September 2007 Archives

Ethics, ethics everywhere

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In my spare time, of which I have none, I teach graduate courses in research methods at two different universities. You might think being vice-president  of Spirit Lake Consulting would be enough to keep me off the streets, but I really like teaching. It gives me a new perspective on the issues we face every day.

In my classes this week we are discussing ethics in research. The textbook version focuses on not lying to people who will be in your study, not doing anything to cause physical and emotional harm, and so on. It's funny how textbooks sometimes miss the real issues. Maybe it is because some events,  such as the research study where a group of black men were not informed they had syphilis so that the university could study the effects, are so horrible that we want to make sure they are never repeated. I can certainly sympathize with that view point.

However, I think most ethical issues are much more mundane. Most of the past two days were spent chasing down anomalies in data. Something was wrong with the test results on a final report I was preparing for a client. For four of the five years, we found a significant improvement in the students after they had been in the program. For the fifth year, there was no difference. Since all of the results are added together, no one would know if I just said, "The hell with it" and reported the data as is. I take that back, _I_ would know.

What's the harm? Why spend two days trying to make sure the data are exactly correct when no one might know the difference? That, I think, is the true test of one's character, doing the right thing when no one is watching. My point is not that I am the most ethical person in any room because, the fact is, there were a lot of times over the past two days when I felt like writing down the results that showed up on the computer screen. There were a lot of times I heard that little voice whispering, "

Who will know? Come on, you could move on to another project and make the company more money."

Our evaluation contracts are bid at a fixed price, not by the hour, so if I spend two more days on a project, that comes out of our profit. Why did I bother? Because even if no one else would know, I understand that if there are certain discrepancies in the data it may mean that it was entered wrong, that some people are in the wrong group, that the tests were scored wrong, and the whole outcome may be very different than it appears.

When people read scientific research, it is based on trust. They trust that the researcher did the right thing as well as he or she knew. That is one reason funding agencies are very biased in favor of awarding grants and contracts to people with Ph.D.'s, they figure you know more of the pitfalls in research and how to avoid them.

As Erich says in the tagline of our new ethics course, "Unethical Behavior is Bad for Business." In some circles, business is considered 'dirty' by nature, it is assumed that people in business just care about the money and nothing else matters. Good businesses don't run that way, in my experience.

If we did cut corners, skip steps on data validation, report results that were not fully explored, we wouldn't be the only ones that did it. However, that sort of thing tends to come out eventually. As a consulting company, our reputation is our most valuable asset, and anything that damages that is bad for business. Maintaining a good reputation and, consequently, a steady flow of contracts, is not the reason we try behave ethically, though. It is just a fringe benefit.

Our contracts are an expression of trust on the part of clients. Even though they don't always understand all the technical points of programming and statistical analysis they trust us so much to do the research right that they even pay us money to do it. What kind of people would we be if we let them down?
"Expect  the unexpected."

I have never understood that phrase. It doesn't even make sense. If you expected it, it wasn't very unexpected now, was it? We had a few unexpected findings this week in our pilot-test of the Adulthood, Aging and Disability workshop. First of all, I thought Erich would have something to say about the sexuality section, which he did. What was unexpected was that he didn't say we should cut it out or be more inhibited. In fact, quite the opposite. He suggested that we really need to increase our discussion and talk about the spouse or partner of a person with a disability in a relationship. He recommended we talk about how having a disability affects a partner, both emotionally and sexually. Actually, by "we", he meant me. If Erich and I ever went into sex research, I would have to be both Masters and Johnson. He is a lot more comfortable writing about tribal policies or ethics education. So, I will write about sex more next week, with a focus on partners.

The other thing that was unexpected was the number of people who said we should have more information on Diabetes. I had assumed that with the extraordinarily high rate of Diabetes on the reservations that everyone would have been bombarded with information by the time they were older adults. Apparently not. My second task next week is to add to the Diabetes information on our site, which should be easy enough since I have plenty of material I had not added expecting, "Oh, I am sure everyone knows all of that."

This week should be equally interesting as Erich will be on the Standing Rock Reservation presenting our Special Education Rights training to hundreds of parents. It is always a humbling experience when one of our computer-based training workshops is first presented. These are the times when I learn that what I thought was completely obvious was about as clear as the instructions for putting together the last stereo I bought (before they were all replaced with iPods) and that no matter how much information I put on the site there will always be something someone is looking for that was left out.

I guess I need to learn how to expect the unexpected.
I guess I will find out if my partner and our company president reads this blog. (I'll bet he doesn't.) If he did, he would be better prepared for what he will be presenting on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Of course, if he doesn't read it until the workshop, or even worse, one of the students points it out to him, I will be very glad I am not in North Dakota close by where he can hit me with something.

It is 10:30 p.m. on Sunday night and I am still working on our latest workshop, Adulthood, Aging and Disability. It has been a day of looking at graphic photographs of ulcerated pressure sores and trying to pick the right one that gives an idea of the seriousness of the problem without making the reader throw up.

I added a Virtual Field Trip on Diabetes. How can you not like a website on Diabetes with an article that begins,

"Most people never think about their pancreas."

The Virtual Field Trips are fun to do. I wish I had more time for each one. The workshop I am finishing right now is our last one under the NIDRR grant. We have some hours budgeted for revising the website after this and that is one of the thousand things I want to do. Wonder how many I will finish before we run out of money?

Doing the section on Diabetes also made me realize how much work we have done on this website over the past two years. We had 135 references on our site to Diabetes alone, newsletter articles we wrote, web pages, fact sheets, guidebooks and so much more it made me tired just looking at it,but kind of impressed also.

I finished the pages on sexuality, for now, and did my best to convince people that they cannot use metaphors when teaching people with intellectual disabilities. I don't think I will be successful with everyone, especially not the woman who posted an unhappy message on the Spirit Lake Forum a while back because in an earlier blog I used the word 'naked' as in, "Just because I telecommute doesn't mean that I work naked."

We will learn how it is received next week when Erich and Willie do workshops in Devils Lake and Belcourt. To date, all of our workshops have had at least some on-site instruction for each section. This will be the first one to have some completely computer-based instruction. There are nay-sayers who believe that computer-based learning won't work for Native Americans because they aren't computer literate enough, are too low-income to have computers at home, don't read well enough or a whole bunch of other reasons. I think all of those people are wrong and this WILL work. I am getting pretty excited to see how the results turn out. If I am wrong, I will be depressed.

Speaking of the Spirit Lake Forum, I feel guilty that I haven't posted there lately, but my time has been eaten up working on the website. Also, I must confess that my mind was not so much on my work on Friday because my third daughter, Ronda Rousey, was competing in the World Judo Championships in Brazil so it was kind of difficult to concentrate. She won a silver medal and we are all very proud of her.

With that over with and the website updated, I hope to get back on the forum next week.

Clubbing Inspiration

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One of my favorite quotes on writing is by Jack London who said,
"You can't wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club."

Finishing up our new on-line workshop on adulthood, aging and disability

has taken a bit of clubbing. Don't misunderstand me, there is nothing boring about issues such as the death of a child, growing up with a parent who is schizophrenic or sexuality, social mistakes and disabilities. The challenge is to design this site to do justice to the emotions felt by individuals in those situations.

Writing about children is simpler. All children go to school, no children work, almost all live with their families, none are married, widowed or divorced. Adulthood is different. There are a thousand different paths. Some adults are working. Some wish they were working but afraid they can't do anything well enough to hold a job. And, despite the  fond beliefs of social workers that all people with disabilities are just waiting for a chance, the truth is there are some adults in every group who just don't want to work and believe they are entitled to have you support them, based on reasoning I have never been able to figure out.

This workshop also includes issues people don't want to talk about. Obesity is at epidemic proportions and yet almost everyone feels squeamish bringing it up, as if it is insulting to people who need to lose weight. I don't understand why this is at all. The same people usually don't feel embarrassed telling smokers that smoking is bad for them. Do they think the 310-pound woman sitting in the front row doesn't know she is overweight and that it is bad for her health? I would guess she would know it better than you.

