Friday, December 16, 2016

I Belong in a Cow Suit

It was announced today that I've been named one of the Idaho Business Review's Women of the Year for 2017.  I'm grateful to the woman who nominated me. I met her when I was a sophomore and she was a junior in high school but don't honestly know her very well. I hope to get to know her better in the future. I'm grateful for this entire opportunity that forced me to find the words for the following  portion of the materials I provided to the selection committee. I took a deep breath and a big risk and included the photo below with my application.  I'm glad the selection committee has a sense of humor, but really... if we are going to get anywhere in this world, we need to disarm ourselves, be vulnerable and learn to laugh together. 


My personal, and un-articulated-until-now, philosophy is… I belong. You belong. We belong. Perhaps it was growing up hearing feisty female rocker Pat Benatar sing it. Perhaps it was my mother telling me over and over and over. Or perhaps it’s after successes (and failures) in any number of arenas, I firmly believe - We belong.

In elementary school, I belonged on the football field at recess with the boys because I was an athletic little thing from the get-go and that’s where I wanted to be. In high school, I belonged at the helm when I became the 4th female Student Body President in Pocatello High School’s 99-year history. In college, I belonged on the volleyball team as a walk-on who eventually earned a starting spot, and in my graduating class with only one other woman—I belonged at the front of the line to lead the College of Engineering’s processional. When I am the only women in project meetings at work—I belong. When penning columns for the local newspaper, often as the only woman and minority—I belong.

Two critical encounters early in my education are most noteworthy for either fostering this belief or compelling me to embrace it and beckon the courage to live it. During my senior year of high school, I was taking an advanced placement physics class. It was difficult to manage between student council, volleyball and band, so I petitioned to get out of it. My principal wouldn’t let me. During a one-on-one meeting she said firmly, “You are a smart young lady who can handle it, and I’m not going to let you think that when it gets hard you can just quit. Forget it. Now get going because I’m sure you’ve got some studying you could be doing.” I was awestruck.

In part because of my former principal, I majored in engineering. At the beginning of my sophomore year in college just as I had walked on the Idaho State volleyball team, one of my professors arrogantly told me that I should consider a different major if I insisted on the “volleyball foolishness.” I didn’t argue with him or complain or take the issue to the Dean. I went to work. I earned a 98% for my final grade and through that experience I learned that, despite his “recommendation,” I belonged in his class—right at the top of it, actually.

Early in my career, I coached JV volleyball as an after-work hobby, but when presented with an opportunity to work with a middle school math club, I went from coaching athletes to mathletes. It took me a while to get the hang of it—the poor math kids had to do pushups and wall sits when they missed their times tables or forgot their homework, but once I found a groove, we all had a blast! I’ve received numerous notes from parents and former students about how their beginnings in our little club led to a love of math or career path in STEM. That kind of feedback always keeps a gal going.

I jumped into that endeavor originally to inspire girls to develop a love of math and the sciences and to see the potential for themselves in the field. But I realized that my influence on the boys was just as critical. Girls—you belong in the STEM classes! Boys—the girls belong in the STEM classes! My messaging for both boys and male colleagues alike is to not just accept us—but expect us. We belong. 
Part of letting kids know they belong is helping them to develop confidence. Part of remembering that *I* belong is keeping up my confidence. I’ve found a most unorthodox, original and downright amusing means to accomplish both of these: a cow suit and a cape.

I got my first cow suit as a Halloween costume while in college, but I resurrected the floppy ears and udders for a few silly occasions now and then. One day while crafting some math puns for a welcome address at a regional MATHCOUNTS competition, it hit me. The COW-CULATOR!

Many comic book super heroes wear capes and what do super heroes do? They solve problems—just like mathletes, just like STEM professionals, just like me. A friend of mine made a shiny red cape with a large black and white felt calculator on the back, and I began teaching lessons dressed up. Word got out and I was asked to speak at assemblies and events to let kids know that they, too, could become a problem-solving STEM super hero.

