Saturday, July 29, 2006

Homeward bound... in the opposite direction...

At 2:30 Friday I shot out the door and hit the pavement. By 3:30 I was past Monroeville and pulling into the Murraysville Sheetz for a some portable food. Two hot dogs, a bag of pretzels, and a large Pepsi later, I was on my way again. My only rule for food when I travel is that I can eat it whle I drive. Fast food obviously fits the bill. But, as Sheetz likes to point out, its food is "good food, fast." I think.

Anyway, it's been two years since I last drove this route, and the changes were amazing. The construction I suffered through in years past was completed in many places and made the ride as easy as could be. At that hour, I was one of the few cars on the road, meaning that I could max the speed limit and not have to fuss about slow drivers.

Route 80 was so empty that I was on cruise control for about 40 miles. That's a dangerous thing: it's always tempting to take my hands off the wheel for some reason.

By the time I landed in Williamsport, I was in high spirits -- so much so that I forgave the yutz who cut me off and denied me the opportunity to exit where I was supposed to exit, thus forcing me to head down the road a few more miles and get the next off-ramp. I knew where I was so it was no big deal.

I checked in, made it to my room, unpacked only what I had to unpack, then hightailed it to the hospitality suite.


The crew was, apparently, still golfing. No problem. I went back to my room and actually conquered some work. When I made it down there an hour or so later...

How good it was to be back. How good it was to see old friends. How hard it was not to cry. I'll only get sentimental once, I promise. And this is that once.

Coming back to PFEW is, to me, one of my last steps back into the life I had before Dad stopped his chemo and decided that quality of life was his goal, not quantity. My world stopped then, as you know. It started to move again a year later when he passed away, but I wasn't the woman I had been, and finding out just who I am has been quite a journey.

So seeing these men and women, being hugged and welcomed back as if I'd only seen them yesterday, was healing in some fashion. I felt like I was home again.

There. Sentimentality...

...promptly cured with a few good remarks, the re-discovery of our "Where's Weenie" book, and promises from Chuck better left off the printed page.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

103 weeks since, only days to go! PFEW, here I come!

While it's easy to go on about toddlers and ice cream, defining one's career, and even the comforting sameness of relationships, talking about today's topic has left me at a loss from day one.

How does one even begin to talk about a blink in time, where one is working her tail off, using one of her two precious vacation weeks per year, and spending the bulk of each day with a score of teenagers she's never met before?

How can I even start to explain the fact that, come Friday night, I'll be in a hotel hospitality suite greeting men and women I haven't seen since 2004... and it will be like I saw them yesterday?

I'm not sure it's possible, but I'm going to give it the old college try. ______________________________

This post was originally title "Payback," because that's what this whole odyssey began as: a chance to return a favor.

Once upon a time, as I mentioned once before, I was so shy that being called on to answer in class was agony. If the yearbook category existed, I would have been voted "Most Likey to Blush Herself to Death." (A bit un-weildy a title, though. Don't you think?)

But through two grand adventures, I found my voice and -- as many of you in Week III will say -- haven't stopped using it since.

One was the combined experience of college and The Setonian.
The other was Junior Achivement (JA).

JA was my first opportunity to be exactly what, exactly who, I wanted to be. The tenactious reporter and editor that I became in college emerged while I was sanding the raw edges of aluminum cookie sheets, bending metal rods into coat hangers, boxing Swedish fish, and running around trying to get my production crew to actually produce.

I didn't blush much at the JA meetings, I was too busy shouting at people to quit playing poker and start putting decals on the t-shirts.

Someone must have realized that I was more then bluster, because the second year there I found myself on a bus with roughly 20 other teens, barreling toward Bloomington, Indiana, for a seven-day leadership conference or something like that. It was the National Junior Achievement Conference (NAJAC), which welcomed roughly 1,000 teenages from around the nation. We were there to learn about business and leadership, to compete on a national level for titles we held regionally, and to see that there was more to the world then our hometowns.

To sixteen-year-old me, though, it was a chance to pretend to be cool. Leadership, back then, was easy enough: you simply had to look like you knew which end of the glue gun to use (we were making Christmas wreaths that year). Oh, yeah, and you had to be able to out-shout the others. As for business, well, I was going to be an English teacher! Who needs Drucker when you have Wordsworth?

I wasn't much more mature then the others who went, particularly on the bus; I was too much the teenager. What became known as "The Teddy Graham Incident" lived on for at least three years... and when the self-appointed 17-year-old chaperone discovered that his flashlight was missing, I was the first one he blamed... not that he could find it to prove that it was me!

(I was guilty, by the way. He kept shining it in people's faces. It needed to vanish.)

