Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cow Stories

Today is my very last day at the college where I have worked for the past two and a half years. It seems odd that after today I will be turning in my keys and my badge and not returning to this place.

I am very much ready to move on to the new position I have accepted. I think this transition will be a good thing. Still, today I am thinking about all that I will miss.

On the absolute top of that list is the chance to hear Cow Stories from my boss, Dr. Harvey Franklin.

Harvey has been a great boss. He has taught me a lot. He helped me learn to navigate my way through a sometimes complicated political climate. He gave me room to take chances and try new things without ever making me feel stupid if I failed. He was always available to listen and offer support. But best of all, he told me cow stories.

I remember a particular day when I was trying to set up some new technology the college had purchased, "clicker" response devices. I needed to do a demonstration of how they worked, but I had not yet used them myself. I was having a few problems getting them to set up properly. I double checked my installation. I checked all the cords. I re-read the manual. But I was stumped. Time was ticking by before I would have to be in front of people sounding confident, encouraging them to adopt this new tool. But I didn't have a clue how to make them work. I was nervous and frazzled to say the least.

So I took a break from it all and went into Harvey's office to hear cow stories. He told me tales of "Babygirl" a calf that he and his wife were bottle feeding. It's one of those "you had to be there" sort of things. To sit and listen to Harvey weave his stories just always made me smile, relax and feel better about whatever challenge I had to face.

After a little while I was sufficiently calmed down to go back to the table where I had the technology all spread out and yes, I did figure it out and did my presentation just fine.

Another time Harvey and I were doing a presentation together in the auditorium in front of the entire college faculty and staff. Let's just say it did NOT go well. The person who had set up our equipment for us used a cord with a broken clip so we lost our Internet connection part way through. They gave us a different remote for the ITV than what we had practiced on. Here we were in front of the whole school trying to present a smooth demonstration of using these tools and everything went wrong. It was horrible. But we got through it and Harvey's support that day meant more to me than he will ever know. When I was feeling angry and humiliated he helped me put it in perspective and even to laugh about it later.

We have a standard joke about a very long cord...another snafu. We talk about "pumpkins" and we talk about cows. I'll always remember him slowing me down, teaching me patience, teaching me to "get the lay of the land" when I wanted to charge in blazing. He was right. He taught me about checking perceptions. He taught me how to ask questions more effectively.

Harvey has been more than a boss, in many ways he has been my mentor and friend. We've been a good team. I will miss working with him, but most of all I'll miss his stories. I WON'T miss staff meetings. But I will miss sitting in his office talking about all sorts of things. I'll miss his wise council and support.

I've had some great bosses and some terrible bosses. I've learned much from both. Now that I will be the boss at my new position, I hope I can be half as good there as Harvey has been to me. Clearly, there are things I will do differently. But much of what I know about how to manage people and projects has been influenced by this man. So I'll be thinking of Harvey and the cow stories as I head off to my new job tomorrow. I'll be a little bit sad. But I'll also be grateful for the chance I've had here to learn and develop new areas of expertise. Now it's off to a whole new adventure. Ready or not, here I come.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Goodbyes are Hard

I've been scrambling like crazy to wrap up all my projects at the college to prepare for my exit next week. I have just five more working days to get it all documented and packed up. I've been so focused on the task at hand I hadn't really let it sink in that I will be saying good-bye to several people I've come to care a great deal about.

On occasion I've torn out my hair over the politics and the sometimes dysfunctional system of the college where I work. But even at its most pathological phases, I've been truly blessed to work with some dynamite folks. For the past two and a half years we've shared a lot. After next week I won't be seeing them again.

There are a few I HOPE to have some ongoing contact with. But I've moved and changed jobs too many times to be very optimistic about that. Many a time I've heard folks say "oh, let's do stay in touch" but the reality is life gets busy and once we no longer have the common work environment there is precious little to pull us back to the same level of camaraderie we once shared. Particularly since I'll be working in a town 50 miles away (transitioning from Pendleton, OR to Walla Walla, WA) it is highly unlikely I'll see many of the old crew much at all. It's not like we can catch a quick lunch together and share stories.

So today I started really feeling the loss of all that I'm walking away from. I'm quite sure this transition will be mostly positive for me. But the change will have its share of heartache as well as blessings.

Besides missing certain people, I am very much going to miss the sense of mastery I have now. I know my role well and I'm good at it. I have every reason to believe I will GET good at my new job, hopefully in short order. But there is no way of getting around the fact that the first few weeks I'll be in a foreign land, unsure of processes and procedures, trying to learn names, reviewing every single policy with no sense of familiarity at all. I don't look forward to that.

I'm trying to be as positive about the whole thing as I can. I have already started thinking about some things I hope to initiate and scheming about ways I can start off strong. But I know that to a certain extent I will need to be patient, take my time, get the lay of the land and give myself some grace as I find my way in unfamiliar territory.

