In Support of Children and Dogs

Oh yes, we communicators are all alike in at least one way – given time and inspiration, surely a great book will emerge from these talented fingers. Or not. Unless you’re Greg Bardsley, Al Riske, Rachel Canon or a handful of others who have actually done the hard work of writing and publishing.

I’d still be sitting there, kidding myself that any day now, my masterpiece shall write itself and bring thunderous applause, if I wasn’t approached by my friend, Rose Nielsen, last summer. Rose asked, “Would you be willing to write a children’s book about therapy dogs to support the Dog Program at Children’s Hospital?”


Dogs? Children? Writing? Are you kidding? I was in!

What an amazing process, filled with great collaboration and mutual support…After settling on the concept (Rose’s therapy dog, Blondie, would go on a treasure hunt at Children’s Hospital), we spent a fair amount of time brainstorming what the treasure hunt would look like and what parts of the hospital Blondie would explore.  I wrote a draft, Rose had it test-marketed with a class of grade school children, I revised it, we tested it again, revised again. We went from thinking the book would be a combination of photography and illustrations to just illustration. Rose found Adonna Khare, a (fabulous) illustrator who was willing to work with us. Adonna asked for sketches for each page which I created in my clearly untrained hand, but which were a blast to do.

Then the book had to be laid out and designed. Reviewed. Revised. Reviewed. Revised.

Meanwhile, Rose was hard at work arranging printing, pricing, and marketing – all those things that I hate doing but are oh so necessary.

And so we are approaching the realization of this dream, filled with whimsical drawings and a sweet story. The book should be for sale mid-summer, with all profits going to support the Dog Program at Children’s Hospital. We hope to raise a minimum of $5,000, although clearly I’d love to raise more.

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What a journey…from casual conversation to rough draft to rough illustrations to final product… I’ll let all of you know when the book is available for purchase!



Decorating Tips for Dogs and Their Humans

Training a deaf dog has its own challenges, but one thing hasn’t changed – you are still training a dog. And dogs don’t always see the world as humans do.

I remind myself of this when Doodly Doright is barking and scratching madly…at the floor. Who knows what he smells? Perhaps legions of squirrels have taken up residence under our slab, and we humans are too pathetic to smell them. If he could talk, I’m sure he’d tell us that we have no worries – he will defend us against the invisible enemy.

Then there’s the living room rug. Sigh.

Years and dogs ago, our sheltie, Inspector, became very fond of peeing on the piano leg, saturating the rug and the wooden floor beneath it. We replaced wooden tiles, had the rug cleaned many times, changed the rug mat, but it didn’t matter – our living room had become the favorite spot for relief. Inspector was the first, but he was hardly the last. Later dogs and cats alike followed his example until we finally threw the rug out (yeah, we’re a little slow on the uptake). We then waited until our last cat, Frankie, an inveterate spoiler of rugs, breathed his last. A week later, we had a new throw rug back in the living room.

I figured we were safe. We were down to our perfect dog, Boo, who would never do such a thing.

Yeah, right. The ghosts of our rug past whispered to Boo, “They won’t care, Boo! They want you to pee here! Honest!” Boo, a trusting sort, listened and repeated the sins of our now-gone fur friends.

So. After Boo left us, I sent the once-new rug out for cleaning. I got a new rug pad. We enjoyed our pristine rug for six weeks – and then we adopted Doodly, our 10-month old ball of energy and puppy joy, whose house-training is a little questionable. To be generous.  Within two days, the Dood had added his contribution to the proud history of rugs in our living room.

Years ago, Dave Barry, one of the funniest writers to have walked this earth, wrote that when he and his wife looked in their living room, they saw a beautiful Persian carpet. But when their dogs Earnest and Zippy looked in the same room, they saw something very different (I couldn’t locate the original article but recreated the image he included in the book for your entertainment):

toilet rug


So this got me thinking. Do we:

  1. Get rid of the rug and live with bare floors for the next (I hope) 15 years?
  2. Clean the rug so Doodly will have a sanitized bathroom?
  3. Replace the rug with something that won’t show the pee stains so badly?

