4/10/09

Non-Profits

I have worked in and around the non-profit world for a long time. My experience handling donor dollars and investing them has proven to challenge my confidence in the intentions and usefulness of donations.

When a donor gives, I wonder how many of them give after researching the use and intent of their money. Do they look at the mission statement of an organization? The overhead rate? The accomplishments? The yearly commitments? Or does the donor simply find a place to drop a $1.00 and walk away feeling good about that donation?

I have recently had to ask myself this question because I see things that disturb me. Let's say organization A has a particular mission statement. They are specfic in their intentions yet they have volunteers who are so enthusiastic about assisting. There is a catch to the volunteerism however. The volunteer wants to assist and make the mission more "personal" - more about what the volunteer sees personally fulfilling and beneficial. Organization A says "O.k....as long as the dollars go into MY bucket - go ahead." And what follows is a diversion from the original premise of the non-profit - a diversion of funds, concntration and efforts from the original premise. The volunteer is excited, they keep on working their own personal plan for this non-profit. Meanwhile funds from donors are diverted - in the midst of the excitement - from other non-profits more specifically designed to accomplish the mission of the volunteer but less willing to allow the volunteer to have a commanding role in the program. The money becomes confused, dilluted and lost in the attempt to accomplish objectives not clearly part of the program of Organization A - thus the needy suffer - the needy programs suffer and waste results.

It happens all the time. We want to feel good about giving but we don't want to work at stewardship of our donations. The Non-profits themselves are driven by goals and monetary initiatives. They get lost in the definition of what the intentions of donors are as well as the intentions for which they originally set up the organization. They end up competing with other non-profits for donor dollars and volunteer participation. They fail... They fail the donors, the intended recipients and their own mission. They simply fail.

People Watching

According to my family, I am a very annoying individual. You see...I am a certifiable "people watcher". I have written about this previously but felt compelled to write once again in an effort to defend my ever so annoying (to my family) behavior.

Yesterday, my daughter had an outpatient procedure at one of the hospitals in Montgomery, AL. We got there at 7:30 and the day proceeded from that point. What we thought would be a pre-op check-in, an intermission break for shopping and then the eventual real "check in" became a hurried adventure of procedures, blood work and then....stand still feeling - waiting! This gave me an awesome opportunity to have my own adventures however.

First, the pre-op. They take you to a room with a television where other pre-op victims are also awaiting the dreaded weighing, blood pressure check and needle pricks along with the unending personal questions regarding your personal preferences in life, religion and well...just about anything the nurses can think of. Fortunately for my daughter, they were sensitive to her young age and limited the questions to frustrating stuff like "what college are you going to?" and "what do you want to be after high school?" and "Do you have a boyfriend?". Her answers were pretty routine - "I don't know" and "I want to be a herpologist" (That one always goes over really well - a gal who likes reptiles) and "why do I have to have just one!" It's a wonderful thing though - these questions -because then the nurses will usually open up about their own lives, their children and their preferences if you simply say something like "well, what about you!" And of course, I did!

Two nurses have blessings for children - the other has demons! One of the nurses is ten years older than me even though I was certain she and I were the same age (ugh). One of the nurses survived cancer and is doing great. And one of them wears hearing aids even though you can't see them and loves to talk about make-up (my daughter liked her best).

Then, I got to go with my daughter to the "holding room". It is pretty much like a large cattle pen full of beds with patients ready to either go to sleep or get up and walk out. You get to watch the nurses scurry around the 3 to 1 ratio of patients to themselves and you get to hear them complain about how the doctors and computers are a real pain to keep up with. Then, if you are lucky, you get to hear the various family stories being told by other people waiting. You even get to establish a type of comradre with the other families and patients since you are pretty much all in there fighting to be put into the operating assembly line first. One lady had become confused with her pre-op instructions and quit taking her diabetes medications. Her blood sugar, of course, had become dangerously high and she was being admitted for that issue prior to her surgery. She was a jewel! Everyone was trying to get to see her because she was most appreciative and thoughtful with her comments. Two doctors offered to call her son and advise him that she was being admitted so she would not worry about him not knowing. No one was there with her so we all decided to be there with her - including the nurses and doctors.

Soon enough, they came and got my daughter and gave her the happy stuff, then the sleepy stuff, let me kiss her and shooed me off to the waiting room - oh boy oh boy oh boy - a room full of people with stories and situations to watch! I could go on about the little snippets of life I observed, the children playing, the sisters and brothers talking to one another and waiting for the phone call telling them that their beloved was safe and just about ready to be visited, but I think you can already understand the angst my family feels regarding my passion for people.