Then there is sex. How can a sixty-year-old who has had six children be embarrassed talking about sex? Obviously, if you have six kids you have had sex at least a half-dozen times. I have never met a parent of an adult child with a disability who was not worried about sex - if their child would be taken advantage of, if the parent would end up raising his or her grandkids. With all this concern and thought about it, you would think there would be a desire to discuss sex education, the susceptibility of people with disabilities to  sexual abuse and social mistakes surrounding sexuality. This is not one of those cultural misunderstandings that Erich is always talking to me about. I attended Catholic schools back in the 1960's when sex education consisted of three words,

"Don't do it!"

For some reason, all of those lessons failed to take and I grew up believing that the word "vagina" was no dirtier than the word "pancreas" and both were body parts I would be displeased to have to do without.

This workshop is going to be different than our previous ones in that part of it will be lecture and part will be done on-line by the students individually. I bet hundred bucks that Erich and Willy have them do the obesity and sexuality parts on their own.

Now that we have all of the topics selected and some of the pages written, the next step is to find an overarching theme that ties it all together - sex, parenting, self-advocacy, college, learning disabilities, vocational rehabilitation and Alzheimer's. I think I need a bigger club.
That about sums up my week here at Spirit Lake Consulting. There is not much time to get bored because, like the weather in Missouri, the workload changes every 30 minutes.

The Adulthood, Aging and Disability on-line workshop will be finished in less than two weeks. This workshop has been very different to write. Our other workshops are more organized in sections, e.g. an introduction to disability and then the 13 categories under special education law. The on-line workshop on Adulthood is more by topic, like the series of readings a person would get in their last course in their senior year of college, or in a course toward the end of a graduate program. By now, if you have been adjusting to a disability for forty years, either your own or that of a spouse or child, you know what the diagnosis means, you know the address for the Social Security office and you have already been in a fight with someone at IHS over medical care.

At this point, you are probably looking for kindred spirits, for people who understand and can sympathize. Out of your community education, you want less education and more community. In this workshop we have more personal stories. Jessica Holmes talks about growing up with a father who is schizophrenic and obsessive compulsive. She says,

"Even at eight years old, I knew there was something wrong with my father. Looking at the way he had to obsessively organize our refrigerator shelves told me that."

Erich Longie writes about the loss of his seventeen-year-old son, Dakota beliefs on grief, death and a year of mourning.

Moving from touching to tech-y, I have finally created menus for the Adulthood and Aging workshop. If you check our site now, some of the pages look 100% or more better.

While I have been home working on the website, Erich has been at the United Tribes Pow-wow meeting with representatives from tribal councils throughout the Great Plains states. Our next workshop is focused on training on ethics for tribal councils, tribal employees and board members. As Erich always says, there is universal agreement that ethics training is needed - for someone else! It will be interesting to see what the response is from this current set of meetings.

Do people really want ethical changes, or do they just say they do?

I have finally moved all the posts for the past year for this blog over to Movable Type and completed  other behind the scenes technical tasks. Now, I can relax a little bit and get back to updating the content of our site, the separate sections on disability, ethics and management that are the reasons people read our pages.

I added a new resource to the Virtual Library  today.

Story that only appears unrelated ....

A few years ago, I was on the board of a non-profit organization that had, as they all seem to do at times, a split between people who wanted to work toward the goals for which it was established, and people who wanted a nice title, expenses for their own travel and the chance to boss other people around.

Several of us from the 'do-er' side of the board went out  to dinner together, had a great time planning activities we could do over the next year and just generally enjoying one another's company. The next day, one of those from the 'other' side of the board came up to me and complained,

"I am on the board, too. You can't have a meeting without inviting me!"

Before I could answer, another board member replied.

"It wasn't a board meeting. It was a group of friends getting together - and we don't like you!"

The connection between this story and the Department of Education is the new addition to the Parent Shelf in our Virtual Library on Engaging Parents in Education.  I expected it to be more of the same old stuff. Parents don't come to school because they don't have Internet access and don't read your website, blah, blah.

The truth is, many parents don't come to school because they flat don't like you (the school staff, that is).

Imagine my surprise when they confronted the issues head on. Parents often don't come to school because they have had bad experiences at the school, they don't like schools and they distrust school staff. Here is a guide that addresses the real challenges facing schools on reservations and in other disadvantaged communities.
I should feel happy, today. Our website hit the 100,000 mark this week. That is, we have had 100,000 visitors since we began keeping website statistics in October of last year. Not bad for a company founded on a handshake in the Spirit Lake Tribal Administration building.

As I said, I should  be happy but lately I feel as if I am standing still while the Merry-Go-Round whizzes by me. We have hundreds of web pages up, thousands of pages of documents available, 100,000 visits to our site, over a million dollars in funding. That is definitely a lot of numbers.

Despite all of the progress we have made, it feels as if we need to run as fast as we can just to keep up. We have only a couple of small video clips on our site. My blog on the corporate site has been done in html until today, when we just had Movable Type installed.

We have a forum up and running, with some activity, so that is good, but we have no podcasts, RSS. Every time I turn around, it seems that there is a new technology I need to learn - MySQL, PHP, ASP, Java. Oh, and you know, we would like some actual information on the site, too.

All of this leaves me wondering, if I feel this way, after three graduate degrees and thirty years of programming experience, how does the average person handle all of this? I suspect the average person handles it the same way I handle flying in a plane. That is, chalks the operation up to "magic" and lets the pilot worry about it. So, today, I feel like the pilot.

Where was that landing gear again?

08/24/07 Behind the scenes

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We have been doing a lot of work here at SLC but very little of it is visible from the outside. Two new workshops are coming out next month, Tribal Leaders with Character is about one-third done now.

I think this workshop will become one of the most useful and in demand products we deliver. The results of our ethics survey showed so many ethical issues, misuse of travel expenses, ignoring personnel policies to hire relatives, verbal and even physical abuse at work. Some people have asked Dr. Longie why he would 'air our dirty laundry' in public. His answer is that hiding problems has never been a step in finding solutions.

This is really going to be a unique course. It includes numerous examples of ethical values from Native American history, from famous leaders such as Sitting Bull to less well-known figures like Big Soldier. We also include modern thought on what is ethics and research on moral meltdowns in modern corporations such as Adelphia and Enron. There is a section on "fear, silence and not-so-innocent bystanders". As one author points out, you can't steal a billion dollars all by yourself with no one knowing about it.

Most of the ethical violations that are reported in the media are not the type of "Gee what is the right thing to do?" case study that you see in other courses. Character education classes often have case studies about, for example, whether it is acceptable to steal money to buy medicine to save a baby's life. That is not most ethical violations, either in companies or tribal programs.

From Enron to tribal councils, we see ethical violations that are blatant. People use the tribe's money to pay off their pick-up truck. Company presidents file false tax documents and then shred the true documents. How difficult are these ethical questions,

"Should you lie about company profits, overstating these by millions of dollars, so you get a bonus?"

"Should you pay your mistress $40,000 a year as a grantwriter for the tribe even though she has only a tenth-grade education, has never successfully written a grant in her life and only comes into work two days a week?"

These are not hard questions. If the answers are so obvious, why do we have so many ethical violations occurring on reservations and what can we do to change the situation. Take the course and find out. For more information, contact Dr. Erich Longie.

Why do we put up half-finished web pages? You can see a few here for the next couple of weeks. The reason we do this is that we are a different kind of technical company, with headquarters on the Spirit Lake Nation. Over a decade ago (I am SO old), my research was focusing on 'What is the disadvantage of disadvantaged children?'

Children of ministers and graduate students usually live in low-income homes, and yet they tend to do quite well in school and grow up, most of them, to do far better professionally and in their personal lives than do children from other low-income homes. Children who are disadvantaged are disadvantaged in more than money. They are lacking a whole host of experiences.

One experience a lot of children don't get on the reservation is the opportunity to see stockbrokers, scientists, web designers and software engineers at work. If you are from a more affluent community, you learn a larger vocabulary (words like 'affluent' because it is considered 'common' to refer to people as 'rich'). You also have more opportunities. If you think you might like to be a cardiologist or a diplomat or a trial lawyer, you probably have a relative or family friend who can advise you, who can give you some inside view of what the job is like.

