Monday, September 16, 2013

Transitional Tremors ~ Homage to the Seashores & Use of Self

While a clear and thoughtful vision is essential, even the most mindful transitions don't happen exactly the way you plan them.  Who was it that said 'Life's what happens when you're in the middle of planning.'

One shock to my transitional system came early on, while I was still in Texas. I’d made it across the border and was staying in Austin with my brother and his family for a few weeks, waiting-out winter in the Northeast. This happy, care-free music town would serve as a sort of decompression chamber before the final leg to DC and the tidal wave to come.  

Via email I received a note announcing the passing of my beloved grad school professor, Charlie Seashore.  He was one of the ones who’d nudged me to take the Peace Corps plunge – and I was looking forward to sharing with him how the Organization Development tools, many of which I’d learned from him, served me in the work of sustainable community development.

They not only served, I intended to tell him; they saved my tocino in Mexico!  And boy did I have some stories to share.

But it was too late.  I would arrive home just in time to participate in the memorial service.
Jumping ahead to March, bracing myself against the bone chill of a belated Washington winter, more bad news came by email:  Charles' beloved wife, Edie, had also died; in the midst of planning her late husband’s memorial service she’d had a sudden heart-attack. 

Edie was the Number One of the two-man husband-wife teaching team. She wore the pants in the family and Charlie wore the suspenders.  Like me, Edie was a Pisces and an ENTJ – one of the Myers-Briggs ‘born leaders.’  She was a tough cookie and as sweet as one too.
Like a pair of doves, Edie and Charlie were in synchronicity till the end.  We would now be celebrating both their lives at the memorial service in Columbia, Maryland.  
Edie and Charlie were instrumental in spawning the Masters graduate program in Organization Development at American University, then called AU/NTL. I chose the program, back in 2000, for its touchy-feely ‘experiential' approach. I’d already spent almost 10 years in the left brained world, working for IT consulting firms with geeks who believed technology was the answer. I was junior and still navigating the Beltway Bandit world; but it didn’t take much experience to see that success wasn’t about the technology – it was about the human element. 

Was I ready to have my ass kicked by such an alternative, humanistic view?

One of the basic underpinnings of the program of Organization Development, inspired by the forefathers of field, Kurt Lewin and Ron Lippitt, was a concept (and practice) called ‘Use of Self.’ 
I was so resistant to the term – it seemed meaningless to me. But it finally started to sink-in in Bethel, Maine, where the Seashores ran a one-week residential course for each AU/NTL grad program cohort called the Human Interaction Lab.

We were warned in advance that our participation in this course would make or break our OD careers.
I was cautiously optimistic for a breakthrough in Bethel. 

And from the moment I met Charlie and Edie, I sensed the possibility – if I was willing to do the work. 

On that introductory day, they talked about ‘holding the space’ for us to learn from each other – that we were a lab of learning unto ourselves – and their job was as guide.

Ah, was that Use of Self?

As the week progressed, I could see how Charlie and Edie pushed our buttons – asking provocative questions – modeling communication tools such as Feedback – how to give and receive it so it could be heard – which we learned was a little different than giving someone a piece of your mind. It was actually about giving someone a little piece of your heart.

Edie and Charlie demonstrated using role plays and made it look easy.  They successfully used in in their marriage and in their consulting business. It was a versatile tool. They showed us that most communication is based on assumptions which are oftentimes incorrect; and if we ‘owned’ our feelings and ‘checked’ our assumptions, sharing them with the other person versus jumping to conclusions, we could transform our conversations and our relationships – even the world, they contended. 

We paired-up and practiced with each other. We were so sloppy and unskillful the Seashores kept boxes of Kleenex around the room for when the ‘feedback’ reverted back to the comfort zone of blame and shame.  They had 30 years of experience with this – we were just infants. 

Charlie would observe from outside the circle, watching your brow furrow, your nose crinkle up, perhaps even your eyes redden like you were ready to explode.  ‘Lookout, here comes another learning opportunity,’ he would interject at just the right moment.  As you sat on the precipice of a revelation, he gave you a kind little nudge.

Edie and Charlie helped us laugh at ourselves – we were breaking deep-seeded patterns – even shifting societal norms.

Was THIS Use of Self?

As the week in Bethel progressed, I started tapping into something – an insidious fear I had never faced:   the fear I would become my father – that I was destined for the same path he took – work-aholism, alcoholism, isolation and alienation, and a complete lack of self-awareness or responsibility to take measures to remedy his own situation. It was all about a rational solution to a problem – a PhD probability – yet his irrationality was over the top.  And I was him!

Why were we doing this? This wasn’t grad school. This was therapy! What could this possibly teach me that would be good for my career?

 ‘But you are not your father, Anne,’ one of my peers reflected back.  ‘You’re here, you’re doing this work.’

It may seem obvious; but it hit me like truck - or washed over me like a cleaning waterfall - not only the truth that I couldn’t see about myself – but the power of the group process to heal. 

THIS was Use of Self. 

