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Here it is SEPTEMBER. The air is fresher with the Furgeson Fire contained. It’s been a difficult summer for so many friends and former co-workers having to evacuate their homes or be on pre-evacuation. The death of a young Mariposa dozer operator working on the fire was devastating. It really hits home when you know the family. Words are not enough to thank the brave fire fighters who daily put themselves in danger in order to protect others.

On a more positive note, I am honored to be continuing in December as a Bass Lake Elementary school board member. I recently attended Back to School Nights and witnessed enthusiastic and eager teachers share about their grade level goals and classroom expectations. The evenings were well attended. Hats off to the parents for being so supportive and congratulations to the teachers for being well prepared to discuss their curriculum.

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As I look ahead to the year 2014 and my 65th year of living I am interested in becoming more mindful, to be interested in discovery.  I want to know myself better, to love myself more.  I am wanting to learn more about my deep inner resources. I’ve even recently subscribed to a new magazine: Mindful, taking time for what matters. This magazine is rather new, being in its first year of publication. I think it will be an excellent resource for me.  I adore how elements of the personal spiritual realm seem to be merging into the mainstream of the business world, the tech world, the medical field, and into many people’s daily lives as well. The studies into Mindfulness continue to be research based.  I also got a new ap for my phone called GPS4Soul! It turns out the extra reminders from this ap can help me be mindful of focusing on what’s important to me.  I guess I’m just trying to be the best person I can be and be focused on what’s important to me.  Not only are family, friends, pets, gardening, education, schools, ministry important to me, but developing my own inner growth is looming up this year. As an educator, I will say that I am working on my life curriculum.  How exciting!!

On Super Bowl Sunday I pulled out of my recipe collection an old favorite – Chocolate Mess.  My dear friend, Jane Gyer, shared this recipe with me many years ago for a potluck special dessert.  When she originally gave me the recipe written out Jane put in parenthesis the words, Yum Yum.  From that time on the name has become Chocolate Mess Yum Yum.

Several people who came to our Super Bowl evening recently asked if I would be willing ( well, actually they practically ordered me) to make Chocolate Mess Yum Yum for a large gathering that is being held this evening in Oakhurst.  So, I have just finished my fourth batch and the hot chocolate mousse pudding-like cakes are now slow cooking, filling the house with amazing dark chocolate aroma. Yep…yum, yum!

Here is the recipe for Chocolate Mess Yum Yum

1 package chocolate cake mix

1 4oz. package instant chocolate pudding mix

6 oz. chocolate chips

16 oz. sour cream

4 eggs

1 cup water

3/4 cup vegetable oil

Spray inside of crockpot with non-stick vegetable coating.  Mix all ingredients together and dump into crockpot.  Set temperature to low and cook 5 to 7 hours.  Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.  Lean back and sigh!!

As I was watching the ABC Good Morning America program today one of their previews for the week was “Living the Dream”.  Each of the broadcasters will have a clip on their own “living the dream” which will be aired throughout this week. Robin Roberts is going to be the pace car driver  for an upcoming race.

This all made me think about my own version of “Living the Dream”.  My own version is just starting to unfold and how exciting for me.  I recently “retired” from being a professional educator for 38 years which was a wonderful and fulfilling career.  And now I am just starting to see so many opportunities and new adventures for my life.  When I was working I certainly did not close my self off to adventure but the reality of day-to-day work limited my vision of what else might be for me.  So, this morning even just seeing the TV program on “Living the Dream” has inspired me to pull up on the computer my safely stored self- written Bucket List that I have been adding to for years.  I can hardly wait to see what my priorities are now!  Watch out world, here I come!

I recently was at a repair shop where I have done business for years.  While seated in the waiting area the owner came over to me and said hello.  He told me about his divorce and having to sell off of some of his homes and man toys. I listened politely and murmured a few sympathetic comments. Then, with a big grin and great enthusiasm he announced to me that he was taking a male enhancement drug.  This seemed to be the middle-aged male come-on straight from TV land.  All I could think of was this fellow sitting in an outdoor bathtub holding hands with some woman also sitting in a bathtub as they both gazed off into the distance towards the rural setting. I mean I really had to fight hard not to laugh right out loud.  I just said “All righty now” and moved away.  Yuk!  Apparently this man thought he was really with-it to make this statement. TV unreality had become his reality.  The problem is now when I think about going to the repair shop I mentally picture the man in the bathtub!  This is not a pretty picture to associate with repairs. What needs to be repaired is this man’s manners. “Shop talk”  has also taken on a whole new meaning for me.

My husband loves gadgets.  And more than that he loves a good bargain.  He recently purchased a sew-on button  type of gadget.  He was so proud to receive the package yesterday.  He happily got out the shirt needing a button replacement and sat comfortably in his recliner.  He opened the packaging and saw there were no included buttons.  That realization brought the first smile to my face.  I went to my sewing kit and got him a button.  Next he read all the directions and “assembled” the product.  Then he sweetly asked me which way would be considered holding the needle “convex” or which way would be “concave”.  Asking for a dictionary brought a giggled response from me.  Now I was sucked into the helping hand strikes again routine.  Well, we could try it both ways.  Then he realized there was no thread.  Well, how can it sew on a button without thread? He showed me the torn-out picture advertisement  from a magazine.  The ad proclaimed “800 FREE fasteners”.  When I asked about the fasteners he quickly checked the discarded wrapping.  Indeed there were fasteners included.  There were things that looked like plastic staples. Another giggle popped out of my mouth.

