Monday, August 30, 2010

Why Volunteers Are Like Mortar

Note:  I was honored to be featured in the "Volunteer Spotlight" in the September 2010 Gulf Winds Track Club newsletter (the Fleet Foot).  Here's what I wrote:

I appreciate being featured in the September “volunteer spotlight.” This is exciting because, besides being honored, I get to write something. Getting to write something is almost always a plus for me, and even more so when I get to talk about something I love.

I often joke that running is the price I pay to be around such great people. That is sort of contorting my feelings about running, because I do love running for its own sake (usually), but runners and the people who support them have a spirit of supportiveness (and fun) that is difficult to find elsewhere.

Volunteering provides an insight into the running world that can expand your perspective, help you increase your skills, and provide rewards both tangible and intangible. I wish everyone who races could see the event from the volunteer angle at least once. In Tallahassee, we have gotten used to being able to roll out of bed and show up at a race shortly before race time, throw some cash and the registration form at the table and go. Well, behind every “show up and run” race is a cadre of people who spent hours behind the scenes securing sponsors, designing tshirts, marking the course, coordinating logistics -- the list goes on and on. Having stood at the Palace Saloon 5K finish line being on the “receiving end” of hordes of sweaty guys hustling out the last of their adrenaline (and being in charge of slowing them down/keeping them in line), I got a whole different feel for race energy than I do from my usual spot at the mid to back of the pack!

Another task that I really enjoy is helping with club communications, in the form of being one of the volunteer proofreaders for the Fleet Foot. On the one hand, runners just want to run, so many readers may think, “what does it matter if a comma is out of place or Susan’s PR was listed as 25:43 instead of 24:53?” The thing is that we show we care about our club by paying attention to this kind of thing, and Susan worked hard for that 24:53 so why should we short her 50 seconds? Charles R. Swindoll said it well: “The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.” I want to be a part of keeping the club something great.

Lastly, I have had the joy the past three years of serving as Captain of the club’s Relay for Life team. In the most recent year, we raised almost $6,000 for the American Cancer Society. Everyone in this club has been touched by a family member or friend who has battled cancer, and we have quite a few survivors in our midst. Our team gives us a chance to bond for a cause, and, being us, gives us an excuse to go round and round on a track.

I sort of look at the club’s athletic pursuits as bricks. As volunteers, we provide the mortar that holds it all together.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Sunrise at Good Flow Lake
Photography by Dan Carubia

I hope this image gives you a peaceful start to your Wednesday.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Will Run for Pancakes!

Gulf Winds Track Club holds a mile track race each August, accompanied by pancakes, and punctuated with the "Hamstring 100" race.  I was fortunate enough to participate in all three this year:  the mile, the pancakes, the 100 (not in that order!).  As a souvenir, each of us got this sticker, which reminded me of this recent blog, which questioned whether a "3.1" car sticker had been sufficiently "earned."  I can only imagine how the writer would feel about a "1.0" but I love mine!

I had hoped to make a quantitative amount of progress between last year's BOT and this year's BOT.  Here's last year's time:  11:20.61.  Here's this year's time:  11:14.91.  An entire year's worth of intervals, training runs, and cross training for a measly 5.7 seconds of improvement.


This summer, which started off with me vowing to work so hard I would look spent, has ended up with me limping in to the figurative finish line.  Right around the time I started doing turnover drills in early July, my plantar fasciitis started to act up.  Weeks later, a chiropractor who eventually said "go get different inserts at the running shoe store" after sucking up several copays for ultrasound treatments, and many ice packs/heating pads later, finds me without any drastic improvement to brag about. 

But I do have this great memory of yesterday's mile:  finishing neck and neck with my son (he was so psyched to have found used racing flats at Play It Again Sports):

photo credit: Fred Deckert

and this great memory of being invited to participate in the club's annual "Hamstring 100 Invitational" (I still don't grasp the math/logarithm that got me invited but it was a thrill to participate, to come in 4th (yes #'s 5 and 6 are in their 70's but let's not split hairs here!)), and a lovely bouquet of roses (the male competitors in the Hamstring 100 get hams). 

photo credit:  Fred Deckert

Lastly, people who don't know her story won't know what a big deal this was, but my friend "K," who was brutally attacked in her front yard, in daylight, several months ago, made her re-entry to running at BOT yesterday.  In the pictures taken yesterday, you can see joy on her face -- what a testament to the restorative powers of running (and friendship). 