So I take a deep breath and plunge forward. The next few days will be a mixed bag emotionally speaking, of that I am sure.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cardboard Free Zone!

Tonight I finally got the rest of the kitchen entirely unpacked, scrubbed and settled. I'm sure I'll move things around several times still as I try to figure out where things go. But it feels SOOO good to be free from boxes in at least a few rooms now. The basement and my office upstairs are still a horrible catastrophe of cardboard. But at least our main living areas are clear now.

Not only is the place starting to look a lot better as I get more unpacked, it's SAFER to know where things are. The week we moved in I had a near disaster.

After a long day of hauling things up and down stairs we were tired and hungry. Somehow the box marked "Pans" got put someplace other than where it should have so it took half of forever to find stuff to cook with. FINALLY I was able to piece together some stuff and started cooking jambalaya. It smelled so yummy and I was REALLY hungry!

However, cooking here is very different from cooking at the former place. At my old house I had a glass top stove that regulated heat so it was almost impossible to burn things. At this house we have just a standard electric stove that heats up FAST and stays hot. So even though I didn't have the stove turned up all that high, the rice was starting to scorch to the bottom of the pan. I looked over at the chair next to the stove where the box with all the spices and syrups and other stuff that had been in the cupboard next to the stove in the old house was sitting. I saw a can of what I THOUGHT was cooking spray in the middle of the box so I grabbed it and sprayed it into the pan to keep my rice from sticking.


It was not cooking spray. It was heavy duty oven cleaner.

Um, yeah. Not good. Suffice it to say that it made one heck of a mess and our dinner was ruined. I was darn lucky the stuff didn't catch fire.

So we've had our moments with this move. There have been several incidents that have left us frustrated, exhausted, overwhelmed or exasperated. Still, more and more each day I am all the more convinced that this deliberate downsizing was a wise move for us. Bit by bit this place will become HOME, even though it's not our house. I expect we'll live here about five years. After that, who knows?

For now, it's a fit.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Morgan Dog Comes Home

We were finally able to bring our dog to the new house today. When we moved in there was no fence, so it just wasn't feasible to have her here until we could get one built. We've had her boarding with some friends, neighbors of ours at the former house. I've really missed the beast! My beloved has worked really hard the last three days putting up a lovely picket fence around the yard here so now our dog can be with us. She has been walking around sniffing things and checking the place out. So far she's not quite sure what to think, but I'm sure she'll settle in fine.

We've had Morgan for about two and a half years, since she was just a few weeks old. She's one of the best dogs I've ever known.

I've been thinking about the various animals I've had in my life...

As a kid my family gathered quite an eclectic menagerie. We had goats and chickens, a pony, various dogs and cats, and at one time even three squirrel monkeys. There were guinea pigs and rats, parakeets, rabbits and a ferret. We didn't have all of these at the same time, mind you. But over the years we bonded with all sorts of critters. When I was cleaning out the house to move I found an old newspaper clipping in a drawer that told of a "Pets on Parade" event in the small town where I grew up. I walked in the parade with a chinchilla in a cage. I think I won honorable mention for "most unusual pet".

I honestly can't imagine a life that didn't include animals.

During my married life we've nearly always had a dog. Early on it was Bojangles, a fluffy mop of a dog that was quarter poodle, quarter pointer and half Shetland sheepdog. He was sharp as a whip and shared many adventures with us for over 15 years. After Bo came Ayla, a beagle who was SUPPOSED to be my dog, but totally bonded with my husband instead and usually ignored me. We had a Dalmatian named Madeline for a short while and a Shih Tzu named China.

But no dog since Bojangles has taken to our hearts the way Morgan has.

I've never been a cat person. I know several people who adore their felines, but I prefer dogs. Their level of loyalty and interaction just suits me better.

I've never understood why Leona Helmsley would leave $12 Million of her fortune to a dog. That seemed ridiculous and mean spirited to me when there are so many people and causes who could have benefited from that wealth. But I do value the relationship I have with my dog. I'm really glad she's home.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Trusting the Universe

Recently I had a major decision to make. I had two very different paths open up to me. Today I made my choice.

At the college where I have worked for the past two and a half years there has been a bit of musical chairs going on. One of the upper administration types has submitted his resignation as he is going to a different college in California. My boss has been appointed interim in the position being vacated. So the powers that be were asking me to step up to my boss's job, being the Director of a major federal grant program. In many ways it was a tremendous opportunity, offering me more money, more responsibility, more autonomy... and a higher level of experience that could well lead to other opportunities in academic leadership.

But I was also being considered for an Executive Director position with a not-for-profit organization nearby that provides transitional services for recently released felons to help them have a positive re-entry into the community. That job paid substantially less and required a further commute. But it seemed like a spot where my particular skills would be a good match. I had some major reservations, but remained interested in the position.

