Power outage occurred at worst possible time

Severe weather is never a good thing. No, it’s a reminder that Mother Nature, not us, is in charge of the elements. And at no time do I feel more out of my element than when I am scrambling for a flashlight, matches and candles, while simultaneously kicking my own butt for not setting aside water for drinking and flushing the toilet. It’s quite the sight to behold.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. But being the last person on the planet to ever check the weather (on the theory that it doesn’t matter how good/bad the weather is, a person still has to get done that which is on his/her to-do list), I’ll have to say I was surprised that we had the potential for tornadoes.

Last Sunday, I heard secondhand about the unofficial Wizard of Oz reenactment that was to be stated live across the Midwest. And that was through overhearing someone at church that morning questioning whether we should be having a Christmas program planning meeting later that night, due to the severity of the weather that was heading our way.

I had an interview and errands early Sunday afternoon. But I would periodically glance at the sky and pat myself on the back that I had been right not to become too alarmed regarding the storm that obviously wasn’t going to materialize. Scratch that thought at dusk, when, faster than I could cry out, “Auntie Em, Auntie Em,” all kinds of heck broke loose, preventing me for a good hour from even retrieving the groceries from my car.

Under the usual cloud of evening darkness, enormous dark clouds appeared and unapologetically gave us all they had. When I thought nature’s wrath had subsided a bit, I left home to pick up something from a friend’s house. Okay, and I may have wanted to gawk at the storm damage a little, too. The top street name on a road sign in town was spinning circles, propeller-style, around itself in a way that said “beware.” On the way back, I had to reroute myself twice due to large branches that were down across the road.

When I arrived back home, mercifully unscathed, I knew we had lost power. It was most noticeable by the absence of the glow of the television through the lace curtains of a small room that faces the road. However, the absence of technology had prompted my son and daughter to light every candle within 100 miles, turning our home into a grotto, so I approached cautiously, praying they had not already begun burning down the house.

For a few minutes, the fire safety threat successfully took my mind off the storm. Since TV was out and I had not purchased replacement batteries for the radio, we couldn’t receive storm updates and didn’t know how hard the rest of our national region was getting hit. Instead, we settled into a round of feeling powerless and sorry for ourselves.

“I can’t believe we lost power just when I was about to start my homework,” my son declared. “And just when I was headed to clean my room,” my daughter added. They continued to swap lies as I, our household’s only actual performer of productive Sunday night activities, legitimately lamented storm effects. For me, the storm had come at the absolute worst time, the 11th hour of the week when I try to accomplish anything left undone from the previous 6 ¾ days of the week.

Reconciling bank accounts and filing by the open flame of a candle sounded foolhardy. Returning phone calls to people who couldn’t answer seemed pointless. Cooking ahead for the week on a non-operable electric stove was not an option. And my Sunday night winter tradition of shaving my legs for the week also became impossible. I felt as powerless as our house.

Then a lone bright idea came to my dim mind: We would go to sleep early. I distributed soft plush blankets to all of us and at 9 PM we snuffed out the candles and hit the hay on our respective couches in the parlor. The dark and stormy night became the best Sunday night in recent history.

Engineer smarts can’t trump leadership ego

It’s one thing to be smart and another to be wise. Smart is actually a lot easier because it simply involves being knowledgeable. The smarts to know that you don’t know is a sign of wisdom. And the wisdom to compensate for your deficits through trusting in the knowledge of others is advanced wisdom. I think it’s safe to say there’s not a whole lot of tripping going on over that.

The wisest people I know seek to align themselves with trusted others who will give them the straight scoop of honest feedback. I learned early as a manager to encourage my staff to tell me when I was full of beans and to prove me wrong through offering better solutions – even when I was smarting from my lack of smarts.

Why is this important? Because the employees live more closely with the problem than does their boss. Therefore, they know exactly what is going wrong and usually have solid opinions on how to fix it – provided their feedback is made welcome. But alas, the boss refusing to listen to truthful information offered by his/her employees is where the system usually breaks down. Trust me, I’ve been on both sides of the coin.

Let me borrow here from the discipline of engineering, the quintessential problem-solving profession. Its practitioners are called upon to develop solutions for technical problems through designing materials, structures and systems within the limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety and cost (not to mention the wild hair whims of the bosses assigning the project).

While searching online for another something, I happened across a short, 1996 paper titled, “On Being the Bearer of Bad News,”  authored by Philip Koopman, a former submarine officer with the U.S. Navy, who became an associate professor of computer and electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Because I am a geek, I instinctively knew an engineer would wax as wisely as a philosopher on the topic. But that’s another column. Koopman’s analysis led me to conclude the following about engineers: unfortunately, management regularly uses engineers not to solve the real problem, but to help them devise better ways of killing the messengers.

