Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Irrigation Development Ladder

Back in 2003 I gave a presentation to the USDA Ministerial Conference in Sacramento, California. That presentation discussed the various methods of irrigation in use today, and introduced the concept of an Irrigation Technology Development Ladder. The purpose of the concept was to help Agricultural ministers in developing countries select the appropriate technologies for use in their national projects. I just posted this article to my website, and it can be found at The Irrigation Development Ladder, should anyone be interested in reading it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A do-over?

I've never been much of a backward looking person, always pretty much accepting my mistakes and decisions as they've come out, while concentrating on trying to make the best of things as I find them.

But Career Transitions are a time when it is challenging to take that position -- the future is pretty murky, and the past that led you to this place tend enter one's mind a lot. Over the last eight months, I've reflected frequently on some of my big decisions. What if I'd gone back to school and gotten a masters in science or engineering, instead of business? How would my life have been different? Or if I'd just stayed at GM or Emerson? What if I'd focused on something more literary or more creative at a younger age -- like writing, or design?

What if I'd never read The Fountainhead? That's a big one -- it changed my life's direction and pushed me far down a business - careerist path. Where would I be without that influence?

So I'm declaring a do-over for those could'a-would'a-should'a' been thoughts. I refuse to be permanently bound by past decisions, and will continue to explore all interesting possibilities for the future. While some things are closed off from me due to physical limitations and age, there is a big wide world out there just waiting for me to stumble around in it.

No, this isn't to say that writing as a pursuit is receding, but I was letting it become an obsession more than a passion. So I'm backing up and taking another run at the future.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be careful what you put in writing -- Tactic #4

We've all seen it -- that horrible email sent by a foolish or cloddish peer. You know the one, where they use inappropriate language and/or say something so insensitive that it boggles the mind. And we all know what happens to those emails -- they end up circulated to anyone and everyone who might find the behavior offensive.

So if we've all seen it and know the result, why does it keep happening? I believe these instances are the intersection of two events -- a political abstainer or neutral who's in over their head, and a highly emotional situation were the writer feels a self-righteous need to vent.

Email was where I first started seeing this kind of stuff, but today it's hardly limited to the company email account. Now you're at risk based on anything you post on your blog, facebook account, Twitter, leave in voicemails (which can become digitized files that are exchanged via email), or write down anyplace its easily accessible and can be easily copied or circulated.

So what's the secret to managing your writings in such a fashion that you don't undermine yourself, or give your enemies plenty of ammunition to attack you with?

First, warning bells should sound anytime you are typing or talking, and you're angry. If you can't stop, then please, please, please save whatever it is as a draft and hold off hitting send. Once you've cooled off, re-read what you've written.

In most cases, at this point you'll want to delete it.

If you feel compelled to send it, first imagine your words on the front of the newspaper, in your church bulletin, on in the company newsletter. Would it make you proud? If not -- delete.

If you still need to tell someone off -- do it verbally, preferably when no one else is around to hear. At the least doing it this way leaves some uncertainty in the minds of others as to exactly what happened when they hear about it. When put in writing, you've got nowhere to hide.

Second, remember that anything you post on facebook, twitter, linkedin or any other social media site is in the public domain. If juicy enough, or if discovered by an enemy power player, you have to expect it will be used against you. If you must post insults about your employer, or naked pictures, or whatever, do so anonymously.

Tactic #4 is all about showing self-restraint and emotional control. If you can't do that, you have no business playing the politics game.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Figure Out What's Valued -- Tactic #3

Know the rules by which you are playing. This may seem obvious, but I've seen it violated so many times, it definitely bears mentioning in the list of important tactics to be utilized by political neutrals.

Most organizations have certain characteristics they say are valued by the organization. One company I worked for claimed to select managers based on passion, integrity, continuous improvement, and the ability to produce results. These were partially accurate -- I would dispute the last one, where "the ability to produce results" seemed to mean the ability to hit plan regardless of the errors or mistaken assumptions plan might be based on. And I would have rejected "continuous improvement" entirely.

The point is, companies say one thing, and reality is something else. Characteristics that are stated as valuable are sometimes aspirational, representing how the company ideally would like to value its people. There are hints about what's really valued in them, but it's hardly enough to be definitive.

