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Better Q & A

I’m taking some online courses to finish my college degree. The actual material isn’t very difficult but the “discussion” questions are frustrating. I understand the purpose of questions in this situation is to verify the student has read and even possibly comprehends the information presented but the art of questions seems to be a lost, if ever acknowledged, art.

Conversational questions that begin with “Do you want…” can be answered with “Yes” or “No”. Simple and straightforward. But if you add one more word to those same three little words it becomes an open-ended question “What do you want…” that can lead to discussion and further information.

Nothing shuts down the flow of communication faster that a closed question unless it’s a vague question. “Do you not know…” Huh? When a simple “Do you know…” leaves the respondent able to formulate a fitting reply rather than decipher what the actual question is.

Written questions present their own set of challenges in that you can’t actually hear the tone or see the expression that goes with the words. Leading questions that are clear enough to direct the respondent to the desired answer may be so full of the answer itself or so incredibly obvious that it leaves the respondent nothing to add or with a sense of futility. The flip side of that coin are the questions that are so broad the respondent has no clue what the questionnaire is trying to ascertain.

At the same time I am taking the online classes I am over seeing the independent study program my teenage daughter is taking through the local school district. This morning I was going over the written responses to the assigned reading passages for her Language Arts assignments. The answers were well thought out but incredibly short. After reading the questions I was impressed she was able to write as much as she did.

I am also teaching a study through Genesis right now. This is my fifth time teaching through this material and each time the emphasis has been different. This time the thing that is really jumping off the pages for me personally are the questions God asks. He asks some very open-ended questions.

“Where are you?”

“Who told you you were naked?”

“Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

“What is this you have done?”

“Why are you angry?”

“Why has your countenance fallen?”

“Where is your brother?”

“Where have you come from?”

“Where are you going?”

“What’s the matter with you?”

Later Jesus shows the same inquiring facet of God’s character with some very open-ended questions.

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

“Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk?”

“What do you want?”

“Who do you say I am?”

We’re heading into a new year and a big question is “what are you going to do with it”? Before you start searching for answers. I would encourage you to really take a long hard look at the questions you are asking.

What is the first question that came to mind?

What is the question you have been carrying around in search of an answer for the longest?

What one question would you most like to have a solid answer for?

Find better answers…Ask better questions…

God Provides

So last night I went to print out the words for the first night of Hanukkah and was so low on black ink that the words didn’t show up. Moving the menorah to my office and reading the words off my computer screen was a nice private moment  of prayer and quiet.

Imagine my “surprise” this afternoon when I opened my desk drawer to find an index card to write the words on for tonight and found not one but two ink cartridges!  Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor. I can almost hear Him chuckling and see the big smile on His face.

Can You Hear Me Now?

There is an illusion that communication is easier now than ever. I don’t buy it. Sure we have more ways and faster ways of communicating but as any blogger or marketer will tell you “Content is king!” And I think the king is dead.

A hundred years ago if I wanted to tell you something I would track you down and tell you to your face. The faster version was to tell the neighborhood gossip who would do that for me but for the most part communication was personal. Then the ease and speed of the telegraph made it possible for messages to be delivered long distances. The original twitter, most were kept short and the details left out allowed for vast amounts of imagination and fear to fill in those missing points.

The telephone simplified things, didn’t it? Instead of tracking you down I could just ring you up and without having to look in your eyes I could let you know what I was thinking or tell you what I thought you wanted to hear. It was so much easier not to have to look at you when I told you I was “too sick” to come to work or that I’d love to be there but just couldn’t make it.

The answering machine made communication even more remote. “I’m too busy to talk to you so leave a message and I’ll get back to you when I’m good and ready if at all…BEEP!” We didn’t have to talk anymore. Phone tag became acceptable.

Even the art of putting pen to paper has been over run and impersonalized. One look at my penmanship addressing Christmas cards made me realize just how lazy I’ve become. Words I write often flowed smoothly but the names and addresses I write once a year were halting and in one case so illegible the post office returned it undeliverable.

Now email and voice mail have been reduced to texting, mostly done on “smart phones”. How smart are they really? Built in auto spell has been responsible for many humorous messages sent when the sender was in too much of a hurry to actually read what the phone predicted the message was going to be.