On a more serious note, Koopman made deadly accurate observations regarding the unenviable position in which engineers find themselves each time they identify a problem and devise a potential solution. Before taking solution-oriented action, they must first enter the lion’s den of calling the identified problem to the attention of those in charge – in a way that does not offend management ego and/or run afoul corporate ambition. Good luck there!

Mind you, the awaiting snarling countenances belong to the same management that hired the engineers specifically to problem-solve. Talk about ultimate irony: hiring technically-competent advisors as an extension of yourself, then disregarding them. Beyond stupid! Not even an engineer could solve that problem, even if believed and allowed.

Ideally, Koopman says, management listens earnestly to the engineer’s description of the problem, then seriously considers the engineer’s suggestions for problem resolution in long-term perspective. However, since many solutions necessarily color outside the lines of immediate project timelines and budget constraints, lasting solutions frequently get rejected so things can move impairedly forward.

However, when great safety or financial risk is involved, some engineers/truth tellers persistently stand firm regarding their concerns. Next thing they know, they find themselves perceived and/or treated as if THEY are the problem. Countless problem messengers are career-slain for the audacity of delivering the bad news someone’s pet project is not working.

Truth-telling can be hazardous to employee health. Should management decide not to fix the identified problem, an alternative scapegoat must be created. The quickest fix is to finger-point the problem pointer-outer as the problem. The obvious solution then becomes to punish, demote or terminate the pointer-outer to preserve institutional denial. Parents are highly familiar with this strategy.

Many smart, conscientious employees with good ideas are needlessly sacrificed each year to the anti-wisdom gods of management ego, which refuse to acknowledge their own short-sightedness. It feels akin to being lifeboatless on a sinking ship of a project, within reach of unimplemented life-preserver solutions, following multiple warnings that fell on ears deafened by the ring of a cash register.

Interview question functions as a cereal killer

When I was looking for work elsewhere and had a job interview lined up, a couple of friends at my last place of employment told me about what they thought was one of the toughest interview questions they had been asked.

No, it wasn’t the one asking the job candidate to describe his/her greatest weakness and neither was it the one inquiring as to where the job candidate wanted to be five years down the road, both of which require a great deal more creativity than candor of the candidate. It was much more random than either.

“If you were a type of cereal, which one would it be and why?” I can’t imagine being asked that question during a job interview. A look attesting my feelings would quickly play across my face, straining my control of emotion. I would bite my tongue to refrain from commenting about the question. What information would the interviewer hoping to gain? To ascertain my propensity for lying?

According to businesspundit.com, the worst interview questions share one or more of the following characteristics: they are illegal, useless or hackneyed, “Good interview questions can help employers judge the technical qualifications, people skills, problem solving approach, and team fit of prospective employees. Bad interview questions do none of those. Instead, they confuse, irk, or offend the applicant (often in combination).” That’s pretty much what I just described.

Businesspundit.com cites the following 10 questions as the worst: What interests you about our company? Have you ever brought a lawsuit against an employer? Why did you take the pen from me? Can you work under pressure? If you were a “Lost” character, which one would it be? How would you define sexual harassment? What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow? Do you ever abuse alcohol or other drugs? What is your biggest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years?

The last two questions were the top two worst interview questions, so I called that one pretty well. Along those lines, I think the “What type of cereal” interview question has a good shot at making the next Top 10 list of worst interview questions. Aside from giving a person a chance to demonstrate his/her creativity, the question measures nothing, except possibly how tolerant many of us have to be with those we meet along the job search trail.

Is there a good way to answer the cereal question? That’s a good question in and of itself. When answering it, I think it prudent for a job candidate to avoid naming any cereal that contains the word “flake” in its title. Another quick rule-out is “Froot Loops,” for obvious reasons.

I would also avoid fluffy, non-productive sounding cereal names, such as “Cocoa Puffs” or the substance abuse connotations that surround addictive-sounding cereals such as “Buzz Blasts” and “Krave,” both Kellogg’s products. Similarly, Quaker Oats’ “Halfsies” cereal implies poor follow-though. The manufacturer might just as well have called the product “Slacker Squares.”

My answer? I would keep things simple. Because my first name starts with the letter “K,” I would say “If I were a cereal, I would be ‘Special K’ because I am original with my thinking and resourceful (at answering stupid questions).” There, take that, you asker of stupid interview questions I am working overtime to tolerate!