Another takeaway from this last half of summer, dealing with heel pain, is that I have branched out in my cross training, which used to be walking.  I have pulled the bike out of mothballs and gotten some swim coaching from the fabulous Revolutions Triathlon Coaching.

Is my goal still a sub 30:00 5K?  You bet.  Am I bummed that I made so little progress toward that goal this summer?  Yes.  But I'll get there -- I have told too many people that is my goal and they're all helping me remain accountable to myself. 

Once I do, I may just have to get myself a "3.1" sticker.  I'll know why it matters. 

I'll "run" into you next week, readers!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Saturday, August 21, 2010, will be National Trail Running Day





to me


This photo was taken at 5 a.m. before the "Balls Deep 8 Miler" on the Miccosukee Greenway on June 11, 2010 (photo credit Leisa Eastman)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Advice to "Dr." Laura: RIDE It Out

I sleep at odd times.  I'm not talking about my nasty habit of getting drowsy in meetings.  I mean it is not all that unusual for me to take a 15 minute nap at 7 p.m., so that I can proceed in to another five hours worth of activity energized.  It works for me.

I was indulging in one of my 7 p.m. naps Thursday night, with CNN playing in the background.  As I was starting to emerge from my sleep state, I heard Rick Sanchez announce, "Dr. Laura Schlessinger engages in angry dialogue with caller, using the 'n' word 11 times."  This announcement rapidly pricked my consciousness and hastened my awakening.  

The story unfolded throughout the night (the actual conversation had happened on the preceding Tuesday night), with plenty of analysts chiming in with expert opinions.  

Dr. Laura's caller had been a black woman who wanted advice on how to handle her white husband's family (and friends); the family/friends made offensive racial comments in front of the caller, and her husband had not taken any actions in her defense.

The caller, Jade, stated her issue.  Dr. Laura asked for an example.  When Jade provided the example, Dr. Laura went off on a lengthy tangent about how the "n" word is frequently used in popular media, going on to say, "black guys use it all the time."  When Jade questioned Dr. Laura's logic and frequent restating of the word, Dr. Laura ended the call by telling Jade that if she is that hypersensitive then she "shouldn't marry outside of her race."  

I used to listen to Dr. Laura, mostly for entertainment purposes, when I was driving for business travel.  In the same way that "Dr. Phil" grates on my nerves with his directive approach that employs lots of bossy instructions with very little empathetic listening as a prelude, I would listen in amazement as she would hijack the interactions with her callers.  Most everyone who knows me in more than a passing fashion knows that I struggle with the fact that, as a working parent, I have far less time with my children than I would like.  Thus, every time Dr. Laura bragged about being "her kid's mom," I would struggle with a question that has dogged me ever since I gave birth.  She made it sound so righteous, so destined, so the only logical option if your children were to grow up well-balanced

When I heard about her conversation with Jade and the ensuing furor, I have to admit one of the first things I felt was a sort of smug, "well, it's about time she self destructed."  Of course Dr. Laura has had previous run-ins with those whose lifestyle she disagreed with.  At the heart of the matter (for me), lies something much more basic than her poor choice of words and her ignorance.  Had she used the very basic (but effective) technique that I was taught as a telephone counselor, a technique that went by the acronym RIDE, the call could have ended very differently.

"R" - establish a relationship.  After Jade said, in her introductory comments, "I'm starting to grow very resentful of him [her husband]" and proceeded to explain how her husband ignores the offensive comments, Dr. Laura asked for examples.  Dr. Laura's very first reply was, "I don't think that's racist." 

Dr. Laura was entitled to her opinion, and granted I do not know what relationship was established in any pre-screening for this call, but Dr. Laura did not invest any time or effort in establishing a relationship with Jade before jumping immediately to expressing her own opinion. 

"I" - identify the problem.  The problem is not that Jade is "hypersensitive" or that she should not have married out of her race.  Getting to the real problem would have taken time, intellect, and sensitivity; it is likely centered around Jade's growing feelings of resentment and powerlessness in the face of the types of comments she refers to in the call.  In addition, she does not feel that she has her the support of her husband -- maybe he doesn't understand how she feels or maybe he doesn't care.  But again, the problem is not her "hypersensitivity" or the fact that she married someone of a different race.

