The Easter Egg Hunt

Last year we attempted to go to the local Easter egg hunt. We arrived a few minutes late because we didn’t know any better. The hunt was, of course, over. This year we were determined to do better and arrived 15 minutes before the hunt was due to begin…

9.45am

Now we just had to keep a 2-year-old from collecting any eggs until the siren sounded at 10am. Declan seemed to understand. 

9.52am

He was getting restless. Sneaking one foot over the line, edging forward on his bum, running away to try and enter from a different location…

9.56am

Now he was done. He wanted to go home. Kept trying to pull us away from the eggs and towards the car. “Mummy go home! Mummy go home now!” Cried when we told him he just had to wait a few more minutes. 

10.00am

No siren. 

10.01am

The siren sounded! Declan suddenly did not want to collect any eggs. He cried if we tried to lead him towards them. Absolutely refused to participate. 

10.03am

Most of the eggs had been collected by normal toddlers. We finally persuaded Declan to collect eggs by telling him they had chocolate inside. He collected 3 then stood around playing with a stick and staring at the mayhem. 


10.05am

The hunt was over. All the eggs collected. 

10.07am

Took a photo with the fire engine. 


10.08am

The end. 

Old Mom (Mum)

We took Declan to “Blast Off” for his second birthday. This is one of those places with ball pits, tunnels, slides, ropes, and random socks. (I think they call it “soft play” in England, though I don’t know why, because not much of it is soft.)

Declan had a blast, and we had a great time chasing after him and rescuing him from tunnels. It was busy, full of young parents and crazy children. There was a couple there with a toddler and a baby. I was fascinated by them, because she looked at least as old as me (I’m 37). I wanted to go up to her and say, “hey, you’re an old mom! Can we be friends?” But I didn’t, mostly because I was scared she’d tell me she was actually the grandma. I’m not kidding. If we still lived on the east coast, I’m sure I would know many moms as old as me and older, but here? Most moms of toddlers are in their early twenties. That’s around fifteen years younger than me. FIFTEEN. If she was in her forties, she could have absolutely been the grandma.

Being 34/35 when I was pregnant with Declan was scary enough, because 35 is when you hit that awful “advanced maternal age” line and suddenly become high risk for no other reason than your age. Now I’m pregnant again. I’m going to be 38 when this one arrives and all the risk factors get ridiculously scarier. My first trimester screening came back with a very, very low result for my Free Beta HCG hormone. This is a concern, since a low number here has been associated with miscarriage (terrifying), fetal growth restriction (baby stops growing, terrifying), pre-eclampsia (all kinds of terrifying awfulness), and trisomy 13 and 18 (beyond terrifying; do not google). I don’t even know if this result is due to my age, but when combined with my age it just compounds the risk factors for all kinds of complications for me and for baby.

We waited and waited to have kids because a) we weren’t 100% sure if we wanted them and b) we couldn’t figure out how to make it work with our schedule on the east coast (out the door by 5am, home usually after 7pm, four hours of commuting, complete inability to keep fresh food in the house…). Then we moved to Idaho, life was great, and I got pregnant within a few months.

The first few months of Declan were so, so, SO tough that the thought of doing it all again is terrifying (have I used that word enough yet?), but we would like two kids and we didn’t want to wait too long to have the second because I’M JUST GETTING OLDER. I’ve heard people say that it’s good to wait until you are older to have kids. You’re more mature, you’re probably healthier (less binge-drinking, better diet), and you don’t feel like you’re missing out on romantic weekends away, evenings out, or all the other spontaneous fun things that DINKs* get to do, because you’ve been doing all of those for years. All of that is true. But that doesn’t mean I have my sh*t together any more than I did 15 years ago. My house is still a junk-filled disaster, we don’t own any matching mugs or wine glasses, there are tiles falling off in the bathroom, don’t get me started on the state of our yard or basement, and we can only successfully cook dinner three times a week at the most (tbh, that last one actually is a significant improvement from 15 years ago when the average number of home-cooked meals in a week was zero. At least we now own an oven). 