We are trying to offer that on our website. We have always opened up our work in progress so youth (and adults) on the reservation can look over our shoulders as we work.

  1. The first step is to collect the information we want to include. This may be in our own files from articles we have written in the past, it may be articles we have gotten permission from others to include, or, as with the case of the self-advocacy pages I just uploaded, it may be written by one of our staff members particularly for this site.
  2. Next, I create the basic web pages, which are what I just uploaded today, editing the articles I get from the staff, or sometimes that I write myself, and adding relevant pictures and links. I don't always post these before they're done but I thought it would be good to let people see each step.
  3. After most of the web pages are done, I create the template. That is the menus you see on the side and across the top and the contact information on the bottom.
  4. Kenny the CockatielI apply the template to all of the pages. Upload the revised pages and there you have the first draft.
  5. We use the pages in a workshop to teach, get feedback from our pilot group and staff and make changes. Sometimes these are really major changes.
  6. Although the first five steps are most of the work, maintaining the site is key. After we have what we consider our 'final' version, pages we linked to move or are taken down and we need to change the links. Sometimes there is a new law or a new program funded and we need to change the information on the page. This last step is often forgotten, but it is really important. There are millions of sites out there that someone put up and forgot about. I am sure you have come across some yourself. We use a program called Xenu to automatically check the links. When your site has thousands of pages, like ours does, it is a zillion times faster than doing it manually.

So, there you have it, a bird's eye view of how to create a new section of a website.


We just finished our second report on the RUSH Project. Dr. Longie had this to say,

At the time of writing the RUSH proposal I mistakenly thought I could waltz into a reservation, conduct a presentation, collect surveys, conduct the interviews... all in one visit. Boy, was I mistaken.

You might think from that quote that our project is not having great success. You would be mistaken. It may turn out that a major accomplishment of RUSH, as much as the information we distribute to communities and the research results we publish, will be what we learn about effective processes.

Okay, I know that sounds like a line from one of those awful management training seminars and you expect it to be followed by one of those sentences that makes no sense but has a lot of important-sounding words. "With what we have learned about effective processes we will be organizing our steering committee to engage in world class service that will delight our customers."

It's not like that. We have actually learned a lot about how people on reservations use media, and I believe our findings will blow up a lot of stereotypes. For one thing, we have found that just as many people on the reservations surveyed surf the Internet daily (38%) as read a newspaper daily (39%). We have also greatly increased the speed with which we are collecting data by distributing surveys at pow-wows. We are comparing the people who attend pow-wows with our sample of people selected from a household survey on the reservation to see what significant differences there are. So far, we have found no differences in age or education, but we have found that more men were willing to complete the surveys at pow-wows than during the home surveys. Not sure why that is. Anyone with a suggestion, feel free to email me.

We have completed our module on Special Education Rights, designed to help parents learn what they can do to insure their children gets the best possible education. We have included our own personal opinions, such as,

"The three-year IEP is a stupid idea.

Your child can be assessed less often than every three years if you give permission. Pay close attention.. DO NOT GIVE PERMISSION!!"

We call them as we see them. These are stupid ideas, plain and simple. Talking around that fact so we don't offend anyone doesn't seem the best way to benefit the students with disabilities and their families we intend to serve.

As far as Dr. Longie's statement on not being able to waltz on to a reservation and have instant cooperation, that's true. People have been sold a bill of goods often enough that they are rightfully skeptical of anyone who claims to be there to help. They wonder how you can claim to know what they need when you don't even know them at all. Parents are busy. They have children to raise, errands to run, jobs to do and any training we offer is just the last thing on a long list of items they need to get done in a day.

If we really think our training is worthwhile (and we do), what are we going to do about that? Well, we are going to use the results of our research so far, advertise on the radio and our website, try to use those media to answer the questions parents have, and keep showing up on all those reservations. There is a story I have heard several times, sometimes about working on a reservation, sometimes about the story is set in Appalachia, but it goes like this.

"A young woman just out of college was assigned to the community by social services. Since many of the families lived far from the nearest town, she would drive down the gravel roads to their homes, knock on the door and explain to the family what her agency offered. One family had several children, no adult was employed, so she knew someone was bound to be home. Yet, each time she went to the house, even though she could hear people moving around inside, no one answered the door. The fourth time she went to visit, the father opened the door and invited her in. She worked with the family for a long time after that, and got to know them fairly well. One day she asked why they had not let her in the first three times she came to see them. The answer was,

We figured you were just like all those other people who said they wanted to help us and then went away without doing anything after they got their government numbers or whatever they wanted. But you, after you came back for the fourth time, we figured you was really serious."

So, that is why Dr. Longie will be going back again to the reservations where we offered training the last quarter. We are really serious.

The next few months will see us criss-crossing the country before winter sets in and makes travel in the Great Plains a test of death-defying nerve. On Monday and Tuesday, Erich and I will be in Savannah, Georgia, giving a workshop on Special Education Rights. Too often, we find that parents and students on the reservations receive LESS services than do people in very well-off communities like Edina or Malibu.

The reason is that people on the reservations are not always aware of their rights. We have heard too many stories from parents who paid for their child's own evaluation or from students who did not receive the therapy that they needed and was identified on their IEP.

Reasons we heard were,

"The school said we have jobs and can afford to pay for it." or

"The school district said we are a small district and can't afford a speech pathologist."

These kinds of stories make us angry and are the reason we offer the types of training we do. People on reservations are entitled to the same types of services richer, non-Indian people get. Federal laws say every child is entitled to a free, appropriate public education. Yet, we see these rights honored more in some areas than others.

In many cases, we believe, the difference is not due to outright racism (although Erich and I differ in our beliefs in how great extent racism plays a role), but rather, because not everyone is equally educated on the topic of special education rights. That applies to both staff and the students and families they serve.

We are working to change that, with the much-appreciated help of a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, called a Research Utilization Award. Their funding allows us to travel around the country to different tribal events and to reservations for on-site training on what the law guarantees people with disabilities and their families.

Erich is at Fort Berthold and Trenton Indian Service Area this week. Next week we are in Savannah. Then, we go our separate directions. He will be giving workshops in Fort Berthold, Trenton , Turtle Mountain and Sisseton over the next few months. I am heading down to San Diego in October for the National Even Start Association conference.

Is it all worth it? Does it make a difference? I think it does. It is like we say on our home page, no one you meet ever says, "Gee, if I had my life to live over I would not have wasted so much time getting an education."

Much of my philosophy of life (such as it is) can be summed up in the Starfish Story. If you haven't heard it, it goes something like this:

A man saw a young boy walking along a beach where thousands of starfish were stranded. He was picking the starfish up and throwing them far out to sea, to keep them from drying up and dying on the beach. The older man told the boy that he was wasting his efforts, that there were miles of beach and he could not possibly make a difference. As the boy threw yet another starfish out to sea he answered calmly,

"It made a difference to that one."

Erich quotes that serenity prayer sometimes, about changing the things you can and accepting the things you can't. It's really pretty much the same philosophy, making a difference where you can. I am not so good on the accepting things I can't change part yet. I'm still working on that.

baby b This is a question I get all of the time from people at home in Los Angeles, at meetings in Washington or Atlanta, in the Bahamas and Costa Rica. I have never thought about it. All these people somehow think reservations are 'exotic'. When they ask what kind of people are American Indians, I usually respond,

"They're the same as Japanese-Americans or Costa Ricans or Latinos (or whatever group the asker comes from). Most of them are pretty nice and some are a pain in the butt."

I haven't really thought about the reservation in the same way as the people who are asking. I'm not an anthropologist. I go to the reservations to do training, perform evaluations for projects, talk with people to understand what their vision is and write grants to get the money to make those visions happen (sometimes, anyway). I have lunch with friends and don't really do comparative analysis.

However, I am moving toward retirement and this is my last visit after working seventeen years on reservations in the Great Plains. After 17 years of driving on icy freeways, staying in a different hotel every two days and eating salads made from bags of shredded lettuce and mayonnaise with sugar in it, I have decided to hang it up and -- well, and, I'm not sure but I am dead certain it is time to do something else, principally something else that involves staying closer to Santa Monica.