"D" - deal with the feelings.  Here is where I think Dr. Laura missed the boat in the most basic of ways.  I know time is money on radio, and anyone who has listened to her show at all or read her website, where potential callers are given a five-point set of instructions, including:

  • stick with your original story
  • don't present on-going never-ending layers of problems
knows that the goal is to avoid deviating from the problem at hand. 

Dealing with feelings takes time, but saying "I understand" or "I can hear your frustration in your voice" goes a long way when your goal is helping someone. 

"E" - explore alternatives.  A one-time caller to a radio show may not get to this stage, but the concept of "exploring alternatives" is a heck of a lot healthier than "blithely swallow whatever you are told to do by an 'expert' you will not ever see again."

I wish I could have Jade over for dinner.  I wish we could talk.  I wish she could see the amazing, accepting family I have married into, which has welcomed children from other racial heritages for two generations. 

I also agree with Susan Sarandon, who made this comment back in 2000 when she participated in a successful campaign to get Paramount Television to cancel its plans for a Dr. Laura tv show, referring to Dr. Laura as "a person who is clearly in dire need of compassion, education, and a good shrink herself." 

So next time you're in a situation like this, Dr. Laura, RIDE it out.  You'll be surprised how well it works.

I'll "run" into you next week, readers.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Summer is not "Dragon" -- it is "Flying"!

Photo Credit: Wayne Kevin Kiger (11 years old)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Shattering Expectations

If you spend much time at all being trained as a contact center customer service representative, or training customer service representatives, you will hear about "smile mirrors."  The idea is that you watch yourself in the mirror, to make sure you are smiling, so that the customer can "hear the smile in your voice."

This example is from
If I had a smile mirror at my desk, it would have shattered into pieces after a recent interaction between a customer and me.  I lost my cool, attracting the attention of our Executive Director, probably earning my way onto the customer's next missive to her legislator, and obtaining for myself material for a blog that I would rather not write.

I write about this incident because:

a) Many of my readers give me good ideas (and if nothing else help me regain perspective)
b) I needed to confess this ultimate of customer service transgressions
c) For all the posts I write singing the praises of fantastic customer service or grousing about mediocre customer service, this incident was a reminder to me that everyone has their highs and lows
d) The irony was not at all lost on me that Dan Rockwell, the "Leadership Freak", had just invited me to send in a picture and a bio so I could be included on his "Featured Bloggers" page (fortunately, he understands being human.)

I have helped talk people down from suicidal moments, as a volunteer counselor, trainer, and on-call supervisor for Telephone Counseling and Referral Service (now Big Bend 211).  In this case, my coworker and I had been dealing with Mrs. "X" for weeks.  The situation was complex and made more complex by the fact that many different entities had been enlisted by Mrs. "X" to help solve the problem.  Mrs. "X" did not represent the situation accurately, and it quickly escalated into a situation where the grease would be liberally doled out for the squeakiest of wheels.  In the buildup to "the hangup", my coworker had explained the situation to Mrs. "X," who stated I had told her otherwise.  When I came out of a meeting, my coworker advised me that Mrs. "X" still disagreed.  I left her a message outlining the bare bones of our answer, reiterating the position that I had held all along.  When caller ID showed that she was calling in, one minute before I had to leave to pick up my son from a camp with an immovable end time, I answered and explained that I had an obligation outside of the office and offered to speak with her at length the following morning.  She proceeded to state everything that "I" had told her, statements which were the absolute opposite of what I had said.  After attempting to calmly explain what I had stated, repeatedly, the combination of having my integrity questioned (by the way, here's where the fictional mirror would have started to crack), knowing the background facts of a web of untruths on the customer's part that had gotten us to this situation, a couple of stressors outside the office that were nagging at me and the ticking clock reminding me exactly how late I was to pick up my son, that I hung up on this caller.  Yes, I did.  I am not proud.  And I called her back to apologize (like I told our ED I would do after his visit to me). 

I would have been better off letting the call go to voice mail.  After several weeks working with this individual on her issue, there was nothing I could have said in our conversation that would have changed anything, nothing that could not have waited until the next morning.  I would have been better off reminding myself that the fact that a caller is questioning my integrity over and over doesn't mean I don't have integrity. 

