June is bustin’ out all over. And that includes the mole tunnels in my wooded cottage yard.
I was bound and determined to put into place a mole removal program. I consulted with the experts in this area which are basically three guys – my hardware store owner, my pest control guy, and my son who is always ready for edgy projects.
But nature brought forth an interesting twist. I saw the mole alive!
He (she?) happened to surface a few feet away from me, allowing a close-up view. Since then I can’t stop thinking about the mole.
I mean how many of you have ever seen a mole close-up – alive and not in captivity? I surely had not. There were Mr. Mole and Mr. Toad in my childhood storybook, The Wind in the Willows. And there was the exhibit in Lincoln Park Zoo, but the moles were always hiding.
Here’s my first impression of my close-up view: he (she?) looked like an empty toilet paper roll – but fuzzy. A mole is only about 5-8 “ long, depending on the type. There are 7 species in North America. According to the cottage copy of the Natural Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals, my mole is a Common Mole. It goes on:
“A mole is among the most subterranean of mammals. They are designed to move backward and forwards in tight burrows. Hearing is well developed in moles. Their ear openings are concealed within the fur and thus kept from becoming clogged with dirt. Their eyes are light-sensitive, pinhead size dots, and their vision is poor. The most important sensory organ is the flexible snout.” Note: (I saw this amazing little nose moving back and forth – sensing my presence.)
Another note: The mole is not a sloth; it travels fast.” Its long-clawed forefeet let it breaststroke through porous soil at about a foot per minute!” I had no idea. This tunneling activity, often considered a nuisance in lawns, is beneficial to the environment because it aerates the soil, allows rain to penetrate, and reduces erosion.
Until I met this little creature I was dead set on eliminating him and his telltale trail. This was not just a mole; this was a marvel. I wish I myself were created with such fitting environmental gear.
Why was this little mole above the surface? I will never know. Perhaps there was an obstacle in the subterranean world. Perhaps she just wanted to educate me and erase my negative pre-disposition. Perhaps she wanted to distract me on Father’s Day weekend as I sorely miss mine.
I am sure that I will never think of moles the same way again. Bless their little subterranean earth-worm eating selves. They were designed perfectly. Humans have a good design too. I’ll keep trying to use mine with the diligence of the mole.
Things I Learned from my Millennial Guests
I’ve enjoyed their company, but my young house guests have retreated to their busy lives and jobs. Two vibrant young couples (ages 27, 29, 31, 34) returned to two very different cities – Brooklyn, NY and Peoria, IL. Other than just plain missing them, I am left with some dispelled myths and new admiration for this often-maligned generation.
MILLENNIAL MYTH #1. They can’t communicate face to face.
Indeed, my couples were quite communicative, and especially with each other. As I listened or eavesdropped on them, it was obvious that decision making was a partner thing. This pertained to restaurant choices, what to wear, and how to get there, for example. They walked a street looking at all the menus in the window; they listened and collaborated on how much time it would take to manage O’Hare.
MILLENNIAL MYTH #2. Their food tastes are picky and expensive.
This just was not so. Rice Krispies treats reigned. This was an experiment on my part to offer low fat treats with absolutely no gourmet class. Maybe it was wrapping them individually? But they disappeared with both couples.
My couples were not heavy red meat eaters (zero to some). They were less into cocktails and more into craft beer or red wine – or water! They carried refillable water bottles across the board. A new craft beer taproom here on Chicago’s Northside drew raves. A gift of the book, Meatless Sheet Pan Dinners was discovered to add to their already very well developed cooking skills in this arena. (They roast vegetables a lot and I don’t mean just dilly potatoes.)
MILLENNIAL MYTH #3. – They have no patience for Baby Boomer lack of technology skills.
I am pleased to say that my guests were patient teachers as they taught me the following skills which I am happy to share with anyone over 50. I took notes with pencil and paper.
a. how to access a Yule Log fireplace video including crackle
b. how to add Netflix to my cable TV choices
c. how to access Emoji’s on my I-phone
d. how to use the parkchicago.com app
e. how to scroll through NPR’s “Fresh Air” interviews
MILLENNIAL MYTH #4 – They have no sense of how to dress practically.
I was very impressed with how both couples – the New Yorkers and the Peorians – were quite practical with winter dress. Less important were perfect hair and heels and “in” were stocking caps, boots, and fur hoods. In fact, I believe there is one woolen stocking cap of mine which was a stow-away back to Brooklyn due to its ugly practicality.
So, there you have it. Who would have thought these youngsters would garner such admirable traits so soon? Communication – Healthy Eating – Patience – Weather Awareness? It must be their stellar upbringing.