I’ve decided on option 3. In fact, I’ve designed the perfect rug to meet the needs of humans and dogs alike:

Pee rug

And I thought all those years as an art major were for nothing! My talent cannot be hidden – it demands to be seen by the world. Perhaps I can convince QVC to give me own show: “Decorating Solutions for Dogs and Their Humans”. You’d watch, wouldn’t you?

Doodly Doright to the Rescue

Have you seen the bumper sticker, “My rescue dog rescued me”? I am here to tell you this is God’s own truth.

We lost our beautiful Boo in September. We got her ashes back, and there were many nights when I thought of taking a little of the ash and marking my heart with it. I didn’t (and I’m sure Scott is grateful for that!) but I was very, very sad. We planned to get a puppy in the spring, after we got some long-planned travel out of the way. I went online and started the search.

There were some rules. Our new pooch could not look anything like Boo – it would be unfair to the pup and painful for me. I also couldn’t handle another 65-pound dog. During Boo’s waning days, she needed help getting up and I just could not lift her.  Also, the thought of trying to manage a large, all-energy young dog on a leash was unimaginable. But we wanted Boo’s sweet temperament,  good heart, intelligence and soft retriever mouth. What to do, what to do…

The answer? A miniature or medium size doodle. Here’s the scoop. You breed a standard-sized golden retriever or labrador retriever mom to a medium-sized poodle and you get…a small doodle! Brilliant.

So now the hunt was on. Soon I was up to my neck in figuring out the differences between F1s, F1Bs and multi-generation puppies. I learned about genetic diseases and traits. I looked at loads of breeders, trying to figure out who was a puppy mill and who was an ethical, caring breeder. Thanks to my friend, Jillian Dorman, I got in touch with a terrific breeder in Atlanta who was planning on puppies in the spring. I was on my way!



Until my beloved got wind of my plan.

“Atlanta? Like in, Georgia?! You have lost your mind,” he bellowed. “And you’d do that because there are no dogs that need a home in Los Angeles? No dog who is living in a crate, waiting for a family to love him?”

OK. The big guy had a point. I whined about wanting a specific dog and how it would be so impossible to find one through a rescue organization. He didn’t budge. So I went back online. And found this face, looking for a home.

polar pose

Rescued from a kill shelter, Pups and Pals took this little guy to a safe place, cleaned him up, got him his shots, neutered him (uh, sorry, dude!), and starting assessing him for a future home. Eight to ten months old, the goldendoodle puppy was happy, friendly, and healthy – but stone cold deaf. And that is a challenge for any dog owner.

I immediately sent in an application for him, and then started doing homework on raising a deaf puppy. There’s not a lot of material out there, but I found one terrific book and a lot of good advice. Armed with our new copy of the American Sign Language dictionary, Scott and I started to figure out how we would work with our new dog, if we were lucky enough to get him.

The pup – now known as Doodly Doright (named for Dudley Do-Right on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle show), the “Dood” has quickly become a member of the family. He’s progressed from sleeping in a crate to sleeping in our bed, and he is quickly picking up sign language. He’s a joy. And we are so grateful to Pups and Pals for their rescue and their caring (thank you, Valerie and Dianne!).

My boy


And my darling Boo? Not replaced. Not forgotten. Tucked into my heart. Where Doodly is making a home of his own.

Good dog…

My Girl Boo

When I close my eyes, here is what I see…

A big green field. My dog prancing in the sunlight and grass. Me kneeling, arms out, and calling, “Boo Booooo!!”. And my big beautiful red furry girl bounding through the grass and into my arms.

I loved that dog. She was my shadow, my companion, my laughter, my joy. She slept with us at night, she lay at my feet when I worked, she stayed close while I was cooking, she sat quietly (hopefully!) by the table while we ate. We started our days together, going for long walks through the hills, with Boo ecstatic from start to finish (After, all what could be better than spending an hour with your humans, smelling delectable odors, marking your spot and getting treats?). We went to Montana together, where she loved the freedom, the smells and getting her feet wet in the lake. When we out for boat rides , she would frantically run from dock to dock, afraid to let us out of her sight.


We adopted Boo from Golden Retriever Rescue of Greater Los Angeles at age 5. I can’t speak to her first five years, but we made certain her next (almost) 10 years were wonderful. She repaid us a thousand times over with her love, good heart and devotion.

How painful is it to say goodbye? Beyond words. How small a price is that pain in comparison to the joy Boo Boo gave us? So very small.