Sure, maybe I’m wiser than I was in my early twenties, but I’m also so, so much more bone-achingly tired-er. I was collapsing on the sofa in the evening and heading to bed before 10pm long before a kid arrived on the scene. The seemingly endless energy, ability to party, and nonstop enthusiasm of my twenties is a distant memory. Combine the general exhaustion with the increased risk factors of an “advanced age” pregnancy, and I think it’s safe to say that having kids in your twenties is a good idea if you can swing it.

I’ll be 40 when Declan heads to elementary school. If you’re a fellow old mom and see me in the playground, please come say hi. 😁

NOTE: this is not a pity post. I’m musing on the way things are, not lamenting. I wouldn’t change how life has unfolded for us. But I wouldn’t say no to a few positive thoughts on my current pregnancy, either, if you wanted to send some my way. ❤️

* DINK = Double Income No Kids

“Winning” with a Toddler

I was complaining to a friend yesterday about Declan refusing to wear a bib. She said “you know you get to win sometimes, right?” That stuck with me. I like to win, but how do you really win with a toddler? Consider the following and tell me which are the winning scenarios…? (Now, if you’re a good parent you will tell me that my relationship with my kid shouldn’t be about winning or losing. Yeah yeah, you don’t know me at all. Everything is about winning or losing.)

One: Declan doesn’t want to wear clothes. I could a) send him to school without a shirt in the middle of Idaho winter or b) force clothes on him which involves screaming, biting, kicking, and punching. Which is the win?

Two: Declan doesn’t want to eat anything other than muffins for any meal ever (except at daycare, where he eats almost anything, which is both reassuring and annoying). Do I a) try to get him to eat something else even though he might then scream and/or whine for at least the next hour (“trying to get him to eat” involves placing the food on his table. I don’t try and force it in his mouth. That doesn’t go well), or b) give him the damn muffin, eat my dinner in relative peace, hope he eats a piece of fruit with it, and then clean up the squashed muffin that ends up EVERYFRICKINWHERE (he won’t wear a bib, remember?)? Neither of these is a win. 

Three: Declan refuses to drink his bedtime milk from anything other than a bottle. If I even go near the cupboard with the sippy cups at milk time he has a complete meltdown. I could a) give him milk in a cup, live with the freak out, and not worry about him not getting any milk (remember that he just had a muffin for dinner) or b) give him milk in a bottle and worry about weaning him off it at some undetermined point in the future, maybe when he’s eating more than just muffins. There is no winning here. Both involve ridiculous levels of mum guilt. 

Four: Declan needs constant activities and stimulation. He goes stir crazy if he has to spend even one full day in the house without any craft projects or outings. If we are in the house, then one of us needs to be reading to him, playing with him, or otherwise engaging with him if we’re trying to keep the TV off. But I know that I’m supposed to let him ‘be bored,’ and that he’s supposed to learn to entertain himself. Uh huh. Not sure how to win here. Engaging with him, going on outings, doing craft projects – all of these are both fun and exhausting, but the TV always ends up going on when we need a moment of stillness. I think Peppa is the real winner here. 

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Life with a toddler is a constant battle between doing what we think we might be possibly maybe supposed to be doing and doing whatever will stop the whining. And we only have one kid. You people with multiple children are my heroes, especially if your kitchen floor is clean. 

Look at that smug face

How to not be an ASS about politics on social media

Hello. It’s your lovely British-American friend here. I never post about politics. I rarely talk about politics (though my husband does – usually enough for both of us and then some). This will probably be my one and only vaguely political post, and hopefully it won’t lose me too many friends.

