Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Amazing Cow behind My Capes

I've been thinking about this entry for almost 2 years. It's taken me so long to write because Krystal just keeps adding to the list of udderly amazing things she's done. The latest in her cattlog is constructing the key element in my recent marriage proposal. (I still sorta lose my breath at those words.)  I'll get to that later, but first... THIS is the Amazing Cow behind my Capes.

Krystal is a civil engineer, mother of two teenagers and seamstress extraordinaire. I met her through our mutual work with MATHCOUNTS, an extra curricular middle school math program. Her son, who just recently graduated from our alma mater, had been involved in the club, but her current role comes from the side of the engineers who help sponsor and implement it each year. She is now the Chapter Coordinator for the southeast Idaho chapter of MATHCOUNTS and her most recent professional project has been the new Wellness Complex in town. Almost two years ago, I corralled Krystal into attending a meeting of the Eastern Idaho Engineering Council (EIEC) at a restaurant in Blackfoot. It's halfway between Pocatello and Idaho Falls to help get engineers from both cities to attend.
The EIEC is a main contributor to MATHCOUNTS and also serves as a catch-all organization for engineers in the area to hear about professional development and volunteer opportunities. I was the president at the time, and I wanted Krystal to take over the next year.  Oh, and on that particular day, a friend of mine had just had a hip replacement surgery in Blackfoot, so I asked her if she would also consider cowing with me. Krystal is a contributor. Period. She didn't hesitate for a second on either of these tasks.

The pictures tell the story...
In a Bingham Memorial Hospital restroom in Blackfoot getting ready to visit my friend.
Visiting my friend Esther after her hip replacement surgery.

After the hospital, we headed over to the EIEC meeting. As we strolled through the hospital parking lot, Krystal noticed our shadows. She  laughed and shrieked, "I have a tail! Oh my gosh. I didn't know I had a tail!"  Awww, the happiness that can be found in self-awareness.

Krystal had spent about a year working in Connecticut, so she was returning to see a few folks she hadn't seen in over a year--in a cow suit. Now, I'm used to this, but watching Krystal proceed with confidence and candor was fun.  As the guys filed into the meeting room, they were taken aback. Some male engineers really do say and do the weirdest things around female engineers, and having us in cow suits just added to the dynamic.

But not Ron. He's been an engineer and volunteer for years and frankly is a darn good hugger. This Guy.
Krystal hugging fellow engineer Ron before our meeting started.
We kept our cow suits on as I conducted the hour-long meeting and had dinner, and wore them on the way home. I really didn't know much about her when she agreed to accompany me to Blackfoot, consider the role of president of the EIEC or join me in a cow suit escapade through a hospital on a Wednesday night, but we had a conversation I won't ever forget.

At one point, she asked about my involvement with the Family Services Alliance (FSA.) The FSA is a non-profit in our area who's mission is "to promote safe and thriving families, work to end physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and provide victim support."  From their website, FSA exists to help survivors, their family and friends, and the community. If you have been, or currently are, a victim of domestic/dating violence, sexual assault, rape, stalking, or human trafficking, we can help you in a confidential and caring manner."  They can be found at

I was a little confused by the question because I'm not involved with the group at all. It took me a minute to think about where Krystal got the idea, and it was a fund-raising bike ride that I had participated in the year before. I had posted one or two lines on Facebook about it and I wrote a column for the local paper as well. (The piece was called "When my Care Bear Got a Perm.")

Krystal then told me about her experience with domestic violence. She left an abusive husband when her kids were young, but she'll tell you that she should have left him much sooner than she did. It took seeing that her kids were in extreme danger, too, that flipped the switch for her and she fled. After that divorce, she enrolled in the engineering program at ISU and went on to get both her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Civil Engineering as a single mother raising two kids.

That night and that conversation with Krystal as we drove along the farm land of I-15 in cow suits to the setting sun will stay with me forever. FOREVER.

Later when I wrote the newsletter for the EIEC to introduce Krystal, I included the following picture and description. Seriously.  No.  Seriously.
I can't remember exactly when I learned that Krystal can sew, but holy cow! Can she sew!  She was a fan of my "Cowculator" character who spoke at MATHCOUNTS events, and when I flippantly said one time that I needed a cape... Krystal made it happen.  Boom. Shiny red cape to help fully complete my ensemble.