There are other characteristics that are not stated, but are still critical to successful. For my example company, I would add the following unstated, but highly important characteristics: Connection to important decision makers outside the company, dedication as measured by hours worked and personal sacrifices made, going along to get along, and quickness to upwardly communicate bad news. Fall short on any of these, and you may very well be out the door.

The art of managing your image within the organization becomes managing it along these dimensions. Do this well, and you're starting from a solid foundation when you get in the inevitable political battle. Do it poorly, and you're setting yourself up for difficulties.

So how do you figure out what the valued dimensions are? The primary thing to do is LISTEN. What are other employees criticized for? If you hear constant complaints about clock watching, or how quickly the parking lot clears out at five PM, or how irritating a late arriver is -- you can surmise that time committed to work is an important dimension along which you will be judged.

Should you hear people criticized for emotional or angry outbursts, then going along is probably an important characteristic. In one organization where I worked, people were criticized for not showing emotions -- specifically anger -- when challenged. You have to notice these things.

It definitely matters who's doing the criticizing -- higher level employees and obvious power players carry more weight than others.

Once you are aware of the behaviors and characteristics that are valued, it becomes your job to manage other's perceptions. Will you be the first one to the office in the morning and the last to leave at night, in an organization that values the hours you commit? If you're willing to make the sacrifice, then it can only help you.

When your reputation is openly questioned, it's important to defend yourself -- hopefully with facts. "Yes, I left early yesterday -- I needed to buy a gift for that Chinese client before I left on the trip." Don't let someone knowingly undermine you with half-truths or outright lies. If you've developed your network of relationships and alliances carefully, you'll know when these things occur. If not, you're still exposed despite doing all the right things to be in compliance with the organizational expectations.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 13

Final entry in the Mr. Mom series of posts.

A medium-difficult day today, probably made more hard by just being busy. The twins played in the one inch of soggy snow we received last night, then we left for Omaha and were gone from 10:30 to 2:30. I did manage to finish all the paperwork on Emily's replacement car, but since I couldn't drive two cars home at the same time, it still physically resides at Carmax. The twins were good while we were at all of the stops, but bickered non-stop in the car.

We have church at five, and I'll pick up pizza afterward. Sometime between then and bedtime for the twins, mama should be home.

Overall, I learned quite a bit from this experience, and I feel I understand and relate to the twins better than I did before it started. That being said, I'm not volunteering to make this my full time gig. Instead I think I'll go back to writing as a job, and leave the "mom-ing" to a professional.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 12

Another good day today, starting with an easy morning routine. The twins had a pajama party at school today -- whatever that means. From my perspective, it meant that the twins got up, took off one set of pajamas, and put on another (the cool ones). They were very excited to go to school dressed this way. Fortunately I was able to persuade them it was okay to wear their tennis shoes in the rain, and put on their slippers once they got to school.

After school was basically as smooth as well. I slightly improved the nutritional value of my average dinner today by buying fried chicken at the grocery, and adding corn and a rice side dish for dinner. Sad statement that it was better than average for the two weeks, but what can I say? Guilty as charged.

I also completely forgot to bath the girls last night. I'm not sure why it slipped my mind, but of course, they didn't remind me either. So I made up for it by bathing them after dinner tonight. Once again, baths one at a time meant virtually zero conflict.

Paula returns tomorrow, so I have only one more Mr. Mom day left, and I'm hoping for smooth sailing. They miss their mother, and I miss her too, and look forward to her return tomorrow night.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 11

Another relatively benign day, which ended especially well. Like most of the days during my Mr. Mom stint, this one felt very full.

I was up early again this morning, testing my latest epiphany -- that making sure I wasn't in a hurry was a good way to keep the stress down. It worked pretty well. There was lots of time, which was good because we wore new winter coats today, ones with a zip in/out fleece. The twins, true to their usual form, felt a need to unzip every zipper and unsnap every snap. By the time I had the coats reassembled and found acceptable gloves for them, the extra time was gone.

After school, I could feel my blood pressure rising a bit as a series of light skirmishes between each twin in turn and Anna, occurred. During that same time, I was getting after school snacks, scooping the cat liter box, and trying to pick up and clean up. I spent twenty minutes vacuuming up dead Asian beetles -- man, there were a lot of them. But it all dissipated at dinner time.