So now he’s assembled the product, has  his shirt, a button, and the 800 fasteners. He’s set.  Ready? And …it fails.  He tries again.  All we hear is a stapling sound without a fastener doing it’s job. The tears are starting to flow down my face with the belly laughter I’m now letting go.  He asks me to try it.  After rechecking the fuzzy photo directions I attempt to fasten the button.  We are now well into 45 minutes of effort. I give the gadget a try…nope. It doesn’t work.  Now I too become determined.  After reassembling the parts, we have a successful stapling!  At this point the situation becomes hilarious.  The button is indeed fastened, however it looks like the plastic holder of a price tag is hanging from the button.  I cheerily tell him that this could be a conversation maker and then die laughing.  The button is loose and  hanging and it has this plastic sticking sticking out from it.  At this time, he also chimes in with his laughter and puts the gadget back in the wrapping.  I ask…”Hey, what that other thing in there?” With his best TV announcing voice he says: “But wait, you’ll not only get one for $19.99, you’ll get two for the price of one!” We both give another huge laugh, definitely adding to my laugh lines.

I picked up the bag with the gadgets and announced that I would put the sew-on button devices down in the basement in the box containing the two “automatic” hemming-made-easy gadgets my mother had purchased and handed down to me. Then my husband remembers…the magazine ad said it could do hemming too!  I need to go now and apply some firming, anti-winkle cream to my face that I bought from a magazine ad…

I’ve been in way too many lengthy meetings lately.  Ones that last for endless hours.  Ones where the meeting protocols call for “Being fully present”.  I find it odd that it is necessary to state that one’s attention should be at the meeting.  It’s as if everyone knows that the meetings are crammed with an over abundance of agenda items and if we write down the words “Be fully present” then the meeting attendees actually will be attentive.  

At a recent meeting I was being fully present by focusing my attention on the current buzz words being used by the participants.  It’s so interesting how the English language is a living thing that evolves with usage and how groups of friends, team members, co-workers create their own lingo.  Sometimes the words express in an abbreviated way a common feeling or a shared experience. Sometimes words are given the opposite slang meaning like “That’s soooo hot”.  It’s so hot that it’s cool.  Some folks seem to enjoy bringing into their vocabulary or presentation the buzz words of their audience participants as if to show that they fit into the group.  “OK ‘dudes and dudettes’ let’s begin this meeting”. Then there are those who appear to want to impress others by verbalizing the “intellectual” buzzwords.  Right now “going deeper” has gained popularity. “It isn’t enough that we analyze the situation, we have to ‘go deeper’ to…”. Another buzzword gaining immense usage is “robust”.  “It is important that students have ‘robust’ vocabulary”.  Or “The results of the survey are very ‘robust’ so…”.

 Sometimes I think it would further the communication process by just being more direct, by speaking more simply. “Can you hear me now?”

I was overcome today with a dazzling and irresistible outdoor display of lovely little spring plants. Every herb you could think of, every early planting for a vegetable garden- all in front of the local Raley’s grocery store.  Who could miss them?  Not me, that’s for sure!  I went inside the store and brought out a large grocery cart, not to fill with food, but to be loaded with plantings of  zesty peppers, Celebrity tomatoes, Better Boy tomatoes (If they survive I’ll walk by them and say “Good Better Boy!”), green zucchini squash, and Black Beauty eggplant (the size of a horse?).  Then I saw the herb collection.  I decided I really must get catnip for Bella, oregano is needed for the spaghetti sauce, chives must be bought for the upcoming baked potatoes and rosemary herb bread is soooo delicious.  Thyme just rounded out my purchasing fling.  There was barely enough room left in the cart for the actual food to take home for the upcoming week!

Next I zipped into Rite Aid to make a quick purchase and the colorful seed pack display stands were practically tripping me in the aisle.  Seed packets! I never buy seed packets since I’m rather impatient with planting.  I love to see immediate visible results.  But those lovely Ferry Morse “Guaranteed to Grow” seed packs reached out to me.  Yes, I actually studied the garden plan in very tiny print on the back of the packets.  I ended up buying Mammouth Sunflowers, Home-Grown Birdfeed, to place at the back of the garden area. (My friend Doug in Carson City is a pro at growing gorgeous sunflowers).  I did not know that this is the Kansas state flower. There sure is a lot of information detailed out on those packets! Next in size are the State Fair, Mixed Color Zinnias. (Having grown up in the San Joaquin Valley, bright color zinnias just say summer to me). Beside these annuals are the Jewel Nasturtiums with a Delightful Fragrance.  And in the very front of the garden are the Royal Carpet Alyssum in a deep purple color. Now to try and follow the garden plan drawing in my backyard.

