Cat Tales - stories from my 8 lives

I feel I'm on life number 8 out my 9 cat lives. My eight lives started with my humble beginnings in Minnesota and continue to my current retirement. Here they are:

Number One -Life on the Farm

Number Two - College Days

Number Three - Working in Africa

Number Four-Failing in Business

Number Five - Grant maker

Number Six - Teacher

Number Seven - Teacher Mentor

Number Eight – Retired to the Thai jungle and bought an elephant

Number Nine – The Best Is Yet To Come!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Life Number 8 - I'm on a billboard in Chiang Mai!

"I've seen your picture!" was a comment I've heard from Thai and foreigners ever since I arrived here in Thailand about a month ago.  "You're picture is on a big sign, drinking out of a wooden cup!"  I had to find out!

Sunday I visited the Thai Elephant Camp.  I really am fascinated by elephants!  The mahouts greeted me like a long lost relative, rushing up and giving me hugs!  Thai bow.... they don't give hugs!
Look closely at the following sign.  See anyone you know?

 Just in case you're having trouble..... here is a close up of one section of the sign...

Yes.... that's me!  Drinking coffee the morning after my night camping out in the Thai jungle a year ago!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Buying a business - Life Number Five

Dude... what were you thinking!

I hate telephones. Have never liked talking on them. So why on God's green earth did I buy a business that involved my being on the phone all day long? Didn't make sense then and still makes no sense now. Makes no sense, unless one looks deeper into the underlying rational for this, excuse my French, very,  stupi

If I am honest with myself, I think it was a combination of perceived desperation, a sense of cockiness, and good old fashioned greed. What a terrible trio from which to seek life changing guidance. These three pack a powerful punch. Three motivating factors which can, and in my case did, take me down.

It was the holiday season. I was returning home to California following a very long, but productive visit to the newly launched Freedom From Hunger Program in Mali. Unbeknownst to me, the PVO I worked for had been brought to its financial knees while I was out of the country. This was 1987 and instant communication had not yet come into vogue. Email, twitter and Facebook, to name but a few, were not part of our vocabulary.

My feet touched the Sacramento tarmac, after flying for nearly twenty four hours. I was exhausted, but felt triumphant from what had been accomplished on this trip. I was indeed excited to be home. Plus it was Christmas! I loved this time of the year, what with all the twinkle lights on people's houses.

Walking into the arrival area of the terminal, I was met by my new boss. As Chris shook my hand and congratulated me on a job well done, he went on to say “I'm sorry I have to tell you this, now, but you no longer have a job.” Then as a kind of after thought, he noted “We can talk all about it on Monday.” And with these few words, he was gone.

Wow! What a welcome home! I stood in the terminal, trying to absorb the shock of what I'd just heard. I'd worked for the Foundation for ten years, and now I had no job?

Thankfully, my dear friend Pat Hayes was waiting in the wings of the terminal. She scooped me up, took me to their home in Davis, where Mike met me with a bear hug and a glass of Jack Daniels.

Hours later, I had an overview of the financial crisis the organization was going through, which had resulted in 80% of the professional staff being laid off. My international development career which had spanned some 18 years, felt as though it had come to an end. Needless to say, there was great bitterness on the part of the staff who had been laid off. We all lived in the same town, got together frequently, and this sore of bitterness festered for months, if not years.

Given that the Foundation's Africa program with six projects in five countries was it largest regional program, and I was the Africa Regional Direction, I was kept on for an additional six months. This gave me some breathing room to transition into something new.

It was during this six month period that desperation, cockiness and greed found their way into my thinking. With the blow of losing my job, my world cracked and my vision became blurred. Did I seek professional help as I traveled down this path? Nope! Didn't need any professional assistance.

Desperation was the first one to entrap me. I'd lost my job, I did not know which way to turn. Another international job seemed to be out of the picture. Why? Maybe I had my reasons back then, but now as I think about this, I have no idea why I didn't try to open some of those international development job doors. I didn't and I felt desperate. I started searching for businesses that were for sale in the classified section of the Sacramento Bee.

This is where the cockiness stepped in. Although I had a social service background, had never been in businesses in my life, I was going to show'm. I was going to show the Freedom From Hunger Foundation folks that they might have laid me off, but I would come back bigger, better and stronger. Yup, I was going to show them, alright. I was going to show them!

Problem with this was, my mentality was social service, not business. I had been in the caring and nurturing business my whole professional life. I knew zip about the cut throat practices of being in business. 'd never had to meet payroll, be in charge of running an office, or managing the day to day finances of a business. And yet, there I was searching out a potential businesses to buy.

Did I consult with anyone?  I did not.  My ego must have been so big at that point, that I did not feel like I needed to talk with anyone.  Why didn't I talk with Rich, my former supervisor?  Or his wife Beth?  They had opened their home to me on many occasions, to stay with them for months.......  I had my own room in their house. We'd shared so many conversations, prepared so many meals, attended many parties together, making Rich not only my supervisor but also a trusted friend.  So why didn't I consult Rich on this?