At the Regional MATHCOUNTS competition one year when the Cowculator spoke and Krystal directed.

This is what's on the back of the Cowculator's cape.
This past year I got another opportunity that called for a cape.  So, I called Krystal.  I was asked by the local school district if I would help them present their monthly CAKE award to celebrate and recognize Character, Attitude, Kindness and Encouragement. In my cow suit. Would I?!?!  You bet your udders, I would!

Although the cow suit was fun and lively, which is what they wanted, it didn't really make a lot of sense, so I created the Cow Crusader of Kindness.  I have a snazzy purple pair of converse sneakers, and I thought that a shiny purple cape would be grand. And bam! Krystal made it happen!
I'm standing in Krystal's angelic glow as she finishes up my purple cape for the Cow Crusader of Kindness.

The Cow Crusader of Kindness at one of the local elementary schools pausing from a CAKE award to capture this fantastic mural.
So, now I have two capes and two different and awesome cow suit personas--both thanks to Krystal.

This past year I was the keynote speaker for the ISU Women in Work conference. This day-long event presents career options in STEM to over 200 high school aged girls and women returning to the workforce. The event concludes with a Career Showcase (or a fashion show.) When event organizers asked if I would participate, I said that I would only if I could wear a cow suit and go as the Cowculator. (An electrical engineer's wardrobe is really not all that exciting.)

After police officers, forensic pathologists, welders, mechanics and other professionals showcased their attire, the Cowculator came on stage to celebrate and recognize all of the women in STEM who become heroes in tackling the problems and challenges they face.

As the crowed cheered and giggled at this, they have no idea about Krystal. She is strong and fierce; selfless and resilient and wears her own invisible cape every day. Together we've built the Cowculator and the Cow Crusader of Kindness and while I get to revel in the smiles and fun that comes with these shiny shawls, none of it would be without the amazing cow behind my cape.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Cow Crusader of Kindness

For two weeks in a row, the Cow Crusader of Kindness has made an appearance in Pocatello, it’s probably time she get a blog entry. (And after this, I HAVE to finish the one I’ve been working on about the “Cow behind my Capes” because the Cow Crusader of Kindness wouldn’t exist without her shiny purple cape and the woman who's made it.)
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact beginning of the purple caped cow, but she came from CAKE.  The Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 launched a new award this year to celebrate and recognize kindness. It’s called the CAKE Award for Character, Attitude, Kindness and Encouragement. The School District’s spokeswoman approached me and asked if I’d be willing to make a monthly delivery of cupcakes to the student recipients, give a quick presentation of remarks included in their nomination form and tout the benefits of all that CAKE entails to a class of their peers. I didn’t have to think for very long in saying “YES!” And, it’s been a blast!
I’ve made four presentations in my cow suit so far. I’ve wanted to blog about each of them, but…well, they’re kids and this is the Internet. We’ve submitted a press release each month and a photo with the kids and the cow, so they’ll have a nice moo-mento, and that’s perfect. I don’t want to detract from their award by hounding the kids, parents, teachers and all involved for permission to put them in my blog. The CAKE award is about THEM, but hey—THIS blog is about ME and what being a part of the CAKE award has meant to me.

During my first presentation to a 5th grader at Jefferson Elementary, something felt like it was missing with just my cow suit alone. I asked my friend who made my red Cowculator cape if she’d make a purple one to go with my purple converse sneakers. She agreed immediately and I had a cape for the next presentation to the another fifth grader at Edahow Elementary.

