Thursday, June 28, 2012

Camping in my house

People who play Texas Hold 'Em poker know this phrase: All you need is a chip and a chair.

Essentially this is what people who are winning are saying to the people who are losing, to supposedly give them hope... or to keep them at the table so the rest of their small chip stack can be extricated from said loser. And, I suppose, this is true. If you are really good at poker, you could take that chip and leverage it into many chips after several winning hands. However, this is difficult and probably a myth. I have no evidence that a person who merely had one chip has ever won the World Series of Poker. And the chair part, well, that's obvious: One must be seated at the table in order to be dealt any cards. A chip and a chair.

In Abode Guthrie these days, it's two lawn chairs, a bar stool and a cardboard box. That's our version of 'a chip and a chair' when it comes to living these days. The movers removed the last of our furniture from our house yesterday at 4 p.m., leaving us with the items we plan to store with/give to Rodney's family in Illinois (pictures, Marble the dog, the Explorer, liquid items that cannot be packed, etc.), and the luggage we plan to take with us on the planes.

Once our chairs and sofa were loaded in to the moving truck at around 11 a.m., Rodney and I wandered around the house, trying to find ways to get comfortable. I opted for the air mattress for a short while, but that just wasn't conducive to laptop usage. Rodney sat on the floor, but after awhile the butt ache required him to abandon this position. Eventually, when we were trying to straighten out our travel arrangements the government gave us (this is a whole other story that I may get in to some other time), Rodney and I used the guest bathroom as our office. He was seated on the toilet lid, writing notes on a paper pad balanced on the sink, and I was perched on the edge of the bathtub. Truly, this was the best we could do with the non-furniture we had on hand. But this would not do for TV watching, breakfast eating or laptop using. A trip to Wal-mart was needed!

Rodney modeling our new furniture
At Wal-mart, we acquired a bar stool and two lawn chairs (to also be used at the family barbecue in Illinois on the 4th of July). Little did I know, but these items, coupled with a cardboard box I found in the garage, and the air mattress we already owned, were all we would need to survive camping in our home for the next 4.5 days.

Yes, I called it camping. I am a woman who appreciates the comforts the 21st century has afforded me. Like a pillow top mattress. An easy chair. A vacuum cleaner. I am not being afforded those comforts at this time, so, therefore, I am camping. Every campsite should have running water, electricity and internet access, as far as I am concerned, so those features available in my home at this time are considered standard.

It's amazing how truly adaptable and creative humans can be. I say humans collectively because Rodney and I are not extraordinary and I have seen much more creative uses for items on the internet. Simply Google search images for "creative uses with duct tape" for a sampling.

In the mere 18 hours since we acquired our new survival gear, we have found countless uses for these items, some of them illustrated below:
Replacement bar stool/office chair

Night stand

End table and coffee table/ottoman
Entertainment center and easy chairs
So, I think we will manage to survive the next few days of living in Pensacola, thanks to our new furniture. Well, those and the local restaurants. Don't even get me started with what Rodney had planned for cooking. Let's just say it included the use of aluminum foil, a brick and a lighter. I nixed that PDQ. That just sounded way too 'campy' to me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Leadership: It all stems from selfless vs. selfish

If there is anything I have learned as I traipse through my adulthood is that not everyone is an effective leader. In fact, I think I have learned what not to do from most of my managers. There are a few shining beacons, but, for the most part, it seems like leaders in corporate America are selected in one of three ways:

1) They have been there forever, they follow orders well and the natural progression is to promote them
2) They know a decision-maker within the organization and are, therefore, hired and/or promoted, skills notwithstanding
3) They still know the right people, and they are great at what they currently do, but the jury is still out as to whether or not they are truly leaders