As I have been thinking about my pending retirement and no longer getting home and having to wash red dirt out of my clothes, I have been actually giving some thought to differences between the reservations and the rest of America. One major differences is the number of babies. According to the Indian Health Service, the birth rate in the Aberdeen service area (where Spirit Lake, Turtle Mountain and other North Dakota reservations are located) was the highest among all Indian Health Service areas and twice the average for the U.S. as a whole.

Not only do you see more babies but you see them in more places. All babies are beautiful, but there is something about the babies on the reservation that is particularly striking. They are loved and they know it. Now, that might seem a rather funny statement since almost everyone loves their baby. There is a noticeable difference, though. There are few places on the reservations that babies aren't welcome. People will bring their children to meetings, classes, nice restaurants and just about anywhere else. About the only place you don't see babies is in the bar, in a casino or in a work environment that could be hazardous, like a factory floor.

Then it struck me. On the reservation, the only places you don't see a baby is where it could be bad for the baby. Off the reservation, there are tons of places you don't see babies because it is more convenient and comfortable for certain adults. At universities, people don't bring their babies to classes. In corporations, people don't bring their babies to meetings. If they do, they apologize profusely and give explanations about last-minute terminal illnesses of their babysitters. Although people mouth platitudes about "What a cute baby", there are looks exchanged as if to say,

"Poor Sue, can't get it together. We can see what her chances are to make it to Regional Manager."

On the reservation, people smile and say, "What a beautiful baby." And they mean it . And that is all. Yes, there are problems on the reservation for adults, for youth. But I think if I was a year old, I 'd rather live on the Spirit Lake Nation than just about anywhere else.

We are working on our new on-line ethics course and there will be a large section on the importance of by-standers. On our Spirit Lake Forum, Ethical Questions, there are several posts about problems such as a co-worker who works 25 hours every week but gets paid for 40, a tribal employee who uses tribal credit cards for personal expenses or cash. In every one of these posts, it is noted that lots of people are witnesses to whatever the particular transgression is, but no one says or does anything. This leads me to my own ethical question, "Why?"

Part of the answer is in another part of our ethics course. We discuss Jennings' book, The seven signs of ethical collapse, in which sign number one is 'Fear and Silence'. Some of that can be seen in tribal (and plenty of non-tribal) programs where questioning too much can get you fired, or not hired or appointed in the first place.

It is easy enough to identify violations by others, as Dr. Longie says, everyone always thinks he is the most ethical person in the room. It takes a lot of courage to face up to your own short-comings. Most of us don't have that much courage. I know I don't. That's why it's important to have good friends and strong colleagues.

I believe one of the most important features of any organization is the way in which they maintain human dignity. You should not have to tolerate abuse to keep your job or receive services. If a client or parent comes into your program and you speak to them rudely, make them wait for half an hour while you make personal phone calls or tell them to come back another day because you are leaving to do your Christmas shopping during work hours, that is just plain wrong. Today, someone told me,

"You're like that. You're arrogant and you make people feel put down."

I was shocked and, when he said it, I guarantee you there was a moment I did not like him very much. Trying to be polite, I told him that I was sorry he took it that way. He didn't let it go. He went on.

"It is not just me who takes it that way. It is a lot of people. If you feel the need to always tell everyone you have a Ph.D. and you write a lot of grants and have a successful business, it makes them feel put down and they don't want to listen to you and they will take every opportunity to put you down and undermine you to get even."

I thought about this for a while. I do tell people I have a doctorate and I am pretty insistent on people listening to me and asserting that I have the credentials that justify what I have to say. Thirty years ago, when I received my first degree, there were very few women in business and for much of my career I have had to fight gender and ethnic stereotypes. More times than I can count, at the beginning of a meeting I have been mistaken for the secretary or the maid. Men have sat down at conference tables, snapped their fingers at me and asked me to get everything from pens to coffee. To forestall this, I got into the habit of standing up at the beginning of the meeting and announcing,

"I am Dr. AnnMaria De Mars and I am the director .... "

Times have changed, as my children always tell me and maybe it is time I change with them. What I do know is that the gentleman who wrote me has a lot of ethics and did a courageous thing. Hard as it was for me to accept, I also realize the importance of people like him in organizations. As I told him, the mentors who have helped me in my life have not only been those who told me how well I was doing but more often, those who pointed out my flaws so I could fix them. We need those ethical by-standers to make our organizations stronger.

Julia and project I just finished the draft of eight pages on helping your young child with special needs learn language. I also spent a good chunk of the day going through photographs to use to illustrate points on our website. On the one hand, I thought,

"Maybe this is too simple. After all, what are we saying here? Talk to your child. Read to her. Use educational toys. It doesn't matter if the toys are brand-new or if you made them yourself."

Is all this really obvious? Perhaps, but other things that are wrong are equally 'obvious'. At left is a picture of Julia practicing for a report at school. She is in third grade. She is reading from a speech that she typed on the computer. She is wearing a headband she made. She has two blankets for visual aids and in her report she talks about how Pendleton blankets and star quilts are different. She looked this up on the Internet.

On her left is another visual aid, a poster she made with pictures she copied out of books from the library. The cardboard she pasted these on is left over from something and the different colored papers are left over from something else.

My point, and I do have one, is that these skills did not come about overnight or because we did one parent-child activity together. In looking through the pictures over the years, there were hundreds of snapshots of me reading to Julia, of Julia at 18 months old pretending to read a magazine, of Julia and her sisters looking at something on the computer. Then, there were hundreds more pictures that just showed the environment she lived in. No matter what room in the house she was, there was a bookshelf behind her, books or magazines on the floor around her or a computer in the corner. One of the best examples was a photograph of Julia and two of her sisters sitting in front of a computer. On the wall behind them is a poster of Albert Einstein and to the left of them is a bookcase full of books.

If you had asked me last week, I probably would have told you that I did not spend as much time reading or talking to my children as I should. Like most children, they are constantly asking for more, for more of my time, more attention, more stuff. If it wasn't for my husbands annoying habit of constantly taking pictures, I would not have realized the number of times and different contexts in which Julia was exposed to reading. It dawned on me that we are an example of what programs such as Even Start mean when they talk about a 'rich literary environment'. The important point, I think, is not that one day we woke up and said,

"Hey, let's make a literature-rich environment for our kids."

We simply got into the habit of going to the library instead of McDonalds, probably after my older girls' father passed away and we couldn't afford McDonalds. We also bought books here and there, from the book fairs at school, used book sales at the library, bookstores. The nice thing about books is that they are easy to pass down from one child to the next so by the time the fourth daughter, Julia, was born, she had all of those books that her big sisters had outgrown.

All of this, buying your child a book instead of a Happy Meal, reading to your child at night, encouraging your child with her homework, buying a computer instead of another TV, reading a magazine yourself instead of watching Oprah - it is all just habits. Like any habit, whether it is exercising every day or improving your diet, it really isn't that simple to get ingrained, but once you do, like any habit, good or bad, you barely notice what you are doing after a while.

Helping parents get into those habits is a major purpose of our Disability Access and RUSH projects. Could parents do that without our help? Yes, and all that you need to do to quit smoking is to stop smoking cigarettes. Pretty simple, huh? As someone who tried several times before successfully quitting, though, I can vouch for the fact that it is always better to get a little help from your friends.

Having been sick the past several days, I have developed a new perspective and insight into the clients and families who are the reason for our work. Of course, I have been sick before. I used to get bronchitis fairly frequently which caused me to quit smoking, marry the man of my dreams and win the lottery....

Okay, well I did not win the lottery and I was already married, but you know how it is when you are a smoker and everyone tells you that smoking is what causes every single one of your problems? If you smoke, you know what I am talking about and if you don't, never mind, just continue feeling morally superior.

I still get sick every few months, which is very inconvenient. As I lay there, feeling too weak to do anything, even turn over, it occurred to me that there are many chronic illnesses where people experience fatigure, shortness of breath and limited mobility. On top of everything else, I hurt too much to put in my contacts so I was not able to see even as far as the tips of my fingers. If you had asked me, I would have told you that I had ten fingers, but only by memory, not by sight.

True to the statements by the National Federation of the Blind, being partially-sighted was the least of my difficulties. Maybe it would be more trouble for someone who suddenly could not see, but since I don't remember a time when I had good vision, and the first eight years of my life I did not have glasses, it is simply an inconvenience for me. When I did get up, I had to sit within three inches of the computer screen if I was going to do any work, but that is not a big deal. I know where everything is in my house, so that wasn't a problem either. Perhaps that is why I have never been as impressed as other people by my friend who is completely blind. When I was trying to pick out my niece at the train station and I could not see any of the faces, it was simply an annoyance and nothing more, because I am used to not being able to see, so I am not so impressed by Tina having a job, a social life and athletic accomplishments. That seems doable and not so hard to me.

What amazed and impressed me was the thought that many people with disabilities wake up every day with little muscular strength, fatigue and in some pain. They get up and they go to work. This is why I finally quit smoking years ago. It was not the thought of dying that frightened me. It was the thought that I would be so sick I would be unable to work.

Yet, after a couple of days, sick or not, I got up and worked. I only could work for a couple of hours, then I would go back and rest. Then I would work again. On this schedule, I worked eight hours or so each day. I often work twelve or more hours a day, which allows me to get done a lot of things not just for the most immediate deadline, but for the future, to work on new business, on improving our existing web pages as well as writing new ones, reading books and articles searching for better designs. At this pace, I could not do it any more. I realized that if I were to become chronically ill, I could not have the life that I do, no matter how much initiative, intelligence and motivation I might have. Simply getting my regular day's work done was the most I could do, and that was with the great advantages of not having to commute, having someone to watch my daughter, and even a husband who moved my car for me, which was parked illegally.

Now that I am feeling a little better, still rotten, but better, I think I have an improved notion of the purpose and service of our training at Spirit Lake Consulting. For those individuals with disabilities, our training and resources on the Internet can eliminate the commute, the need to find transportation to the library, to find someone to watch your child while you leave the house. By offering forums and web pages instead of lectures and class discussion, it is possible for people to take our classes as time and energy allows, then rest, take care of medical or self-care needs, and come back on their own schedule.

Finding the spouse to park your car - well, you're still on you're own for that one.

It is hard to write about running in a small business in a way that doesn't sound like you read it in a fortune cookie, "Be honest and you will succeed", "Do not do work that can be done by your employees or you will never have time to sleep." There is a reason for that. A lot of the ideas key to success are not rocket science, it is actually putting them into practice that is the hard part....

I work well over 40 hours a week and often I resent that I think other people in the company are not working as hard. My partner pointed out a few things I was doing that could be done by other employees. This is one of the more difficult habits - and it is a habit - for managers of all levels to learn, including small business owners. Have everything, and I do mean, everything, done by other people whenever possible. Your employees are not as highly paid as you, so if they can do a task, even if it only takes 15 minutes of your time, you should be forwarding that email to your employees to follow up.

Those fifteen-minute tasks can easily add up to hours a day. Besides, each of those tasks that your assistant or assistant manager or whoever performs is one more bit of experience for that person. You definitely do not want to be the only person in the company who knows how to set up a conference call.

There are a lot of reasons for not delegating work, none of them very good. These include not wanting to inconvenience workers or appear petty by delegating small tasks, procrastination to avoid difficult decisions or unpleasant parts of your own job, selecting activities that are more interesting over those that are more important, etc.

Solve your own problems instead of expecting other people to do it for you. As I mentioned, I was working over 40 hours a week and resenting it. One solution open to me was to have more of the work done by other people. A second was to be paid for all of the hours I was working. If my partner worked fewer hours than me and we received the same pay, I was not very happy about it. At first glance, it might seem like the problem is someone else - why aren't other people working more hours? Looked at logically though, who told me to charge the company for only 40 hours a week instead of all of my hours? No one. So, I am resentful of the results of a decision I made.

What will I do with the extra time? Keep learning. That is another fortune cookie bit of advice. "Never stop learning." It is yet another piece of excellent advice most managers ignore. My list of new technologies I want to understand better is very, very long. I do spend time on plane trips reading books on design, programming languages I want to learn and more but when it comes to conferences or training courses, I always make the excuse that I don't have time. The fact is, it is far more crucial for me to be aware of both the latest technological developments in distance education and the latest policy changes affecting people with autism than it is for me personally to edit the latest issue of our newsletter for families.

As I said in my last blog entry, honesty is harder than it looks (or something like that). The keys to success in small business may be easy to state, but achieving those 'obvious' solutions takes frequent honest appraisal of the stupid mistakes we all make.

What's that, you don't make stupid mistakes? Okay, well who is the one not being honest now?

A week or so ago, I wrote on the Spirit Lake Forum that honesty is one of the key factors in being successful in a small business. Someone posted a response to the effect that excellence and honesty go hand in hand.

I think she was correct. In the past few weeks, I have been forcing myself to be honest about what needs to be done to keep our products at the standard I think our clients have a right to expect. With thousands of documents on our site and God only knows how many links to other sites, it is inevitable that some of those links would be broken. As a growing company, it is always a temptation to keep moving forward, developing new products, writing new proposals and not spend so much time on maintenance. Maintenance is not too exciting.

A week ago, our wonderful new employee ran an automated check on our site and found over 400 broken links. The vast majority of these were other sites that had changed file names. So, there was a temptation to say, "It's not my fault. They are the ones who moved."

On the other hand, I know how annoying it is when you are trying to look up something and the link you click on does not work. You don't care whose fault it is, you just want the %*& thing to work. This is one of my most useful tips for would-be small business owners.

"Use the things that irritate you to make your own business better."

For example, I know that it irritates me when links no longer work, so I am trying to fix all of those so that people who visit our site don't have the same irritation. I really did not feel like changing all the links to all of the web pages that had moved over the past few months. Willie Davis, one of our consultants, was in Albuqurque for a meeting and I really felt like sending him CDs with broken links to distribute. After all, we have thousands of pages of really good information, interesting, readable and accurate. Wasn't that good enough?

Erich pointed out that one of the pages in our new workshop, Guaranteeing Special Education Rights, has links to a previous workshop on staff training and that people who are not very familiar with computers or the Internet may get confused. About half of the people who attend our workshops on the reservations are not very experienced using web browsers.

I really did not feel like creating 13 pop-up windows, and there was a real temptation to just say, "Oh, they'll figure it out. It's good enough."

The truth is, I have done enough workshops and seen enough people confused that I knew they needed search boxes, drop down menus, next arrows to show them how the workshop progressed.

There is another key to success. When you know deep down that something is good, but not excellent, resist the temptation to lie to yourself and say, "Oh, it's good enough."

I have to agree to the visitor to our forum that most people are not that honest. Which is why most people fail.

06/07/2007 I am insane.

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That is the only conclusion I can reach as I am trying to write some semi-profound thoughts on running a small business at 1 a.m. Either that, or there really are some benefits. Well, money is good, but if I got paid overtime, I could get this working at my old job. Or, with these hours, I could be working two of my old jobs for double the money.

So, why exactly am I doing this? There are multiple advantages I can think of, even at one o'clock in the morning. Most of all, I like learning new things. A few months ago, XHTML was like, well, a foreign language, and now, when I get a message like 'unmatched body tag at line 18' or 'nested editable region at line 7', my response is not "What the %%^&" but rather, "Oh, sure", just as if some had asked me if I wanted non-fat or whole milk.

And, speaking of Starbucks, that is another reason that I simply cannot think seriously of going back to work for someone else, as one of my coffee cups said,

"Not a morning person doesn't even begin to cover it."

In all seriousness, I very much enjoyed teaching Algebra to middle school students, but every time I think about going back to it, I remember how I feel when I wake up before 9 a.m. and the thought of having to be at work day after day at 8 a.m. just makes me shudder in horror. If there was a job teaching middle school math that started at 10 a.m., I would probably still be a teacher.

Variety is great. I can move from using Dreamweaver to SAS to Access. From Mac OS X to Windows. I don't particularly like Windows but I think it is good to have a broad spectrum of skills with operating systems and applications.

Many years ago, when I was teaching college, a student who was about to graduate asked me if I had any advice, since he had taken several courses from me, he thought I might know him better than most of his professors. He added,

"And I don't see you as being as up-tight as the rest of the faculty."

I took that kind of like being called the tallest midget. From knowing him, I suggested that we had in common a tendency to want to live life by our own rules and given that, I did not think he would be very happy in a large, bureaucratic organization like a school district or Fortune 500 company.

ground spicesLearning something new every day is a major attraction to owning a small business. For anyone who ever believed that variety is the spice of life, I recommend running a small business.

There is also the fact that I almost never have to be out of bed before 8 in the morning, that I have mastered the well-nigh impossible task of living in LA without having to commute, since I telecommute from my house, and I almost never have to wear a business suit.

I do think the stereotype of consultants who telecommute as working naked is misinformed. I work in jeans and a t-shirt. After you get to a certain age, no one wants to think about you working naked, not even at 1 a.m.

Well, it is Memorial Day, when we traditionally remember people who have died. I was thinking about my late husband today, and had just finished the draft of part of a section on grief and grieving for what will be our last workshop in the Family Life & Disability series.

I was thinking how unhelpful it is when someone who has been chronically ill or disabled dies and people say things like, "Well, he is not in pain any longer," or "That is not the kind of life he would have wanted."

Not matter how sick he was, I didn't want him to die and I was just crushed when he did. It was absolutely the worst time of my entire life.

I have heard people say they DID feel that way after a person they loved suffered for years, that it was all for the best. Maybe if it had gone on a few years longer with him being bedridden, I would have felt that way. I don't know. What I do know is that, at the time, I did not feel it was 'for the best'. I felt it was the worst thing in my entire life.

On the other hand, when people ignore the fact that someone was very ill or severely disabled, that irritates me, too. My husband was injured in an accident and became progressively worse and worse. He also had a rare, genetic blood disease called Bernard-Soulier Syndrome . When he got to the point where he could only walk a few steps, he killed himself. When people ignore that he was sick that annoys me, too. It's not as if he was going to get better.

I suppose it is people like me who make it difficult to know what to say when someone dies. If there is a thing to say to make someone feel better when someone you love dies, I don't know what it is.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross says that we are SUPPOSED to hurt and grieve after someone dies. Although there is a tendency, at least in America, to try to fix things and make people feel better, that really is not what we need.

I remember after Ron died, my friend Flo Kelley said to me, "You know if after eleven years together, you DIDN'T feel that bad after he died, it couldn't have been that good, could it? Probably the better marriage you had, the worse it is, and you and Ron had a pretty good marriage."

Saying, "I know how you feel," is appreciated as well-meant, but I am pretty sure that anyone who has lost a spouse or child privately thinks, "You have NO IDEA how I feel." They couldn't have imagined feeling this devastated before this moment and they are sure you can't either. At the time, the people who were most helpful were those who had also lost a husband or wife.

Now, when someone dies, I remember the story about the little girl who was late coming out of preschool. Her mother asked her what happened and she said,
"Sarah broke her doll. She really loved that doll and was so sad, so I stayed to help."
The mother said, "That was very nice. How did you fix the doll?"
The little girl answered, "I am only four years old. I can't fix a doll. I helped her cry."

That is the best we can do. Help them cry. Hug them. And help them remember the person.

After the one year memorial of his son's death, Erich commented, "White people's ways are when somebody dies to bury them the next day and forget them the day after that. You hear people say that - move on. Get on with your life. Our ways are not like that."

Having worked on the reservation for 17 years, I don't have the romantic view of Indian life that some people do. There are some things that could definitely use improvement and moving into the future, especially in the technology area.

However, when it comes to handling death and dying, I think the Indian way is far better. People are remembered all the time, not just on one day, and that is acknowledged. Because, all of us who lost someone we really loved know that is the way it is.

I think as one becomes more 'successful' in life, gets more degrees, moves up in rank, there is pressure to conform to a certain image of what you should be like. The quote above, from Dr. Seuss, is a good reminder.

When I was young, I would say exactly what I thought, not that anyone particularly listened. Like most adolescents, I was often outraged by the injustices in the world and the hypocrisies of adults. As I got older, I learned to consider things from other people's perspectives and began to understand that people could disagree with me without being ignorant or evil.

However, like many people, as I got older I was under increasing pressure to conform.

"Someone with a Ph.D. should not use profanity."

Excuse me, but if you just lied to my face, it is #%^ed up. I am not going to pretend it is all right and it doesn't matter if you are the president of a university or the clerk in a department store. If you did something morally offensive, I am NOT going to be nice about it.

Some people tell me that I never learned to play the political game right. Sometimes, they say, you need to be willing to lie a little, or at least go along with someone else who is saying something that isn't true, especially if they have the power to help your career or your company.

I disagree. I really enjoyed Carly Fiorina's book, which I read recently. She was at one time the president of Hewlett Packard and one of the most successful women in American business, ever. One quote from her book stuck with me,

"Once you sell your soul, no one can ever buy it back for you."

Willie asked a question on the forum about how people deal with stress. He pointed out that people with disabilities have the same stresses as everyone else but they also have additional stresses that involve medical procedures, need for personal care attendants and so on.

Life has been very good to me lately and I feel as if I haven't appreciated that fact sufficiently.

I was watching a video about Rick and Dick Hoyt. It is phenomenal and I recommend it to anybody. Rick Hoyt had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck when he was born and was deprived of oxygen. He has spastic cerebral palsy and is quadriplegic. He and his father compete in Ironman triathlons and marathons. In the triathlon father Dick Hoyt pulls his on in a raft. He runs the 26 miles pushing his son's wheelchair and bikes with his son on a specially-made seat on his bike. The same day, my daughter, Ronda was competing in the Panamerican Championships. She lost a somewhat disputed match and ended with a bronze medal. When Ronda was born, she had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and wasn't breathing, the same as Rick Hoyt. Her father started crying in the delivery room because he thought she was dead. She had speech therapy to learn to talk and some other effects but she is one of the best judo players in the world now.

On top of Ronda earning a bronze medal, our company also received a grant award notice that our new SBIR proposal for an on-line business ethics course for tribal programs had been approved for $80,000 to develop a prototype.

Instead of being thrilled with how well business is going and happy that Ronda is alive and well, much less winning international competitions, I have been thinking it was too bad she did not win a gold medal and feeling sorry for myself that I have so many deadlines to meet on so many different projects and nothing I have written lately strikes me as particularly outstanding.

Which just goes to show that no matter how many degrees a person gets, they can still think like a complete moron sometimes.

Although I have never chanced it, I think I should be able to deduct admission to theme parks on my taxes as business expense. Yesterday I was at Universal Studios in Hollywood and, like at Disneyland, I was struck by the attention to detail. This has resulted in a major change in progress now at SLC.

After my last trip to Disneyland, I spent days upgrading our Introduction to Disability & Culture workshop to add menus, search boxes and fixing all those little annoying bugs like pages that did not resize when you have a small screen, so you need to scroll across. I spent a day re-doing our company Intranet even though it does not look like much at all. Based on suggestions from a user, I added breadcrumbs at the bottom. I started what is going to be a long process of changing the look of our site to be consistent throughout.

desk with papers and computer

During the trip to Universal Studios, I was sitting in a courtyard looking up and I noticed they had a display in the second story window of a building that was supposed to be a French dressmaker's shop, just on the off-chance that someone would look up there. It occurred to me that we need a whole lot more of that sort of attention to detail on our site. So, I came home this weekend and started working on it. Now my desk looks like this. Okay, well the truth is that my desk always looks like that, but now that Jessica is telecommuting from Boston, my desk AND the two desks in the office downstairs that I am using all look like that.

I have a lot of ideas sketched out on paper but it is almost 1 a.m. so I had better get to bed and pick it up again tomorrow night. I think this is one of the most important facts about being successful in a small business. You need to really like what you do. When I was at Universal Studios, I couldn't wait until I got home so I could sit at my desk and start working on some of these new ideas. I would feel like that occasionally at other places I worked, when we got to the really interesting parts of the project, but now I feel like that every day. Everything is going to be in pieces for a while as I work on seven things at once. I have to force myself to be disciplined and not work on the most fun projects rather than those that need to be completed first. Fortunately, my niece, Samantha just came out to California on Friday so we are going to be putting her to work on Monday. That is something about a family business. Anyone in the family who comes anywhere near a desk or a computer gets put to work.