The Gift of Garden Tomatoes
A recent residential move prompted the glorious volunteerism of a small but select crew of neighbors and friends. Anyone who has hired a professional mover knows that friends are welcomed – even crucial – for transporting the “fragile” items (Grandma’s ancient crystal) or the “hand carries” (mostly lamps) as Roy, my professional mover, appointed them.
In the transport process there is the banter, the catching up, the “You’re giving THAT away?” conversations that are required of the event and most definitely of old friends. “Where are the headboard screws?” “We can’t find the shower curtain liner.” These quandaries are expected.
Also expected was the gift of homegrown garden tomatoes from my friend Jane. She and her husband Tom have a hazelnut farm and glorious gardens downstate and she told me she would bring some. She arrived with a bounty of not one but five different types of garden tomatoes – of all sizes and colors. Not to be outdone, my urban gardening friend and neighbor Mary (multiple huge pots on her rooftop for years and years) arrived with a cup of the sweetest red cherry tomatoes you will ever taste.
What I did not expect was how the tomatoes buoyed my spirits after everyone left that day. The first sign of life in my new home, they were artfully arranged in a white mesh container – a container (selected by my moving helpers) that had never previously held tomatoes – which made the whole effect more special.
Those tomatoes became my food staple the first hectic week in my new home: tomato sandwiches, caprese salad, bite-sized snacks – and more – not to mention the other donations of beans, zucchini, pizza, crackers, cheese, and furniture placement advice – all of which were consumed.
You never know how meaningful the simplest gifts may be. If you ask me to help you move or just rake your yard this fall, I am bringing home grown tomatoes (the farmer’s market will have to do) but my own basil plant is really looking great this year. Something unexpected.
It’s summer and traditionally the time for reunions of all kinds – some more tolerable than others. Perhaps none fills the average person with more trepidation than the high school reunion. I mean who wants to see these people every ten years, right? May I suggest, however, that life is short and when you get your Evite, Facebook notice, email, or mailbox invitation, RSVP “yes.” Chances are very good that you won’t regret it. Follow these tips and have more fun!
1. Wear the obligatory name tag; print it LARGE, especially your first name.
Do not worry about being nerdy; it just makes it easier for people.
Result: You will have a good reason to approach people and therefore more fun.
2. Tell everyone how great they look – no matter what.
There is ALWAYS something truthful and nice to say:
Ah, Jimmy…the same smile I remember!
Your hair is so trendy.
I love your shoes.
Are you slimming down?
OMG, I have that same necklace. I love it.
You look so distinguished with the beard and mustache.
Result: You will cause the other to be happy and that is fun.
3. Go right to the memories –the ultimate equalizer.
Avoid the children, grandchildren and third husbands.
Take the conversation quickly to Ms. Herzog’s Geometry class.
Result: You will laugh a lot and that is lots and lots of fun.
4. Don’t overindulge in the food; it’s usually bad anyway.
It’s hard to look distinguished with a loaded plate.
Stay with the finger food if possible.
Result: You can shake more hands and hug more and that is more fun.
5. Keep open posture in conversation groups.
That means let the other guy in.
You are grown up now and don’t need the “clique.”
Result: You will make it more fun for others and that is fun.
6. Don’t overindulge in alcohol.
I know, I know this is tough at the high school reunion.
But you are mature and confident now and don’t need to.
Result: You will actually remember whom you talked with and that is more fun.
7. Don’t take selfies.
They never look good; trust me on this.
Recruit a friend to photograph you – a good friend.
Be sure you are with some sort of group of people in the shot.
Result: Instead of looking really bad in the photos, you will just look happy and like you are having fun.
8. Double thank the volunteer organizer.
Would you want to do this?
As you leave be sure to let him or her know.
Result: at least the organizer will remember you – and that is kind of fun.
©2016 Cyndi Maxey All rights reserved.
On a dreary March Sunday an email notice reminded me: “Great seats still Remain” for a playoff game that same day for an excellent local college’s women’s basketball team. When it’s March in Chicago, you say “yes.”
The “great seats still remaining” turned out to be in the STUDENT section of the 3,000- seat auditorium – lodged between two rows of 30 cheerleaders and about as many pep band members – largely brass and percussion.
The game was fast and entertaining. As expected, the young female athletes played well – delighting the sold-out house with a healthy lead.
Due to my unique seating vantage point, it was during the “time-out’s” and the period breaks, when both the pep band and the 30 cheerleaders kicked in with full energy, that I was even more entertained. The cheerleaders, as expected, personified youthful energy, clear skin, perfectly fitting uniforms and headbands and ever-present smiles. And they were good!
The pep band, largely male, while in uniform, was a bit more “scrappy” – displaying a variety of looks, haircuts, body builds, and complexions. And they also were good! Seated so closely to them, I could tell that they were really having FUN – with each other and with the crowd. They were fully present in their role – even though their role was clearly in the background of the action.