I voted this morning. It was my first US presidential election, and I think you’ll agree that it was a pretty shitty one. I’m not going to tell you who I voted for. I’m a strong believer in the idea that you never ask anyone about their politics, religion, or salary. If you want to disclose your beliefs that’s absolutely fine with me, but I’m not going to. I am, however, going to provide some general tips about how to behave during election season (which currently seems to last about 400 years):

  1. If you are passionate about the candidate you will be voting for and feel the need to share, then by all means DO tell me (and the internet) who you voted for and why. I am interested to hear your honest and personal reasons. However,
  2. DO NOT belittle, ridicule, shame, harass, or otherwise act in a hostile manner to those who are voting for someone different. There are intelligent people whom I respect on all sides of the current political debate – trust me, there are (if you don’t believe that, then you are part of the problem). You will immediately lose my respect if you act like everyone with a different opinion than you is stupid. I am seeing a lot of this on both sides. Stop it.
  3. DO NOT assume that you know who I am voting for based on external factors (I work in the arts, I am a woman, I am from England, I am a parent, etc., etc.). One of the many reasons I was happy to leave Baltimore/DC is because I was sick of the constant political conversation and especially the arrogant attitude that everyone in the room feels the same way. This is probably my single greatest pet peeve about politics in general. Unless I have told you my opinion about something, do not assume that you know it.
  4. If you are passionately encouraging others to vote, even to the extent that you are offering to pay to get people to the polls, then DO think carefully about that. Will you still pay that person’s taxi fare to the polling station if they are voting for the other candidate? Will you still yell and scream about how it is my patriotic duty to vote and that I’m truly a horrible person if I decide not to if I am in favor of the other person? Really? If yes, then go you. You’re a pretty awesome person.
  5. And finally, it would probably be best if you DO NOT write a blog post telling other people how to behave. Oops.

America is awesome. I chose to become an American two years ago and regardless of who wins today, I DO NOT regret that decision. Let’s all just practice a bit more tolerance, respect, and humility.

Take a moment. Breathe.

Georgina xoxo

boots

 

100 Words

Declan reached 100 words today. (Realistically, he probably reached this number much sooner, since there are undoubtedly words that he uses at daycare that I haven’t heard yet.) It’s been a fascinating journey to experience. At his 15-month doctor appointment he had maybe five words. Now, at 19 months, he has at least 100. His speech has exploded with new words arriving almost every day. He knows colors, shapes, animals, vehicles… and SpongeBob, embarrassingly. (The full list of his first 100 words is below.)

100 words is a lot, but a long way from being enough for effective communication. This progression, and Declan’s frustration when he cannot make us understand what he wants, has me thinking a lot about language development and about how many words would be enough? 

I’ve followed the Nieder family blog/Facebook page for many years now. I discovered them long before I had a kid, long before we even thought that children might be in our future. I don’t remember how I found them and I don’t have any personal connections to their situation, but it’s a fascinating story to follow about a really amazing family. Maya – the daughter – has undiagnosed developmental delays that leave her mostly nonverbal (though her speech continues to increase). She uses an iPad with the app Speak For Yourself to communicate. The Nieder family tried a huge range of options to help her communicate before they discovered and adopted Speak for Yourself – and it’s been quite the battle. Maya doesn’t necessarily perform well during assessments (I can easily imagine this being true of Declan, or of almost any young child) and many professionals insisted that the Speak for Yourself app would be too complicated, too advanced, too many words. They wanted her to start with something simpler. With far, FAR fewer words. Maya’s mom, Dana (the author of the blog), has been a tireless and inspirational advocate for presuming competence and all the words all the time. Maya shouldn’t have to wait until she demonstrates she can use the words to be given access to them. One evaluator wanted to give Maya a device that would allow her to access to 32 words at a time. 32. Each set of 32 words would be themed (lunch, art, zoo, etc.) and would be predetermined by the evaluator. When I first read that post, many years ago, Dana had me convinced that 32 words at a time was unacceptable, but it’s only now – with Declan’s 100 words – that I realize just how unacceptable that would be. Can you imagine giving someone Declan’s 100 words – the words he has demonstrated that he knows – and asking them to communicate? No. That would be crazy. Or imagine that we selected the 32 words for him to access/learn on our recent trip to Yellowstone. We would have included hot spring, geyser, canyon, waterfall, bison, etc. Would we have included gravel, nails in the boardwalk, signpost, ground squirrel, or huge black raven? Almost definitely not, but those were the things he was interested in. 

The Speak for Yourself app has grown with Maya. Words are added as needed, as thought of, as they come up, and at Maya’s request. She isn’t limited by a set number of words that are available. It really is an incredible tool – and Maya is an incredible girl. I’m so happy I found them on Facebook and Dana’s posts mean so much more now that I’m a parent, too. 

