asked me for the recipe for this dessert. Here it is. Enjoy!

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE (or Brownies)

Yield – 9-12 servings

Preheat Oven to 350

  •  5 oz good quality chocolate chips
  • ½ Vegetable Oil
  • 1 C plus 2 T brown sugar
  • ½ C Almond Meal
  • ¼ C Brown Rice Flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 T Vanilla
  • ¼ T Bourbon

Optional:

  • ½ C chocolate, white chocolate or butterscotch chips to place on top
  • ½ C chopped nuts

Method:

Spray either an 8×8 inch round or square baking pan with oil and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan, melt the dark chocolate and oil over low heat, gently stirring.

In a small mixing bowl, beat together the eggs.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. With a spoon, make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Add the beaten eggs and the melted dark chocolate mixture. Beat on low to medium speed for two minutes, until the batter begins to come together. Keep beat until the batter becomes smooth and glossy. Stop mixing and add nuts (if adding) by hand.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Lightly tap the pan on the counter to even out the batter. If you are using additional chips as garnish, sprinkle them on top of the batter and lightly press down.

Place the pan in the center of a preheated 350 oven for 30-35 minutes, until the cake is set. The top will crack.

Cool on a wire rack. Remove the cake from the pan. Chill for an hour before cutting.

ICE CREAM BASE

  • 2 C Heavy Cream
  • 2 C Whole Milk
  • ¾ C Sugar
  • 1 Vanilla Bean split in half
  • 6 Egg Yolks

Method

Combine the cream, milk and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk mixture. Add the bean halves. Bring mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat. Set aside.

Beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Temper the hot milk and cream mixture gradually into the egg yolks.  Put the mixture into a clean saucepan.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon and reaches 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer. (Approx. 5 mins.)

Remove from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing down the plastic against the liquid to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Remove from the refrigerator and add any garnishes*. Pour the mixture into the bowl of an ice cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturers instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until ready to serve.

*Optional Garnishes:

Guiness Ice Cream – While base is chilling, reduce 12 oz Guiness by ¾ until you have  3 – 4 oz. Cool and chill. Add to base before placing it in ice cream freezer.

Prior to placing base in ice cream freezer, you can add chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, chopped toasted nuts, chopped cookies, cookie dough, crushed peppermint candy, etc.

 Irish Whiskey Caramel Pecan Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons Irish Whiskey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup toasted chopped pecans

Method

In a dry heavy saucepan cook sugar over moderately low heat, stirring slowly with a fork (to help sugar melt evenly), until melted and pale golden. Cook caramel, without stirring, swirling pan, until deep golden. Remove pan from heat and carefully add cream, bourbon, lemon juice, and pecans (caramel will steam and harden). Return pan to heat and simmer sauce, stirring, until caramel is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

Pour sauce into a bowl and cool slightly. (Sauce keeps, covered and chilled, 2 weeks.)

TO SERVE

Place a slice of cake on a plate. Place a scoop of ice cream either on top or to the side of the cake. Spoon sauce over top.

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Doubling: Listening With The Third Ear

November 27, 2011

In a continuing effort to share information on psychodrama and the tools trial lawyers use most often to work with clients, prepare for and present their cases at trial, what follows is the next installment on this topic.

Doubling

A double is an auxiliary (a group member asked to play a role in the drama or re-enactment) who speaks the inner life of the protagonist, in whatever role he happens to inhabit in that moment. The job of the double is to tune in to the protagonist’s unexpressed thoughts and feelings and express them, bringing material lodged in the background to the foreground.

The double is the hidden voice, the truest self, the one who helps the protagonist realize and acknowledge what she is thinking and feeling. The double gives voice to the protagonist’s interior reality, helping the protagonist go deeper, strip off the outer socially visible layers, and reach the deeper layers of expression. The double speaks in the first person, as the inner voice of the protagonist, but does not engage in conversation with the protagonist. In essence, the double assists the protagonist in expressing herself more fully. Using a double facilitates expressing a protagonist’s deepest emotions, and is one of the most effective techniques to bring out unexpressed emotions. J. L. Moreno, the creator of psychodrama, described the double as the protagonist’s inside.[1]

As the double expresses the protagonist’s inner thoughts or feelings, it is extremely important to give the protagonist an opportunity to accept, reject, or correct the statements which the double makes, and if accepted, to put them in her own words. For example:

Protagonist: I don’t know what I’m going to do. I wish she would talk to me.