Lastly, along came greed.  I still remember seeing the classified add in the Sacramento Bee. “Make 75K per year” it read. What a deal! I could be earning nearly twice what I had been paid at the Foundation. It all sounded so easy. Just talk with people all day long on the phone. What could be easier than that?

Rather than hiring a professional CPA to go over the business' books, and paying a financial planner to help me think this through, I charged forward and took 75K out of my annuity and bought the businesses. Office Mates 5 was a franchised head hunter business for clerical staff, with the home office based in Cleveland. Simple concept, just call employers to find out if they needed a secretary or bookkeeper and if they did, charge the employer a fee to help them find the ideal employee. Oh yeah.... simple concept....

Things began to unravel almost immediately. Within a week, I knew I did not like making telephone cold calls. I did not enjoy being a telemarketer. I had a staff of six account executives, all but one of whom were new to the world of telemarketing. They didn't like making the calls either!  I took to being out of the office most of the time.  Officially to my staff, I was in the field, talking with busness owners about their clerical needs.  I didn't enjoy that either, so in reality, I was trying to figure out how to fill my days.

During the first nine months of business, I made money only one month. The other months I ran in the red. Moving into my second year, I knew I was in serious trouble and potentially facing bankruptcy. I was saved this fate of losing my shirt, by someone above me in the company stepping in at the 11th hour. Office Mates 5 was part of a larger company called Management Recruiters. The local owner of the Management Recruiters franchise in Sacramento agreed to pay off my bills if I would hand him back the OM5 franchise.

Only after my $10,000 debt had been paid, and I'd signed away the papers for the OM5 franchise, did I realize the reason I'd been saved, so to speak, is that the Sacramento Management Recruiters owner, did not want a bankruptcy attached to the name of the franchise he most likely would have gotten back anyway, had I gone belly up.

That aside...... I was a happy camper! I was by this time, nearly 100K poorer for having invested in this business, but I was free from it and could move on with my life.

The experience of owning my own telephone marketing business had been traumatic from the get go. I had felt like a fish out of water from the very beginning. I'd always believed in leading by example, so where did this leave me? Most times, feeling like an idiot. A failure. The final months and weeks of the business, as financial ruin loomed over my head, were hell. So when I was able to walk away from the businesses with no creditors chasing me down, I was a happy camper. Albeit a much poorer camper, but a happy camper just the same.

It still amazes me, however, as I reflect back to the beginning of this tale..... and as I ask myself over and over and over.....

Dude.... what in the world were you thinking!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Pail - Life Number One

The Pail

The foul smelling pail dominated the claustrophobic little closet. Rusty and slightly beat up, the pathetic container looked disgusting. Out of all the tired, lack luster pails that laid haphazardly strewn around the farm, this pail had been chosen to carry out a rather ignoble task. Indirectly appreciated and outwardly disliked, the pail had a history.

The pail was not alone in its duty, but it alone carried a kind of untouchable stigma. A tired, antique wooden chair was the pail's closest ally in the closet. The old chair was always placed directly over the pail, somehow turning the closet into a private throne room. The decrepit chair provided only minimum comfort to those who went there and sat on it. The torn woven cane had been removed, leaving a gaping square hole in the middle of the old chair's seat.

A square hole, through which the pail in all its glory, could be seen. The worn out chair and the dented pail, together formed a humble throne in the closet.

The throne room, located on the second floor of the old farm house, always felt cramped. Too many boxes and other junk had been stuffed into this small space. Even the door to the closet was narrow, making in necessary to slide sideways into the confining space. A wooden shelf, directly above the chair, was piled high to the ceiling with boxes of Christmas ornaments, old photo albums, used clothing, hand made blankets, and so forth. So much stuff cluttered this tiny space, and in the midst of it all, stood the chair and the pail.

A small 25 watt light bulb illuminated this camped space. The low wattage bulb was all that was needed. A long dirty white cord hung limply from the bulb. Entering the closet at night and swinging one's hand around in the darkness, was the only way to find the white cord. Then with a tug, the light would come on and the interior of the throne would glow with a faint yellow hue. The light was not bright, but then it did not have to be. One did not go into the closet to read a book.

Even before the first flakes of snow fell, the contents of the closet were rearranged to make room for the pail. The chair never left the closet. Nothing, except for the pail, was ever taken out of the closet. Things were only added. A series of sharp frosts were usually enough to have someone note, “Time to put the pail in the closet.” The pail itself was not hard to find. Each spring when it was no longer needed, the pail was promptly carried out and placed behind the house. During the summer, the pail rested tipped over next to the white washed two seat outhouse. All summer long, grass grew green and tall all around the pail. Toads sometimes made their home under it.

With the pail in the closet, came the rules. Only use at night and only for number one. No one ever actually voiced these rules. Everyone just knew them.