Declan’s first 100 words:

  1. Daddy
  2. Mummy
  3. Tractor 
  4. More 
  5. Cracker 
  6. Please
  7. Thank you
  8. Farmer 
  9. Truck 
  10. Sleep 
  11. Milk
  12. Bottle
  13. Rag
  14. Kitty
  15. Dog
  16. Eat
  17. Jeep
  18. Star
  19. Wheel/Wheelbarrow
  20. Bumble bee
  21. Baby 
  22. Book
  23. Ball
  24. Shoes 
  25. Fish 
  26. Car
  27. Apple
  28. Banana
  29. No
  30. Stop 
  31. Blue 
  32. Orange 
  33. Yellow
  34. Fan
  35. Cheese 
  36. Teeth
  37. Up 
  38. Down 
  39. Put back/put it back 
  40. Bye 
  41. Night night
  42. Bird 
  43. Purple
  44. Bowl
  45. Bear
  46. Sponge Bob 
  47. Jello
  48. Brown 
  49. Hi/hello
  50. Turtle 
  51. Black 
  52. Red
  53. Bubbles 
  54. Bath
  55. Potato 
  56. Sheep
  57. Help 
  58. Giraffe 
  59. Nose 
  60. Eyes
  61. Push 
  62. Pull
  63. Green 
  64. Outside
  65. Home
  66. Jump 
  67. Spider
  68. Ketchup 
  69. Get out 
  70. Airplane
  71. Mouth
  72. Clock
  73. Picture
  74. Step 
  75. Chicken
  76. Duck
  77. Bear 
  78. Egg 
  79. White
  80. Pink
  81. Circle 
  82. Triangle 
  83. Hat
  84. Walk
  85. Run 
  86. Sock
  87. Hot 
  88. Flower
  89. Grandma 
  90. Bicycle 
  91. Axe 
  92. Rock
  93. Heart
  94. Strawberry
  95. What is it?
  96. Glasses
  97. Water
  98. Mouse 
  99. Spoon
  100. Fork 

Ten Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

  1. Make sure to move as far away from family members as possible so you will have no choice but to travel with your child. It is particularly important here to move somewhere that does not have a major airport nearby so you are guaranteed a trip with either multiple flights/layovers or a long drive. 
  2. If you are driving long distances in the heat, your vehicle does not require air conditioning. The oppressive and extremely uncomfortable heat will be a welcome distraction from the monotony of the journey. 
  3. Spend money on brand new toys for the journey so you can produce them at intervals to surprise and delight your child. You are guaranteed at least 20 seconds of entertainment before the toy is thrown under the seat or at another passenger. 20 whole seconds! The joy! 
  4. Ask the flight attendants to please bring you your in-flight meals, cold drinks, and hot drinks all at the same time so you can practice your simultaneous juggling, wrestling, and contortion skills (here you are wrestling with the tray as well as the small human). By no means ask them to keep your meal warm until your partner has finished so you can switch off holding the kid. That would be a demonstration of weakness. 
  5. If you have the option, do not buy your toddler a seat unless you have to. He’s only small – why would he need his own space? Plus, the child does not like being held or cuddled, so it will be good practice for him. 
  6. An excellent distraction is a hair elastic. These can be flicked at sleeping passengers’ faces for endless entertainment. 
  7. Attempting to rock the child to sleep in a tiny space while he continuously headbutts and kicks you is an amazing upper body workout. 
  8. Take your toddler for regular walks through the plane to ensure that every single passenger shares in the experience. If you can, time this for when they have just served an in-flight snack, because there is nothing like stopping your kid from grabbing other peoples’ food over and over and over and over (and over and over) again. 
  9. When the child decides to adorably blow raspberries at the passengers in the row behind, do not forget to stuff his mouth full of soggy cookies beforehand. 
  10. And finally, always wear your nicest clothes to travel. When you emerge from the plane at the other end — covered in gooey handprints, milk dribbles, probably some pee, and babyfood blobs — you want people to know that you initially (now a lifetime ago) made the effort to look nice. 