Then something magical happened. After a fine dinner of leftover pizza and coke, Anna organized a game of Polly Pockets that lasted until bedtime. And they actually pick up when they were done (Oh Anna, if only you'd learn to pick up after yourself, you'd be the perfect daughter!). I spent an enjoyable hour talking to my brother on the phone, something I do too seldom.

Bed was even fairly easy, and I'm relaxed, but still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 10

Mr. Hyde stayed away most of the day today, and the nice and polite Dr. Jekyll visited instead. Mr. Hyde only made a brief appearance, when the twins first came home from school -- again, some inane conflict between the twins, this time over sharing a quilt on the couch.

Of course, today's routine was pretty favorable -- loaded with things they like to do. School prep this morning was easy and unhurried because the hair routine is currently simple, and I woke up early and had the dogs all taken care of before I woke the girls (making sure to leave some extra time, might be a secret to making all the routines easier).

After school, other than the short blanket battle, the girls watched Ice Age part 12 (or whatever the latest version is of that series to hit cable), and then we left for pizza. The school passes out free pizza coupons if the kids read (or have read to them) four books during the month. Candace and Sarah were finished the second day of November, and we got the coupons Monday. It's a nice reward for the kids, but the girls always want instant gratification -- they wheedled to use the coupons immediately. I was able to hold out two days before taking them out for their favorite food.

After dinner was CCD, which they really like. The transition from CCD to home and then to bed can sometimes be difficult, but tonight it was smooth and easy. And both girls made some good compromises -- Sarah on tomorrow's clothes, and Candace on the comic book Sarah was looking at which she really really wanted to see.

When its good, its great.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 9

Two days ago I thought I had these kids pretty well figured out. Today, by contrast, I was humbled by how bad I job I can really do managing them and myself.

The morning went fine, I was able to get both girls to eat, and although Candace was a little cranky, and claimed she was sick and should stay home from school (she has a runny nose -- allergies, almost certainly). I managed to get them off to school fine, and on time.

This afternoon started fairly well, too. I finished my daily writing early, and decided I'd make a pumpkin pie for dinner -- that didn't turn out too bad, other than me scorching milk on the bottom of one of our pans (hey, if you don't have any condensed milk, why not just make it! I'll tell you why, because scorched milk is really tough to get out of the pan, that's why!).

Everything was calm until Anna came home from Walmart, and then the Barbie battles began. Eventually, Sarah was such a terror, that I had to put her on the naughty seat, where she screamed non-stop for nearly fifteen minutes.

It wasn't until after I went outside to start the grill, however, that I reached my personal flash point. I discovered that one of the twins (both deny it, of course) had opened the valves on the propane grill, and all the gas was gone. Not only was this inconvenient, but it had been potentially dangerous.

I tried a couple of times to get Sarah off the naughty seat, but each time she was so vindictive and mean, that she ended right back on it. By then, I was mad and yelling.

I ended up spanking her, which I hate doing, but I just couldn't get her to stop her fit any other way. Then I got the cold shoulder from her all the way up until bed time.

Candace, not to be outdone, had her fight with Anna a little later, and she ended up on the naughty seat and spanked also.

Now I'm sitting here feeling very bad about the whole day, and definitely pulling my nomination for father of the year. In fact, I believe both twins were ready to pack up their things and walk back to Ethiopia at one point in the evening. Sigh.

And just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 8

So how do you keep from getting sucked into sibling conflicts? I can't seem to do it, and I've come to the conclusion that getting sucked in is a large portion of what makes parenting the twins stressful.

Today had a couple of good examples.

On the way back from dance class this evening, the girls started arguing. It started with yelling and screaming and soon there were a few slaps and hair pulls added in (to the degree that can happen when they're separated by an empty seat, and strapped into car seats) complete with oodles more yelling and screaming. Always a pleasure to drive down those county roads with no shoulders, where pulling over to the side of the road is more or less impossible. My approach tonight? I turned the radio up loud enough to drown out their yelling until they quieted down, and when I got home, they both went on the naughty seat. I doubt the punishment will leave a lasting impression, unfortunately.