At NAJAC I made some of the best friends I will ever be fortunate enough to have. Some of them are reading this now, in fact. It doesn't matter that we haven't seen each other in years. There's a bond that wrinkles time and distance into nothing more then small inconvenient details. Time is relative. It was only last week that the 24 of us, myself and 23 people from everywhere but my hometown, sat under a tree and talked about what we did well. For many of us, that was a very foreign experience. Just three days ago, or so it seems, we listened to Dave Thomas talk about his life and what it was like to open his first restaurant. And last night we went to the President's Ball dressed in the finest clothing we owned and celebrated a week survived.

The speakers, both motivational and business-oriented, gave me topics to think about... ones I now use in my management classes at ICM, incidentally.

Two years later, I boarded the bus for the same trip for the third time. This time I was the official chaperone, the only college student on the bus, responsible for 20 teens that I only sort of knew. I'd learned, by then, that shouting wasn't leadership, and -- without flashlight :) -- managed to keep everyone intact for the entire trip to and from.

I went that third year and entered the talent show with intentions to solo. I made it to the final round before being cut. I had finished my years with JA by earning the region's top awards in entrepreneurship and production. I had scholarships. I had my voice.

And now, next week.

For the last seven years, I've been attending Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week, a.k.a. PFEW, as a volunteer, working with teachers and students -- ostensibly to help them learn about free enterprise.

As the "Company Advisor," I get to work with "my" kids from Sunday afternoon to Friday night, taking them from a group of total strangers to, ideally, a cohesive team. We begin with Junk Night, where they make a product and commercial from broken toasters and old lawn chairs, literally from junk! And they do it all in about 45 minutes. It's here were we begin to see leaders emerge, where the ones who were quiet all day come up with fantastic ideas that win awards and bragging rights.

Monday brings the rules of the game -- how to play the computer simulation and how to create an advertising campaign. It's a grueling days filled with pages of notes and rules that seem to make little sense.

BizSim? They think to themselves or wail aloud. We're going to play twelve business quarters? What the heck is R & D? How does that impact my sales? If I want to be a price leader in my industy do I need to pump up my quality budget? What demographic group do we want to target with our ad campaign and how should we explain that in Friday's presentation to the stockholders? How are we going to get this all done by Friday morning?

And who is this adult who keeps answering our questions with questions?!

The kids have that "deer in the headlights" look for a while on Monday, but it vanishes after the first or second round of the simulation. By then, too, they have a CEO and other officers to help lead.

Come Tuesday morning, they're dividing themselves up and beginning to run their own business -- some do the simulation, others do the advertising. By Wednesday, we company advisors begin to become superfluous...

Saying that I do this each year to help students find their voices as I found mine sounds cliched and trite. It's true, believe me, but I have this feeling that I'm still getting more out of it then the students.

I'm leaving on Friday at, ideally, 2:05 p.m. Since I'm taking my trusty laptop, I'm going to challenge myself to blog the days to see if I can't give you a taste of Week III at Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week.

PFEW, here I come!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Truck fruit snacks!

So we're still working on this potty training thing. Gavie gets a little bag of fruit snacks each time he goes potty by himself. (I know, I know: all that sugar!)

My kid eats like all of two out of each bag. The rest are doled out to Mommy and Daddy and Aunt Na. I get the red, Daddy gets the blue, and Na gets the orange. Gavie eats the green. Yellow fruit snacks are tricky because sometimes they're for Pap-Pap. We usually tell him to eat the yellow for Pap, and he does.

The other day he did the deed and ran out to me, yelling excitedly: "Truck fruit snacks! Truck fruit snacks!" I'd just answered the phone and wasn't moving fast enough, so he ran over to Daddy. "Truck fruit snacks! Truck fruit snacks!"

Erik, who just walked in and didn't know about Gavie's accomplishment, told him that he had to go potty first. Nonplussed, my problem-solving boy did what only made sense to him... get the potty and provide the necessary evidence.

Picture this, dear readers: my study little three-year-old running into the powder room and coming back out, pushing his little blue and yellow potty before him.

Now picture this: two grown adults leaping up to stop him before the contents went everywhere.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Growing pains

A question from a former prof about a week ago Friday has my brain aching. Paired with a too-true remark about my current career, I think my brain is about to implode.

When I started at my current place of employ, I was reeling from three years in a private high school. It hadn't been a difficult place to work; I had a few good friends there and a principal I trusted. It was just... well, I'm a good high school teacher but, I think, a better college teacher. In general, I seem to have a better rapport with the over-18 set.