Double: I feel helpless and all alone.

Protagonist: I do feel helpless. I just don’t understand why she won’t talk to me.

Double: I feel angry at her.

Protagonist: [Has a puzzled look on his face.]

Double: If that is right, put it in your own words. If it is wrong, correct it.

Protagonist: It isn’t right. I’m not angry. I am hurt, and I feel betrayed.

Double: I trusted her to talk to me, to tell me what was going on.

Protagonist: Yes, that’s it. I did trust her to talk to me. To let me in. And she betrayed my trust.

Even an incorrect statement is helpful to the protagonist, for in correcting the statement, the protagonist clarifies what is going on inside her.

A good double helps the protagonist to feel seen and understood, and, at the same time, to move into deeper levels of feeling. Often during a traumatic life event, we dissociate or freeze, and may feel helpless or powerless. Through psychodramatic reenactment, a protagonist can revisit that moment in her life and, through the use of a double, stay in her body, and express thoughts and feelings she was too overwhelmed to express at the time. This can be very beneficial to a protagonist as it facilitates feeling and integration of emotions that she split from her consciousness.

A double can also provide support for the protagonist. This helps him take more risks and enter the action more completely. In addition, a double can provide suggestions and interpretations to the protagonist through the role. For example, if your client is having a difficult time expressing sadness over the changes in his life because of an accident, you may want to double by uttering words he cannot: “I am sad. I can no longer lift my little boy to his high chair. I can no longer have sex with my wife. I feel useless and less of a man.” Make sure you give your client the opportunity to accept or reject this doubling statement. If he accepts it, ask him to put it in his own words.

When you wish to act as a double for someone, (for example, a friend, spouse, client, or witness) the process generally is to stand slightly behind and to the side of the protagonist. It is extremely important to abandon your own agenda, to set aside your need to ask questions or solve problems, and tune in and listen without judgment. Listen with your heart, not your head. Let the feelings that come up reverberate in you. You should be aware of the protagonist’s non-verbal communication, and imitate her body language. When you mirror the protagonist’s gestures, posture, body positions, and tone of voice, you will begin to experience the same kinds of body sensations as the protagonist.

Neuroscientists have recently discovered mirror neurons, a class of brain cells that operate similar to radio waves. They explain why we pick up on the feelings and moods of people we are with.

                       Mirror neurons track the emotional flow, move-

                        ment and even intentions of the person we are

                        with, and replicate this sensed state in our own

                        brain by stirring in our brain the same areas active

                        in the other person. Mirror neurons offer a neu-

                        ral mechanism that explains emotional contagion,

                        the tendency of one person to catch the feelings

                        of another, particularly if strongly expressed. This

                        brain-to-brain link may also account for feelings

                        of rapport, which research finds depend in part on

                        extremely rapid synchronization of peoples’ pos-

                        ture, vocal pacing and movements as they interact.

                        In short, these brain cells seem to allow the inter-

                        personal orchestration of shifts in physiology.[2]

A double should not, however, overwhelm or take over for the protagonist. Instead, the double should feel into the protagonist, becoming attuned to the protagonist’s moods, feelings, and rhythm. The double needs to let go of any prior perception she may have had of the protagonist and trust her intuition, being open to the feelings that arise. When the double speaks for the protagonist, the double should speak in the first person: “I feel really angry that . . .”

Learning to be a good double, setting aside your own agenda and tuning in to another person is a powerful experience, not only for the double but for the person being doubled as well. Doubling is essentially the skill of active listening on a very deep level, and connecting to the emotions, the inner life, of the other person.

The skill of listening is one of the most important skills for you to have; you use it in all phases of trial, and you should actively develop it. When a speaker and his double participate in a listening/doubling exercise, the exercise creates a bond between them. The person being doubled feels seen, heard, and most importantly, validated. Validation results in connection and trust.