Contrast that with the bedtime fiasco tonight -- we had round two of the who gets to turn out the lights dispute. I kid you not - Candace leapt out of her bed, and practically walked over Sarah in her bed to get to the stupid light switch. On this one, I decided to take the issue off the table by saying I would, from now on, be turning off the lights. That caused Sarah to launch into a baby-crying fit. What they really want is for me to keep track of who's turn it is to switch the lights off, but there are already so many of these let's take turns items that its become too much to keep track of. Just in the bedtime routine there is already turn taking on: picking the story, going to the bathroom, and teeth brushing. I'm loath to add light switching.

If I don't intervene, then I usually see one twin (usually Candace, but not always), unfairly treating the other in a cruel bid to get her way on things. Maybe I shouldn't worry about the fairness aspect, but when you hear one twin say "If you don't give me do X, I won't be your friend" or similar things, it's hard to just let it go.

Otherwise the day went fairly well, except for my vow of better quality food. I could barely get them to eat breakfast (one kid ate a single strip of bacon, the other -- five spoonfuls of cereal). After school snack was ice cream (a step up from the candy they demanded), and dinner was the golden arches, which they at least ate. Gotta work on this harder tomorrow.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 7

Kind of a mixed bag today. Some things went well, others not so well.

On the positive side -- Girls slept reasonably late, and were pretty much crab free in the early morning. They actually shared at donut at breakfast without complaint. We saw Megamind with Anna and Kenneth, and other than some bickering in the car on the way there, it was a lot of fun. And the separate bath strategy worked like a charm -- it was easy, and more or less conflict free.

On the negative side -- Candace and Sarah spent half an hour playing outside this afternoon (nice day), and somewhere during that time they decided to break most of the branches off of four of our bushes. There were several epic Anna versus Candace battles -- I wish I knew what to do about that one -- best friends one minute, and butting heads the next. And at bed time, Candace had a series of fits over not getting to go first or pick something, culminating with a major pout because Sarah gets to turn the light over the bed out when the story reading is done. I apologized for not immediately calling an electrician to move the switch to a spot next to her bed, but that apparently wasn't enough (nor did she think I was funny, either).

I need to work on a more nutritious menu tomorrow. I don't think another day where the meals mostly consist of donuts, chicken strips, fries, hot dogs and popcorn -- all sprinkled with a bit of Holloween candy here and there -- is in everyone's long term interests!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 6

Wow. This day was busy! I actually had to get the girls out of bed on a Saturday morning to go to a doctor's appointment at 10am in Omaha. Then we grabbed a drive-thru lunch at Burger King before a marathon hair appointment. You see, I got some great advice on the twin's hair -- if you get it corn-rowed (full head version), then the morning hair care routine is almost zero for as long as the corn-rows last.

I made an appointment at Capitol School of Hairstyling for 11:30. Unfortunately, they only had one stylist who could corn-row available today, so it was Candace first, then Sarah. The whole appointment took four hours. I kid you not -- four hours! I would have never guessed anyone could spend two hours just doing hair. My hair... well, no point in going there!

Afterwards, we made a quick stop at Target to get birthday presents for a party next weekend, and then headed toward home -- only we didn't go home because church starts at 5pm. With the little slack time we had, we stopped and had ice cream at the little shop in town. Then church (the twins were extra wiggly today, for some reason), and afterward, we drove back to Omaha to the Ethiopian Restaurant.

We finally made it home at 8pm, and I let the twins play for an hour, while I cleaned up. Then it was bedtime.

Busy, yes! But really no conflict, no meltdowns, no anger.

A most excellent day! (with apologies to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 5

Little kids get tired and crabby when they get up early for school each morning and also don't go to sleep when they go to bed. So do the parents!

Actually, everything went fairly smoothly today until Anna insisted the twins help clean up the Barbie mess in their room. Anna humors them with Barbie play when she doesn't have anything else she has to do. Sarah just left the room, leaving the clean up to Anna and Candace. There was much shouting and gnashing of teeth as a result.

But somewhere along the line, the crabbiness switched kids, because it was Candace who sat on the naughty seat all through dinner. I'm not sure exactly what caused it, but all of sudden there she was, getting angry with everyone about pretty much nothing.