A more generic answer would be to reference the Malt-O-Meal cereal called “Balance,” which might net you some points. Or you could always choose “Wheaties” as a way of subliminally referring to yourself as a champion.

Should you decide during the interview that you don’t want to work for a company that would ask such a random interview question, you might elect to amuse yourself by cutting loose and shocking the interviewer.

Try saying you’d like to be Kashi’s “Bear Naked” cereal. That provides the interviewer with either a highly pleasing or disgustingly disturbing visual image. Another thought is to name the ambiguous “Fruit Brute” or incestuous-sounding “Yummy Mummy” cereals made by General Mills back in the 80s. For that matter, “Trix” could also be taken a variety of wrong ways.

Are we having interview fun yet? More fun than a barrel of cereal-stuffed monkeys!

Stray dog creates hitch in family’s getalong

Ever since our wonderful family dog, Sousa, died two summers ago at the age of 16, and even before that happened, my children were teasing for another dog. They wanted a replacement. I understood their sense of urgency because except for three years of apartment living following college, I have never been without a dog.

I explained not all dogs are created equal and the odds of finding a dog with a personality as winning as our last dog’s was just that – odd. Even if you get a dog with the right genetic stuff, you still have to employ a great deal of training to shape its behavior and to nurture its relationship with family. I’m not interested in acquiring any old dog, I want a good one.

Life being what it is, instead of a new dog, I acquired a new job with hours so unpredictable they weren’t conducive to houseplant tending, let alone dog ownership. As I knew better than to add any more moving parts or mouths to feed to my already overloaded dance card, I moth-balled the replacement dog idea until that “someday, when it’s a better time” fabled future parents use to cushion their children’s landing as we pinprick their more far-fetched dreams.

You also don’t need an actuarial to calculate the added risk pet ownership adds to your life. My propensity for attracting stupid situations told me said pet would likely get freakily hurt and saddle me with a dead horse of a veterinary bill. Or I’d suddenly have to replace living room carpeting due to chewing by the new dog to which I would be having trouble finding enough time to pay attention.

In short, all signs in my life surrounding new dog acquisition were octagonal and red, with the word “STOP” printed across in bold, white letters. But dogs can’t read. And apparently no one read the signs to the one that took up residence at my place for most of last weekend.

When I opened the door off my side porch at 5:30 AM Saturday morning to let in our two cats that had spent the night on midnight prowl, instead of hungry meows, I was greeted with loud, hearty barks. What the heck? Taken aback, I threw on the outdoor light and found myself face to face with a strange, snarling canine.

Nothing quite prepares you for such a scenario. I was startled, but took a step forward toward the danger to assert my dominance. Sometimes, that actually works. It did in this case, with the stray dog jumping backward in comparable surprise. But no sooner did he land than he went back to barking at me.

“No need to get all defensive on my account because this was MY house when I last checked and you’re the one who is the trespasser.” I said accusingly to the flashing set of eyes. The dog only growled in response. I stepped back inside the porch, two startled cats diving in after me for cover. They were equally unimpressed with our guest.

When I left to run errands on Saturday, the stray dog circled me and barked menacingly as I got into my vehicle. This necessitated me swinging my medieval weapon of a purse at him. When I returned late afternoon, the dog was still there, hanging out under my front porch. He rose to greet me with a series of vicious barks and lunges toward me.

I left the door to the house open when I carried in groceries and the dog slipped inside, subtle as a stealth bomber. I nearly tripped over him as I carried in two large bags. “GET OUT” I screeched in my least hospitable tone. My collarless friend tucked his tail between his legs and trotted back outside to his under-the-porch-squatter’s digs.

Saturday night after dark, no matter what room of the house I was in, he followed around the perimeter of the house, barking at me. Oh, c’mon! When my children arrived home Sunday night, they used the barking dog’s hindquarters as an Airsoft gun target and outshouted his barking with shrill kid tones. Come Monday, the dog was gone. Replacement test reject.

Adolescent version of the seven deadly sins

If I had a nickel for everyone who has told me lately, “Your son isn’t a little boy anymore,” I would have enough money to pay someone else to put up with him. Or at least be able to afford replacements for the great number of pairs of pants and shirts he’s outgrown at a breakneck pace.

Most all of the clothing I had bought ahead for him last year, like I have been buying ahead for him annually since he hit school age, ended up being about three inches too short when I hauled it out of storage as the weather turned cold. I might as well dye his hair bright red, put rainbow suspenders on him and plop a propeller beanie on his head as make him go to school in the high-water pants created by his unprecedented growth spurt.