Skype and Facebook and all the lesser social connections don’t come close to replacing the personal interaction of face to face over coffee or lunch or a clothes line. Anybody remember the look of the backyards on a summer day when not only your towels but your underwear was  dancing in the warm breeze along with the rest of the neighbors?

“Status” is so easy to hide behind. In some ways I think it’s the ultimate poser shield. It may say “Available” or “On line” but the truth is so often “Multi-tasking” or “Distracted”.

As the pressure and emotion packed into this week every year begins to build I wonder if above all the noise, among all the ways to communicate, with all the possibilities if we haven’t lost something. I know I have. There is a song (isn’t there always?) that has been on my playlist a lot lately.

If you are reading this, I would love to hear from you. I would love to have coffee and hear your story. I would love to hear your voice on the phone at the very least. And if you honor me with a real letter I will answer with my own pen to paper.

Tell me ’bout the good old days.

 

What if the Hippo won’t wear the beach thong?

Perspective is a very tricky thing. It is not possible for any two people to see anything exactly a like. Their journey and personality and preferences just make it impossible to match up exactly. Ask any two witnesses what they saw and the things they remember are different. One can tell you the color, make, model and year of the car. The other will be vague on the vehicle but can describe the tatoo on the right forearm of the passenger in the back seat because it was hanging out the window with a cigarette half smoked.

There is an old Indian proverb about walking a mile in another’s moccasins. But if you ever try walking in anyone else’s shoes your feet will quickly let you know that the shoes have conformed to the owner’s foot and your foot will not change that. But it may show you why your friend or foe walks the way they do.

 

Just something to consider as you walk through the day in your own shoes. Snarf!

Help Wanted

 

In my life I have had some great and some not so great role models. My first official mentor fired me. Her replacement taught me some very valuable lessons.

One of the ones that stuck with me the most took place while we were painting an office in the church’s new building. We had just finished rolling the first coat of paint when a guy popped in and said “You missed a spot!” Now, I think he was just trying to be funny but I will never forget what my mentor did. She handed him the roller and said, “Great! Take care of it.” Then she turned to me and said, “Ready for lunch?” We came back an hour later to find he had rolled the whole office with the second coat of paint. With a genuine smile she told him, “Thanks for seeing the spot and taking care of it. I really appreciate it.” And the thing is…she did.

As the next leg of my journey gets under way I am looking for the sage who will walk the road with me pointing out the spots I miss and maybe handing me a paint roller or taking me to lunch. Over the past 5 years I have met some incredible candidates and am excited about what mentoring will look like and bring about in the coming months.

Thanks, Sharon, for the painting lesson and so much more.

Editor or Agent

I am amazed at the number of writers that have come into my circles over the past few years. Several are published book authors and many are honing their skills and finding their voices by putting out blogs on a semi-consistent basis.

Yesterday I spent some time working on a project of my own and wondering what I will eventually want to do with it. The most obvious path would be to try to get it published or maybe to go with my first publisher FastPencil and just get it out there. Then came the distracting decisions of format and distribution. Keep in mind I haven’t finished writing. Which brought me around to the next question.

As a writer, would I rather have a really honest editor or an aggressive agent? Or maybe an aggressive editor and an honest agent? Anyway…I only know one editor from a distance and no literary agents at all. I’m at the level where editors and agents are a faint distant vision who’s looming shadows are more of a distraction to actually writing than to getting anywhere with a finished book.

So my question to you is, where do you find yourself in your creative process? Are you ready to turn it over to someone for a serious shakedown? Are you ready to put it into the hands of someone who sees it as a product to market and you along with it? Are you still crafting away in stolen moments of creativity and inspiration snatched from the demands of everyday life?

If you were given the gift of a professional this Christmas, knowing this would impact next year in a major way, would you choose an Editor or an Agent? Would you want someone who helps you get better or get out there?

One way or another you are writing the story of your life. Make it a good one.

 

Deviled Egg Dance

At 7:15 this morning I was informed that deviled eggs were expected at the Independent Study potluck today. I had exactly 2 eggs in the refrigerator and school started at 9.

A quick run to the store and dropping my favorite teen off with the promise I would be back at noon with said eggs freed me up to return to my quiet home and recharge my personal batteries.