The cape turned out to be too big and I almost tripped in the halls, so I had to ask my friend to hem it. When she hemmed it, she made a matching cape for my dog Bob out of the scraps. She’s also the one who made Bob’s cow suit. Bob died before he ever got a chance to join me in a CAKE presentation in our matching capes and cow suits. (He broke his neck while playing with his black lab friend Alli, and if you haven’t heard his story, you can read it and cry here.) 
Can't you just imagine us in matching purple capes?
My next presentation was to a second grader at Ellis Elementary. This presentation came at the time when some cows had escaped a meat packing plant in town and the city of Chubbuck was advised to be on the lookout for the rebel heifers. There was also road construction going on around Ellis and I couldn’t figure out how to get to the school. At one point, I was trapped in a subdivision driving around in my cow suit and new cape and I could SEE the school, but I couldn’t get to it. I was running late and had visions of running through people’s yards with my udders swaying and my cape flowing with 3 dozen cupcakes under my arm, because NO WAY could I be late!  Thankfully, I found my way.
It was this delivery when I introduced the Cow Crusader of Kindness to the kids. They loved it!
My fourth delivery is a main cattle-ist to today’s blog. I was slated to acknowledge a senior at Pocatello High School whose name is Robert. Bob had died less than a week before. School district officials offered to make the presentation for me, but I said absolutely not. I needed to put on the happy heifer, and surround myself with the energy involved with recognizing a CAKE recipient.  Besides, I used to call Bob “Robert” and I thought this was a definite sign that I should present.

I got to Poky about 20 minutes early to suit up. The presentation was going to be during Robert’s art class, which is in the building where the gym is—not the main building. I slipped into the restroom that is probably the one I used the most when I went to this high school 25 years ago. It’s right outside the gym where I played and practiced volleyball and basketball for hours. My initials and a turtle are carved in those bleachers along with those of thousands of others.
Donning the cow suit in public can be weird sometimes, and in a high school restroom, it seemed even a little weirder so I made sure to go into a stall for privacy even though class was in session and I was alone. I took my big purple Rubbermaid bin into the stall. It holds all of my cow suits (8 of them), Bob’s cow suit, my capes, his cape and the various sneakers I wear when I suit up. I’d forgotten about Bob’s cape and as soon as I opened the bin, his suit and cape were right on the top. I lost it right there in the Pocatello High School bathroom.

I didn’t even try to stop the tears while I put on my suit. I was overwhelmed with the emotion of Bob and also all of the reasons I was there in that bathroom at that moment.  My friend was kind enough to make my cape. OUR capes. Bob never wore his cape. My friends were unimaginably kind during the days following Bob’s death. When I used to use that bathroom, I was a rockstar athlete and student body president and had the world by their Rocky Mountain Oysters. I was going to somewhere grand and be someone grand, but there I was. Putting on a cow suit and bawling in my old high school bathroom. (I had to turn this mooood around and fast!)

It wasn’t just a cow suit. I had a cape now, too. And I *was* going somewhere grand. I was going upstairs to recognize a high school senior who’s had the guts to be kind and to march to his own drum and to be who he wants to be in spite of peer pressure we all have faced. (He is a former Mathlete and involved in their robotics team.) I was getting ready to give a pep talk to high schoolers about the power of kindness and the ability to become someone’s hero by simply encouraging them.
I found myself overcome with gratitude in that bathroom stall for being given the opportunity to create the Cow Crusader of Kindness and be the conduit of cupcakes that day. I decided right then to find out exactly WHO was behind the sponsorship of this CAKE award.

In addition to the cupcakes each week, the student and nominating teacher get a McDonald’s gift card and the school’s media center receives a $50 stipend to purchase books in honor of the student’s award. I had an idea who the gal was with our local McDonald’s franchise, but I had to confirm.
And by golly, I was right. Her name is Mary Johnson. (Hey—that was my mom’s name!) And I met her years ago when we were both getting our hair cut at the same salon at the same time. I asked my friend who does her hair when her next appointment was because I wanted the Cow Crusader of Kindness to show up and surprise her with a “thank you” for HER kindness in sponsoring this award.
(I wouldn’t say I stalked her, but rather I live-stocked her.)
Not only do I think it’s great to recognize and promote kindness in our schools (and, gosh, how about EVERYWHERE!?!) but I’ve also gained so much personally in the opportunity to meet these students and nominating teachers.

So, here she is. This is Mary Johnson with the local McDonald’s franchises and The Cow Crusader of Kindness saying “thanks” with a secret and independent CAKE presentation for the month of February. And those are to-die-for cupcakes from Cake Creations There can never be too much CAKE. Never.  Truly--thank you Mary for helping me share and celebrate a little CAKE with kids.
I surprised her mid-appointment & ran to McDonald's,
so we could take our picture AFTER the cut and style.