I have also learned that you don't need to have a title to be a leader (there is actually a book by that title out there that explains this, and it has some great ideas, but, when I read it, I found it to be an attempt to assuage your anger about not getting promoted or paid for your leadership skills, but I digress...). People naturally gravitate toward people who have a good head on their shoulders, are engaged in bettering the company, organization or group as a whole, and genuinely care for the members of the team. Sure, I spent an entire semester in grad school studying leadership, and the emerging concept of followership, but this article posted to Facebook today by a fellow military wife and career-woman friend of mine sums it up quite nicely. Lessons from the Military: Your Risk is my Risk, Too in the Harvard Business Review basically says that leaders need to have some skin in the game. They need to be selfless, not selfish. There's a whole book on that, too: Jim Collins' Good to Great. In it he talks about truly great leaders who exemplify what he calls Level 5 Leadership. To sum it up in one statement: These leaders are selfless, not selfish. The keep their heads down and do what they can to make the company and/or their subordinates shine. They inspire the team to reach for the stars. You won't find hundreds of articles about them in Newsweek, Time, or the business sections of the national newspapers. They are too busy creating something great with great people.

And this is not just applicable to leaders in the military or corporate America. When was the last time you were on a project team? Maybe it was for work. Maybe it was for your kids' school's PTA. Maybe it was a scrapbooking page swap. Whatever it might have been, there is generally a leader, even unofficially. It's the host, the one who did the project last year or someone who just seems to have a good head on their shoulders. Chances are there wasn't just a leader, but a great leader, if the project, task force or swap went smoothly and it was a great experience. Think about what that leader did that you may not have been aware of. Did you feel like a valued member of the team? Were your strengths utilized? Was the mission accomplished on time and within budget? Now compare that to a team experience you would never want to repeat? What was different?

Now think about the last time you were in charge. Even if the last time was you being in charge of your own children, the question remains the same: Were you selfless or selfish?

Monday, June 25, 2012

I agree... women can't have it all... yet

I am sitting here on my one remaining couch as two large, good-natured black men listen to country music on an iPhone and pack up my household goods bound for Japan, whistling as they work. The two movers did an assessment of the house and came to the conclusion that they should start on the kitchen and the scraproom, since those two rooms appear to have the most stuff in them. I am not-so-secretly proud that my scraproom rivals my (husband’s) kitchen in its contents. And this is after I sold about a third of its contents. Anything worth doing is worth doing right…

And this leads me in to the purpose of my blog post. This morning, I took a quick trip to Sonic (one of the places I am deeply going to miss once I am in Japan) for a breakfast burrito and Route 44 unsweet iced tea. While I drove, l listened to NPR. On the Diane Rehms show, a handful of guests were talking with the host about a new article published in The Atlantic magazine, titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” It takes about 30 minutes to read the article in its entirety, but I had the time, so I did. And I have to say, I agree with so much of what the author and college professor Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote. She also gave me hope that I can still have a successful career once my kids are grown and my husband retires from the military. That anything I choose to do, I can still do it well.

Military wives and mothers were not discussed specifically in the article. With less than 1 percent of the American populace serving in the military, and not all of them sharing their home with a female spouse, this would be a small fraction of the women facing the work-life balance struggle. Adding the challenges military spouses face when it comes to that balance would have added another 20 minutes of reading to the article and is truly unnecessary to get Slaughter’s message across.

Slaughter offered several suggestions on how American society needs to change so that women, even men, could have it all. Among them were school schedules that match work schedules (she correctly argues that the current school year was designed to meet the needs of an agrarian society that no longer exists), the extended use of technology to reduce the amount of travel and face-to-face meetings required for work, and employers’ understanding of research that has shown that employees who pull consistent “all-nighters” or 60-hour work weeks are actually less effective or productive than those who have regular work hours and good time management skills. I actually experienced a spark of pride when Slaughter said my home state of California has it right: They take leisure as seriously as they take work, and still manage to be the hotbed of innovation in many industries. My primarily California upbringing by two native Californians must have played a key part in making it possible for me to balance family, two jobs and graduate school while on a lean budget these past two years. Land of Fruits and Nuts, maybe, but it sounds as though we may not be the crazy ones after all.

But why should America change? What’s the value? Because it’s smarter and more efficient. It will make us more competitive in a global market where we are losing ground. Employees will be happier, families stronger, and kids will be better off. And both women and men will be valued for their talents and abilities, rather than how many hours they toil at their desks. Who toils at a desk anymore, anyway? As mentioned before, I am sitting on my lone couch, tapping away on my laptop while the strained sounds of country music try to break through the screeches of packing tape being unrolled and applied to cardboard boxes. Thank God I worked in a newsroom for five years and can block out just about anything.

