Sunday, August 15, 2010

You Don't Know Schmitt

This weekend I had the pleasure of spending 3 days on Smith Lake with a very special group of friends.  The circuitous county roads that led us to our lake house gave us a great glimpse at life in the area.  There was  everything from multi-million dollar lake-front homes to single-wide trailers; well-manicured lawns & boat docks to comfortably small country abodes. Most of the roads we drove on were neither lined nor labeled properly.  The important thing is that we all eventually arrived at our weekend respite excited for the adventures that lay ahead.

My hope and optimism going into the long weekend was captured in one place alone: The Future Home of Schmitt's Goat Farm.    You don't know this man named Schmitt, but here's what we do know.  Schmitt is impressive.  He's got a dream.  He knows where he's going in life.  And he wants you to know too.  Schmitt is living his dream out loud;  all of the capital letters on his sign tell me so.

Schmitt is a purposeful man.   He is both careful and determined. He chooses his words with great reflection. The period after every word on his sign tells me he has thought about this goat farm long and hard.  Schmitt chose to stake his claim in Arley, Alabama, and anyone else even thinking about a goat farm within a 100-mile radius had better reconsider. 

But even with careful inspection, we still don't know Schmitt.  There's quotations around "Goat Farm."  Are we really talking goats, or are you up to something else, Mr. Schmitt?  Are you a sarcastic man?  What is it that you want us to infer from this supposed "Goat Farm" you've begun?  Maybe its some kind of inside joke.

The humor therein makes me think of all of the inside jokes found among a tight circle of friends.  If you weren't there, then its tough to infer what really happened from a humorous remark. Maybe that sly reference you overheard meant something else altogether.  If you have to ask, you probably don't want to know. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you don't know Schmitt.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Go-Giver's Law of Receptivity: The Final Law in the Go-Giver Series

"The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving."

Wrapped into the final Go-Giver Law is an assurance that the effort put into giving will-and should- translate into an opportunity to receive.  It is OK to receive benefit from others since that receiving is the result of another's effort to be giving.   After all, we're all in this together on some level, aren't we?

Receptivity requires both diligence and faith that others will come through for you.  Sometimes that faith is affirmed, and sometimes its not.  In my role in outside sales, I've been stood up a fair number of times by prospects.  In fact it even happened this week.  Sure, there was a minor annoyance that my time wasn't being used effectively.  I just had to remind myself that scheduling conflicts and forgotten appointments happen. 

For me, The Law of Receptivity is about maintaining a positive attitude and marching into the next meeting open to a new opportunity;  not stewing over the last missed meeting.  This week, The Law of Receptivity paid off.  There's a spark in the air when you have a great meeting with a new contact and ideas start flowing freely.  The energy is almost palpable, and an hour passes in what seems like minutes.

On Friday I met with a wonderful woman from a university and the partnership opportunities for our organizations were spot on.   We both left the meeting super-charged with optimism and excitement for our upcoming work together.    But that meeting went well because I cast off the disappointment of earlier days and came to the table with an open mind, ready to receive.

Yes, I'll reschedule that missed appointment.  I'm sure it will work out just fine.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Go-Giver's Law of Authenticity: Part 4 of a 5-Part Book Review

“The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.”

Have you ever been around someone with a strong accent? Maybe a “U-per,” a Londoner, or even a Southerner? Of course you have. Now here comes the question of Authenticity: Did you start to pick up their accent after you talked to them for a while? Did you parrot their pronunciation of particular phrases? We've all done it just a little bit.  I’m guilty as charged. When I moved to the South six years ago, I found myself going on lots of sales calls outside the metro city limits. Sometimes the people I talked to spoke so slowly that I wanted to complete their sentences for them!  For some reason, I felt myself trying to drawl, trying to speak a little slower, and trying to throw in a “y’all” for good measure. 

It didn’t work. It was a feigned attempt at acceptance.  Not only was I asked, “So, are you from around here?,” I was also caught somewhere between trying to fit in and trying to get my message across effectively. I wasn’t authentic. And I was naïve to think that I had to use certain colloquial words and phrases to be heard.

As it turns out, I performed much better when I let the “You Guys” flow freely. Not only were people more genuinely interested in me, and who I was, they also wanted to know where I was from and what brought me into town. That kind of exchange was the beginning of a real relationship. So the Go-Giver Law of Authenticity goes: It’s always easy to spot a fake. Your audience appreciates the real and truthful so much more. Whether you’re from Buffalo, Britain, Birmingham or the Bahamas, let your freak flag fly and annunciate with pride.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Go-Giver Law of Influence: Installment #3 in a 5-Part Book Review

“Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.”