Once you have significant experience with this tool, you can begin to use it without standing slightly behind and to the side of the person you wish to double, without imitating their non- verbal communication, and without speaking in first person as if an inner voice. You can double jurors as you conduct voir dire, double witnesses in deposition, and even double the judge. This tool can also be used during direct examination to help the witness go deeper and fully express their feelings to the jury. You can use this tool when meeting with clients to ensure your relationship starts out on a good note and to demonstrate that you care about them as people.

You can learn more about psychodrama and how trial lawyers use this method by reading the book – Trial In Action: The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama, (2010 Trial Guides) available at http://www.trialguides.com/book/trial-in-action/

[1] Moreno, Blomkvist and Rutzel, Psychodrama, 69.

[2] Daniel Goleman, Essay—Friends for Life: An Emerging Biology of Emotional Healing (2006).

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Psychodrama and Trial Lawyers

January 21, 2011

At any point in practice, a trial lawyer needs not only to be intelligent with an understanding of the law, but also to be a good storyteller, director, and performer, and most importantly, an empathic, genuine, and real human being. Through your courtroom presentations, your goal is to help your juries hear, see, and feel your client’s stories. To do so, you need special tools to assist you. One method of training that gives you powerful and effective techniques for preparing and presenting your client’s case is psychodrama.

What is Psychodrama?

Psychodrama is an action method during which participants show a group what happened vs. telling what happened. It is an action method, a method of communication and a role-playing modality. It is the exploration of the truth through dramatic action. Psychodrama is a powerful method that not only brings out the humanity of people, but also the universal stories and truths that connect us all.

In a psychodrama, participants dramatize or act out events from their lives as a spontaneous play, typically in a group setting. The main actor, called the protagonist or star, literally acts out the event that the group is exploring. A psychodrama is a three-dimensional spontaneous re-enactment presented in the moment with no script or rehearsal. The purpose is to gain insight or understanding of yourself or significant others, and about events in your life that you can only achieve in action.

In essence, psychodrama is a method that enables people (the actor, auxiliaries, and audience) to act and feel, to find out, and see things for themselves; it empowers the person who is the subject of the psychodrama (the protagonist), to both show and tell her own story.

It is difficult to fully understand psychodrama, its use and effectiveness until you experience it. It is somewhat like learning to ride a bicycle. Reading about riding a bicycle won’t teach you how to do it; you need to experience it. The same is true with psychodrama.

Why Should Lawyers Use Psychodrama?

The tools of this method help trial lawyers and their clients communicate with each other more effectively. Through the use of psychodrama, lawyers are better able to discover and explore their clients’ stories and to present them in 3D – so that the jury hears, sees and most importantly, feels the story.

What happens to the client that leads to legal action is a meaningful experience in that client’s life. If a protagonist can re-enact a meaningful experience on the psychodrama stage, so can a client in preparing for trial. Through psychodrama, a client can educate his lawyer about what happened to him, how it has affected his life, and perhaps more importantly, who he is. At the same time, re-enacting the client’s meaningful experience enhances the lawyer’s ability to share the client’s story with the jury in the courtroom in a much more powerful, human, and effective way.

Lawyers who become versed in psychodrama effectively use the same tools when they prepare their client and case for trial, as well as when they present the case. Not only have they found greater success in the courtroom, they have gained greater satisfaction in the practice of law. Additionally, they have better and richer relationships with their clients.

Psychodrama is not, however, a short-cut or a formula for success. Those lawyers who have achieved the greatest results in using this method have committed themselves to personal exploration and the development of skill in using the tools of psychodrama.

Psychodrama Brings the Client’s Story to Life

Psychodrama enables you, in an efficient and powerful manner, to not only discover your client’s story in three-dimensional format—hear it, see it and feel it—but to examine and explore the various witnesses’ different points of view and perspectives. If you want to influence a jury, you need to deal with them on an emotional level, using the power of story. “You have to awaken the emotions in yourself that you want to awaken in them. Like an actor in a play, to communicate an emotion, you have to feel it first.”[1] Psychodrama enables you to identify and explore the themes that arise from the facts and the emotions as they come alive through a psychodramatic re-enactment. Using re-enactment, you gather the raw data from which to shape and frame your client’s story.