Perhaps I am nosey but I prefer to say I simply LOVE to see life unfolding. I love knowing there are other situations, other goals, and other successes. I love seeing and hearing how other children function and grow in our society and I love that no matter what the common thread of hope and love keeps us all on the same level whether we realize it or not.

In all honesty, I cling to the simplicity I have created in my own life. But I love seeing how others have managed to overcome and embrace complexity successfully. It restores my faith and it keeps me humble.

I highly recommend people watching. Sometimes it can actually result in friendship when you take it up another level.

4/8/09

Cotton Candy

A friend of ours has a cotton candy machine. She takes it to various town events and fairs and makes some good money making and selling the stuff. Fortunately for me, she is a friend.

I remember cotton candy from the County Fair where I grew up. It was this amazing delightful stuff. They would stick this little cardboard stick down in this machine and wrap it around the stick until it tumbled over your knuckles while you carried it around. You couldn't actually EAT it becuase it melted wonderfully the moment you put it in your mouth. Your friends and family would grab chunks of it and push it in their mouths and you would laugh at one another while you enjoyed the sensation.

I had no idea that they now have various flavors of cotton candy. There is green apple, bubblegum and pina colada to mention a few. My friend asked me which flavor I preferred and I immediately responded with "I prefer cotton candy flavored cotton candy!"

Nothing else brings back wonderful memories of County and State Fairs, boardwalk adventures and near death experiences in haunted houses and silly rides than cotton candy flavored cotton candy! One year my banana bread won second place at the Lincoln County Fair in Tennessee! I still make some pretty tasty banana bread (my mom says the secret is green bananas - so I still use them!) One year my sister and I rode "The Bullet" and the guy forgot to put the pin in the door. We spent the entire ride terrified of falling out. I do not believe I have ever gotten on one again even though he demonstrated to us afterwards various other safety features which we could not physically see.

It was at the Tennessee State Fair that I got the most enjoyable experience of embarrassing my best friend when I brought my own food which was vienna sausages and generic soda. I preferred to spend my money or rides and....cotton candy!

Three years ago, our daughter talked us into allowing her to get a pet rat. I believe I have written about our Gizmo. He has easily transitioned into a member of the family and we get loads of entertainment watching him and observing his intellectual ability to think through things. Six months ago, we bought him a buddy and named him Forrest. Forrest is wilder having been "rescued" from a large colony of rats destined to be snake food.

Two evenings ago, we introduced them to ....cotton candy! Our friend sent a couple of bags of leftovers home from her weekend venture. Now...Gizmo and Forrest are both skilled beggers. Gizmo will stand on his little shelf in his cage with his tiny humanesque hands out waiting for us to deposit some treasure. Forrest on the other hand will stick his nose and upper teeth through the wire assuming it's best to bite for the treats since the humans then withdraw quickly.

After our daughter left the room (she will now allow sweets to be given to rats as they are slightly obese), I decided to introduce them to the delightful sugar concoction. I deposited a piece in Gizmo's paws and he immediately headed for the lower deck to hide it. Then, I held out a piece for Forrest. He bit it - and it dissolved leaving the remainder in my hand. He bit it again...it again dissolved. He then made a pretty skillful imitation of King Kong, grabbing the bars and shaking them! He tried again to bite it just as Gizmo returned to stick his little hands out and grab another wad and disappear.

It took Forrest a few tries to realize he had to use his hands. When he finally figured that out, he grabbed a handful, pulled it through the wires and promptly put it in his mouth to carry to HIS hiding spot. And....it was gone. He seemed to enjoy the flavoring but became so frustrated with the chemistry of the stuff, he sat in a corner and sulked the rest of the evening while Gizmo enjoyed his hidden stash.

Now I have new memories of cotton candy - of two little rats - vermin to most - and their discovery that this new substance was a tasty challenge.

I love cotton candy!

4/7/09

Lock the Doors!

This morning was exceptionally cold for April! We had minor frosting in some areas and major chills!

I go out every morning before daylight to feed the dependents. This morning was no exception. However, the days are getting longer and daylight was peaking over the horizon as I unlocked the shed to get to the feed. "Unlocked" you ask? Yes, unlocked.

My precious Oops and her one-eyed companion Minnie have learned the techniques for turning doorknobs. Having torn down a section of fence a few weeks back, they have had free run of the yard lately. We are either too lazy or too tired on the weekends to repair the fence and they are keeping the lawn in "golf course" appearance currently. However, their expertise at opening all closed pathways is beginning to wear thin.