A few years after the Cowculator was born, I began writing columns regularly for the Idaho State Journal with themes centered on a more civic forum for political discussion, diversity and inclusion, girl power, and kindness and humanity. I also began manufacturing experiences in my cow suit to write in my blog called Cow Suit Saturday. As I became a more known figure in our community, I was approached by the school district to deliver a monthly CAKE Award celebrating character, attitude, kindness and encouragement—in a cow suit. I added a purple cape and created the Cow Crusader for Kindness.

I’m not a petite woman, so every time I throw on a cow suit, I take a deep breath. Courage and confidence are a like a muscle. It’s good to work them now and then to keep them in shape, and boy oh boy, does running around in a cow suit and cape on my lunch hours exercise my courage and confidence. Central to knowing I belong and believing that everyone else does too—is kindness and the courage to be kind in the face of unkindness. The Cow Crusader for Kindness talks to kids about this once a month, and I talk to myself about this even more.

It took this nomination for me to realize that all of my influences and much of my life’s work, both professionally and personally, has centered on the fierce belief that we belong. Thank you for the opportunity to condense all these years in and out of a cow suit into such a simple concept. One of my goals is to edit the entries in my Cow Suit Saturday blog and write a book someday. Professionally, I hope to develop into a better technical writer and blogger while continuing my job as a physical designer.

I know the “udder” silliness and slight irreverence isn’t for everyone, but I wasn’t born with a seriousness to become a CEO, the resilience to lead a non-profit or the talents to be an artist. The smiles I’ve seen and the smiles I’ve had tell me over and over that to continue to make a mark on this world and change it for the better—being an engineer is cool, but I belong in a cow suit.
Photo by Amy Millward  - Thanks, Amy!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cow Crap Happens amid the Bliss

I was in New England for work a few weeks ago when one of my colleagues, who used to keep up with my more regular columns, asked if I was planning to write more again someday. I exhaled with the kind of “yes” that needs an explanation. I’ve been a married woman and legally recognized step-parent now for almost two months.  As cliché as it may sound, putting my opinions and personal stories out there now affects much more than just me. I struggle regulating my candor especially when it might need regulating.

Also, writing takes quiet, stillness and alone time. With a wife, 3 kids, 3 dogs, 5 cats, and 2 turtles, quiet and stillness have taken a sabbatical. My alone time happens on my bicycle or walking dogs and scheduled alone time is often interrupted by some sort of predictable chaos.

Take, for instance, last Friday. I left work early to pick up the two younger boys from school. One of them had been on a two-day backpacking trip near Crystal Summit with his class. He had too much stuff for the bus.  I planned on getting home and doing some more work before the five o’clock bell, but as life would have it—crap happened.

After two minutes in the truck, I asked why it smelled so bad. The backpacker’s pants had a crapload of dried cow crap on them because he had tripped and fallen in a cow pie the day before. We rolled the windows down. It was cold. I told him to go straight to the laundry room and leave his clothes in there. He didn't catch that.  Either the frigid wind was in his ears in the backseat or he’s now naturally selective to the sound of my voice.

Instead, he walked through the house to his room for a change of clothes before his shower, unwittingly leaving little morsels of cow crap along the way. He took off his crap clothes in the downstairs bathroom—his sister’s bathroom, so more morsels of crap were scattered about the kitchen, stairwell, and in her space.  She was going to scream when she got home. The gold-star sprinkling of manure mimicked the pattern of flower petals that brides dream of for the aisle of their wedding day. We had a blissful wedding day. 

Since the poor kid had been freezing for two days in a tent, I didn’t balk at the length of his shower, but sadly the curtain didn’t get pulled tight. Cups of water leaked onto the floor moistening half of the cow crap morsels. Only the dry ones could be swept. I didn’t log back into work. I was on the floor hurriedly hunting for crap crumbs with disinfectant before the teen got home. 

After that floor was clean, and the window was opened to air out the space, I started scrubbing the back seat of my truck. It, too, had to air out while I put the crapless clothes in the washer and hosed down the crap-coated pants in the yard. With the situation barely under control, I decided I should take the dogs on a walk to regroup. As I gathered leashes, the brothers weren’t noticing the stench in the house but they noticed the cold. Yes. It was cold. And it will be cold as long as we have to keep the windows open. Probably until Election Day. I hadn’t thought I’d be dealing with literal crap this election season, but alas.

