Posts from the ‘Work’ Category

These six year-old boots.

One of the favorite pictures I have ever taken (and the one I keep meaning to put up on  my office wall) is the sunlight falling on my six year-old boots.  I was wearing them and the scars and stains on those suckers looked just right in the late afternoon light next to the dark blue of my jeans.  I haven’t uploaded the darn thing anywhere, so I’ll have to post it later when my camera has . . . charge . . . a cord . . . is anywhere near me and a computer . . .  I am the worst amateur photographer in the world.  I can’t even find the time to upload the pics I love so much!

But that has very little to do with that picture, and what it means to me.  I’ve been working in “cowboy culture” since I was seventeen.  I worked at a beautiful place called Flying W Ranch because they hired high school students and because I’d been to enough events hosted by them to know I would want to work while I was there.  It was that job that introduced me to “cowboy culture.”  I don’t care if a rodeo has been running for one year or one hundred years; the minute you step onto the grounds, you feel like you’re part of something older and bigger than you.  I fell in love with that sense of culture, community, and history when I worked that summer at The Ranch.  I did anything I could to stay there, but my schedule was not conducive to working during the school year or the next summer.

I can tell you, my heart ached, missing The Ranch when I worked as a nanny.  And yes, I fell in love with the kids, too, but something was just off.  I considered myself a product of The Ranch.  Being away felt wrong at the deepest level of gut instinct.  So, when I came back from my first year of college and KitKat was working at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, it seemed like a good idea to join her there.  We had been worried about spending enough time together in our short five-week summer (I came home from college in July, she left for college in August), so this seemed like a perfect solution.  And it was.  The love The Ranch inspired and planted grew at the PRCA.  I worked full time for a year and went to school part time and when I went off to a college, it was chosen for two specific reasons: it had a good rodeo team (good = treated as a sport and successful competitively) and an English degree well-suited to my needs (not too much American Lit and the possibility to write a creative thesis).  Yeah, the rodeo team was the higher priority than the degree.  I considered several schools, some of them with absolutely terrible (for me, not academically inferior) programs.  I refused to even think about the schools that considered the rodeo program a club.  I was properly in love with rodeo by this point and would not live without it.

Rodeo, in many ways, saved my life after it fell apart in January of ’07.  My fiancé broke things off and my barely-under-control Bi-Polar spiraled out of control in hurry.  Those coping mechanisms I had–which were unhealthy in the extreme–intensified and turned into life-threatening.  I was two steps away from the hospital EXCEPT I still had work.  If I could make it to work each day, if I could make it to school each night, I was doing okay.  I started back into therapy.  I woke up, in more ways than one.  I got better.  If I hadn’t had those dual lifelines of school and work to cling to, I’m not sure I would have.  Barely healed,  I went off to college and maintained that progression with the same two lifelines: school and rodeo (it seems wrong to call it work when I love it so much).  In addition, there was a social aspect that came with both now that I was a full time college student and working on rodeo grounds instead of in an office.  My twin lifelines combined to give me more than just a reason to progress, they gave me the support system to do it.  At Valley (Missouri Valley College) during the semesters and the PRCA during the holidays, I found a home.  When I was stressed or frustrated at school, I hiked out to the rodeo grounds.  When I suffered similar problems during breaks, there always seemed to be a cowboy calling in to shower me with heaps of praise and one or two pet names to make me feel part of the cowboy family again.

Now what does this have to do with a pair of six year-old boots?

Those boots are the first boots I ever purchased.  I got them in fall 2006, about two months after I started working at the PRCA.  They were my only pair until earlier this spring (I know, I’m not sure how I survived either).  They have seen every rodeo I have ever attended.  And every time I think they’re too ugly, too worn, too something to wear anymore, I just can’t find it in myself to put them up.  I never feel like a proper cowgirl without them on . . . even though I have much newer, more pristine boots now.  They’ve been so covered in mud, I’ve had to take a coin to them to scrape it all off.  They’ve been soaked in ice melt and are stained by the salt that melted said ice.  Horses have stepped on them, I’ve scuffed them up kicking them off, and forever stained them by leaving mud on them for days.  They’re so comfortable because I’ve worked them and worn them silly.  They were at EVERY perf of all my Missouri Valley rodeos and I cried when I took them off  after my last college rodeo.  They’ve been at a couple National Western Stock Shows (Denver, CO), more than a few Pikes Peak or Bust rodeos (Colorado Springs), another couple CO shows, and a Sedalia show.  And now, it’s rodeo week again.  Last night, I wore my new boots.  Tonight, I’m wearing my scratched, stained, falling apart, six year-old boots.  The difference in how I felt last night (I hate dressing out, grump grump grump) and today (this is home) is astounding.  My boots are a lot like me: a little bit broken and not too pretty with scars and stains aplenty, but right where they belong.

Happy Rodeo Week, Colorado Springs.  It’s good to be home.


Teaching, no greater call: I refuse to pick up the phone.

The other day I was talking with a good friend who is studying to be a teacher, and she strongly believes teaching is something that you’re “called” to, not that you choose to do.  Teaching is not a career fall back, nor is it for the faint of heart who enter the field because their degree isn’t good for much else.

I agree.

I was faced with this exact problem when I began to study English.  Everyone wanted to know if I was going into teaching.  To avoid the questions (Why not?) and brow-beating (You know, your degree won’t be good for much else.), I began to look at teaching programs.  I chose one that fit me best AND would enable me to teach most places in the continental US.  I worked hard, studied hard, and practically ran myself into the ground trying to figure out how I was going to get all the classes I needed for teaching in my undergrad without giving up my English major.