I’d like to report my son’s new height is helping us see more eye-to-eye, but the opposite is true. The closer our gazes approach meeting vertically, the more opposing our perspectives. But don’t feel sorry for me as a single-parent, trying to lion-tame her was through her children’s turbulent teen years. For alas, I am only reaping the bad Karma I sowed earlier in life through being a pain in the butt teenager, myself.

How bad is it with Connor? Well, not nearly as bad as some of my friends are having or have had with their children. My son is basically a good kid (yeah, I know all parents insist that, including those whose basically good kids just blew up something or shot down someone). But he’s become more sneakily defiant. Just the other day, I caught him changing out of the shirt I had grabbed for him to wear – because it wasn’t cool enough. Not cool.

While it’s not against the law to be a teenager, it surely feels like it’s against something. With hormones kicking in, everyone under the age of 18 is at least close to being in violation of something. While that something may not be illegal, it may be unethical or mean-spirited. Or, on a religious note, somewhat sinful.

I came across a workbook about the seven deadly sins, also known as cardinal sins or capital vices. At first I thought it was to help a person become better at wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. As if we need the help! But it was actually to help eradicate them. It got me thinking about what I would classify as the seven deadly sins of adolescents. Here’s my list:

1. Sloth – This is one of the two carry-over deadly sins from the adult list. Laziness looms large in adolescent life, where helping others is in direct conflict with and takes away time from helping self.

2. Omniscience – Defined as having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things, this word is usually associated with God’s powers. It applies here, as many teenagers believe the world should pay homage to them, if not outright worship at their feet. After all, they’re smarter than the rest of us.

3. Entitlement –Mistaken belief that the world and especially their parents owe them something, including responsibility-free room and board.

4. Envy – Another carry-over. Constant monitoring of what others have, wear, or get to do, used for leverage in parent/child arguments to lobby for unearned privileges to become entitlements.

5. Moodiness – Ongoing personality fluctuations of greater disparity than the Dow-Jones average, but subject to periodic crashes every bit as dramatic as the 1929 stock market.

6. Obliviousness – Similar to “digital dementia,” a condition where a teenager cannot focus on anything except the electronic device in front of him/her, plus non-recognition and non-caring about the effect his/her behavior has on others. “It’s all about me.”

7. Blame – Surely none of these behaviors originate within the teenager. No, they are in reaction to living in an unfair world run by unreasonable adults who just don’t understand!

Maybe I should develop a workbook to address the seven deadly teenage sins. Trouble is, the people who most need it would never buy it. Well, maybe a digital version . . . .

Mundane episodes jog childhood memories

Funny how some of the most mundane happenings in life can trigger rich memories of other, mundane at the time, happenings from the past. While I was on the front porch with my kids the other morning waiting for the school bus, the weather was foggy. Because I couldn’t see very far, closer objects seemed to take on greater clarity. My eyes became riveted on the closest porch pillar.

It’s the same kind as on the porch at my childhood home, but two inches wider. I recalled getting in trouble on a regular basis with my dad for my insistence on swinging around the pillars on my parents’ porch. While at the time I thought him incredibly unreasonable, as an adult, I recognize how precariously pillars are perched, more for show than support.

When I wasn’t porch pillar swinging, I was playing a game of “Mother, May I?” while my older sister and I waited for the bus. We two could only play the game when a cousin who lived up the road stayed overnight with our grandmother across the road. More players were needed.

The caller would try to trick the other players into moving or taking action without first asking permission. He/she would bark orders and attempt to startle us into action without askance. Sometimes a command as innocuous as “take three steps back” launched an unsuspecting contestant into reverse without first verifying permissibility. Gotcha!

I’m ashamed to admit we played that game day after day, without ever infusing any appreciably new material into it. There’d be the predictable commands to walk, hop, skip and jump, as well as the gross ones, including, “Mother says pick your nose” or “wiggle your rump” or “eat your earwax.” They served the dual purpose of preparing us for the later teen game of, “Truth or Dare.”

Overall, the Mother May I game was as tame as it was lame. It just made the time pass more quickly. I seriously doubt I will someday find myself on my deathbed saying, “I sure wish I’d spent more time playing Mother, May I.” It wasn’t that meaningful.

Game playing is not my only remnant from childhood. Sometimes I still behave like a child or at least with childish carelessness. Left unsupervised, I heathenly drink out of the milk jug or throw something at a wastebasket, miss the shot, then neglect to retrieve and correct my misfire. I even tracked mud all over my own clean rugs the other day.