So, stay tuned over the next few weeks as all of this work begins to come to fruition.

I wonder about the fact that we always seem to have work, as witness the fact that I am writing this at midnight, while other consulting companies I know are having layoffs. When I quit my last corporate job, walking away from a six-figure income, I wondered if I knew what the hell I was doing, but some days it seems as if work falls into our lap, although, of course, it is not quite that way.

We are always on the lookout for work, even when we are booked two years in advance. I talk to my partner about possible opportunities, to friends, to colleagues in the same profession and different professions. We are in a kind of different business, with much of our work grant-funded and we are pretty successful grantwriters, so we have people pitching us ideas on a regular basis who are hoping we will want to partner with them.

The secret to a successful business is HARD WORK! I am continually amused by these people who want us to sign a 'non-disclosure agreement' upfront so we won't steal their brilliant idea. Do they think we don't have any ideas in our company? It is not having an idea that makes you money, it is doing the work to make that idea happen. We are constantly tossing around ideas within our company, reading the latest journals, magazines, websites, attending conferences, getting on mailing lists, reading books on every subject, talking to people in diverse fields around the country. We listen. We study. We draw out concept papers. We toss ideas back and forth. We toss ideas out as not being fundable, not being in our area of expertise, not being something we are interested in or for any number of other reasons. While we are doing all of this we are also working on the projects that are paying our bills today.

Why are we succeeding when other consulting companies are staring bankruptcy in the face? I don't think there is a single answer to that, nor that we even know all of the answers. One answer is that we genuinely respect our clients and I think they sense that. Every time we write a web page or design a survey, we try to put ourselves in the place of the person who will use it and see that it meets their needs. As a small company, we feel the freedom to admit it when we make mistakes and try to improve the next time. Still, I know other people in small companies who seem to feel compelled to be always right. I don't get that. If a client thinks a design or a program doesn't meet their needs, then we change it, we don't try to show them how they are wrong and we are right. To me, that is kind of like if I ask you what your favorite color is and you say, "It's blue, " and I respond, "You're wrong! It's brown!"

Some days it seems as if we are really lucky, when someone calls us out of the blue and says,"We are looking for a consultant and we heard about you from John Doe." I have noticed in life, though, that the harder you work, the luckier you get, and when I look back, we met John Doe at a conference we went to in Grand Forks two years ago when we really did not feel like driving 90 miles in the snow, staying at a hotel away from home and working util midnight to meet our deadline on some other project.

If you were looking for the answer to easy money, boy did you come to the wrong place! I think the 'secret' to success is hard work and never being satisfied with where you are today. So, I listen to those people who have 'the next great idea' and how they are going to be their own boss, not take orders from anybody, work their own hours and make a million dollars. Then I go back to my office to work, return calls to clients to make sure they are getting what they need, but not before paying the check on my way out with my company credit card. Somehow, those people who are going to work their own hours and do things without worrying about what anybody else thinks never quite seem to be making money yet. Wonder if there is a connection there? Hmmm - you think!

Maybe we should change our company vision from, "Making life better!" to "Work hard, get lucky!"

Naw, I guess it doesn't have the same ring to it.

I cleaned up the downstairs office today. That in itself is a minor miracle. My mother gave me odd advice when I was young. She said,

"Go to graduate school. You are going to need a secretary and a housekeeper your whole life."

treoMy grandmother used to say something very similar,

"God gave you an extra dose of brains to make up for the common sense you don't have."

I am not sure that it is lack of common sense that keeps me from remembering that I have a very important meeting at 2 p.m. on May 25th. Years ago, one of my daughters explained,

"You forget stuff because your brain is filled up with things like knowing where everyone's shoes are."

Oddly, there is some truth to that. When she was home at Christmas, my oldest daughter came into my office and said,

"Do you know where my shoes are with the gold strappy thing?"

Strangely enough, not only did I know what she was talking about, but I did know where the shoes were.

What I also know is that if you get enough degrees you can buy a Palm Treo in which to record your appointments that sets off an alarm 30 minutes before you have to leave and pay an assistant with common sense who comes into your office and says,

"Don't you think you ought to be going to that meeting now?"

You can also pay a housekeeper, but she will only put your mess in nice piles, not throw it out, which is how it eventually became inevitable that I clean up the office as the piles were getting higher than me. My husband (who really is a rocket scientist) is no better at cleaning up than me, and I was getting to the bottom of piles with bills and notes from our daughter's school dated September, 2006 (I wish I was kidding!) In all of this, I found a bunch of awards to me for one thing or another. I received awards from judo clubs, from state organizations, national organizations, and they were all just piled in with the rest of the forgotten stuff. It is not that I don't appreciate the thought, because I really, really do. Some of them even had very touching poems or long letters people had written to me. It was just that I don't feel that I did all that much. I gave some of my time and some money to one cause or another. I helped out where I could because that is what my grandmother taught me,

"You give what you can because you can."

What strikes me as very strange is that there are people I know who don't give anything unless they are assured they can get something back for it. Every action, gift or relationship in their lives is based on an assessment of what they are going to get in return. I am not giving myself any particular credit for being different. I was very, very fortunate to have strong, good women as role models. My grandmother had two daughters, my aunts, Winnie and Sylvia. I was not a particularly good kid (that is the understatement of the century, and people who knew me in my early years are probably falling out of their chairs laughing). When I would be told to give money to the church, shovel snow for a neighbor, run an errand to the grocery store, and I would ask,

"What do I get for it?"

One or the other of my aunts would look at me over the top of her glasses and say,

"Don't be a jerk. Just do it because you can and other people can't and be grateful for that."

I hung a couple of awards in the hallway and I put the rest away, because people gave them to me, I am grateful although I don't really feel like I did much to deserve them, I gave what I could because I could. In the end, it seems that I got awards for not being a jerk. Life is very strange sometimes.

People actually read this blog. I know because one of them contacted me and said, "Did you know you are supposed to write in a blog every day?" I was writing in this about quarterly. Quarterly is defined in the same way as our corporate newsletter is published quarterly (translation: quarterly = "When we damn well feel like it"). So, today I am going to cater to Willie Davis and write what happens to be on my mind, such as it is.

RondaA few years ago, when my third daughter was fifteen years old, someone told us a joke that went something like this:

"What's the difference between a Catholic girl and a Jewish girl? A Catholic girl says, 'Oh, Jesus! Oh Christ!' and a Jewish girl says, 'Beige... next time I'm going to paint the ceiling beige.'"

In the car on the way home my daughter turned to me and said wonderingly,

"Jewish people like beige?"

I thought of this today because lately we have been somewhat obsessed with colors. The number of people coming to our website each day is increasing dramatically. We are frantically trying to keep updating and adding to the content, which is our real purpose, the real purpose, I think, of every website, and at the same time keep up with technological changes and start looking more professional as far as graphic design and all the other aspects of a website that make people unconsciously think, "This doesn't suck."

There is a problem just in general that I am an ultimate perfectionist, triple-A personality control freak, as anyone who knows me can tell you, while graphic designers have never met a deadline they couldn't ignore. They also seem to not only know the difference between rouge and vermillion but they actually care! One of my definining moments in life occurred in high school where I flunked art, had no problems in Calculus and loved Matrix Algebra (an indicator of my eventual specialization in statistics where I was the only one in my class, as my friend said, who thought there was anything normal at all about the normal equation).

One of the points people have made about our website is that it should be consistent. That is, we should not have frames on one page, templates on another and just plain text on a third. They are right and we are correcting that but it takes a while. The other thing someone pointed out is that the colors should match. We should not have an aqua (apparently that is a color) background on our home page and brown background on the commons area and virtual library and pink on the early childhood section, etc. So, I thought - beige - or brown, what's the difference? We're an Indian-owned company and I am Latina and we're all brown so why not?