It did not matter how deep the snow, how fierce the blizzard, or how freezing the temperature , the pail in the closet was not to be used during the daylight hours and when used at night, only for number one. Rules are made to be broken however, and these two were no exception. It always seemed that the bitter cold of winter had barely just begun, when the smell emanating from the throne room carried the distinctive stench of more than just number one.

The pail was not emptied every day. Sometimes it sat under the chair for a week, collecting more and more and more. The stench within the closet grew stronger and stronger with each passing day. Entering the closet, no matter how great or pressing the need, was not for the faint of heart.

Slowly opening the closet door, a sour, acid smell brutally attacked the senses. The smell struck like a powerful punch delivered by a heavy weight boxing champion. The nose would wrinkle in disgust as the eyes watered and the lungs burned.

If confronting the smell head on was too much, another option was available. Before opening the door, one could inhale a huge gulp of air and then hold one's breath. Of course this assumed one could ideally get in and out before the lungs demanded more oxygen.

One would open the small door and squeeze into the darkness. Darn! No light cord. If the last person to use the pail, had pulled the cord too hard while turning off the light, the chain could jerk the cord upwards, and deposit it somewhere on top of the card board boxes. Out of sight and out of reach.

How to locate the light cord? One would hold the closet door open with one hand, allowing a little more light into the throne room so as to see where the cord lay. As usual, it was tangled in the boxes near the ceiling. Even standing on one's tip toes the cord was usually far out of reach. By placing one's foot on the throne, being ever so careful not to tip over both the throne and the pail, it was possible to reach up and grab the cord. A yank on the cord and there was light. No more fresh air in the lungs however, so the remaining stay in the closet was spent inhaling the nasty foul air.

When the pail got full, someone had to empty it. This meant taking it out of the closet, carrying it down the stairs, and emptying it outside. No one wanted this job. It seemed that the pail was always full to overflowing before it began its journey from the little closet, down the narrow stairs, through the kitchen, out the porch and eventually to the snow covered outdoors. No one cared where it got emptied outdoors, just that it did get emptied. Well, that's not entirely true. No one wanted to see the brown stain against the white snow. The contents of the pail therefore needed to be poured out of sight. That meant, amongst the trees out behind the house. More work, hence no one willingly took on the chore of emptying the pail until it was full to running over.

This was a hazardous journey, from the closet to the outdoors, for the contents of the pail. To say nothing of the individual carrying the pail. The smelly contents were not always just number one and it appeared the entire contents were always within a hair's breath of spilling out over the pail's edge. The pail weighed a ton, with its contents splashing back and forth as it slowly made its journey.

The journey down the stairs always seemed the most treacherous. With the thin wire handle biting deeply into the fingers, slowly step-by-step, the pail made its way down the long narrow steps. At any point in this journey, disaster loomed. All it would have taken was one false step, a slip of the foot, or losing one's grip on the handle and the entire smelly contents of the pail would have spilled out. How many times, in the mind's eye, had this flood of brown sludge, slopped out of the pail, down the stairs, and into the kitchen?

The pail eventually went into retirement when indoor plumbing arrived. There should have been a big ceremony that fall, when the pail was no longer needed. But that never happened. As the first official flush swirled in the bowl, accompanied by hoots, hollers and applause, no one appeared to be thinking about the old, rusty pail. It had been replaced. It was history.

Time rolled on. Everyone moved on with their lives, whether to college and their own homes, or for the most elder, the retirement home. Through it all, the pail stood tipped over, next to the wooden outhouse. Decades went by and the pail remained undisturbed. This forced retirement was not to last forever however. The farm, and everything on it, was to be sold.

Hundreds of people mulled around as the fast talking auctioneer encouraged the crowd to increase their bids. Piece by piece, antiques found new homes. Everything was being sold it would seem, except for the pail. Long since overgrown with weeds, the pail had gone undetected by the sale organizers.

The day was over and everyone headed home. More by accident than chance, an elderly man stumbled over the pail as he was leaving the auction. Seeing the pail, the man remembered his wife's earlier request. “See if you find something unusual at the auction that I can practice my Norwegian rosemaling on.” Grabbing the pail, the man hurried home to present his find to his wife.

A few weeks later, the now brightly painted pail, filled with flowers, sat on the elderly couple's porch next to the front door. Everyone smiled and commented about the pail as they walked into the house. “What a clever idea!” “The pail is beautiful!” “Who would have thought one could turn an old pail into such a work of art!”

No one knew the pail's past. No one knew the pail's history.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Eight of nine.... doing fine!

It is said cat's have nine lives


I'm on life 8 and doing great! 

Life Number One:       Farm - 18 years         
Life Number Two:      College - 5 years    
Life Number Three:    Africa - 18 years   
Life Number Four:      Business - 2 years 
Life Number Five:      Grants - 4 years    
Life Number Six:        Teacher - 6 years  
Life Number Seven:   Mentor - 8 years  
Life Number Eight:     Retire - 2010 just begun! 
Life Number Nine: