Monday, January 26, 2015

Getting out of my box in 2015

Have you ever wanted to try something new but the fear of never doing it before scares you away?  Well, I do all the time and the fear always wins.  This year I told myself that I had to try something new again.  Last year I walked my first 5k in April and then did another one in July.  So this year I said to myself, “you have to do it again, get out of your box and do something new.”   I’ve seen people on Facebook going to these Wine and Canvas events and the pictures they are painting are great.  Of course my mind says, Lisa you can’t even draw a stick person how can you paint a picture?  I kind of pushed the thought out of my mind until one night I was scoping out Facebook before I went to bed and saw that there was an upcoming event right in Fairfield for a Wine and Canvas and it was a picture of a snowman which I love.  So, I clicked the link and said, “Yep I am doing this!”  As I wait for the weeks to go by waiting for the Friday night event to come up, I am nervous and excited and worried but I know that it will be so much fun.  I happen to get an email from my daughters Girl Scout leader stating that their troop is going to do a fun event called Cookies and Canvas.  I am so excited that my daughters are going to get to experience this event too!  A couple of days before the Cookies and Canvas day, I learn that the moms of the Girl Scouts get to participate too.  I was so excited, not only do I get to experience this new adventure with my daughters, I will get a heads up on how the Wine and Canvas event will probably go. 

The day of the Cookies and Canvas arrives and I am so excited!  I have not told my daughters what they will be doing because I wanted them to be surprised and because they like to worry about stuff like me.  As we sit down and begin, I realize that this is so much fun and it isn’t about being perfect or making the picture exactly right, it is just about relaxing and doing whatever you want to the picture.  The instructor will coach you on the basics of the print but otherwise you get to choose what colors you use, how much of the colors you use, and pretty much whatever you want.  It was just a totally relaxing freeing event that I had never experienced before and my daughters loved it.  They each got to make the same but different pictures and nothing had to be perfect.  This little life lesson taught me that it’s ok to not always be perfect at what you are doing, just do it to the best of your ability and everything comes out fine.  We got three great pictures out of this and I got to experience something new with my daughters which is always so much fun.  Now I can’t wait till my Wine and Canvas event comes up and I can create another masterpiece.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Kid On The Block

As I am one of the new kids (61 years old) on the block with Libertyville Savings Bank, its fun to see what  opportunities are being offered to bank customers.  What comes to mind is the Libertyville Savings Bank travel club and the big trip to Alaska planned for next June.

     I have been fortunate to enjoy a number of trips over the years taking the family to California, Colorado, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida and some others that I may have forgotten.  Most trips were taken by land as I am not a world traveler by air.  Taking the kids in the van to California was a pretty long ride but worth the time and effort behind the wheel once we arrived at Disneyland.  After a lot of fun with the kids in the theme parks, the California trip had a couple of not-so-fun memories that included a scam artist trying to get money from me as we were headed from the hotel parking lot (my Iowa license plate made me an easy target) and the air conditioner fan in the back of the van malfunctioning.  As we were traveling between California and Las Vegas, my very young son said “Dad, there’s something smoking back here” from the back of the van.  Thankfully, there was no fire, so we got home safely and all ended well.

     On a separate trip to Colorado, the scenery was quite beautiful in the Colorado mountains.  Overall it was a good trip, but I learned that it pays to be a good planner.  After a long day of driving through the mountains, I was ready to quit driving a 4:00 p.m., get a nice supper and enjoy the rest of the evening.  I did not think that getting a motel room would be a problem in the Colorado Springs area.  All over the Colorado Springs area rooms were taken because of an international soccer tournament, so hours later we finally got a place to stay.  I learned my lesson that time.