Ogden Nash, who is my favorite poet (hey, there is a REASON I specialized in statistics and not English lit, you know) once said that the worst kinds of sins were sins of omission because sins of commission you at least get to have fun while committing them. So, if you paint the town red, leave your wife and eleven children to sleep with a super-model or embezzle all of your company's money and live high on the hog until they drag you away in chains, at least you had fun doing it. If you fail to pay your taxes, on the other hand, there is no fun part, there is the just the being dragged away in chains part. As Nash said, no one runs into a bar and shouts, "All right boys, the next round of unpaid taxes is on me!"

Not only did I spend a ton of time in the past few weeks collecting all the documents for taxes, entering it in line 267, Box A but only if you had a smaller amount than $1,432.27 in line 36, Box C of Form 812XYZ-q23, but it has been the same on this website.

We are being profiled on Idea Cafe starting on April 18, which is pretty cool, and in preparation, I have been trying to spruce up our website, which is one of my 34 tasks I try to do every day. I did read a suggestion from someone that your to-do list should be no longer than eight items, one for each hour. I don't know what kind of business that person runs, probably selling leaves to sloths in Costa Rica. Honestly, I really did think that I had misread it at first and that it said eight items per hour.

Fixing the website is a daily activity because we have literally thousands of documents and hundreds of pages, written over several years using various types of software. We started in what seems like the last century (actually, I think it was, in the 1990s) using Netscape Communicator's free web design software. Outgrowing that, we switched to Adobe GoLive which was then renamed CyberStudio which was then taken over by giant ants who ate all the people. No, I got that wrong. It was discontinued since the same company bought Macromedia which makes Dreamweaver. In the interim, I tried using Rapidweaver which is really nice for creating a mock-up of what you want a website to look like. Unfortunately, if you look at the actual HTML code, it appears that it was written by hamsters. Sorry, Rapidweaver people. Your software is really, really cool for some stuff, like the photos of our vacation in the Bahamas. And is really not a good file structure for maintaining unless the words 'good' and 'maintaining' can have entirely different meanings than those with which I am familiar. So..... ta da - our Intranet is now up, no longer in Rapidweaver and 90% of our website has been converted to Dreamweaver as I rapidly became conversant with CSS, snippets, templates and other good stuff. Unfortunately, like the taxes and the mailed letters, much of what I have done is not really visible.

So, I am off, to pick up my dry cleaning, pack, teach my children's judo class and fly all night to Miami from where I will be telecommuting this week. Why? Because I am also the Director of Development and Vice-president of the United States Judo Association. I needed another thing to do like I needed to be shot in the leg. So, why am I doing this? That's another story.

I have not posted anything here for a while because I have been involved in the grant review from hell. Let me say up front that the people could not have been nicer from the department which will be unnamed so that they don't hate me and never give us grant money again as long as the grass grows and the river flows. However, we had about 25 grants of 200 pages each to read in three days. That is 5,000 pages. On each, we were to write a 20-page review. This is 500 pages. I didn't sleep for three days. We got that all done, I flew home and SLC completed yet another grant proposal and submitted it. This was using Pure Edge software which has, I am happy to report, improved from the first time I used it when it was obviously designed by someone who hated humanity to its current state of unbearably slow, unreliable and illogical. It also does not run on Macintosh operating systems. Fortunately, the wonderful people at the University of Wisconsin set up the capability to log into a remote session and use the ^%$#* Pure Edge software. Hot tip: If you are ever forced to use Pure Edge software as punishment for something like sleeping with your project officer's spouse, be sure to save your proposal every 45 seconds as it quits randomly determined by, I believe, a combination of sun spots and the world wide market in liver futures.

On the plus side, we have hired a couple of new people to work with us and two of our current employees have moved from part-time status to full-time. So, we should be getting caught up on work. I can already see a few patches of wood on my desk under all the papers. So, there is progress being made.

P.S. For the record, let me state that I did NOT sleep with the spouse of the project officer for any grant on which I am the principal investigator and I was forced to use the Pure Edge application anyway. How unfair is that?

A couple of years ago, someone explained our grant-writing process around here like this, "There is going to be a point on every project when it is nearly done when Dr. DeMars hates all of us. Just don't call her up or talk to her for a while and it will all work out fine and they always get funded in the end."

I am at that hating everyone stage where I have looked at these stupid instructions until my eyes have crossed. I have written 50 pages, thrown out 20 of it, written another 10 and am over the page limit. So, I did the mature thing - I dumped it on Erich and Jessica to revise it while I go off and work on other, more fun projects. At this point, cleaning the bathroom seems like a more fun project. Every time I hear one of those ads on late night TV - *free government money * the government wants to give you money * I understand how Elvis felt when he shot his TV. I have yet to find that agency that is just handing out money. Sadly, they want to know why you need that money, what you are going to do with it, why you think it will work, how it will be spent and everything cited, with footnotes, charts, graphs and letters of support from, if not God, at least six of the twelve apostles, unless you are Jewish in which case they will accept memoranda of agreement but only if signed by both Moses and David. Can you tell I have been working on this grant too much? Now it is Erich and Jessica's problem. Imagine evil scientist laugh here - moo-ha-ha. That is what I would be doing if I wasn't too tired to laugh.

I can't write about a lot of the work I am doing since it is a proposal we are preparing. We don't mind putting on the web proposals that have already been funded, since these can serve as a useful template to someone else and it is not as if we are going to get funded again for the exact same thing. On the other hand, if we posted what we were doing at the moment, it would be feasible that someone else could take it and submit the same proposal. We try to be generous without being foolish.

What we are working on ... Jenn did a new design on the CD covers for all the Disability Access modules. They are the same design but a different color for each module and the picture of a person in the middle gradually gets older and older. I really like it. I think we will make this into a poster for the economic summit where Erich is presenting in September.

We are making great progress on the Spirit Lake Leadership Training Project. We have a mountain of information. Now I just need to get it all organized and up on the web.

I was reading a book on business that says that all successful businesses have a set of guiding principles. I think that is probably true.  However, they went on to say that it is necessary to discuss those principles frequently, have them posted, etc. I am not so sure I agree with that. I think our guiding principles are pretty clear - we are about improving life in disadvantaged communities, paying people a decent wage, allowing employees autonomy and the opportunity to grow and developing products that get consistently better and better. In short, do good work, make money and don't be a jerk. I don't know that I see the necessity for shouting those principles from the rooftops, especially because it seems like some of the companies that do that the most are the most hypocritical. For example, I once worked at a company that constantly bragged about how the technical staff was the greatest resource of the company and so on, but managers would stand outside our offices and ask us if we could write computer programs faster. The worst example was the time we all had to skip lunch to go watch a video on motivation and having fun at work!

I guess their point was that the bigger your company grows, the fewer people know what your guiding principles are. I noticed that TMCC has a set of principles literally carved in stone as you walk up the entry way. So.... maybe it is a good idea. If the rest of our staff all think it is important, I am willing to start carving (figuratively, that is).

Podcasting versus MySpace

Erich and I were discussing adding community features to our website. We already have a newsletter for the Caring for Our People Training Project that is sent out every month. It is called Miniwakan Waonspekiye. Erich tells me that Miniwakan means Spirit Water (for Spirit Lake) and Waonspekiye means 'teacher' in Dakota. However, since I am among the minority on our staff who knows almost nothing of Dakota, for all I know, it is Dakota for "AnnMaria is ugly and her mother dresses her funny".

We also do a monthly newsletter for the Disability Access project called Miniwakan Tiyospaye. In Dakota, I think Tiyospaye means 'family' but I don't think it translates exactly. That I do understand, because a lot of words in Spanish don't exactly translate into English either. I could give some examples but they are not very professional, so I had better not.

We have just gotten started on the Commons Area with some bulletin board topics. Updating those in my next priority, after I finish the reports due to USDA and the new Phase I proposal.

So... in this discussion about new features, I brought up podcasting, but Erich pointed out that, being a $400 or so item, iPods are not such a hot seller on the reservations. However, MySpace seems to be taking off, and similar sites, since these are free. So.... now I am the oldest person in America to have a blog, I think.