You can learn more about Psychodrama and how lawyers are using it by reading the book – Trial In Action:The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama available from Trial Guides. For information on programs that train lawyers in the use of psychodrama and its application to trial practice, visit The 3 Sisters, LLP web site.


[1] Annette Simmons, The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (Basis Books, 2001), 151.

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So Much to Be Thankful For

November 18, 2010

 

The 3 Sisters (from left) Mary Peckham, Joane Garcia-Colson, Fredilyn Sison

Had anyone asked us—the 3 Sisters, Mary, Fredi and I—ten years ago what we would be doing today, I doubt that any of us would have predicted that we would be part of a partnership created to help people, particularly trial lawyers, realize their full potential. And yet, that is exactly where we are.

The three of us met ten years ago when we were part of an organization that provides continuing legal education programs to trial lawyers. Through this experience, we were exposed to psychodrama. As many of you know who have read this blog, psychodrama is an action method, a way to communicate deeply and meaningfully. It is the exploration of the truth through dramatic action. A psychodrama not only brings out the humanity of people, but also the universal stories and truths that connect us all.

Psychodrama can be therapeutic as it gives participants the opportunity to explore events from their lives to gain greater understanding of the self and to begin to heal old wounds. Psychodrama also empowers those who experience it to become more fully present in the here and now, enjoy greater spontaneity, realize their own potential, and create the life they each want to lead.

Over the years, each of us dedicated ourselves to doing as much of our own personal work as possible so that we can better know who we are, how we came to be that way and what we can do to shape our future. Our journey has not always been easy and each of us has traveled psychodramatically through many painful moments from the past. With each passing experience, we grew as human beings and as lawyers.  By learning more about ourselves, we are more able to understand others.  Over the last ten to twelve years, we have shared our skill and knowledge of psychodrama with other lawyers across the country and helped them to discover and learn to use the tools of this powerful method to represent their clients. We have exposed them to ideas and techniques that can assist them both in preparing and presenting their clients’ stories in trial. Teaching at various workshops improved our skill and stimulated our creativity. These experiences also increased our desire to develop our skill and proficiency in using the psychodramatic method to help others.  After years of training and study, each of us was certified as a practitioner (CP) of psychodrama by the American Board of Examiners. Mary and I have continued our training and hope to soon be certified as trainers (TEP’s). Fredi, in her inimitable way, said, “Basta!”  The three of us continue to go to workshops, often together.  Psychodrama continues to help us each individually and provides many tools we call upon and employ both personally and professionally.  To say that our lives have been enhanced as a result of our exposure to psychodrama would be an understatement.

From left - Mary Peckham, Fredilyn Sison, Joane Garcia-Colson

In the mid 2000’s, we began to brainstorm ideas for working together, for taking our creative ideas and sharing them with others. Originally, our thoughts were simply playful, more fantastical than practical:  a 3 Sisters coffee house, bookstore, stand-up comedy and yarn shop. As we grew as people, our ideas grew. The idea of a Trial Boot Camp for Women took shape after several troubling experiences throughout the years. Two of us attended one program as part of the teaching staff where our male colleagues introduced the other male faculty as talented and skilled trial lawyers but ignored the many accomplishments of the female staff members. One of our friends, a courageous lawyer who does employment law, got up and started to introduce the talented lawyers she knew and named the women attorney staff in the room.  Other female professionals we have talked to over the years have had similar experiences and often feel invisible at seminars and workshops. Issues unique to women are rarely acknowledged, much less addressed with any sort of depth or understanding.  And so, we conceived the idea of a program where women could come together to work on issues unique to them and to meet and build relationships with other female trial lawyers.

In the late summer of 2009, Fredi and I began talking about making our idea of creating a program specifically for women trial lawyers a reality.  Our concept was to develop and design a program to nurture female trial lawyers and help them develop their own voice, recognize their unique talents as women and bring them into the courtroom. In September 2009, Mary, Fredi, Lynne Bratcher and I traveled to Colorado, where we brainstormed and outlined our ideas for a Women’s Trial Boot Camp.