But the most encouraging part of the whole article for me? This line Slaughter wrote: “Women who have children in their late 20s can expect to immerse themselves completely in their careers in their late 40s, with plenty of time still to rise to the top in their late 50s and early 60s.” That single sentence lifted a weight from my shoulders. Since I graduated from college I have fought hard to establish a career despite my husband’s deployments, frequent moves and the births of two sons. I have screamed, cried, thrown things at walls in my frustration to not live up to my 18-year-old self’s expectations of where I should be on the career ladder. I wanted it all but realized I couldn’t. There weren’t enough hours in the day or enough anti-bacterial wipes in the world to keep my kids from getting sick occasionally (and usually on a day that I had an important meeting and my husband could not break from work.) This article makes me realize something that I hadn’t before: that my not being able to “have it all” may be through no fault of my own. A very small portion of American women do, and, as Slaughter pointed out, they are self-employed, rich and/or have 24-hour nannies.

I did not fail. I’m actually still in the race – it’s not over yet and I still have a chance to win. Some people would say that this is part of the journey. I don’t have patience for a journey. It’s a race, okay? My incredibly competitive nature isn’t sure who I am running against – probably my own high expectations – but while some readers are outraged at Slaughter’s ideas and revelations, I find that they have brought me peace of mind. I can pace myself now. I’m not behind the eight ball. I’m actually running on schedule. I still have time to do the things I choose to do “right.”

So, I once again find myself in a period of change where I have to change zip codes, career paths and expectations yet again, due to a military move. The good news is that I will be 39 when my husband is scheduled to retire from the Marine Corps, and 47 when my youngest graduates high school. Just in time to immerse myself in my career, whatever that might be at the time. In the past 12 years since I married my very supportive spouse, I have also learned how to be more flexible, which saves me from unnecessary stress and frustration and my walls from damage. And hopefully, by slowing down a bit, finding a reasonable pace, I’ll be able to continue on my career path and still find time to use the scrapbooking stuff the packers have packed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Two weeks until departure...

My degree came in the mail this week. So, it is official... I hold a Master of Arts degree in Strategic Communication & Leadership from the University of West Florida. Here is a photo of me holding it:

What this means is that I no longer have classes, homework or papers to write… or so I thought.
Upon my graduation in May, the Communication Arts Department at UWF offered me a position as an adjunct instructor, teaching courses online. This is wonderful for me because I would like to pursue a career as a college professor (however, I need a Ph.D. to do that, so it will be awhile) and I needed a job I could do from Japan. Since I have a background in journalism, I will be editing student stories for the weekly school newspaper, The Voyager, and teach a class in Global Communication. Very appropriate, if you ask me, since I will be studying some global communication of my own as I acclimate!

However, it is the department’s policy that all online instructors take two 5-week online courses about teaching online courses before they start teaching the online courses. They are offered in June, July and the Fall. Fall is too late for me, since I am teaching in the Fall. Since I am not sure how or when I will get Internet access in Japan, I could not take these classes in July. We leave Pensacola July 2 and, after visiting family and friends, should be arriving in Japan mid-month. Taking classes and being successful in them would have been a huge challenge for me.

So, that left the month of June for me to take the two classes. So I am taking two classes, complete with homework and papers to write. Now, ordinarily, this would have caused little stress. I have proven I can balance working full time with three graduate classes. But now I have an entire household to move halfway around the world and all of the calamity that entails. So, when the instructor emailed everyone the fourth of the five weeks, and said that half the class had dropped out because they were too busy, I wanted a list of those people so I knew who I did NOT want to take on a deserted island with me. But I digress…

As those of you who know me might remember, my children usually spend the summers with each set of grandparents (California and Illinois) and those said grandparents decide how and when to switch the kids from one state to the other. This year, with the move, will be different. Please note: Having kids around when you are moving is not recommended. They get bored, anxious, and inadvertently add stress to the already stressful situation. So they were sent off to Rodney’s family in Illinois for the month of June, but we still had to take a weekend to get them halfway there, to Memphis, where Rodney’s aunt and grandparents met us to take them the rest of the way. And just a side note: Rodney’s father is in hospice care at home with a malignant brain tumor and not doing well. It’s a heartbreaking situation. However, Rodney’s mother, sister and the rest of the family wanted the kids to visit and they are making it work. I am grateful to have the time I need to devote to the move, the kids are having fun (they just went to their first Cardinals baseball game!) and Rodney’s family gets to enjoy them.