GOOD LUCK.    

Glasses for Declan!

Declan and I visited the optometrist today. We’ve been noticing for a few months now that he has a tendency to cross his eyes. Both eyes occasionally slide to the center, but the right more than the left.  

Cross-eyed kid

The doc said that this was caused either by overly tight eye muscles, which might require surgery, or by farsightedness. She put some drops into his eyes to relax the muscles, then used a retinoscope to shine a light in his eyes and take a look at the reflection off his retinas. She determined immediately that he is farsighted – severely in his right eye and moderately in his left. Farsightedness results from the eye being too short:   

The good news is that as he grows, his eyes will grow too, and the problem will hopefully reduce. However, since the right eye is so much worse than the left, it is unlikely to go away completely (if the right eye grows enough to correct the problem, then his left eye will likely be too big and become nearsighted).  

In the waiting room


Long story short, the boy has to wear glasses! If we did nothing, then eventually his brain would stop paying attention to the right eye – giving him a permanent lazy eye. She was able to determine the exact prescription for each eye by holding up lenses while using the retinoscope and seeing which one neutralized the refractive error.  

We pick up the glasses in a week or so. I’m to try to get him to wear them (ha!) for three days. If I fail, then I can take him back for some “magic drops” that will relax the muscles in his eyes and (I believe) blur his vision so that he has to wear the glasses to see.

We chose orange frames!


Apparently this issue is genetic, though we haven’t yet determined whether Goodlanders or Baths are to blame, since both Christian and I have perfect vision and there are no examples of farsightedness on either side that we know of. We wondered if it had anything to do with his torticollis/plagiocephaly, but she said not. 

I’m struggling a lot – as I did with the helmet – that my child is not “perfect” (he also failed a hearing test in his right ear the other week, so we go back in for follow up on that soon). I’m particularly unhappy that the glasses may be something that he needs forever. However. I’m trying my very best to count our blessings; He’s happy, he’s healthy, he’s freakin’ adorable, and this is an issue that can be easily addressed. Plus, orange glasses are cool. 

Survival tips from the first year

Declan is now one year and a bit. He’s a ton of fun most of the time (some of the time he’s whiny and annoying and picky about food, but the fun times make up for all of that). He still only sleeps through the night occasionally and we’re definitely dealing with a nighttime-pacifier-addiction, but whatever. It’s handle-able (see #3 below).

I received a lot of advice while pregnant and during Declan’s first few months. Some advice was annoying, some might have been helpful but I wouldn’t know since I wasn’t in a place that I could hear it. However, a few tidbits were very valuable and will stick with me if I ever decide to be brave and have another baby, so I wanted to put them down on (virtual) paper and share them with you. So listen up (or don’t, see #6 below) – especially if you have not yet had a kid and think that you might in the future. Nothing will ever prepare you adequately for the chaos, but these tips might help. And thank you to the wonderful friends who shared these nuggets with me along with your reassuring stories.