After a successful inaugural run in May, 2010, we decided to create other programs with the same mission in mind.  We also wanted to invite other teachers with whom we enjoyed working in the past and who we believe share the same thoughts, ideas and feelings about teaching (Lynne, Carl Bettinger and Charlie Abourezk) to join us.  We did not and do not intend to be a traditional provider of programs for trial lawyers or for women only. Our ideas, beliefs and vision are much broader. And men are more than welcome at all of our programs, with the exception of the Women’s Trial Boot Camp.

“Garcia-Colson, Sison, and Peckham intelligibly meld psychodrama and trial skills in an easily understandable book. As a pioneer in psychodramatic trial consulting, I highly recommend this book to lawyers and psychodramatists alike. J. L. Moreno would be pleased.” —John Nolte, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and trial consultant

It’s hard to imagine that we embarked on this great journey from a fun, playful conversation.  But that’s the nature of spontaneity and creativity.  We missed teaching together.   We wanted to do something different, something that was collaborative, receptive and adaptive.  We wanted to meet interesting and interested people.  We’ve accomplished a great deal this year—–2 programs, and coming next month, a book.

We wrote the book because we wanted to reach more people who were interested in being better lawyers for clients and to help them learn to master the tools of psychodrama.  We wished to keep the dream of Jacob Moreno, the father of psychodrama, alive.  The book’s name is Trial in Action: The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama.  It is being published by Trial Guides.  We are extremely proud of it, as it will expose psychodrama to a wider audience.  Check out the book and reviews at: http://www.trialguides.com/book/trial-in-action/

Because of how well our 2010 programs have been received, we have four (4) programs planned for 2011:

  • Trial in Action: The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama – Feb. 17-20 –  New Orleans, LA

  • Second Annual Women’s Trial Boot Camp – May 12-15  – Palm Springs, CA

  • The Art of Telling Our Clients’ Story – Aug. 11-14 – Portland, OR

  • Trial Intensive: Voir Dire and Group Formation – Oct. 20-23 – Palm Springs, CA

In addition to Lynne, Carl and Charlie, who will be faculty for one or more of the programs above, John Nolte will be our special guest at the New Orleans seminar.  Details about all of our programs and testimonials from participants can be found on our web site at http://www.the3sisters.org.

The Faculty for - The Art of Telling Our Clients' Stories (from left) Fredilyn Sison, Charlie Abourezk, Mary Peckham, Carl Bettinger, Joane Garcia-Colson

Our partnership is still is in its infancy. But we are filled with excitement and enthusiasm, and we love working with all the people we’ve met.  It’s been great collaborating with each other.  It’s nice to be teaching with old friends once again.  We have so many people to thank—those who supported us during tough times and those who have joined our journey, because we wouldn’t be here without them.  It’s been a spectacular year, and we are grateful for everything that has happened.  We look forward to next year!

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Fighting Fifty

November 5, 2010

I am turning 50 in a few short weeks. That number, 50, seems so huge to me. I don’t feel 50 and I certainly don’t want to be 50. But the reality is that I can’t prevent this birthday from coming. I didn’t have any trouble turning 30 or even 40. But the prospect of being 50 has really thrown me for a loop.

For most of this year, my 50th year, I have been rebelling against crossing the threshold into my 50’s. About 7 months ago I came up with a plan to prove to myself that 50 isn’t old, that I am still young enough to accomplish physical feats of endurance.  I also decided to make additional changes to my diet. I might not be able to prevent growing older, but I can live in a way that allows me to live better and to be healthier.

I gave up all red meat 4 years ago, becoming a semi-vegetarian, and only eating limited amounts of fish and chicken. Earlier this year, as part of my anti-aging campaign, I decided to give up all animal products, including eggs and dairy. I also added more grains to my diet. The transition to a vegan diet wasn’t as hard as I had imagined. I enjoy cooking and found many great vegan recipes to experiment with. Now and again I do indulge in some dairy, particularly by adding non-fat milk with a splash of half-and-half to my coffee. But because I have hypothyroidism I can’t eat or drink large amounts of soy. I can honestly say I don’t miss meat.

Some may scoff at these dietary changes but the impact on my health has been quite remarkable. I have more energy, sleep better, and generally feel better. My skin and hair are softer. And I have not gotten a cold or the flu since changing my diet.