Since the kids left for Illinois, Rodney and I have been very much focused on getting packed and ready for the move to Japan. While it has been a weeks-long process, everything is moving faster now that we are only two weeks out, and seems to be happening all at once. The house is 90 percent organized and in different piles: Storage (with a storage company), advanced shipment (about 1,000 pounds of stuff to camp out in a home once we get one - we should get this in Japan by August 1), personal property shipment (the main shipment that could take months to get to us) and the stuff we are taking with us on the planes in suitcases and backpacks.

There was also a fifth pile, the garage sale pile, which has since been sold or donated. We had a garage sale Friday and Saturday morning. We did pretty well, making almost $1,600. We still have some of the furniture items left that we are trying to sell on Craigslist, but I’m not too worried about it. Our house has also rented to a Coast Guard couple with two boys who fell in love with the dinosaur mural my sister-in-law, Jill, on the kids’ playroom wall, so that is another thing I am not worried about. My last day working for the credit union, for which I now work three days a week, is this Friday, June 22. It will be sad to leave, but it’s time to move on. I feel like a made a positive impact there and that is the most anyone can hope for.

Now, what I am worried about:

My car: I am trying to sell my beloved car, which has had only three people inquire. The 103K miles seems to be turning people off. I have truly loved my 2007 Explorer Limited, and would not be selling it if we were not moving. It’s priced below its Kelley Blue Book value, but still no bites. Unfortunately, we still owe money on the car, so there is a limit to how low I can go, but I don't want a car payment for a car half a world away either.

Best case scenario: Someone buys it. Worst case scenario: We take it to Illinois, park it with the family and keep paying on it until it sells. Yuck.

My dog: We still don't have a plan for our 14-year-old geriatric boxer dog, Marble, who I have had in my family since she was 6 weeks old. It tears my heart to pieces. I feel as though there are no good options. As bad as it sounds, I had hoped she would pass away from natural causes – most boxers don’t live much past 10 years old. Here's a photo I took in the kitchen on Friday of her waiting for a cookie:

As you can see, she is stubbornly hanging on to her (sort of) decent health. She has arthritis in her back legs, may have suffered a stroke last year that causes her head to tilt to the side, has hardly any teeth left and is deaf, but she still want to play with Rodney every night and eats like a horse. If she was suffering, I could justify putting her to sleep. But putting her to sleep simply because we are moving? Not acceptable. But I also have a selfish wish: My two boxers who died here in Pensacola have all been cremated and buried in Illinois. I have kept their collars. I want to do the same for Marble. If someone is kind enough to adopt her, would I still be able ask for her ashes and collar? I am in tears as I write this because, again, I don’t find any of these options to be good ones.

My preparedness: Rodney is constantly telling me that I shouldn’t stress out about the things I cannot control. My mother tells me I am lucky and things always fall on my lap. I believe I fall in to a different category: Living by a philosophy of crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s and being as prepared as possible. This means working hard, not procrastinating, worrying a lot about the aspects of a situation I can control, and being ready for whatever opportunities or challenges life throws at me.

And I have tried very hard to do that for my family these past six months. But I am living outside the United States for the first time, a world away from family and friends (with the exception of Rodney and the boys, of course!). I will make new friends, and I know I am flexible and adaptable – any dedicated military wife is. But am I taking the right things? Do I have the right items on the right shipments? While the items I store be safe? Will the items I ship to Japan be safe. Where do I put my scrapbooks and heirlooms? What can I pack and get through customs? Will I maintain my sanity?

These are the things that keep me up at night. Rodney keeps telling me it will all work out as it should. I suppose that should be comforting but it hasn’t been yet. I’m more of a doer than a thinker, and waiting for things to work themselves out take patience. And any patience I have is a learned behavior, taking a lot of energy to manage. But maybe it will. So many things already have. Maybe everything will work out. Only time will tell.