The boys were huddled up in blankets, both of them on the top bunk, playing video games. Cute. The little brother missed the big brother.  I felt my blood pressure ratchet down a notch and left for a cleansing dog walk in the rain.

I got home. Laundry was done. As I pulled out a pair of long johns, wet flecks of cow crap flew across the laundry room and settled on the concrete floor. Something with cow crap got put in the washer. The wet clothes. The air. The hairs in my nose. All I smelled was cow crap.

At this point, all three wet dogs burst into the laundry room in a frenzy. Holy Crap! A cow crap snack! It’s like Christmas morning and their stockings had spilled onto the floor. I started to stop them, but why? Someone should experience some joy in this moment. I let them keep licking and left to light a candle. They could handle the rest of the cleanup.

Instead of logging in like planned, crap happened.  A lot of crap happened. So, to my friend in New England—this. All of this explains why writing a weekly column has become a challenge. There’s a lot of crap happening amid the wedded bliss.

*Later while getting takeout, I sent the teen a text complaining about the smell in my truck. She, who will most likely never—NOT EVER—don a cow suit replied:

But hey it will make the suits more authentic in the future, right?
This whole experience was worth it, if only for that text. 

And in “Hair of the Dog!” fashion… the next day, the boys and I went to visit a friend with acreage and a cattle farm outside of Lava Hot Springs. He’s been inviting us to see the cows for months and plans were in place before all of the cow-motion the night before. Visiting with Kurt was cathartic. 

Remember that one time when the kid tracked crap through the house??  What a riot!

Good lookin' boots

Explaining problems with pistons

Giving lessons in how tractors work

I'm watching where those hooves are steppin' !

I'd clean up cow crap any day for this face. SUCH a great sport! T

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Honeymoooon 2016

A honeymoooon wouldn't be complete without a lil cowing.  These pics were taken in Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey just a few weeks ago. We forgot to pack our cow suits, but thanks to good ole social media and a herd of friends, they were delivered on the last night of our trip.

A friend who lives in Hailey was heading to Rupert for her son's soccer game while the grandparents were going to be attending from Pocatello. Another friend was able to rifle through our bin of suits and shuttle them to the grandparents' house. God bless the retired gentlemen for not asking any questions and simply delivering the suits to his daughter-in-law who then dropped them off to us at Sun Valley Brewing in Hailey.

You'll notice that Jena's cow suit is purple. When I proposed to her, I didn't ask her with a ring--I asked with a custom-made purple cow suit. Almost a year and a half later, here we are ...

First pic with our server, Denver. She was swamped that night, but did a great job!
Restroom sign at the Kneadery in Ketchum. Klever
Had to kick off the honeymoooon cowing with a ring pic outside the condo.
Some awesome friends let us stay in their condo for the week. The number of their unit happens to be my mom's birthday. I love these little cow-incidences.
Suiting up inside the condo before heading out.
The colors and lighting of the week was simply grand.
Where she relaxed the day before while I mountain biked. Lovely views.
Another favorite relaxation point just yards from our accomodations.
Outside the Sun Valley Lodge.

So many pretty bikes.
Pond at the resort. We just missed the paddle boats.

I find empty volleyball courts so lonely--like Main Street at 3am.
The pool attendant from New Zealand was also our dinner hostess the first night. She was great!

Practically had the pool all to ourselves for the week.

Avoiding the sprinklers in the Village.
Picturesque scenes everywhere

Pond. Ducks. Flowers. Cows.
She kept wanting to cuddle with the ducks. Ummm
We'd visited the spa the day before. Sublime

Beyonce chickens were everywhere! (google it)
Decided to try Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" per my pal Josh

The seasonal clearance racks kept calling us.
Souvenir cow bell!

We had to check out the local Episcopal Church.
Years ago, I had labyrinth races with M & MJ here after dark. (They're supposed to be for meditation.) It was nice to share this place and that memory with Jena.
So apro pos for me. They're missing some O's, though

The big chair!
Sneaking a snapshot.
I'm just not sure who'd want to decorate with that.

Or this

At the Sawtooth Brewry. The Idahome was a lil potent for me the day before. Yummy, but yowza.  Altitude warnings would have been good.