Leann Rimes tweeted this tonight:  Our fingerprints don't fade from the lives we touch (source unknown).

I'm afraid in this case I left more than a fingerprint - on her and on me.

What are some options in a situation like this?  What would your mirror reflect?

Thanks for the cyber-ear tonight, readers!  I will look forward to "running" into you next week!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Why does my coworker Alex look so shocked?

He has just arrived at a surprise celebration for becoming a US Citizen after ten years of expense, frustration, bureaucracy, and hard work!

It is the flag just as much of the man who was naturalized yesterday as of the men whose people have been here many generations. ~Henry Cabot Lodge

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Burgeoning Baby Ballet Bucks

My friend and coworker, Niki Pocock, was a dancer from the time she was a little girl.  Since she has a young daughter, our conversation often turns to our daughters.  Her toddler is just starting to test the waters of children's activities; my teenager has been through dance, soccer, gymnastics, cheerleading, a few I have probably forgotten (but definitely paid for) and is now back at dance.  Her daughter is "little," mine is "big," but Niki and I both share big dreams for our children to find some path that brings them joy.

I appreciate Niki's guest post, in which she shares her experiences thus far in the world of children's activities (and parents' pocketbooks).  Niki blogs at It's All Wrong and you can find her on Twitter here: @NikiPocock.

My daughter is only 22 months old, but her extra-curricular classes already have put a dent in my wallet.

Now that I think about it, it started before she was born. My husband and I took the necessary childbirth class for $160 that at the end was unanimously voted as pointless (although I did meet a BFF there – we had baby girls within weeks of each other). If I heard that instructor talk about “normal” childbirth one more time I was going to strangle her. I was getting an epidural. No question about it. Back off, lady! Oh, and I just about passed out when I saw the video of a woman giving birth (I would later find out that my new BFF’s husband was having a great laugh at my progressively whiter complexion as the video went on).

Then there was the breastfeeding class (this one was actually helpful), and the breastfeeding support group (also helpful, as I walked in with tears in my eyes because it hurt so much. I survived and nursed my daughter for a full year – mostly because of the support from these women).

All of it? $$$$$ - Lots of it.

My daughter’s first class after birth was a Mommy and Me ballet class. This was a bit nostalgic for me because I danced ballet for 20+ years, including seven years performing with a company. The place she took her lessons was the same place I spent the majority of my dance life. But at $70 for just a summer semester (About $140 for the fall semester, PLUS a $50 costume AND recital tickets – not sure if that is going to happen), it hurt a bit. Oh, and then you have to get a leotard, tights and shoes (Did you know Payless has a line of American Ballet Theatre dance shoes? $17 vs. $30 at the local ballet boutique. I’m sold!)

And now we want to put her in swimming lessons. The local city pool offers $22 and $45 classes. Not bad, but that is just for a few weeks. We are thinking of putting her in a music class, but there is another $140 per semester, not including instruments and “take-home materials.” Do these people think we are made of money??? Aren’t we in a recession?

When you plan to have a child, you know about all the expenses that come with a baby. The hospital room, the crib, the clothes, etc., but hand-me-downs and baby showers work wonders. Even as my child grew I was set because my parents are in town and buy her everything under the sun (including aforementioned ballet leotard, tights and shoes). But what about these classes???

I hereby publicly thank my parents for paying for 20+ years of ballet classes (and pointe shoes at $60-80 a pop) and for attending all of my performances. My dad encouraged me to quit on numerous occasions; after all, I wasn’t going to dance the rest of my life. But the discipline and drive that I learned during my dance years has shaped more of my personality today than anything else my parents did.

The benefits set aside, I can tell you that my daughter had better be the best kid in the world if she expects her non-outdoorsy mother to sit in the hot summer sun while she plays soccer, softball and who knows what else – all on my dime.

Who has time to save for college when you are paying an arm and a leg right now? How do parents deal with all the expenses of money and time? I know I am not the first to experience this sticker shock, but geez, this has been quite an eye-opener!

Paula here -- I know a lot of you readers have experience with years of children's activities (and the related impact on the family bottom line); please share any comments/guidance you have!  And I will look forward to running into you next week!