I hated my school, I hated my life, but–more than anything–I hated myself.  I hated that what I wanted to do was being eclipsed by what everyone (from family to friends to former teachers) thought I should do.  I realized I had not been called and quickly threw those plans out the window.

Years later, and I have my degree.  I didn’t put myself through the ridiculous hoop-jumping to get a degree I was never going to use.  Instead, I have this English degree that I can’t use until I go to my Masters program (no one takes a BA seriously).  People still ask me if I’m going into teaching.  I had one former teacher nearly tear up when I told her it wasn’t something I ever felt I could do; she feels that I would be a wonderful teacher and that it’s a true shame I refuse to.

But I’ve learned that as much as I enjoy teaching people one-on-one, or in small groups where interacting is not just possible but encouraged, I cannot stand the thought of doing it all day every day.  I’m passionate, involved, and out-of-the-box.  I fit the qualifications for teaching, I know this, except for one small thing: I care far too much and far too little at the same time.

I’m a bit of a workaholic.  As a teacher I know that I wouldn’t be able to control myself as I (barely) do now–there are no breaks in being a teacher.  I connect too much.  I would over-extend myself in less than a year.

However, contrastingly, my patience is limited when it comes to those who clearly do not try.  I’m not interested in helping a student who won’t help themselves.  Students who don’t want to be in class?  Okay, cool.  Leave, I don’t want you here either.  These are not the attitudes of a good group teacher.

So I refuse to teach school.  The call has come, time and again, from many different sources, but I refuse to pick up the phone.  I will not do the children I would come into contact with a disservice by providing them with a reluctant teacher.  That is not how things are done, not in my world.

All this being said, I am a teacher of young children in my congregation.  I have a class of the five coolest kids ever.  It’s taught me ways to be a better person, as well as how to teach best (learn from my students).   Where I do not feel called to teach school, I do feel called in my teaching position there.  These children have so much to teach me, I can’t help but think that’s why I’m there–not because they particularly need a teacher.  I love them dearly.

While others might find this to be proof that I should teach, I see it as proof I should not.  I love these students, care about them, and can’t imagine ever leaving them for another class.  All my fears about connecting too much are thankfully not too big a deal here–teaching at church there’s supposed to be this connection and love. However, this class (and the one I had before it) is proof to me that that is exactly what I would do in a school setting as well.  This strikes me as a bad scenario for all involved.

Though, even as they confirm how badly I would fail as a teacher elsewhere, I am so grateful for the beautiful children who make up my class.  They show me my failures, yes, my weaknesses, too, but at the end of the day, they also show me my goodness.  I cried like a baby when one of them told me they loved me.  I hung a thank you card from another at my cubicle.  I smile every time I look at it.  Something in me, in what I do, inspires these acts in return.  It’s been a marvelous experience.  Parents, thank you for your children.

So, as my path takes me elsewhere in life, places I would never achieve without some particularly extraordinary educators, I honor these amazing men and women.  It is because of your example that I know teaching would be a bad idea for me.  It is because of your passion, drive, and willingness to serve that I am who I am today.  Teachers, thank you for answering this great call.

Living my little piece of the dream.

I got to take my youngest brother to his first rodeo on Saturday last.  It was the final day of the rodeo before the finals (though it was not the last performance).  That makes for a great show.  We had a blast.

Four years ago, on the same relative day (at the evening performance), I attended my first rodeo at the same rodeo.  I went with a few co-workers/friends.  We had a blast. 

Many things have not changed in the intervening years.  There is still a laser and fireworks show to open every performance (and that should never change).  I still go to the rodeo half-scared, half-proud, as much of the behind-the-scenes work is work that I have done.  I still have a love-hate relationship with the entertainment factor of rodeo, as I talk to the injured of the contestants daily–everywhere from the mildly hurt to the permanently crippled–and cannot fathom how I will feel if I witness a truly horrific accident.

But a lot of those feeling were shifted to the back-burner this time around.  I was seeing rodeo through a fresh set of eyes.  I have taken one neophyte to a rodeo before (my mother) and it was a small county affair.  Nothing like the twenty something performance international event that is the National Western Stockshow. 

It did not take long before I was seeing all the things that I fell in love with back at the beginning.  The family atmosphere.  The showmanship.  The love of the animals.  The pure athleticism of the contestants.  And the smell! I don’t think there is a smell that can make me feel more at home than leather, horse, dirt, sweat, and yes, the crap that’s in the dirt.  This is rodeo to me.  This was my respite at school and every chance I get, this is where I go to remind myself why I do what I do every day at work.

Sometimes I do still forget, though.  I take pride in my work and get annoyed by the inconvenience of having to involve people who just want to get into the arena.  I’m not always treated nicely when trying to help them achieve that goal, and I wonder if they remember that there are two people on the ends of the phone line.  Then again, sometimes I’m guilty of the same thing in the rush to justgetitalldonesoIcancallitaday!

My brother–his questions, his new eyes, his observations–reminded me of what this dream is.  Why we all–cowboys and office workers alike–call it “living the dream.” It’s not just me working hard and being fiercely proud of the results.  It’s not just these extraordinary athletes beating themselves up for the chance to do it again.  It’s all of us working together to create a new and better rodeo for tomorrow so that this way of life doesn’t just not die out in this increasingly uninviting world, but thrives in it.