The bartender, bless his heart, never got one in focus. This was the best of 12.
Sharing a club and trying the "Wedding Wit" Delicious!

Heading out on their green belt to find my favorite bridge.
Checking out the original railroad tracks
This old gal was riding in a rainbow sherbet colored ensemble. She was delightful.

Shadow pics make me smile.
Every time I pass through the area, Jena is so great about encouraging a little visit to Mom's grave. Mom always got a kick out of my original cow suit.
I mean--she's not here to disagree.
This... Us.  Our trip and our beginning is what turned out awesome.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Wink and a Smile - and a Cow Suit

Today is the 15th anniversary of my mom’s passing. (On my other blog, I’ve talked about the actual day here and here, but this is about today.) When January 20 falls on a weekday, I take the day off work. Early on, I used to plan activities as tributes to Mom, but as time has passed, I’ve found that the universe presents its own tributes with a wink and a smile.  I get to cow today with my Cow Crusader for Kindness cape and sneakers, but first… a few thoughts on Mom.

As I’ve been de-cluttering and organizing and we’ve combined households and begun wedding prep, (Wedding prep!? Squeeeeeal!) I’ve come across so many of Mom’s things. I want to share them with the world—because SHE WAS AMAZING!

I found a short bio written about her when she received the inaugural Mary V. Johnson Adoption Advocate of the Year Award in 2000 from Governor Kempthorne.  I hadn’t heard this story before, but when she was a social worker in Blackfoot, ID in the 60’s, she received a call from an irate citizen concerned about the misuse of donated food items.  The family didn’t like beans, so they used them to serve as insulation in their home. Upon arriving at the residence to investigate, Mom observed bean sprouts growing out of their roof. Her report related that though the beans were not used as intended, they did however serve a needed purpose.

In 1978 when I was in Kindergarten, she ran the the Idaho Youth Ranch’s South Idaho Girls’ Home. It was in the big house behind Tasty Treat on 4th Street. I remember going there and hanging out with all the girls. I had no idea these teens had been abused or ran away or both, and I felt so lucky to have so many older friends. I can still remember their names.

In 8th grade French class, I remember when a new kid showed up mid-semester. His denim jacket was ripped. He smelled terrible, and his hair was a mess. He didn’t make eye contact and he sat on the edge of his seat bouncing a leg. First thing I asked my mom after school was, “Hey Mom. We got a new kid in class today. Do you have a John Smith in your case load?”  She did, and it was him. He kept wearing his denim jacket and kept getting sweatier and smellier to hide the cigarette burns on his arms. Mom told me to be nice to him, so I was. I got really good at identifying the kids that would be in a social worker’s case load, and I was always nice to them.

Mom was a founding member of the first Interagency Task Force in Idaho, which assisted with Idaho’s formalized Child Protection protocols. In 1990—while I was in my senior year of high school—Mom became a supervisor for Adoptions, Training and Quality Assurance.  This meant her role was to assure that the child welfare staff adhered to federal and state requirements in achieving permanent placements for kids. She shouldered the sometimes unpopular responsibility in holding workers accountable for case plan which met the federal requirements.  Luckily, she’d had years of practice taking her red pen to all of my essays and college applications, so it was honed for her employees’ case files.

Mom could be funny but serious. She could be kind but stern. Often her sternness was born out of the urgency she felt when kids needed help. She navigated those seams so naturally that it had to have influenced me.

I’m about to present this month's School District 25 CAKE award to a student at Poky High and then another at Jefferson Elementary recognizing Character, Attitude Kindness and Encouragement. Like Mom, I will be funny—because hey! that cow suit is funny.  I will also be serious in conveying the importance of kindness. I won’t exactly be stern because all sternness evaporates in the presence of udders, but every time I present to these kids, I feel that urgency that Mom felt when working with families and kids.

That sense of urgency is a wonderful motivator and truly a gift—especially today. I'm off grab some cupcakes and greet those kids. Hey Universe--Thanks to Mom, I've got my own wink and a smile today. And a cow suit. 
Some guys are residing the house right now and took a quick break to snap a pic.  It's always fun to explain....