Thanks to each and everyone of you who reached out with virtual hugs, sympathy, white light, prayers, tissues, and wise words. And thank you to my darling husband, our wonderful son and his partner for being with Boo and me as we took the last step of this journey. You made her passing a peaceful and loving experience.

I will carry Boo Boo in my heart forever.


On Being a Creative Uncreative

A few years ago, I picked up my brushes again – after a very long sabbatical – and tried to get back into painting. (Little known fact: I started college as an art major but left the program after our instructor brought all the freshman art students to the horse arena; had us walk around in the muck for 20 minutes, got us back on the stands and congratulated us on making the world’s largest abstract painting. I thought there was a deep and profound message in there about horseshit and made my way to the admin building where I became a communications major. And the rest, dear reader, is all history…)

Anyway, what I found when I went back to that former love was that:

  • I still have a good eye (I think)
  • But my ability to translate what I’m seeing and thinking into my hands creating seems to have gone away.

I saw in my mind’s eye the colors, the perspective, the design, but I couldn’t get it onto canvas. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t creative. It was frustrating. I kept at it for almost a year before deciding there are better ways to entertain myself.


At this point, I would have been delighted to produce something as gorgeous as this

At this point, I would have been delighted to produce something as gorgeous as this

Part way through that year of trying, I thought that perhaps if I tried more graphic, abstract painting, I might have a breakthrough. But years of painting realistically totally blocked me from doing something so different. My abstract attempts were even worse than my realism – they were a profound embarrassment.

So. Fast forward seven years. In the past month, I’ve read an outstanding novel, We Were Liars (E. Lockhart), a fun fantasy ride, Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman), and an important, insightful book on life in the Mumbai slums, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo). And I thought about my friends Greg Bardsley and Al Riske, both published writers of wild and crazy (Greg) and beautifully nuanced (Al) fiction, and  Molly Brandenburg, actress, writer and artist, who has combined her doodles and wit into thoroughly fun books.

So hey. Why can’t I do that? After all, writing is my one talent I don’t question, and I can be darn witty when the moment calls for it. (I once explained how a mundane health care spending account worked by starting off this way: “Bambi was a hooker with a heart of gold and a bad case of the clap. Fortunately, her pimp had arranged for his stable to take advantage of health care spending accounts…” Alas, this draft was not shared with my client, although I was sorely tempted.) And if you ever saw my doodle of Señor Sneeze, happily spraying snot all over the once-tempting breakfast buffet in Buenas Aires, you’d be flirting with a little snorting yourself…

But there’s more to being a creative than the occasional clever riff. It takes dedication, hard work, vision, persistence and passion to bring an idea to life. I take my hat off to Greg, Al, Molly, and all the rest of you who create works that entertain and uplift the rest of us.



The Care and Feeding of a New CEO

You have a new CEO. Congratulations! You’re in good company. The average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is just 4.6 years, so many of us have walked in your shoes.

As the head of employee communication for your organization, it’s your job to help that CEO be accepted and respected by employees, and to communicate his or her vision of the company under new leadership. Heady times, indeed!

Getting Started

To get started, your first step may be to…



What??? Say what???

Honestly, this advice comes from deeply painful personal experience. If you were a close trusted advisor to the outgoing CEO, the new CEO may look at you suspiciously.

You cannot be successful if you are not welcome, trusted and valued. So before you jump into this assignment, ask yourself:

  • Do we have good chemistry?
  • Do we have mutual respect?
  • Are our styles compatible, and if not, can I modify mine?
  • If this position were open, would I be the new CEO’s first choice?

If the answer is no, please reconsider moving forward. You will be in an uphill battle for years, and you will not be happy.

OK, so let’s assume that you feel comfortable that you can be successful in this challenge. What next?

Lots of people want to be near to the new CEO. There’s a seismic change going on in the power structure during this time, and you’ll be one of many vying to establish a relationship with your new leader.  So it’s important to think about what value you want to provide, what role you want to play, and how you’ll go about establishing yourself.

Your Value

To establish value, start by establishing need. Ask your chief human resources officer about your new CEO’s style and current/desired relationship with employees. Understand what your business requires, and how this CEO can help move the company forward.