     Which leads me to the fun excursions I have experienced over the past 25 years on a number of cruises.  Cruises I have been on include trips on the western route (at least twice), eastern route, southern route, from New York to Bermuda, and a trip around the Hawaiian islands, all together at least 6 (maybe 7, can’t remember for sure).  There are so many things on a cruise ship to enjoy, making the travel experience very free and easy.  The cruise ship staff are there to spoil you morning, noon and night.  When you get checked in to the ship, there are natural worries that your luggage will disappear and not show up to your room cabin.  But by evening when you come back from the first dinner, the luggage will be by your cabin door waiting to be unpacked.  The Cabin steward will get you what you want, when you want it.  The evening entertainment will usually include singing, dancing, comedy, some include ice skating, and other great performances.  Staying up late at night and sleeping in the next day is everyone’s personal choice.  If you want, you can enjoy fine dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or you can go casual for any and all of those meals.  There are a lot of steps to climb between floors, so forget the elevator if you decide to take more than one desert.   Relaxing by the pool or sitting in the hot tub while taking in the sun is great.  Most cruises schedule a belly flop contest at the pool which brings a lot of laughs.  There are games for audience entertainment like the Newlywed Game asking new couples and old couples just how well they know each other.  You can keep very fit by exercising in workout rooms or take walks around the outside deck of the ship.  There are a lot of gift shops on board so that finding a keepsake of the trip will not be a problem.   Some cruises happen to be during a full moon.  A very awesome sight is to see the moon reflect off the ocean in the evening.  In the morning when the sun rises, looking over the front of the ship is a great way to begin the day.  As each day winds down after the evening entertainment, you can find a lively place to go, or find a quiet pub that may have a piano player to listen to.  Most of the cruises have various ports to let passengers sight-see and enjoy.  When the trip is finally over, it can leave a bit of sadness when you say good-bye to the staff that take care of you and smile every time they see you somewhere on the ship.  And if by chance a group of friends wish to take the cruise experience together, the memories are just that much more fun.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas, 2014

For the first time ever, my husband and I attended his ex-wife’s Christmas celebration yesterday.  It was the best time I’ve had at a Christmas celebration in a very long time.  The ex-in laws met us in the drive way with hugs and kisses and thanked us repeatedly for coming.  We got the same greeting inside from ex-sisters and brothers in law. The food was unbelievably wonderful and the libations a flowing.  My step son repeatedly whispered in my ear, “it’s like Christmas with the Cranks” and “might as well call us the Griswalds” to which I assured him not to hold any embarrassment, as it is obvious that this family loves each other for who they are and nothing less.  We sat at the very long gorgeous table with 15 or 20 of four generations in a 100 century old farm house and watched as a great grandchild performed for the entire group on his new plastic toy guitar.  The faces of encouragement were enough to warm any heart.  Thank you Bev, CD, Carol Ann and all for so genuinely welcoming us into your home and family.   Merry Christmas and the very happiest of New Years!

Amber and Steve McDowell

Monday, December 1, 2014


At least once a year I normally will attend an offsite meeting that requires me to travel the “friendly skies.”  This year was no different. We purchased a new core software system and were offered two tickets to a Banking Conference in Orlando, Florida. Fun...right? The conference was fantastic, but once again I had another action packed trip in the air.
For a little background, in June we had just finished a huge software conversion that required about a year of planning and information gathering. Every day we were signing, amending, and terminating contracts and building reports to supply the new vendor with information. Our new software provider offered us the tickets and it sounded like an interesting trip. I had taken a week off to travel to Colorado with my family when Jill e-mailed me and asked if I would like to attend. After some discussion I agreed to go and politely said I would let her handle the reservations as I had no preference.  Big mistake!  Never let your boss order your tickets. If she had it her way you would be flying with the luggage if it would save a couple bucks.
The trip started off great. I picked up Lori and we headed to Des Moines. We worked our way in and my bag was under the 50lb limit and I breezed through security with my three totes so I could take my work laptop along.
Last year I wasn’t so lucky. I had to cram stuff into Jill’s bag. Then I thought I would carry on my cleanup bag forgetting that you couldn’t take liquids over 3.4 ounces. My face was red when they stopped me and I told them to just throw the stuff away. I then had to buy new upon arrival to my destination. Things were really looking up.
Prior to leaving I reviewed my itinerary. What? I had four flights? Ok, wait a minute. I wasn’t flying non-stop and I had a layover in Detroit. How do you go from Iowa to Michigan if you are headed for Florida? Let me tell ya. You save $20! We flew to Detroit strolled around the airport and enjoyed our layover time before boarding the busiest flight I have ever been on. Families headed to Disney World! This was a completely full flight. The passengers were crammed in like sardines.
After my wife and I had our first child I have been pretty much housebound. Trying to make sure our son doesn’t get sick or make a scene. This has caused me to pack on a few extra pounds. Maybe I am a little bigger but the seats this year sure seemed smaller.  Then we took off. The couple behind us bickered.  The dad was telling the mom how much money he made while the child relentlessly kicked the back of Lori’s chair. I thought this was actually kind of humorous until the little guy decided it was time to go to the bathroom fifteen minutes in on a two and a half hour flight. Needless to say we sat in the brown cloud for the next two hours and 15 minutes.

At the same time Lori and I both made the comment we should have got more involved in the planning of this trip. Maybe Jill was trying to teach us something but I think she was just saving a dollar or two. One thing is for sure. When we arrived in Orlando we quickly called the airline and upgraded, not to first class, but premium economy. Trust me people….. it’s worth the $19!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Meeting "Fred"

The first day I showed up to work at LSB I was given a copy of a book called The Fred Factor and it was explained to me that all employees of the bank were to read “Fred” that quarter.  To give you an idea how much I like to read, I can tell you I hadn’t read a book for pleasure since graduating from college.  I was certainly glad I was assigned the task of reading the book though, as it was one I ended up enjoying very much.   I’ve particularly been captivated by the use of The Fred Factor at LSB and most recently by the book’s author’s speech at our annual meeting.  As Mark Sanborn the author of the book spoke at our annual meeting, I couldn’t help as my mind wandered to a real life Fred I know.  I’m sure he has never read the book, but he epitomizes Fred is every sense, and it’s been fun to watch as that spirit has helped lead him towards success.

I met this fellow Iowan several years ago at the Circle of Gold Pig Sale in Oklahoma where we had both consigned hogs.  Andy was penned directly down the aisle from me.  He walked up to my pens, looked over the hogs, and made a little small talk with me about their pedigrees.  I figured he was simply checking out the competition and didn’t think much of it.  I had an absolutely horrible sale that weekend.  I’d hauled 4 pigs to the sale, only 2 made the sale, and only 1 sold.  At the end of the sale, I backed the truck up to the corner of the barn to load my tack and 3 no sales.  My wife had come along for the trip and was helping with this process.  I’d no more than gotten backed up to the barn when Andy stepped in and told my wife she could relax, he would help me out.  Andy made quick work of the loading process, and we were on our way back to Iowa. 

To this day, I don’t think Andy knows how important his gesture was to me.  I would hardly have considered him an acquaintance at the time, and he certainly didn’t owe me any favors.  The fact that he jumped right in and helped me out spoke volumes about what type of person I was dealing with.  The small little gesture is probably a big reason why I made my way to his place the following spring to find a barrow for a family I’ve placed pigs with over the years.  That small gesture that required so little effort on his part is what kicked off the start of a great friendship. 

Over the last couple years Andy and I have spent hours together in the pickup traveling the country to hog shows and touring boar studs.  We talk about a lot of topics on our travels, but probably the most common thing we discuss is developing our businesses.  Although Andy and I both raise showpigs, our models are very different.   Given we have our differences; we share a common idea that customer service is of the utmost importance.  We probably spend as much time talking about customer service and adding value for our customers as any other topic.  We sell pigs to folks, but rarely does the relationship end the day of the sale.  We answer questions for months following the sale on daily care, health issues, nutrition, showmanship, and any other issue that may arise.  Heck, a lot of producers in our business don’t even understand that people are looking to buy more than just a pig for their kid to show at the county fair.  

Andy has told me a story several times that has “Fred” written all over it.  He had a family through his farm one spring to look for pigs.  There was a small boy that was part of the family, probably not more than a few years old.  He had a small plastic stick horse that he’d brought from home that Andy said he spent most of the tour entertaining himself with.  Keep in mind we are talking about a toy small enough to fit in your pocket and of little material value.  To that little kid, it was hours of entertainment, and probably one of his favorites if he took it everywhere he went.  Andy noticed shortly after these folks were gone from his farm that the little boy had dropped his toy in the driveway.  He packaged it up in a small little envelope and mailed it to the young man with a note that read, “A cowboy can’t be without his horse”.  It is one of the many ways I have seen Andy represent the main theme of what makes Fred so great.  The smallest acts, requiring the fewest resources, often leave the biggest impression.

            A couple of weeks ago Andy and I headed to El Reno, Oklahoma to the Circle of Gold Pig Sale.  It was the first time we’d traveled together to the sale where we’d met 4 years earlier.  When Saturday night rolled around we had all our deliveries off the trailer, the sale pigs had been through the ring and sold, and the tack was loaded.  We waited around as the buyers of the sale hogs slowly made their way back to the pens as the sale was winding down.   Andy loaded them 1 by 1 into the rigs of their new owners.  As we were driving out of the parking lot headed back to Iowa Andy turned to me and said, “You know, I think it is really important to help load those hogs for their new owners.  I want those people to know I care how they get along after they buy a pig from me.”  I just smiled at him and nodded my head.  If it only meant half to those folks what it meant to me, then it left a heck of an impression.                            