In addition to these dietary changes, I came up with a plan to accomplish something big athletically. Initially, I thought climbing a mountain would be quite an accomplishment as well as a physical challenge. I can’t afford to climb Mount Everest (and don’t have any serious climbing experience that would make this a realistic option) and couldn’t convince any of my friends to join me on a trek to base camp or on a guided climb to the summit of Mount Rainier.  So, I came up with a plan to ride my bicycle from Palm Springs, California to Tucson, Arizona. Yes, I did say a bicycle! And I knew just the person to join me on this adventure – my sister-in-law.

I had no trouble convincing my sister-in-law to ride 300 plus miles on a bicycle. After all, she has been an avid cyclist for at least a decade if not more. At 66, she is in great shape, rides 3 times a week and takes very good care of herself. I broached the subject with an email “Do you have any interest in a long bike trip, say a ride from Palm Springs to Tucson?” She responded enthusiastically to my invitation. “Definitely!” And so, I had a companion for my adventure. Serious training needed to be undertaken.

This past spring we talked about our training needs. Our goal; work up to riding about 200 miles a week. No easy task. If you ride between 12-15 miles per hour, that meant training 13-17 hours per week on the bike. And given that we would ride close to 90 miles on some days on our trip, we needed to build in several very long training rides.

Some of you might be thinking, “hey, no problem, it’s just riding a bike.” Oh, if it were only that simple.  Although riding a bike is a non-weight bearing activity, it requires a lot of leg strength and endurance. Not to mention the discomfort of your hindquarters from sitting on a bike saddle for long stretches of time. I slowly built my training distance and in a few months was regularly riding 30-40 miles per ride. Eventually, I added a long 50-mile ride to my weekly training. In the weeks immediately preceding our trek, I did a long, grueling 70-mile ride over hilly terrain. That was the most challenging and exhausting physical activity I had done up to that point in my life. I was drained from this ride, both physically and mentally. But I made it! I was wiped out the next day and my derriere was chaffed and sore. I began to doubt my ability to complete this trip. Would I make it? Could I really ride 80+ miles in one day and still have energy to ride the next day? I began to doubt myself. And to question the wisdom of embarking on such an adventure.

The week before the trip, my anxiety surged. I was nervous and anxious about stringing together back-to-back high mileage rides several days in a row. How was I going to do this? Would I make it?

To be continued. . .

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Morning Coffee

October 11, 2010

This morning, like so many mornings, began with a trek to Starbucks. I am feeling a little under the weather, either fighting off a cold or battling allergies that flame up each year when golf courses and resorts re-seed their vast expanses of grass.  I just wanted to sit with a cup of coffee and slowly enter the day.

After getting my venti iced coffee and oatmeal, I went out to the patio at Starbucks to sit for a while and relax in the cool morning air. No sooner did I approach a seat I had been scoping out while I had waited in line to order when I smelled that familiar, yet sickening smell, of burning tobacco.  Off in the corner of the patio sat a man puffing away on a cigarette, oblivious to the world and the people around him.

Now I am all for individual rights and respect the right someone has to choose to engage in a vice that may eventually kill them. But I personally prefer not to be exposed to smoke. Quite some time ago, Starbucks took the proactive step of making all their establishments, including the outside patio areas, smoke free environments.  It really was unpleasant to sit outside with a cup of coffee and pastry only to be exposed to smoke filled air. I applaud Starbucks for its efforts.

As I neared my seat I looked over at the man and said to him, “Excuse me sir, but you can’t smoke here.” He looked at me, shrugged, and began pantomiming something. Again I said, “There is no smoking on this patio.” The man pointed at several empty tables and using his cigarette free hand counted to five and mimed that people had been smoking at those tables. At least I think that is what he was trying to communicate. I pointed to the sign near the door that said smoking was prohibited and simply said “No smoking.” The people sitting nearby looked up, “Thank you for speaking up.” “We totally support you.” But no one, other than me, said anything to the man. And still he sat, puffing away and flicking ashes to the ground.

I felt a little bad saying anything at all because the man was obviously homeless. He was filthy, his pants had holes in them and black grime, like the suburban housewives French tip manicure, tipped his fingernails. A small-wheeled suitcase sat on the table near the seat he occupied. He did not speak at all, just mimed to communicate.