Look at your organization with a clear head and critical eye. What’s working and what’s not working? Is the change in leadership welcome, dreaded or neutral? What do employees need right now – reassurance, encouragement, clarity about the future? What do managers need right now – guidance, reassurance, information?

What does your new CEO need right now, even if he or she won’t articulate it? How can you help your CEO get established with employees and other leaders in the company?

Back up this anecdotal data with facts. Review your latest survey results to remind yourself where the communication gaps exist, the credibility of leadership, and the engagement level of employees. If you don’t have this information, you need to get it. Put this at the top of your list.

Your Role

Now that you know what the organization and leadership need, you can think about what your role is. You also need to think about the team you need around you.

Enabling the success of a new leader is a team sport. You can’t do it alone. So team up with your communication colleagues in marketing, public relations and investor relations – that way you’ll be able to build consistent messaging and a tightly coordinated communication plan that reaches both internal and external audiences.

You also need to be part of the human resources transition team. As a trusted member of this group, you’ll gain insights into your new leader’s strengths and weaknesses, how the CEO will be received by the leadership team, and what, if any, politics needs to be considered. This information will be invaluable as you put together your communication and change management plan.

So what are your responsibilities, and how do you want your role to evolve? The first impression you make with the new leadership will influence your role in the future, so step and plan carefully.

Establishing Yourself: Planning

You need an internal communication 100-day plan for this leadership transition. There are many great examples of these – a quick Google search will reveal lots of case studies.

The plans tend to agree on these points:

  • Establish a set of short-term and longer-term goals. What do you hope to achieve in the first 100 days? What do you look to accomplish in the first year?
  • Know the landscape. All that knowledge gathering and collection is an absolute must for this communication plan.
  • Focus on relationships. People want to know the new CEO, so being visible and accessible is key. Relationships with the leadership team, with stakeholders, and with employees need care and feeding during this time.
  • Articulate clear messages. Create a message platform that’s easy to remember and compelling to the audience. Short is key. I usually think about limiting these platforms to three what’s and two how’s.
  • Be deliberate about channels. Some leaders are natural speakers, others find their sweet spot in one-on-one conversations. Think about what the mix of channels should be, based on CEO strengths and employee need.
  • Listen. Get your new CEO out on the road, to meet employees, hear what they have to say, and let people get to know him or her. This should be a top priority for the CEO, and it will pay huge dividends in the months to come.

Establishing Yourself: Expectations

What does your CEO want from you? What do you think your CEO should want from you?

In an ideal world, you two would sit down and have this conversation. But it likely won’t happen because your CEO is very busy and time is the most precious commodity. So you may need to align yourself with others who do get some face time with him or her.

Whether you meet with the CEO in person, provide a plan in writing, or ask a senior person to be your representative, you need a way to make your thinking visible.

Don’t present your full communication. Instead, hone in on the three key points.  Be brief, be snappy, be compelling. Come in prepared to talk about short-term needs. Know what your ask is. Don’t reach too far in these initial phases: focus on what is most important to you.

Establishing Yourself: Execution

In the end, it’s all about getting the job done. Follow through on your commitments. Deliver quality. Show results. Build on your successes. Reassess your failures and see how you can turn them into opportunity.

Build feedback into your plan. Make sure you know what the impact of your work is, and how employees feel about it. Be sure to schedule a follow-up communication survey to monitor progress and identify ongoing issues.

From Doer to Advisor

Over time, if you earn it, you can move from the person who thinks up the plan and executes it to someone who shapes the CEO’s relationship with employees.  The CEO needs people around him or her who are truth tellers, willing to give difficult feedback.

That may never happen for you. It takes a CEO who is open to it, and it takes a communicator who has superb relationship-building skills and has the real goods – knows how and what to counsel.

Typically, the chief marketing officer, chief human resources officer and chief operating officer are the ones who offer counsel and direction. But don’t underestimate the difference that you – the person who knows what employees think, say and believe better than anyone else in the company – can make.

You can make a difference by:

  • Providing direction and advice prior to a town hall. For example, questions employees will ask and body language during the session, based on your observation of previous events
  • Urging straight talk. Don’t let your CEO indulge in marketing hype. Employees want the truth, and they can spot a spin job from miles away
  • Arranging for personal visits. Your CEO needs to be seen and heard from. More important, your CEO needs to listen to employees. Make it your job to keep him or her visible and engaged.