I thought it had stopped at the end of dinner, but Candace picked right up again afterwards. Eventually I dragged her (carried her over my shoulder, actually) down to my room and read a couple of old time fairy tales to her. That seemed to do the trick.

We're off to bed momentarily -- I'm posting now, because I'm so tired I don't want to have to try to do it after they finally go to sleep.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 4

Okay, this day was a puzzle to me. Mostly it was a good day, but there were a couple of outliers that popped up. I was please that I managed to maintain a sweet disposition through it all, however, so at least my patience seems to be increasing a bit.

Before we left for school, Candace asked if we could leave the house a little later than usual. It seems the elementary school children are walking around the playground for exercise before school, and Candace doesn't like doing it. When we got to school, the kids were still walking, and Candace flat refused to get out of the car. So while a line of twenty other parents waited, I got out of the driver's seat, and had to drag my kid out of the back row of the Suburban! I'm sure that provided entertainment for at least one or two adults.

Everything went great this afternoon and evening until Anna returned from diving. Then Sarah decided to start making up stories that she told her self -- out loud, of course, so we could all hear them -- about how mean Anna and Candace were. The stories involved a lot of punching and hitting. This went on for fifteen minutes, until I finally had to send her out of the room.

Oh, I almost forgot bath time, where one side (not one end) of the tub was decided by both girls to be superior to the other side. They pushed and shoved each other, trying to claim it like a couple of three year olds, until I gave up and drained the water. Next week -- separate baths.

Yeah, I'm tired now, and hopefully will be headed off to bed shortly.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 3

Today we entered the meltdown phase -- Sarah had two -- yes, two -- before she left for school. One over the clothes I'd picked out for them to wear (I fixed that one, we all picked out clothes for tomorrow together this evening), the other over the five day old donuts I callously ran down the garbage disposal yesterday.

Candace's was no less dramatic, and came just before bedtime over -- yeah, bedtime. There were tears, pouting, interference with Sarah going to sleep, naughty seat, more tears, rocking chair. I finally broke the cycle by inviting her to have a candy bar, and that seemed to fix everything, at least for now. Ah, the wonders of Almond Joy.

Tomorrow, other than taking the twins to school, I don't have to go anywhere -- no dogs to take to vets, no elections to vote in, no grocery stores. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 2

They completely fooled me last night. I went back upstairs at nearly 10:30, and the girls were in their room with the light by their bed turned on, arguing back and forth.

The morning routine, the one I've been most concerned about, wasn't too bad. I woke up half an hour before Paula has been normally getting up, and I was still hurrying to get out the door. Hair took me forever, but it looked pretty good -- IMHO -- for a ham-handed man.

Dinner tonight went okay. I made a pheasant and barley soup with Ethiopian spices, and grilled cheese sandwiches. The twins and Anna humored me by taking a few bites of the soup. It took quite a while to prepare, and I couldn't help thinking that they would have all preferred spaghetti or pizza.

Emily and some college friends stopped in for an hour on their way to see a live act at the Slowdown. They spent 98% of the time in the bedroom putting on sequins, satin, really tight jeans and makeup. Sigh.

Sarah had a melt down just before bed that was developing all evening. I think the twins wait until bed time so I'm at my least patient before the crying, screaming and going limp starts. I finally got them in bed five minutes ago, but they for sure aren't asleep yet. This was a darned long day.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 1

Okay, the twins are asleep. At least I think they're asleep. Or maybe just doing a good job of faking it...

Anyway, I survived the first day of Paula's trip to Africa. Of course, this was the easiest day, as she was here in the morning for the usual getting-ready-for-school routine. Tomorrow I have to do that on my own.

Only thing of note was the panicked call I received on my way home from running errands from Paula herself. Seems she forgot her passport, but figured it out before getting too far. Rather than turning around and rushing home, however, she asked our twenty-one year old to bring it to her. Her call to me was something along the lines of "Where is that kid? Doesn't he know I'm going to miss my flight if he doesn't get here right now!"

Uh, I suppose. But what can I do about it? Oh yeah. Just listen. I keep forgetting to shut up and listen. Old habits die hard.

The dogs were really a bother today, too. Our oldest dog, Bruno, has cataracts and seems to feel a need to scent mark anything he finds in the house. He'll have surgery to correct his vision in December -- I just hope all our furnishing survive that long.