I first noticed the doorknob to my fairly new storage shed dented. I wondered at the time- "did Bigfoot find my farm?" It appeared he grabbed it with his massive hands and squeezed it too tightly. A few days later, I saw profound teeth marks in the knob and in the front door knob.

"Hmmm" I wondered. "Bigfoot has some really big teeth or he needs to trim his fingernails".

A few days later, I heard a commotion in the yard - a battle cry from my little Spin who is now my big Spin - and subsequent stomping and snorting noises. As I got out the front door, I ran into Minnie who is somewhat surprised that I nearly ran under her and I saw Oops and Lucy with their heads in the shed buried deeply into the feed bags. That's it! Darn Bigfoot - now letting the horses get into the shed!

Then I realized, I could get famous for this. I could take a picture of Bigfoot - massive hands crushing the doorknobs as he's opening the shed for the tiny -compared to him - horses! I waited....what I discovered was so astonishing that I forgot to snap the shots. Minnie had managed to get the doorknob shaped perfectly to her molars and was turning her head to pull the door open! Darn Minnie - she's blind in one eye yet she sees the most opportunity for destruction and calamity of any horse I have ever known.

So now - I lock the feed shed and EVERY MORNING AND EVENING go out -keys in hand, unlock it, and distribute the feed. I have seen them spying at the keychain in my hand....I have even seen Minnie eyeing the cell phone with her one evil eye. She has probably already learned to dial 411 as I have a few mysterious calls on my bill - in hopes of finding a locksmith capable of coming to the house to duplicate that key. So far, the door has stayed shut. Since they hit the tool shed this weekend - Dave has decided it's time to fix the fence. It's amazing how men can move so quickly to fix something when it's their toys in harm's way.

The house has been "hit" a few times as well but fortunately, they are afraid of the wood flooring and failed to venture in too far before caught. They do however, let all the cats in to run around and destroy things and watch as we try to chase them back out. Now, all doors are locked at all times - it's like living in a prison designed to keep the horses out of your house - evil creatures they can be. Thieves have nothing on them.

Back to this morning.

This morning was an awesome morning. The chill woke me up quickly. The horses were playful and the air was crisp and clean. I don't honestly want a repeat but understand I am in for one just the same tomorrow - then we get our warm spring days back.

4/6/09

Horse Trivia

On my way down the driveway one Friday morning, as I noticed the somewhat angry horses glaring at me through the fence, I wondered "do they even know it is Friday? Do they even care?"

Of course, the answer to that is "NO - they only care that you locked them back up and that they can't destroy your roses!" But it did make me think how simple their lives really are in the dynamics of the world.

In the mornings, all they have to do is line up along the fence, and someone throws grain to them. After they eat, they go get a drink and head out to the back pasture to graze, graze, graze. In the evenings, all they have to do is line up again and there comes the feed! Not a bad life if you ask me.

Sure..on weekends, that morning grain comes a little late, but it ALWAYS comes...guaranteed...even when they aren't really that hungry. Occasionally, someone might come along, throw a saddle on their backs and ride them around in a few circles, but that doesn't last long when all they want to do is run back to the barn, rear up on their hindquarters or scratch the pants off the rider on the barbed wire (not that any of MY horses would pull these stunts). Then, that means EXTRA grain when it is all over. Just not such a bad life.

Here are a few trivia facts I have learned from some supposed experts that I found rather fascinating.

1. A horse SEES things as seven times bigger than they really are. Yes, someone actually did a study and somehow determined by the shape of their eyes or brain or something that they believe everything else is bigger than them. This explains their failure to stomp us into the ground since they REALLY are much bigger and stronger than us. However, those eyes can spot bare feet a mile away and they can oh so innocently manage to stand on bare toes.

2. If a horse sees something out of its left eye, it will only register on one side of the brain. You have to actually turn its head so that it sees it out of the right eye as well or it will be just as startled when it passes to the other side - again someone did a study - I am just repeating what I was taught.

3. Horses have a blind spot on the back of their right eye - thus you always mount on the left side. This is supposed to keep the horse from spooking when you get in the saddle - in my experience, I have never had a horse "spook" while getting into the saddle. I have had one take off running, had one roll over on me, even had one turn around and bite my leg, but never spook - I don't think they have done a study yet that analyzes what must be done to avoid these other situations short of giving up the sport.