Monday, October 20, 2014

First Year at Libertyville Savings Bank

         The end of the year will mark my first year in banking, and WOW what an exciting year it has been. I have met a lot of great people and learned a ton of new things. So when I say this is my first year in banking that isn’t entirely true it is my first year as a full time bank employee. I started working at Libertyville Savings Bank in February of 2006 as a part time teller. I worked summers and weekends through high school and college. I really enjoyed my part time job here so when I graduated from The University of Iowa last December I knew this was the place I wanted to be. So on January 2nd I started full time as the banks Investment/Training officer.
My year started by finding out that I had been accepted to the Iowa Bankers Association Leadership Institute. I was very proud of this since the IBA only selects 20 people per year to be a part of this program. I need to thank Lori Mitchell for pushing me to apply because I didn’t think I would be accepted since so few people are selected. This was a five month program where we meet a few days a month at different locations around the state. I was able to meet a lot of great bankers from around the state and learn great leadership skills that will help me with my career in banking. This program ended in June then came the month of July!
In July we acquired Farmers Savings Bank in Keota making that Libertyville Savings Bank’s fifth location. I of course had two weeks vacation scheduled in July which looking back was not great timing. I did not realize how much work acquiring another banks bond portfolio and merging it into our own really is. I probably owe Ryan one for all of the extra work he had when I was gone. Things have settled down now and the transition has gone well. We are excited to have a new branch location and the Keota employees have been a great fit to our team.
OH and did I mention as all of this was going on we are also adding on to our Fairfield office. This brings its own unique challenges to work through. The construction has been fun to watch progress but I think I speak for everyone when I say we will be glad when it is finished. Also in October the bank was nominated as one of the top 100 places to work in Iowa. I had the privilege to attend the banquet the Des Moines Register put on it was a great experience, and great honor for the bank!
Wow what a year it has been. This is exactly what I was looking for when I decided to come back and work full time at Libertyville Savings Bank. It has been a fun and exciting year to be an employee of Libertyville Savings Bank! I am looking forward to what next year brings here at LSB!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

First Ever Trip to the Lake

My grand daughter is 2½ years old and as with most completely prejudice grandparents, I think she’s pretty awesome.  Last month she made her first trip to the Lake of the Ozarks and had the grandest of times.  Collyns has had some baby swimming lessons, but she had only been in a pool and of course never on a waive runner or in a boat.  After only a short spell, she made herself at home at the lake house and back and forth to the dock…..and back and forth to the dock……and back and forth to the dock….life jacket on… jacket off……life jacket on… jacket off and that didn’t end  for 3 days. J   

It was HOT and on the first day we found ourselves floating in the lake before noon.  Collyns’s dad has a complexion at least as fair as mine, maybe lighter.  I said, “Josh, do you have sunscreen on?” to which he replied in a big, tough guy form, “No, I’ll be alright”.   Needless to say, he was toast…..literally and figuratively….for the rest of the trip.  He looked like a lobster that was now quarantined to the A/C and the recliner.  On a positive note, he learned a valuable lesson, the hard way.

Collyns was having a blast.  She required a little assistance down the slide and off the diving board (no running and jumping off yet), but swimming in the lake from one guardian to another was a wonderful new world and her eyes sparkled with pride and accomplishment.   I noticed right away that she liked sticking her tongue in the lake and I didn’t think that was such a great idea, so I started down the road to change that behavior.   I started with the obvious, telling her “no”, which of course was like pouring gas on a fire.  Then I tried grabbing her tongue every time she stuck it out, that too was pretty much fun and games.  Finally I said, “Collyns, there is fish poop in the lake!” (she starts swimming for the ladder)  “Why?”  “Because fish live in the lake.” (she climbs up the ladder and out of the lake)  “Why?”  “Because this is their home.”  (tongue is out)  “Why?”  “Because fish live in the water, just like you live in your house.”  “Why?”  (there will be no more lake for several hours)  “Because, that’s just the way it is honey” J

We went out for lunch every day and swam in a different pool.  At Shady Gators they have a gradual decline pool.  Perfect for a toddler, until she walked right out with her bare feet and stopped on the hot concrete.  I waive of panic and I was on my way, but before I could get to her the tears and screams were in full force.  I swept her off of her feet and ran for the pool.  Fortunately, it wasn’t far and even more fortunate, she did not suffer any serious burns, but the crowd was not impressed. L

The next day we went to The Horny Toad.  She didn’t want to leave there, even with all of the big, hairy, men bellied up to the bar.  Scared me a little even.
That afternoon we cruised up to Frankie and Louie’s, but my little energizer bunny had finally burned out, sleeping on the boat seat with mom and grandma holding a beach towel for more shade.  Such breaks are few and far between.  It wouldn’t be long before she’d be back in high gear, back and forth from the house to the dock, life jacket on, life jacket off!  Wish I had that kind of energy!  Until next time……

Amber Stump McDowell