At one point I noticed the bandleader. He was a young man – with clean-cut short hair, a suit and tie, and a wonderful constant smile and twinkle in his eye. He was down front directing tempo and stops and starts – always with this smile and a twinkle in his eye – not unlike Harold Hill in The Music Man. He sang along; he mouthed the words; he was in tune with the action on the court; he gave frequent “thumbs up’s” to his band. Unfortunately the family and faculty crowd across the court in the “good seats” could not see this.
I wanted them to be able to see as I could! I wanted them to know that this young bandleader was with his team the entire time – contributing to our experience of the event. As the game ended, and I stood to leave, I noticed that he left his post and walked up and down the bleachers to give a “thumbs up” and an “Atta boy/girl” to every single row and musician. They beamed. They retorted. They laughed. They were totally comfortable with him.
It was a lesson in how a leader motivates a team even though they are not the stars. Thanks to a dreary March day and the leader of the band.
He earned his love through discipline, a thund’ring, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand
…From Leader of the Band (1981 release) by fellow Peorian Dan Fogelberg
Is it possible to live a word for a year? Not a phrase or a verse or a quotation – but a word. This is the challenge I put forth to you today. For many, the year end is a summary, an accounting, a tabulation of achievements and trials alike. As the New Year approaches many of us breathe a sigh of relief for the calendar-designed opportunity to consider new beginnings. Some make resolutions. Some have reservations. Some consider nothing.
But the select few – the creatively self-motivated like you and me – select a single word to live by in the year ahead. It’s an intriguing exercise – one that takes some time to ponder. What will my word be for 2016? I’m considering initiative and happiness at the moment. I wonder if these are too mundane. And then I ask myself, “Who cares?’ The thing is…I need a word I can live EVERY DAY and feel very, very good about it. It will carry me through any troubling, confusing, or reflective time. It will be my personal unspoken philosophy to guide my path.
It would be easy here to begin listing many words for you and me to consider. But I won’t do that because you will find your word your own way. When you do, I hope you will be pleased with yourself and enjoy a meaningful NEW YEAR – guided by the light of your single word.
P.S. Thank you…
…to my Millennial daughter and her NYC friends who on a Sunday car trip returning to Brooklyn from hiking Bear Mountain (see photo) solidified together the excellence of this idea. I bestow a special thanks to Brooke who authored the idea, having lived the word authenticity in 2015. And then shared her idea on the long car trip home to Brooklyn. Evidently, the word worked.
This August there’s a new home going up across the street – a perfectly sided and roofed urban mansion with no front porch.
Five years ago Rory’s house stood in its place – an aging turn of the century foursquare with several green wooden Irish shamrocks permanently affixed to the front. It was a hot, hot August that year and often Rory sat on the front steps with his also aging Dad.
New to the neighborhood, I simply waved “Hello!” to these two from across the street; neighbors told me that their large Irish family had inhabited the home for decades; they were the remaining two.
I was immersed in moving in and getting used to my new home. One of the 90+ degree-days, I was gathering some garden tools from the latticed storage area under the back porch when, “Click, ” the door to the under-the-porch area shut and latched closed on the outside. Reaching through the lattice to open it, I soon found that I couldn’t reach the latch from the inside, even with a garden tool.
What to do? It was so hot. I began to yell. At first I just yelled, “Help! Help!” It was embarrassing but I had to try. Then I yelled “Help, Neighbor Help!” “Help, Neighbor, help! “ a little louder. I was getting more distressed when suddenly I heard a male voice, “Where are you?”
“Back here under the porch!” I said.
Then I was looking through the lattice at khaki pants, immediately hearing the latch unlock and a nice looking guy in his 40’s rather shyly explaining, “I live across the street. We were sitting on the porch and I heard you call Help.”
“Thank you, thank you. I’m getting used to things here and the latch locked so quickly…and your name?”
“Rory. I live across the street.”
“Thank you so much Rory for helping me.”
“No problem” he said and rejoined his Dad on the steps. He said their air conditioning wasn’t working that day.
Later I learned Rory worked as a bar back and short order cook at a nearby tavern. I often waved to him as he walked to his job.
Five years have passed quickly, and sadly, both Rory and his father have passed away. Their old house was torn down and the new mansion is moving in. I wonder if this is progress.
I have a theory very simply called, “Ya never know.” This is an all-encompassing philosophy that any one person or situation may affect us positively in the future – though we are not aware of the potential at the time. This is why we should greet, respond, help and notice others we come across in life. We should be slow to judge and quick to understand. We should appreciate before we assume.
I miss the shamrocks.