Have you ever really thought about what makes someone influential? Admittedly, I have had an antiquated definition of “influence.” Let me start at the beginning. Growing up, I was never the cool kid. I was, and still am, a people-watcher; happier to observe than to take center stage. As a kid, I mentally filed the other kids into groups: the popular girls with too much lip gloss, the jocks who loved to tease, the alternative kids with sullen attitudes, and the geeks with Dilbert comics taped to their calculators. I didn’t realize it then, but I organized the playground into a kiddie caste system! If I looked closer, there was probably a popularity barometer that measured the social pressure at every grade school dance.

Even as an adult, my shy childhood experiences have caused me, at times, to confuse the definition of popularity and influence. After reading The Go-Giver, I took an inventory of the professionals around me whom I consider “influential.” As it turns out, their influence was connected to what they do rather than who they are. They’re not trying to see what they can “get” from everyone around them; they’re focused on how much they can “give” to their network.

Stated another way, influence is popularity with purpose. Influential people know how to make things happen. And making something positive happen for you is the measure on their personal barometer for success. Can you make something happen for someone else? Who will you influence today?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Go-Giver's Law of Compensation: The 2nd Installment of a 5-Part Book Review

“Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.”

Its interesting how the Go-Giver Laws of Stratospheric Success build on each Other. The first law of value determines how much potential energy you’ve got wrapped up inside. And that potential energy is related to passion for what you do as much as consistency in how you do it.

In The Go-Giver, the main character meets a young woman who grew frustrated in her teaching career. While she had developed methods that really drove home new lessons to children, she was a little discouraged that she could only touch 20 or 25 children at a time. She started a company that developed and sold games based on her methods. Now, rather than helping just one small group of kids each year, she was able to impact learning in classrooms across the country. She put a system- and consistency- behind her ideas and was able to grow.

On a related note, this reminds me of advice that a manager once gave me. We were discussing why some people make more money than others; its all related to attitude and consistency.

Here’s how his example went:

If you want to make $24,000 a year, you can sleep in, head to work late, leave early, and never really be bothered by any critical thought.

If you want to make $40,000 a year, you’re probably getting up at the same time each day; you’re getting into work on time, working a little past five, and keeping your eye out for advantages on the job.

If you want to make $60,000 a year, you’re probably up at 5:30am or 6am thinking about what you want to accomplish for the day; you’re working past five, and thinking about your job some on the weekend.

If you want to make $[insert your target figure here], you’re putting in serious effort.

While that talk was very money-oriented, it did make me think about what path I was on, and where I wanted to be. Those magic numbers can be whatever amount you want them to be, but the fact remains: the more consistently and passionately you approach your work, the closer you’ll get to stratospheric success.

Income in the form of monetary compensation is just one form of success. I bet you can think of a lot of others.

As a sidenote, when I first started this book, I found the word “Stratospheric” to be a little cliché…a trite phrase in another business book targeted at the lost middle-managers desperately seeking inspiration in their tired careers. But “Stratospheric” turned out to be more than just hyperbole. Throughout the story, I was rooting for the main character to elevate his thinking…to get out of his own way…to forgo the easy, temporary fix in favor of a stronger, long-term values system. “Stratospheric” is really about elevating your thinking and your attitude. Its about leaving complacency and “just good enough” behind.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Go-Giver's Law of Value

“Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.”

Ok, this is a tough one right off the bat. It seems like the latest buzz in sales is to “control your client’s expectations.” If you control expectations, you can almost always over-deliver, right? Whoa. That’s a dangerous idea if it falls into the wrong hands.

If McDonalds lets you expect cold McNuggets, does that make serving rubbery re-heated ones OK?

For the people who “just get by,” this strategy is like telling them its OK to set the bar low and to deliver average performance. This Go-Giver law is really about giving, giving, giving…for the sheer pleasure of delivering a product or service that you’re passionate about.

When I first started selling Radio, I gave every client- large or small- [ok, they were all really small] white-glove service. I sold an un-rated oldies station that everyone else on the sales team seemingly ignored. But, I went at it with rookie-like enthusiasm. It just made sense to me. Yes, it was a small station. But, every single listener fit into a closely defined affluent, educated Baby-Boomer demographic with gobs of disposable income. I felt like I was helping my clients shoot fish in a barrel, whereas the bigger stations were casting nets in endless seas. I took pride in acting like a marketing director for each and every client—making everything completely turnkey for them.

Hand-written thank you notes- check. Personalized memos, talking points & FAQ’s for guest appearances- done. Multiple commercial drafts to choose from- every time. I did it because I didn’t know any better.

Yes, it took a lot of time and energy. But, over 6 years later, I count over 20 different reps in our office alone who started and subsequently quit every few months. Just showing up to do the job isn’t enough no matter where you are.