Anyway, in the last three years, I've regained that confidence and then some. Students tell me that they ask for my classes, that I'm one of the few that control the criminal justice students. They come in to class and tell me how what we did in management class related to something in their workplace. They bring in letters and resumes for me to help them edit. There's a need that goes beyond academic: many of them lack basic skills so many of us take for granted.

Classes sometimes turn into coaching sessions where we talk about what to do when a boss is unprofessional or when a co-worker is pushing for a fight. We'll discuss what to do in interviews and how to be ethical at work without feeling as if they're selling out or going against the world they grew up in.

It wasn't all giving. I took a lot too. So many students asked how things were going, didn't complain when I was too emotionally scattered to remember to even bring my board markers to class -- five days in a row. I think I lost more markers in that time then I've used in the last ten years. I only cried in class once, when a student gave a speech about his mother dying from cancer.

Even now, with Dad gone and students who didn't know me while he was dying, they still give and I still take. My classroom evaluation last Wednesday was spectacular because they wanted to help me, so while my supervisor sat and watched, they were perfect. On-task. Focused. Interested. The women who are old enough to be my mother tease me about having a second child someday; those who are my contemporaries compare notes with me on child-rearing. The men, of all ages, are generally respectful -- or smart enough to keep silent. Word has it that I won't allow anyone to swear, let alone make remarks of questionable taste. Enough of the male population has heard my "creating an uncomfortable environment" speech, I guess. It's long, drawn-out, and scary. Once you hear it, you never want to hear it again.

I haven't gone nose-to-nose with a student in years. Haven't had to kick anyone out either. I'm settled, organized, comfortable.

Too comfortable, I fear.

So what do I want? To write, to learn, to design, to present... to be everything.

In first grade, I had a list of things I would be when I grew up: an artist, a ballarina, an actress, a teacher, a writer, a singer... the world really was my oyster, and I was smart enough to know that I could do anything.

Somewhere along the way, I learned the wrong lessons and discarded the optomism for what I thought was a better reality. Thank God for college dorm life. It cracked, then shattered, the fishbowl I grew up in.

Little Miss Doesn't-Have-A-Voice ended up running the campus newspaper and making it number one in the nation. Twice. The same girl who turned red each time her grade school teachers asked her to answer a homework question regularly interviewed the college president, dogging her on the school budget. In my senior year, we took on the student council as well, questioning voting procedures and the incumbents' integrity. Our stories were so tightly written that the underground rag found little to pick apart, only hammering us once on a date rape article that was, admittedly, "unfocused." Our paper went from eight pages to twelve and two-page spreads were normal. My staff was incredible: without them, The Setonian would have been nothing but birdcage liner.

I met people from other fishbowls and bigger aquariums... and learned that dreaming really was okay again.

So what happened in those ten years since graduation? Don't say marriage, that's absurd. Erik gives me so much leeway that it's astounding. He sent me back to college for an English degree, racking up more debt, when we were living in a tiny rental house and buying generic everything. Our house was furnished in what I call "early hand-me-down." Aside from our bed and tv, we bought nothing. I could have been working somewhere and paying down our credit cards, but instead I was sitting in a classroom demystifying Hamlet and critiquing Wordsworth. Even now, when I'm talking about my Ph.D. in two years, he says "go for it."

Tonight I'm up here on-line. I just finished another entry for Killing Julie,, and am trying to finish this blog. There's laundry to be folded and our living room probably needs a dusting, but he's not worried. He told me to go ahead and write, then picked up Gavie's toys then settled down with the book he's been reading. Tomorrow night he's taking the little one out for new shoes. When I come home from physical therarpy (screwed up my shoulder), I'll have the house to myself and will be able to take care of whatever chores demand immediate attention... and then turn my attention to this PartyLite business.

My first party is next Sunday. I'm still trying to figure out what the hell I was thinking when I signed up. Probably something about new furniture for my formal living room (which has nothing but a couch and a piano, both hand-me-downs). Anyway, I'll do what I can. I've no intention of making this into a career, believe me. It's all about short-term financial gain to feed my materialistic nature. If I do one or two shows a month, I'm happy. And, if PartyLite's dissatisfied with that, c'est la vie. It's not a job I plan to stress over.

(I wonder if PartyLite will fire me for being an underachiever? That might be an accomplishment in itself. Can you be fired from a pyramid scheme?)

Anyway, Erik gives me more then enough room to grow. I've been in no-man's-land with my life (willingly) on hold for so long that, even though it's six months since, I still feel like I'm waking up from a long sleep. Dreams? What are those? Am I allowed to think like that again? I am. Really! How amazing... don't you think? To actually be able to look into the future without "before" and "after" in the sentences, without time being divided by a black dress and a grey casket.