4. Just like people, horses are either "right" or "left" dominant. Yes, they are right legged or left legged. With Walking Horses, this is an important fact. One must study the horses lead patterns to determine which leg needs the most weight training to maintain an even walking gait.

Now for a few things I learned the hard way.

1. If a horse is running towards a fence and doesn't appear to be stopping while you are on its back - it is likely going to either jump or make a sudden stop - your options are to a) jump from the horse before getting to the fence b) try to strangle the horse with the bit, c) hang on and ride the jump or d) hang on and fly over the head of the horse straight into the barbed wire.

2. Never...never throw your empty beverage container over the horses head into the weeds on a trail ride - it DOES tend the spook the horses and you will most likely end up next to the container.

3. If you get a new bridle, it is best to take the tag off before it blows into the horses ear while running the barrels!

4. If you have a stallion and you have mares, don't put them in a field next to a busy four lane highway - ever!

5. Ostriches and horses don't mix - if someone tries to talk you into "boarding" their ostriches just until they find a new home for them, don't do it...horses are VERY afraid of ostriches.

6. No fence in the world will contain a horse when an Ostrich is chasing it.

7. It is best not to put a horse into crossties and spray it with a hose if it has never been exposed to spray washing before. This will more than likely result in complete destruction of your crossties, a good cussin' from your husband, and a REALLY mad horse!

8. If you raise a horse on a bottle, the best plan is NOT to let it into the house just because it's small and cute. When it grows up and weighs 2000 pounds, it will still think it should be allowed in the house.

9. It's really not a good plan to raise a horse like a child...you nor the horse ever realize it isn't a child and it pretty much gets its way the rest of its life. The same applies to dogs, cats, raccoons, opposums and other creatures!

10. If you have a tendency to love all creatures great and small - stay away from them...they will never leave once they show up...but I digress.

All in all horses are wonderful creatures and companions. But those lessons can be quite profound once experienced.



9. A 2000 pound horse can tear down a storm door, crush a couch and wreck a kitchen in less than 10 seconds.

. Never Yell or throw something at a 2000 pound horse that has just broken down your storm door. It will more than likely NOT be able to turn back around in a hurry without heavily damaging your property.

4/3/09

Here Kitty, Kitty!

My baby sister was born a beautiful child. Unlike the rest of the family, she had thick blonde hair down to her shoulders the day she was born and it just got prettier and she just go cuter from there.

I can still remember pulling her out of her crib and playing with her. I was seven when she was born. She was this little live baby doll that I got to play with all I wanted. She was three when we moved to the farm so she didn't have a lot of say in the matter, but she adjusted quite well.

She loved all the animals and developed a true love for her precious little kitty cats. As long as she had a kitty to tote around, she was a happy little girl. She was about four when we entered into the great cattle farming venture.

Daddy decided that we were going to raise, buy and sell cattle in magnanimous proportions and get amazingly wealthy as a result! This required us to find a piece of property large enough to support a magnanimous proportion of cattle which Daddy promptly found a few miles from the house.

The second part of this great plan was to make sure all the fences were up and the cattle would be secure. Daddy decided one day after work to take the entire family since this was a family venture, to the "cattle ranch" to do the final fence walk. It was close to dusk, but he and big brother could still examine the fences to see if they were adequate - note...after the great pig venture, you would think Daddy and brother would have figured out that they were personally not qualified to determine fence adequacy.

Daddy was afraid of horses so we didn't own any and four wheelers were not invented yet, so we did it the two footed way...walking each side front to back. We did the walking sort of as a group. Mother's duty was to make sure the three girls didn't get lost and Daddy's duty was to make sure he and brother had everything set up for the impending cattle delivery.

It was going great...all the fences were intact and it was almost dark and time to go home. That's when baby sister was heard..."here kitty, kitty, kitty! Come here...I want to take them home!" First, we looked at each other - what would a cute kitty cat be doing in the middle of this field?

Then, oh so slowly, we turned and looked at baby sister just as she was almost upon and almost picking up not one, but four baby skunks! Out of the corner of my eye I saw Momma skunk only briefly as my brother ran over me - him being the first to realize the doom we were destined to experience.

Imagine four of the scrawniest kids you will ever see, a 38 year old woman and a 40 year old man making the hundred yard dash...no 150 for Daddy who had to turn back around halfway to the truck and go back to grab baby sister...in less than 4 seconds. We were in the truck, in the back of the truck and hauling it out of that field before Momma skunk even knew we were there! We didn't speak much about the skunk encounter - knowing Daddy would erupt into an irate lecture on the perils of farm life and wildlife, but we ALL spent a great deal of time with the encyclopedia and wild animal pictures demonstrating to baby sister what the differences are in cats and skunks.