  1. (While pregnant): spend your time napping, resting, watching Netflix, drinking tea, and generally sitting down and being lazy. Seriously, do it. I now have around 45 minutes to myself in the morning to get ready, pack lunch, tidy the kitchen from the previous night, and have a cup of tea. If I can manage to do it all and finish my tea before Declan wakes up, it is worthy of a small celebration. And that’s pretty much the only time I get to myself all day. Appreciate the opportunity to do nothing quietly while you have it.
  2. (While pregnant): Do not worry one tiny bit about labor. Worry about the weeks/months that come after labor and try not to worry about those too much, either, since there will be plenty of worry while they are happening. I cannot believe how much I stressed about the labor, and that was a mere blip in the roller coaster that was the first three months of Declan’s life. Labor will happen, it will hurt, you will bleed a lot, but then it will be over and you’ll have to deal with the nonstop seemingly-nonsensical whims of the tiny human that you just produced. Labor is nothing in comparison.
  3. Don’t expect that you will ever be well-rested again. Rather, expect that you will get used to functioning on much less sleep than before. It’s quite amazing how much I can now do on 2-3 hours of broken sleep. In my pre-kid days I thought that the baby would start sleeping through the night after a few months and everything would go back to normal. Not so. Nope. Apparently it’s a well-kept secret of parents everywhere that once you have kids you never sleep again. You just get used to it and increase your use of concealer and consumption of caffeine and wine accordingly.
  4. Teeth can play peek-a-boo for WEEKS before they finally emerge for good. Who knew that was a thing? I thought that once you saw swollen gums and felt the beginnings of a tooth that it would soon pop through and that would be that. Nope. Apparently teeth move forwards AND backwards. Declan’s top four teeth took seven weeks to fully commit to coming out. Seven. Some days we could feel them, some days we couldn’t. It was absurd. Now his molars are threatening to do the same thing. Teething sucks.
  5. If your baby goes to daycare, then get used to spending time at the doctor’s office. Colds, coughs, wheezing, ear infections, strange rashes, excessive screaming, vomiting, diarrhea, the works. Oh, and get used to catching half of the bugs, too. I’ve never had so many colds in one winter. But it’s all going to result in a strong immune system for the wee one, riiiiight?
  6. Don’t listen to the horror stories, don’t read the books if they are stressing you out, and most definitely do not Google things. Every experience is different. Your baby and your story are unique. Trust your instincts. Nothing I read in a book or online helped with Declan’s sleeping and the internet has never helped me determine whether or not a symptom needed a doctor visit. I trust a very small circle of people to give me advice when I ask for it (including the doctors, daycare ladies, and my sister), but mostly we muddle through by ourselves and I’ve somewhat learned to freak out less over every little thing.
  7. If you are kid-free and think you have a messy house – you don’t.
  8. If you plan to use disposable diapers – buy a diaper genie. They are brilliant.
  9. Don’t ever get comfortable. Just as you have one thing finally figured out, the next thing will jump up and hit you on the head. In the last six months we went from dealing with a helmet to nonstop ear infections to a terrible stomach bug to the beginnings of tantrums. There’s always something new.
  10. And finally, this one is just from me: Keep a stockpile of saltine crackers, Gatorade, Pedialyte, and soup in the house. You will thank me when the stomach bug hits the entire family and no one is capable of driving.

What advice stuck with you from the early days of parenthood?

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Changed Leader; Leader of Change

I just participated in the Idaho Change Leader Institute. This is a professional development program organized by the Idaho Commission on the Arts for leaders in arts administration across the state of Idaho. The concept began in Utah in 2003 (formally implemented in 2005), and is currently available in several states across the western U.S. There were twelve of us in this year’s Idaho program, which took place in Boise. Executive directors, program directors, and all kinds of manager-types from arts councils, performing arts centers, and other arts orgs. Twelve strong, opinionated, passionate, sometimes-theatrical, funny, outspoken, overworked, creative leaders in one room for three days. It was interesting to say the least.  I didn’t really know what to expect going in, and was mostly nervous about having to spend (i.e. waste) time participating in ridiculous ice-breakers and team-building exercises. I needn’t have worried, however. While there were certainly group activities (some of which had an element of the ridiculous) there was an identifiable purpose to every component that eliminated most of my frustration or reluctance.

Day One: 

I didn’t experience any ground-breaking revelations on the first day, but it did give me a few things to think about:

  • Mindful Listening. I am terrible at this. I get bored, I formulate my response way before it’s needed, I get distracted, I daydream, etc., etc. A couple of exercises that we did helped me realize my shortcomings here and gave me some pointers in fixing them.
  • What it means to get, have, use, and keep power. “Power is the ability to get all of what you want from the environment, given what’s available.” This one was a no-brainier for me. The lessons helped validate/reinforce some of my personal beliefs, but didn’t really reveal anything new. I think working in the federal government for eleven years taught me a great deal about obtaining power and using it effectively to get things done.

  • The Meyers Briggs thing. I’ve taken the Meyers Briggs test a couple of times before. I’m an INTJ, and I’ve done quite a bit of research into what this means (it’s pretty spot on for me). However, I’ve never really thought about where other people land on the scale  and how I can use this knowledge to better understand their behavior. Sharing our results as a group and working together with others of the same “temperament” demonstrated the value in thinking about where someone else is coming from before judging or dismissing their point of view.