I have come home full of energy and planted my precious little herb plants in bright outdoor pots to be placed together close to the house for easy watering and protection from critters. (The squirrels are laughing as I type this.) And now unbelievably I have placed in the ground, per the directions, all the small flower seeds and as a result, I have such a feeling of satisfaction and anticipation! I believe my next step is to decide the best place for the vegetable garden… Hmmm… I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

As soon as I heard Margaret Wheatley start her talk by saying that there is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about, she had my full attention and heart. I had the good fortune to hear teacher, writer Margaret Wheatley twice this last week while at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA. Her topic was “The Roles of Leaders During Difficult Times” which was delivered to educational leaders from across the state.  I so appreciated her thoughtful words. When I hear a talk and feel it deeply, it’s sometimes  difficult to recreate the right words to convey the meaning. But here it goes…

We’re in the winter of discontent.  What’s going on right now all around us is a complete meltdown of life as we know it. Our structure and systems are breaking down in a huge way. Our best resource is each other, seeing everyone’s potential. We need to look reality in the eye and recreate the world.  We become more viable or we die. In order to rebuild we need to refind caring, compassion and generosity.

What do disasters teach us about human capacity and leadership?  We see the truth about the human spirit.  Neighbors and strangers always pitch in to help others.  There’s no sense in not taking a risk during a major disaster since there are not many ways to make it worse. It won’t do for us to moan and groan about the present condition.  Our nation is fighting for its survival now.  As leaders we need to evoke human goodness.

Life’s basic building blocks are relationships.  The “individual” is made up.  Nothing lives alone.  Aspen trees are a clone species. They grow through their root structure at a level we can’t see. People are likewise all connected at a level we can’t see.  We are all connected and interdependent. This world runs on collaboration and cooperation, not competition.  We are all bundles of potential that manifest only in relationship. Right now is an opportunity to explore our own and other’s potential.

It is a biological principle to create health, create more connections. We can be human only together.  I exist through you and you through me. It’s not critical mass, it’s critical relationships. The most common leadership is lead and control. This approach alienates us, disengages us.  As leaders you want everyone in the game, every brain in the game.  All organizations are networks and are interdependent.  The human spirit thrives in reality, not in denial, because it unleashes our potential.

When a leader serves as host, there is awareness of the experience you want people to have.  There are some principles for shifting from the leader-hero to the leader-host.  People support what they create.  Work done by self-managed teams increases productivity by 35%.  We know this is how people make do with much less. If we want people to create solutions, people need to be involved. People act responsibly when they care.  Discover the issues that people already care about. What are people worried about? As leaders, find out.

You can depend on diversity.  Diversity is a survival skill.  We need everyone’s eyes and ears,  We need to really listen to others.  Leaders need to keep expanding the circle of inclusion. Ask who’s perspective is missing. To change the conversation, change who’s in the conversation.  Expect that leadership emerges from anywhere, if people get connected and care.  It is through the heart that courage happens. Exhaustion comes from our hearts not being engaged.

The single most important leadership act is creating time to think together.  This needs to be regular, frequent, sacrosanct, with no preset agenda, focusing on current work and separate from staff meetings. People create trust together, solving problems together.  People dip into their own inner trust and confidence when they frequently reflect together.

It is helpful to remember why we do our work.  What are the values and principles that brought us to our work?  The conditions are different, but so what? We can together all come through this chaotic time.  As a wise person once said while reflecting back on his life, “We were together…I forget the rest”.

Margaret Wheatley’s website can be found at http://www.margaretwheatley.com

Change  seems to be all around us now.  The economy is depressed, unemployment is up, spending is down, personal budgets are being scaled back. Some folks are jobless.  Other people are worried about being laid off their jobs. The US has a new President. TV news is reporting that unemployed persons are going back to school to upgrade their skills.  The person who first stated that change is all there is, seems so wise.  For many people, change is uncomfortable or downright painful.  

Recently at a meeting of California educators, we were discussing the changes we see on the horizon for school districts, schools, teachers, principals and students.  It appears that public school districts will be forced to make mid-year cuts and further slash their budgets for the following year. Many districts are already cut to the bone and for next year they may be into the bone marrow. It looks like class sizes will be increased, classified staff will be further cut back, some teachers will be laid off. Textbook money, Professional Development funds, Visual and Performing Arts grants and other categorical money may be swept away into district budgets so districts can make payroll.  It feels like California public education is back-to-basics with a teacher, students and a chalkboard. 

Persons in our group talked about how to best help schools step back from the emotion of the scene and still focus on program improvement. The research has already been done that supports nine essential components that help schools/teachers/students be successful.  Our job will be to help the schools determine which of those essential components can they best leverage at their sites to make the most positive changes for student achievement.  

We need to be the keepers of the vision for our schools and districts in which we work. We’re here for the students.  We realize that things are going to look different.  We know that drastic changes are going to be made at schools due to budget crisis. The winds of change are here.  We may not be able to control the wind, but we can control our sails.  We want to set our sails and help chart the new best direction possible.

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