Since that time, she has become a veterinarian...I am guessing that in veterinarian school, they taught her how to tell the difference in baby kitties and baby skunks!

4/1/09

Braces in the Wall

My brothers and I were all gangly, thin and somewhat scrawny kids. Daddy - he helped us make up for that by teaching us to be quick, good shots on the basketball court and willing to take a blow or two to keep up with the rest of the team. Unfortunately, even with those skills, I was still the scrawniest participant on the team and didn’t really get to stay on the basketball court that long.

My brother on the other hand took to the basketball court like a duck takes to water. He would study the moves of the Harlem Globetrotters and other great athletes and then hit our little homemade basketball court out by the barn. He would practice for hours, sometimes allowing me to guard or play horse with him and sometimes even allowing me to get a shot in. I think everyone who reads my stories already knows I thought my brother was the greatest person in the world.

When we moved to the farm, we had to change schools. We went from a rather large, multi-classroom “city” school to a small school that had no more than 200 students grades K-8. It was like a storybook schoolhouse with the biggest part of it being the gym and basketball court. Basketball was a big sport in that area so brother and I set out to make our mark. Again, brother did quite well. The larger and stronger farm boys quickly learned to respect his skill and his stamina. He didn’t mind taking a fall or two either if it meant scoring for the team. So, he spent most of the games on the court, usually came home with a black eye from bumping into an elbow or someone else’s forehead and spent a good deal of time in the emergency room getting x-rays for his bad knees and ankles.

At one particular ball game, we were playing a team of some really good and fast ball players. They were ALL big farm boys so we should have been intimidated but brother didn’t scare much. By we, I mean brother’s team of which I profoundly felt a part of! He had scored quite a few goals with his superman style lay-ups and his teamwork with the other players. They were playing like an orchestra with each player being the instrument that complimented each other player on the team. For some reason, this other team singled my brother out and decided to double team him. I assume they thought this would slow down the rest of them – picking on the small guy and making the rest of them frustrated. What they didn’t know is that brother of mine could take a fall and be a hero. He would much prefer that than having his team mates have to take up for him.

Brother really didn’t take into account the closeness of the gym wall to the boundary line under the goal. So, as they were going for the final lay-up, the ball was handed to brother. Brother expertly jumped as if to be making a lay-up and tossed the ball to another player accomplishing the fake off with amazing precision. The score was made and the two players tagging my brother managed to knock him completely into the wall!

The room fell silent. He was out cold but still standing on that wall. It was sort of strange seeing him standing there, arms limp beside him, still standing on the tops of his toes. By now the referees had designated the fouls and decided to get brother to go for the free-throw shots – we knew that wasn’t a challenge.

But, he was still there, suspended on that wall. Mom was so used to the injuries and visits to the emergency room, she just pretty much sat next to me calmly waiting for the coach or someone to tell her to go and get the station wagon to the front door of the school. Still…brother was there on that wall. By now, I had decided he was dead, referees were stirring around, our team was getting ready to beat up the other team for killing him…but he began to move.

Mom still calmly waiting in the stands next to me finally asked someone to let her know what was going on – “Do I need to get the car and have the doctor meet us at the emergency room”.

Coach came over to us and answered her question – “no ma’am, but you need to get his orthodontist because his braces are stuck in the wall!”. Not only did big brother knock a hole in the wall with his head, but his face was stuck in that hole because his braces wouldn't release the boards!

The crowd was calming and coach had a screwdriver literally prying brother out of the wall. Of course, no one yet knew short of family and a few team mates that brother was stuck in that position. When they finally got him loose, everyone was on their feet clapping, team mates were high fiving each other and referees were calling for a break in the action to determine who was going to make the free throw shots.

Brother made those shots and since it was close to the end of the game, Mother got the station wagon and we headed to the orthodontist who agreed to wait for us to get there. They must have spent hours removing those braces and the splinters that were stuck in them from brother’s teeth. Story is he still has teeth because of those braces. I don’t think he remembers a lot of that game, but everyone else in Lincoln County will never forget. Unfortunately the school burned down which destroyed the famous hole a few years later.

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but when your scrawny, quick and tough – I suppose you have to be willing to eat a wall or two to prove you can hang with the big guys!