We watched The Whale Rider movie after dinner and pondered it’s examples and lessons about leadership and change. I was tired and the chair was uncomfortable, but it’s a pretty wonderful film with a powerful message about quiet leadership and determination. My favorite part was that the story dealt with leading change in cultural traditions and gender roles without feeling the need to scream about it. There is so much more power in calm and quiet action than in loud protests or demands.

Day 2

The second day felt like an overload of information, and by the reflection time at the end I struggled to remember everything we had done (thank goodness they gave us a binder!). But here are a few of my takeaways:

  • We watched a video with Dan Heath about why change is hard. This presented the finding that self-control is actually exhaustible. As a result, people resistant to change might be perceived as lazy when in reality, they are just tired. This is so true of staff at non-profits! Sometimes we cannot even process a new idea because we are so thoroughly exhausted from just getting our jobs done.
  • We learned the NWBE chart. Pronounced “newbie” it stands for Needs, Wants, Beliefs, and Emotions, and is helpful in finding common ground and obtaining commitment when working with other people or organizations.

  • We talked a lot about resistance: different types of resistance, how to deal with resistance, and the fact that resistance is actually a positive thing. In the diagram, both “power” and “resistance” are positive forces, while “victim” and “loser” are negative. Once you understand this, you can better surface and respond to resistance both in your organization and in yourself.

  • We practiced several different negotiation styles and facilitation tools. The facilitation exercise was… interesting. The topic was improving volunteer retention and each group had to facilitate a productive discussion using a different tool. Well, we clearly all had some personal experience of dealing with volunteer unrest and the crowd of “volunteers” got a little … hostile toward the presenters! Nevertheless, it was a useful endeavor, though I’m not sure any of us will be using the fishbone tool any time soon. :)

The second evening we were fortunate to see Constellations at the Boise Contemporary Theater. This is a wonderful, two-person play about love, tragedy, and the multiverse theory that really makes you think about where your choices lead you.

Day 3

On the final day, we were split into two groups, assigned a (turned out to be real-world) community with a problem, tasked to take on roles within that community, and use as many change leader tools as possible to propose a solution to the problem. This was so much more fun and useful than I was anticipating, and our group had a great time strategizing and then presenting on how the desolate downtown of “Beaverton” could be revitalized through the arts.  
 In conclusion, I found the Change Leader Institute to be worthwhile and fun. The facilitators were knowledgable, sincere, and respectful of participants’ time. The tools can be applied in almost any circumstance – both professional and personal: to help gain consensus among resistant colleagues, to have productive conversations with a challenging board, to better understand and therefore program for your community, to take steps towards that elusive work/life balance, to identify and maximize your own strengths, and so much more.

I enjoyed spending time with the staff and my fellow change leaders, and I’m greatly looking forward to continuing these new relationships. An excellent three days with many valuable lessons that I won’t forget quickly.

Who should pay for the Arts?

Amber-nonprofit-discount-edit

An actual photo that one of our staffers used to get a discount on software

Working for a small nonprofit after the Goliath that is the Smithsonian has been an eye-opening experience. We’re constantly doing – as my boss likes to call it – “the hustle.” A great deal of time, energy, and resources is spent (and stress, sleepless nights, and several tears are experienced) while chasing funding instead of working on the mission, while the mission remains crucial to bringing in the money as well as being the reason we’re all here. It’s difficult to maintain that balance while keeping the organization afloat and the staff (mostly) sane. It’s made me think a great deal about who should pay for what we do. I believe the arts are critically important and I am incredibly proud that a town the size of Idaho Falls (serving a population of around 100,000 in the city and surrounding rural areas) has art galleries, a large, historic theater that brings in nationally touring productions, and the-first-of-its-kind interactive art and technology center for kids (ARTitorium on Broadway). But these facilities will never, EVER be able to survive on ticket sales and admissions revenue alone. Never. So if we agree that the arts are important and that people living in smaller, more rural communities should have access to high quality experiences in the performing and visual arts, then who should pay for them?