I love homeschooling. I will miss it next year when she heads to high school and joins the main stream of her friends and public education. But right now, the two days a month she goes to class are my time to decompress. By nature I lean heavily toward the introvert end of the scale and time to myself is necessary for my heart and the well being of my family. And that brings us back around to the eggs.

As I was putting them in the water I notices a strange behavior taking place. When I put the first eggs in they were all laying on their side taking up the most space they possibly could. It didn’t change the amount of water they displaced but it did impact the surface area on the bottom of the pan. Being a round pan, the eggs quickly formed a natural circle following the outer limit of their new space but as more eggs were added they started standing up on end making room for more new comers until the outer circle was shell to shell. The inner circle followed the same pattern, shell to shell. And when those two circles were completely at capacity I noticed the egg in the very center had room to lay down.

Now when the  water started to move the eggs on the outer and inner rings were  held snuggly by each other’s close proximity but the egg in the middle began to dance a bit. It had some room to move with the water and, yes, even risk being cracked by bumping into the less mobile eggs.

So much to learn…yes, it’s good to make room for others in our lives but not at the cost of loosing our ability to move. I hope I am always willing to get up to make room for others but I also hope I always make sure there is room to move and breathe and dance and risk cracking my shell.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

In an ever increasingly noisy world really listening is becoming a lost art.

I know you think you know what I said but

what you think you heard

may not actually be what I said.

When you add the complication of a technological advancement

to the transaction communication

can get even more garbled and impersonal.

Multitasking may seem like an efficient way to operate

but if your attention is divided

then the person trying to

give you information or extract information

from you is not getting your best.

This season of hustle and bustle and pressure and stress,

may I encourage you to really, really

listen.

Office Party

 

There’s this crazy woman who works in my office. Every year about this time she starts talking about goals for next year and how fast this year flew by and how much stuff she still needs to get done before Christmas. 
 
It doesn’t help that she is highly creative and has so many good ideas. The truth is she drives everyone crazy right along with her, trying to do everything that comes to mind. Her voice wakes me up every morning already going on and on about what she wants “done by the end of the day”. Notice I did not say “by the end of business today”. With her there is no end of business today. 
 
I guess this would be the best time to admit I work in an office of one. It shares a wall with my bedroom and another wall with the bathroom. It’s conveniently located near the mailing room, the lunch room and the reception area. All of which demand attention throughout the day as the receiving department, accounting department, food services and hospitality are all run out of the same office. Transportation and scheduling trade time slots with education and mult-media. 
 
This year I have decided to throw an office party. Just have to see when it fits on the schedule. 
 
 

Feed Back

Last night we took our daughter out for her birthday dinner. She chose Red Lobster because she loves the crab legs there. We had a great dinner and ended with a warm chocolate cookie sunday. 

 When our waitress presented the check she wanted to make sure we took the opportunity to go online and answer a brief survey about our dining experience. She said it helped her get shifts. She was a wonderful server and, other than bringing us iced tea by the gallons, our dinner was delightful.

As I was clearing receipts out of my wallet this morning I found the one for dinner and, thinking about helping her get more hours, I took the brief survey. In all honesty it’s taken me longer to upload the photo and write this far than it did to take the survey. But the term “feed back” stuck in my mind as I was answering the questions and so I wanted to take a minute to consider it. 

How often do we rely on the response of others to gauge our own performance or worth? How often do we give feed back that is really helpful or encouraging? 

At the end of each of my posts is a place for my readers to comment. In a very direct way it’s an opportunity for feed back. Does what I write make you think? or encourage you to take some action? or stop some action? Do you see, even for a moment, differently than you did before reading?

Some feed back is pretty immediate and painful. Ask any sound tech who’s had it happen on a Sunday morning at church and they will tell you feed back is not fun. Other feed back shows up on a ledger balance at the end of a month or quarter. You can tell if profits are up, if sales are growing, or if there need to be changes made. But other things…well, truth be told feed back is slow or just not coming at all. It’s easy to go online and tell a restaurant chain that Kathy at the Red Lobster on Almaden Expressway made our daughter’s 13th birthday dinner special but it takes real love and friendship to tell a friend the deeper things of heart and life. 

Hopefully this season of your life finds you with a good friend or two to celebrate growing together and maybe end it with a warm chocolate chip cookie.

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