My mature Labrador Retriever, Max, likes to sit on the front porch and watch and sniff passers by. Normally this is quite a staid activity characterized by ear wags, nose action, head tilts, and now and then a tail thump. But occasionally something unexpected happens – like the time a cat went by and Max took off after it into the street putting himself in danger and causing fear in his owner – me! If I had been observing more closely this would not have happened. I just wasn’t expecting it!
For those of us in charge of leading meetings of all kinds (training, teambuilding, department, Board), unexpected behavior can cause the meeting to run amuck and us to look less than professional. This is not the time to criticize, to hunt down, and to cause further angst and disruption. Instead it is the time to observe, ask, clarify, and move forward.
The Fearless Facilitator knows what to do:
The unexpected (growler)
Often a meeting is going along quite smoothly when someone makes an unexpected comment. For example, the normally agreeable team member argues a long-held belief, or the typically prepared supervisor has outdated data. Or the enthusiastic marketer takes credit for another’s idea.
Fearless Facilitator: “Megan, if I’ve got this right, your concern is the turn-around time. Is that correct? How have things changed since your initial support of the idea?” OR “ Joe, if I’ve heard your report correctly, the data ends with winter quarter. Do you have the spring results?” OR “ Bob, I hear you; you’re building on Frank’s idea, right?”
The unleashed (barker)
We all have trigger points that unveil our values; for example, innovation, loyalty, honesty, hard work, or fun. If a meeting’s direction undercuts a core value, we tend to get emotional when we should be business-like.
Fearless Facilitator: “You feel strongly about this issue. What are you specifically referring to?” The idea is to acknowledge the feeling first, then get to specifics about the facts. Sometimes this must go off-line, as in, “ Yes, Kevin, company loyalty is key and your point is well taken. Let’s look at the immediate issue first.”
The unmotivated (whimperer)
Some people just don’t want to be there. They sit silently – even begrudgingly with ever-present cell phone texting or disruptive side conversing. Here the facilitator gently corrects (or not so gently depending on the rules). Bringing aboard the whiner happens outside of the meeting but during it, the behavior is acknowledged in subtle ways
Fearless Facilitator: “Dr. Jones, what do you do in your area?” or “Sheila, Jenny, is there a question?”
As you may have noticed, Fearless Facilitators have a mental “script” that kicks in when these three behaviors occur. Observe, ask, clarify, and move forward and your professional meeting facilitation will get results.
For more tips, check out our book Fearless Facilitation: the Ultimate Field Guide to Engaging and Involving (!) your Audience by Cyndi Maxey and Kevin O’Connor (Pfeiffer/Wiley, 2013). Available on barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, and more.
At the end of one of my speaking seminars, a star participant asked, “OK, tell us again how YOU keep from being nervous when YOU speak.” I understood the question; I often wondered the same when I watched professional speakers…oh, and also when it was my kids’ turn to be goalie in AYSO soccer. I still have no idea how our Chicago Blackhawks goalie handles the stress of his job night after night or how his mother can watch.
But, back to the question: I do know speaking. There are definitely things you can do to keep from being a nervous wreck when you have to present to a group. Here are my best tips, which I try very hard to follow every time.
Fear #1 “I don’t have time to do this well!”
Get started right away.
I mean NOW.
The sooner you write something down the less stress you’ll feel. You can go back and change the whole thing later. It doesn’t have to be a formal speaking outline. Just some key bullet points will do. It will become your outline or template later.
Fear #2 “ I’m all alone in this.”
Get someone else involved.
Anyone will do.
It’s best to talk to a trusted coworker or stakeholder, but simply running it by your best friend or significant other is OK too. Conduct a phone interview, text, ask for time for coffee, have an email conversation. My longtime coauthor, Kevin, is often my first point of brainstorming.
Fear #3 “I’m an imposter; I don’t know enough about this!”
Yes, you do.
Someone trusts that you know more than most. That’s why you’ve been asked to speak.
Review examples that are unique to you. This is information that nobody else can say quite the same way. Research only the most current references online to add zest. Don’t let the Internet overwhelm you. Get a sense of what’s new and if your presentation aligns or argues that. Either agreement or argument is OK as long as you support it in your unique way.
Fear #4 “I will forget something.”
Most speakers do.
It’s OK to have notes.
Notes are a speaker’s right. Aristotle used notes. Churchill used notes. Obama has a teleprompter. Just don’t write them out word for word (unless you have a teleprompter) or your mind and your mouth will get out of sync.
Fear #5 “ My (shaky hands, red neck, cotton mouth, stutter) will show.”
You feel it more.
Audiences forgive these things.
Know your opening four minutes COLD.
Most of the time signs of discomfort less affect the audience than you may believe. And they are fairly ready to forgive them if your presentation is helpful and practiced. Also these behaviors tend to go away after the first moments. That’s why you should practice your opening over and over.
Navigating the Business Social Event
Argonne National Laboratory