The Government? Not entirely. Many Arts Councils are city or state funded. We are not; we are a private nonprofit that relies mostly on sponsorships and grants. In my opinion, this is a reason to be proud. I do not believe that the government should pay for everything and we are lucky to escape the bureaucracy and restrictions that I know come with a government job. That said, I do believe that the government should support the arts. The arts contribute to education, economic development, and tourism (among other things) and local/regional government entities should recognize that through grants and fee waivers whenever possible.

Sponsors? Yes. I believe that the people and companies who care about the arts and have the means should help to pay for them. However, in a town our size there are only so many people who can do this, and they are constantly being asked for money. Sponsorship is the reason we are surviving, for sure, but it isn’t enough by itself.

Grants? Yes. Grants are an excellent way to distribute both government and private funding since they require organizations to outline and justify their needs. However, grants are typically small and project-based. There are not many grant opportunities that will pay for all the non-sexy operating costs of a nonprofit – building maintenance, supplies, staffing, etc. Plus, grant proposals take a lot of time. We’re fortunate to have enough staff at the Arts Council that we can dedicate some time to grant-writing, but many nonprofits in the arts have just one or two staff members, which makes grant-writing a significant challenge. And you cannot keep coming up with new projects in order to chase grant money. That’s not at all sustainable or sensible. (If I ever, miraculously, get rich, I am starting the “Non-Sexy Foundation” that will only fund operating costs. You heard it here first.)

Members? Yes, definitely yes. Membership is a great way for people who participate in the arts to support the arts. Membership programs typically have a variety of levels, allowing almost anyone to contribute and be a part of helping an organization that they care about. Membership dollars pay for all the non-sexy items (see above) and they are renewable, which is crucial. However (and there’s always a however!), in a small community, membership money can only go so far and fund so much.

Revenue (aka “profit”)? Of course. Nonprofits should constantly explore options for bringing in revenue in ways that tie to the mission. We sell tickets to the theater and admissions to ARTitorium (all at a reduced rate, thanks to sponsors). We also rent out both of our buildings to a variety of organizations – both commercial and nonprofit – allowing others to benefit from the beautiful, historic facilities that we own. We don’t make a ton of money in this way (we’re a nonprofit, remember?), but the money that does come in directly supports the maintenance of the buildings – ensuring that they will still be around for future generations to enjoy. The problem is that the arts can never be entirely sustained in this way. If we increased our prices so that revenue covered all of our costs, no one would be able to afford to participate.

Fundraisers? Yes – ish. Fundraisers (events/parties) are a great way to bring existing and potential sponsors together, make new connections, show our appreciation, and generate immediate cash donations. However, they cost money and time to implement, there’s no guarantee that revenue will exceed expenses, and they are not at all mission-based. Fundraisers are a tricky area. We do them, but we limit it to two per year and try to keep all of our other event- and program-based work focused on the mission.

Endowments? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Endowments put nonprofits on a pathway to sustainability. Endowments are amazing. HOWEVER, you can only put money into your endowment once you have paid for everything else, and therein lies the problem. Staff at arts organizations pour all of their energy, time, and expertise (aka blood, sweat, and tears) into balancing the budget every year – there’s rarely an ounce left to find more money on top of that. So, short of befriending a millionaire or two, large endowments are extraordinarily difficult to obtain.

So. Huh. I have no conclusion. I guess we will continue doing the hustle until the endowment fairy pays a visit. The moral of this story? If you enjoy the arts (galleries, theaters, museums, symphonies, operas, public sculptures, murals, art classes, music lessons, performances, etc., etc., etc.), then please, PLEASE SUPPORT THE ARTS, and preferably with real, unrestricted money. Thank you.

 

(Shameless plug: If you’re interested in supporting the arts in Idaho Falls specifically, we’re currently running a membership challenge in which up to $25,000 of new or increased memberships will be MATCHED by some amazingly generous anonymous supporters. So, you know, go become a member. And if you’re already a member, go become a bigger one. It will help me keep my job. Thanks.)