An Amazing Opportunity

These are the big times. These are the opportunities that make or break communication careers. Be honest with yourself, be thoughtful, be courageous. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Team well with others. Make it about the CEO, not about you. Come with facts and deliver results.

It’s a new world for your company – and you. Make it happen.

The Best from the Best – Your 2014 Reading List

Nose in a book

I asked my Facebook friends a simple question a couple days ago – what book was your favorite read for 2013? And with that, 40 suggestions came pouring in! I don’t know about you, but I’m always interested in a great read. And I was excited to see some books that I already had on my Kindle/iPad that (I confess) I forgot I bought or had second thoughts about so hadn’t tried them yet. They are now on my top list. And as pleased I was to see books on the list that I, too, read and loved, it’s the treasure trove of new reads awaiting me that has me really excited.

Thank you everyone! Here’s the list (in  the order they came in), along with who recommended it and  links so you can read more about each one of them! Merry Christmas!

  1. The Golem and the Jini by Helene Wacker (Karen Shamban) (I second this recommendation – great read)
  2. At the Devil’s Table, The Untold Story of the Insider who brought down the Cali Cartel by William Rempel (Me!)
  3. The Frieda Klein mystery series by Nicci French (Penny Bruce)
  4. The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison (Penny Bruce)
  5. Capital by John Lanchester (Penny Bruce)
  6. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Matt Artz) (This was sitting on my Kindle, forgotten. Hidden treasure!)
  7. The Humans by Matt Haig (Matt Artz)
  8. Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanvich (Jan Brockway)
  9. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Carolyn McKenzie)
  10. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Karen Shamban) (I loved this book – found it a fast and fascinating read)
  11. The Big Short by Michael Lewis (Carolyn McKenzie)
  12. Where Did You Go Bernadette? by Marie Semple (Carol Capps) (I agree – great read!)
  13. Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Nancy Weintraub) (Thanks for lead, Nancy. Never heard of this but it looks terrific)
  14. Home by George Saunders (Mike Bellissimo)
  15. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (Greg Bardsley)
  16. Dare Me by Megan Abbott (Greg Bardsley)
  17. Rake by Scott Phillips (Greg Bardsley)
  18. Luminarium by Alex Shakar (Rachel Canon) (Another forgotten treasure on my Kindle… thanks, Rachel!)
  19. Tenth of December by George Saunders (Rachel Canon)
  20. Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (Rachel Canon)
  21. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (Phyllis Scargle)
  22. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Betty Chase)
  23. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (Betty Chase)
  24. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Joan Gross) (This was terrific – ever what happened to Doc in the Shining? Now you’ll know!)
  25. The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett (Joan Gross) (loved this book – didn’t want it to end)
  26. Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (Dana Fugate)
  27. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Linda Crowe and Ann Bischoff) (Can’t speak for the movie but the book is fantastic. Geri Rhoades first recommended it to me and I couldn’t put it down)
  28. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayer (Linda Crowe)
  29. Savages by Don Winslow (Al Riske)
  30. The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (Geri Rhoades)
  31. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (Geri Rhoades) (Just finished – was surprised at how good this was…)
  32. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Ann Bischoff)
  33. Hild by Nicola Griffith (Ann Bischoff)
  34. A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (April Rassa)
  35. The Circle by Dave Eggers (April Rassa and Hal Stern)
  36. The End of Wasp Season by Denise Mina  (Peter Ryan)
  37. Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin (Hal Stern)
  38. Squeeze Play by Jane Leavey (Hal Stern)
  39. Human Division by John Scalzi (Hal Stern)
  40. The Duplex by Kathryn Davis (Me!)

LATE BREAKING NEWS! Other suggestions that came in response to this post:

41.  Lush Life by Richard Price (Ellen McGlone)

42. The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Mike Bellissimo) (Hey, Mike – this looks amazing! Thanks!)

43. Little Bee by Chris Cleve (Kathy Knopoff)

44. Pilgrim’s Wilderness by Tom Kizzia (Kathy Knopoff)

45.  Unwritten by Charles Martin (Kathy Knopoff)

So there you have it. Keep track of books you love in the coming year, and we’ll do this again next December. Ye ha!