The other occupants of the patio starred at him and several people began pointing to the sign near the door that read “Starbucks is a smoke-free environment.” An older couple stood near him and began to shuffle away, looking over their shoulder at him as he mimed to the rest of us.

The man shrugged his shoulders, stood, retrieved his suitcase and departed the patio. Several people spoke to me. “Thank you so much for having the courage to say something to him.” “You just made our day.” “I am so glad you said something.”

I found these comments somewhat strange. I didn’t feel courageous for speaking up. I spoke up simply because I wanted to enjoy my coffee without breathing in smoke.  My speaking up was a selfish act. I am surprised that the others on the patio were unwilling to say anything, especially when this man’s smoking clearly bothered them. I didn’t and still don’t know what to make of all of this.

My heart goes out to the homeless. So many of these folks need a break.  They need human kindness and compassion. I don’t know whether or not I did the right thing by saying something to this man. Perhaps I should have let him enjoy his morning and his cigarette. Maybe I should have offered to buy him a cup of coffee. I just don’t know.

What do you think?

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Ohhh, Canada!

September 22, 2010

I recently ventured to the province of Alberta in Canada for a long awaited vacation. We flew into Calgary last Wednesday and made the short drive to Canmore where we are staying in a condo – Worldmark by Wyndham. Really, it is a time share formerly owned by my parents which they graciously offered to let us use.  Our accommodations are comfortable, 2 bedrooms, each with a private bath, a living room, dining area and small kitchen. The condo is a short distance from town and hiking trails abound. Canmore has made for the perfect home base from which to explore this incredible area.

Because of the weather, we didn’t realize until we awoke our first morning that Canmore is surrounded by majestic mountains.  I was speechless the first time I saw them.  Having grown up in Colorado and after spending numerous years in Wyoming exploring the Tetons and Yellowstone, I am no stranger to mountains.  But the stunning peaks and expansive wilderness I have experienced in this part of Canada far surpasses the beauty of all others I have had the pleasure of enjoying.

On one of our first adventures we travelled to Banff and Lake Louise. A short distance from Lake Louise is Lake Morraine which is even more beautiful than her famous sister. In Banff, we treated ourselves to Canada’s Best Ice Cream at Cows. If you ever get to Banff, don’t miss a stop at this ice cream parlor! Our tasty treats lived up to the advertising. It was so good, we visited this eatery twice.

During our week in Alberta we explored Banff National Park, the Kananaskis area and have had numerous wildlife sightings including a big Bull Moose, several deer, elk and even a coyote who passed within 3 feet of our car on a lonely dirt road in the Kananaskis.  Today we saw a group of young white tail deer frolicking in a meadow covered with snow. They were chasing each other and romping around with tails in the air. Their tails even appeared to be wagging!

We rode the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain and trekked at the top where we feasted our eyes on mountains in every direction. From this vantage point we gazed down on several lakes and the meandering of the Bow River from Banff to Lake Louise. The views were simply magnificent.

There have been some unexpected and surprising observations on this trip.  The first, and most noticeable, is that Canadians don’t seem to have the same addiction to cell phones as Americans. During our week in this beautiful country, we have rarely seen a person on a cell phone. Folks walk down the street and have conversations with each other. At local coffee houses, people read or enjoy the company of their companions. It was refreshing to dine without hearing cell phones ring at nearby tables or to shop in the local grocery store without overhearing a fellow shopper’s cell phone conversation.  Over the course of one week, we saw  only one person using a Blackberry.

Canada is significantly more expensive than the U.S. Gas is $4 dollars a gallon and a single scoop ice cream cone $4.50.  Beverages at Starbucks are on the average 75 cents to a dollar higher than my local Starbucks in California. The same with pastries and oatmeal. Food at restaurants, particularly lunch, seemed pretty pricey.

The local people we encountered were extremely friendly, offering suggestions of activities or café’s, the best roads to travel for the best viewing of wildlife or the local majestic peaks.

This has been an amazing vacation filled with incredible scenery, wonderful adventures, great company and stimulating conversations. I definitely plan to come back and enjoy all the activities the weather did not allow us to partake in such as mountain biking, more strenuous hiking, fishing and canoeing.

And of course, another visit to Cows!