Every time you choose to give more than what’s expected, you’re not losing out or spending too much energy. You’re making a deposit in your own goodwill account. And that account has endless potential returns.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Go-Giver

Whoever decided to write business books in the form of prose is a genius. Maybe it started with the rodents in Who Moved my Cheese?. Or maybe it was “Herbie” in Goldratt’s “The Goal.” (The theory of constraints wrapped up in a story about a fat kid hiking with his Boy Scout troop…now that’s a real page turner.)

Modern business books aren’t being dumbed down. They’re more digestible than ever. We’re in a fast-paced, 140-character, multi-tasking society, and you’d better be able to teach me something and entertain me at the same time. Which brings me to my latest read: The Go-Giver.

The Go-Giver’s 128-page story is about a struggling salesman who learns that the path to success is giving. Throughout the story, he’s mentored by a business Sherpa whose amazing net worth is eclipsed only by his easy-going demeanor. Think Bill Gates meets Frank Sinatra meets Gandhi. The Go-Giver’s gift comes in the form of “Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.” Each and every one of these laws struck a personal chord with me. So, Gentle Reader, stay tuned, and for the next 5 days, I’ll give you a Law of Stratospheric Success and glimpse into my experience with that law.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fun with Road Signs

"Send a real live singing Cupid to your true love."    
As I left downtown Birmingham and drove through the edgier areas north of the city, this sign caught my eye. Most of it was misspelled, but the message was truly notable in its sheer simplicity and boundless promise. 

The sign was white posterboard; the kind that you'd buy only for really, really important school projects or book reports.  How long could this posterboard really survive the elements? Black marker hashed the offer haphazardly across the page, and it was decidedly clear that it was an old marker. The first few words started strong and dark black, but by the end the letters became almost whispers.  Each line was written with complete care, but ultimately fell short on planning.  The last word on each line was scrunched into a space only half of what was really needed.  
Flimsy posterboard, dried up marker, and an offer you could hardly refuse. A real, live, singing Cupid. 

Who is this Cupid? Someone old or young?  A resourceful and entrepreneurial thinker or a practical jokster?  Given the part of town the sign was in, I'd be sure to give Cupid a great tip, lest he draw back his bow.  What would Cupid wear these days?  Adult-sized huggies and a crossbow?  Can I choose what he sings to my true love?

I love the infinite possibilities wrapped up in this real, live singing Cupid.  Don't you?

A favorite oldies song.....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Par: 3 Lessons Learned from the Masters

Birdie. Eagle. Bogey.  Many birds of a feather flocked to the Masters this weekend, and they certainly enjoyed the triumph of Phil Mickelson's 3rd Masters victory.   While some flocked to golf's most elite event hoping for a comeback kid to lead the pack,  I was struck by the progress of a lesser-known competitor, KJ Choi.

KJ Choi is the first Korean golfer to earn a PGA Tour Card, and the first Korean to score a PGA win.  Other than that, or the logo of a favorite company upon his lapel, you probably never noticed him. But KJ has always had a special place in my heart.   When I worked at the sports marketing behemoth IMG, I drafted press materials and marketing headsheets for the golf agents who represented KJ. 

I smiled as he posted a 4th-place finsh at 11 under, tied with Tiger Woods.  Here's the lessons I learned from KJ today:

  • Its going to take some time and some practice on the greens.    It was over 7 years ago that I worked for the sports agents who supported KJ's career.  I'd bet no one had heard of him then, and even today, to many, he was merely Tiger's playing partner. Over the long run, a lucky birdie or two does not define a PGA career. Its years of practice, focus, and slow growing momentum to refine your game.  The same goes in 
  • Your bench has more depth than you could ever know.   KJ Choi never knew that there was an unpaid PGA Golf intern who pieced together powerpoint presentations of his career and analyzed his left versus right profile shots for optimum attractiveness.   In the same way, its all too easy to be unaware of the cheerleaders who are rooting for you.  Your bench is stacked with those who are fans of your life.  You see some of your fans each and every day, but never forget that there's special ones, who in their own way, are cheering you on from afar. 
  • You can move mountains if you try.  KJ Choi was a teen powerlifter who could squat 350 pounds as a 13-year old.  Who knew?  Maybe what you're pushing for isn't where you'll eventually end up.  But, its the effort that makes you stronger along the way. 

KJ Choi has had 3 top-5 finishes in his last 4 events and has career earnings of over $20.7 million dollars.  Talk about defining the perfect job as "getting paid to do something you love."  I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I love, but in the meantime, I'm always ready to tee off on something new. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Butter Me Up

For nearly every day of the week, the 6pm hour is completely ordinary.  Its a gateway to the usual tasks of a pedestrian weeknight evening; its a threshold that leads you only to laundry, cleaning, class work or maybe a few of your favorite shows.  (Well, from time to time, we all throw a night out on the town in there.) 