A door opened in Bethel that would lead to where I am today. More than ten years later, now a returned Peace Corps volunteer, I was willing to step out of the comfort zone and able to take a risk to serve.
Use of Self as instrument of change means by merely ENTERING the system you change it.  With it comes power and responsibility.

In Mexico, Use of Self was about humility – admitting I had no clue – that my Master of Science credential and first-world advantages were going to get me only so far in such unknown territory.
Realizing this, tapping in to my use of self over time, I became empowered.  People sought-out my assistance – even looked to me for guidance – and I was able to bring the Viva Viveros project to fruition. In collaboration with the women of two rural and indigenous communities I helped to develop micro-business of native plants – transforming neighbors into empowered cooperatives, seeds into sales into oxygen for the planet. 

I hoped to come back to DC and share my success story with Edie and Charlie – but instead I share it with you.

As Edie was fond of saying:  The Universe provides.

Thanks, Edie and Charlie, for your lessons.  I carry them with me through this Transition.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day Chile Rellenos - Mexico in my Mom's Kitchen

One way to keep stories (even people) alive is through cooking.  I learned this from my Italian Grandma Lena – and learned it again during my time in Mexico where the kitchen is the epicenter of life.

Then yesterday, I had a chance to practice this lesson, bringing the tastes of Mexico into my Mom’s Peoria kitchen. 

We were planning to cook Talapia for a small pre-Labor Day dinner party with my aunt and uncle and some of mom’s friends. But on a visit to the Peoria farmer’s market I was inspired by a pile of brilliant green locally-grown Poblano chiles; then at the Potsdam organic meat market some lean fresh ground organic chuck caught my eye.  And the menu began to unfold…ahhh, Chile Rellenos con Picadillo.

As mom and I began what would be a day-long chopping process, I was reminded of my virgin Chile Relleno experience early in my Peace Corps Mexico service. Three of us Peace Corps trainees were sent to the site of Katy and Nate in Matahuala, the high plains desert of central Mexico, to learn some of the ropes of Peace Corp life.  The highlight of the visit had little to do with work; it was Nate’s Chile Rellenos.  

Those babies were so hot that the fumes, as they baked in the over, got us all high. We had to step outside into the hot desert afternoon for some breaths of fresh air before sitting down to our meal. As we ate, sweat dripped off our foreheads. We gulped beer and fanned ourselves with napkins to quell the heat; but the chiles were so tasty we couldn’t stop ourselves.   

The next morning we chile virgins paid the price:  Monteczuma struck and we three were all holed up in our hotel rooms, unable to make the day’s tour.

I knew I had to tame it down for my mom and her Peoria friends. Using Poblanos versus Seranos would help. I remembered, also, that Nate had added extra chopped pepper into the stuffing; I would pass on that.  

Combining memories of cooking picadillo with the Zama Mamas (my host ‘family’ in Mexico) with a little help from some online recipes, and a desire for a healthy variation on a usually greasy theme, here’s what I came up with…Chile Rellenos Peoria Style – Gluten, Grease and Montezuma-Free.

Chile Preparation
Roast peppers on an open flame (gas stove or grill) until skin turns brown-black
Set peppers aside in paper bag or covered bowl for skins to loosen (15-30 mins)
Peel skin off each pepper – make incision vertically from stem to tip – remove pit and seeds, careful not to disrupt the stem
NOTE:  Do not touch your eyes for the next 24 hours!

Relleno de Picadillo – Hamburger Stuffing
1.5 lb lean (organic) chuck
Sauté 1 medium onion (Vidalias are in-season and sweet) + couple cloves minced garlic
By the way, I use coconut oil - a lighter, healthier, tastier alternative and cooks at a good high temp.
Add/sauté hamburger, removing lumps
Add to hamburger as it cooks:  salt, black pepper, oregano and thyme (fresh from Aunt Marilyn’s garden), cinnamon, cumin, chile powder – all to taste
Roast 3-4 Tbsp sliced almonds (or pine nuts) and sauté 1 cup sliced carrots – add to hamburger mixture
Dissolve in a cup of water 4 Tbsp tomato paste + 2-3 Tbsp chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (La Costaña is a good Mexican brand and generally available) – stir into hamburger mixture.

Stuff and Bake 
Stuff the peppers – spooning the picadillo carefully in through the incision – lay in a Pyrex dish with opening up – cover the opening with slices of jack cheese or chunks of goat or ranchera cheese (optional)
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes – let list under foil for another 20 minutes or until ready to serve.

Salsa Roja – Red Sauce
Boil 5-7 Roma tomatoes (or equivalent)
Remove tomato skins – puree tomatoes in blenter (or Mom’s Bullet)
Saute 1/3 of an onion and a clove of garlic in Coconut oil – add the fresh tomato puree
Add salt, black pepper and fresh chopped cilantro leaves to taste
Simmer for 10 minutes.

Ready to Plate
Drizzle each chile with 3 Tbsp of salsa
Serve with black beans, quinoa with carrot and squash (not Mexican, but a great rice alternative), and Pico de Gallo (beak of the rooster, fresh avocado, tomato and lime salad to cool the spice)

Buen provecho!