I had one meeting with the executive board from the non profit and stayed in an ongoing dialogue with them about what that job involved. I knew that they wanted me pretty seriously. I also had a long heart-to-heart talk with my boss about the job he had to try to figure out whether I would want to take it over or not. I was fairly committed to wanting to complete some projects there that I had been on the ground floor of helping design. I kept going back and forth between the two trying to figure out which one would be the best.

I tallied up all the pros and cons of each job. There was no clear winner. I pondered and prayed and asked for discernment. I could clearly see how I could do good service in either position. I talked with several trusted friends, weighing the relative merits of both paths. I was still stumped. What's a girl to do?

Then today I was in a second meeting with executive committee from the Board of the non profit group. They had me review their financial statements, discuss their agency mission and guiding values, check out the office environment, meet some of the players. This was intended to be my final fact-gathering session. I had both offers clearly in my hands and just had to pick between the two.

I pretty much planned to spend the whole weekend thinking about it, praying about it, talking it over with my husband. But then, on an impulse, I decided not to do that.

I recognized than either way I went I could be happy. Either way I went I could make a positive contribution. Both jobs had some very definite advantages. Both jobs had some not-so-shiny aspects to them. I could spend the next two days agonizing over the relative merits and then forever second guess myself over whether I had made the right decision. Or not. So I decided to just leave it up to the universe to choose which path for me to take.

I turned to the gentleman who serves as treasurer for the non profit group and asked him, "Do you have a coin?" He looked at me sort of confused. They knew I had another job offer that I was trying to choose between. So I said to him: "Look, I am impressed with what you have shown me so far. But is that a better match for me than the position at the college? I'm just not sure. So we are going to flip for it. Call it in the air. If it lands how you call it I will accept this position. If it lands the other way, I'm going to stay at the school. You make the call."

They were horrified. They could not believe I would be so flippant about such a major decision. But I assured them I meant it. So he pulled out a quarter and flipped the coin.

It was tails.

I am now the new Executive Director of STAR Project.

They even let me keep the quarter.

They are convinced I am utterly nuts (which is probably true). But they are delighted to have me come on board and I feel at peace with it. Some might say it was foolish to abdicate responsibility for my choice in such a haphazard way. I, however, am entirely comfortable with it. Rather than worry and fret and agonize over whether I made the right decision or not, I'm simply trusting that God and the universe know more about what is best for my future than I do. It was my way of surrendering my need to control every aspect of my life. I was ready to let go and trust.

I know this will be a very demanding job and I have a HUGE challenge ahead of me. But I am ready to give it my best shot. On Monday I will give my two weeks notice to the college. I start my new job on August 1. Ready or not, here I come.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Making Due in South Africa

My beloved pal Patricia is serving a 2 year stint with the Peace Corp in South Africa. She started out in Ghana but was later moved due to some medical issues that made it advisable to be closer to doctors in case she needed them. (Many people would have seen her circumstance as valid reason to high tail it back to the states, but this is one gutsy, determined lady who is tenacious as they come.)

This is something she shared in a recent e-mail:

Meantime, let me share a few of the interesting ways my villagers "make due": remember my story of the game with the deflated soccer ball? well here's an even better one I forgot to share ... the small boys who don't have soccer balls at all will fill a plastic grocery bag with many other bags and form it into a uniquely "round" shape, tape it up, and off they go down the road, kicking it around with the best of them; all of the people who don't have cars, or donkey carts, have wheelbarrows ... these they take to town on market day, fill it full of rice sacks and bags of maize, and wheel it back home again; when someone wants to make an announcement to all the village, they drive up and down the dirt roads with a bullhorn, blasting out the news or invitation or announcement ... of course I never know what they are saying, but I can still admire the effectiveness their efforts; I told you how the women sweep their dirt yards daily to keep it beautiful and free of debris ... well, when fall arrives and many of the trees started dropping their leaves, the ladies just have a fit ... they have solved the problem by getting the men of the village to climb the trees and saw off ALL the limbs ... that'll take care of those damn leaves! ... now our village has bare, ugly tree trunks in every yard, but the ladies are happy again; I often see the little kids, including the boys, wearing the clip on bread tags as earings; and I just love watching mohau and makuba playing in the yard, especially when they can't see me watching ... they can spend all morning entertaining themselves with nothing more than some sticks, rocks, mud, a broken plastic scoop and a rusty piece of pipe ... they are always singing, laughing, skipping, marching ... mohau leads, makuba follows faithfully.

And just to make you feel a little better about your gas prices, the cost of gas here is $5.65/gallon!

Kind of puts my circumstances here in this cushy land of abundance in perspective, don't ya think?

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