Also childish are my clumsy attempts to engage in lunch trades with people at work. They do little to boost my popularity. Colleagues usually politely decline when they learn all I have to offer is a Spam and Swiss cheese sandwich with banana peppers and mustard on whole wheat bread. Their loss, to be sure.

There are times when I engage in semi-dangerous behavior, such as when I nearly rear-ended a semi-truck on the highway while I was retrieving an item from the backseat of my car. It was the mini-legal pad in the pocket behind the driver’s seat. Ever try to grab something from that pocket and accidentally knock it onto the backseat floor? It leads to steering with your knees while your hand hopelessly gropes for the item perfectly out of reach.

But this particular time, I managed to knock the mini-legal pad onto the backseat of my car. Visually guided by the rearview mirror, I reached back and touched the edge of the notepad, but could not get a grip on it. Just short of screaming in frustration, I caught my sleeve on something behind me and couldn’t get my arm disengaged.

The scene was reminiscent of  the classic “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” movie scene with John Candy driving down the highway at night with Steve Martin as his dozing passenger. Candy attempts to slip off his coat while driving, but ends up getting both sleeves caught. No hands on the wheel. To avoid that bad, I lowered my seat backwards while highway driving so I could reach my notepad and snagged it the first try. Didn’t bother to ask, “Mother, May I?” because I already knew the answer.

Lies of the soul are disproved through action

Not long ago, one of my students asked me which kind of lies I thought were the worst. Recalling a previous discussion we’d had on the difference between mortal and venial sins, I suspected he had somewhere he wanted to go with the topic.
Sure enough, he wanted to chat about the difference between white and black lies. I threw him a curve: “I think the worst type of lies are the ones we tell ourselves.” He was baffled by my answer and immediately set about shooting it down. Until I elaborated through one of those discussions you may need to be of a certain age to appreciate, so it may have been totally lost on him. Nevertheless, I continued because I needed to hear the explanation again, myself.
To quote Steve Chandler, from his book 17 Lies That Are Holding You Back and the Truth That Will Set You Free, “There are everyday lies, and there are lies to the soul. A lie to the soul runs deeper than an everyday lie. It’s a lie designed to kill the spirit. We are powerful, but we lie and say we are not. Awareness is the road out.”
Chandler targets the following lies, not necessarily in order of most prevalent or important (he just had to start somewhere): 1. It’s who you know; 2. There’s something wrong with me; 3. I’m too old for that; 4. I can’t because I’m afraid; 5. I’d love to do that but I don’t have the time; 6.There’s nothing I can do; 7. I worry because I care; 8. I’m sadder but wiser; 9. The longer I have a habit, the harder it is to break; 10. People really upset me; 11. Winning the lottery would solve everything; 12. They’re too beautiful for this world; 13. You hurt my self-esteem; 14. It’s a shame we didn’t capture that on video; 15. That’s just the way I am; 16. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger; 17. I am helpless.
Unarguably, each of these soul lies is arguable – if we are willing to take the time (that we claim we don’t have) to dispute and disprove them through action. Really, action is the only thing known to effectively kick the butt of soul lies. What discourages us from taking the necessary action is that like slick informercial product hawkers, each of these lies cleverly self-perpetuates through carrying at least a small grain of truth that appeals to our secular, non-spiritual thinking. They address the reasonable, path of least resistance, attracted to the simplest explanation parts of our brains that are always more than happy to allow the good to be the enemy of the better.
Complacency kills. Or at least seriously maims through managing to significantly delay us from taking immediate action that would help us fulfill our considerable individual and collective potential. While I try to practice prayer and waiting on God’s timing, soul lies counter-convince me to wait even longer on something or someone else, usually outside help, my ship to come in, the cows to come home, etc., long past their estimated arrival time. All time wasters.
Chandler quotes Tracy Goss, author of The Last Word on Power, on buying into soul lie-suggested inaction: “Death is not the most profound loss or tragedy in life. That which dies inside of us as we live is a far greater loss. The loss of possibility, a loss that comes from running our personal rackets, has ravaged the lives of too many individuals who could have otherwise transformed the world.”
Yeah, I know it’s a variation on another famous quote, but I like this one better because it references the personal rackets, or soul lie schemes we scam ourselves with, resulting in spiritual paralysis.
So, what are we waiting for? Effortless spontaneous change? Poof, we’re all better? While I’ve occasionally experienced spontaneous electronic healing with appliances, I have yet to experience a personal rekindling of spirit without first having to strike a match under my own bottom. Sometimes a flamethrower is required to do the job. Blast yourself off your laurels. Require more of yourself than being just the way you think you are.

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