But the 6pm hour on Friday is different.  6pm on Friday is a high-speed on-ramp to over 60 hours of complete freedom. Each and every week, somewhere in this exact time frame, my expectations for the weekend take root.  A few ideas germinate, and by the time 7pm rolls around, activity has already begun to blossom.  
I've got some Tall Orders for this weekend.  As I drove home after work, my first thought was, "Do I have enough butter to get through the weekend?"   Don't let that be cause for concern;  I harbor no secret food fetishes.  Rather, I've got biscotti, cookies and maybe even some fresh pasta on my agenda for the weekend.  I've also got a Tall Order for a long run on Saturday.  And a long nap following my long run.  But first comes a night out on the town Friday night, and the opportunity to sleep in the next morning.

The 60 minutes from 6 to 7pm on Friday are my favorite part of the weekend. They're a Tall Order all their own, where the potential of the weekend itself eclipses the sum of all of the activities I'll undertake.  

Have you got a Tall Order for the weekend?  I'll let you know how mine turn out....

ps- don't use margarine in your baking.  go for the real thing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stressed Out? Let's Bake!

Right now there are homemade blueberry muffins in the oven.  A recipe from a Williams Sonoma cookbook that I've just cracked open.  And muffins are just the first item on my list to bake tonight.  I've also got dough for two stromboli rising on the counter;  they'll be stuffed and rolled with Boar's Head Black Forest Ham, Pepperoni, Salami, Provolone, Mozarella ("muutz-a-rella"), and Romano.  And, as I stopped at the market after work, I couldn't help but drop Anise Seeds (for Biscotti), and Almond extract into my cart as well.

People always ask me if I prefer to cook or to bake.  Baking wins every time. Hands down. My love of homemade, baked goods stems from my Mom, Godmother, and Grandmothers.  I'm a cookie snob and can tell the difference between a good "crumb," whether the batter or dough has been over-mixed, and if the leavening worked properly.  I know how to brown a butter pastry to a deep golden tone, and how to pipe royal icing with the best of the at-home bakers.

Baking is unique because its based on a chemical reaction.  You start with a combination of precisely measured ingredients, you impart heat & time, and your reward is a product in an entirely new form.  Baking changes things.  It changes ordinary flour, sugar and butter into sublime shortbread cookies. (And those Shortbread cookies were absolute show-stoppers at my wedding reception. Thanks, Mrs. Joseph!).

Doughs and batters change during the baking process in one of two ways.  Either a leavening agent gives off Carbon Dioxide causing the your baked good to rise.   Or, the cold butter cut into your pie crust or dough gets hot enough in the oven to let off steam. As that steam rises, something strange and magical happens. Your Result: golden, flaky layers that will change your day.

Yes, I like baking because it lets off steam.   Baking melts away my stresses and worries, and leaves me with a sweet treat to share with someone I love. And it leaves me in a better state of mind than the rest of the day has.   I've had a smile on my face all night as I've putz'd around the kitchen.  Tuning up my Kitchen Aid stand mixer; choosing between biscotti recipes to try, and even contemplating getting the Pizzelle iron out this weekend. 

Do you want me to make you some biscotti? I've been mailing biscotti to lots of out of town people lately.  Send me an email with your address and favorite flavor.  The momentary distraction, and baking at 350, couldn't make me happier.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Help for a Hoarder Like Me

The secret rituals of my double life are not what you'd expect.  You might never guess it, but I am a Hoarder. The fixation, the obsessiveness and the compulsion that comes with hoarding starts with breakfast and continues all day long.  But, at least its not junk and clutter that I hoard.   Its recyclables. 

There's something about that rounded triangle on the bottom of a plastic carton that strikes my fancy... is it a #2 plastic?  Or even better... a #5?  After I enjoy my morning Kashi cereal mixed with yogurt, I meticulously rinse the yogurt cup and leave it next to the sink, ready for the recycling bin.  Pop cans go there too.  I even recycle my contact cases when I swap out to a new bottle of solution. There's no such thing as a small step when it comes to saving the environment.  

There's a few things that are problematic about my Green Hoarding Habits.  Primarily, many will argue that the actual act of recycling (the truck, the workers, the recycling plants) probably has a bigger carbon footprint than the benefit of recycling the materials collected.  Who knows?   All that's important to me is that I feel like I'm doing my part to help out; that somehow I am stopping the degradation of the environment, deforestation, and abuse of natural resources.  Oh yes, every time I save a pudding cup and a Diet Dr. Pepper can, the world becomes a better place.  

The other problem with my GHH disorder was set off by the Wine incident.  I used to fill our blue recycling bin to the brim!  Cans, Bottles, Glass, all ready to be reincarnated and repurposed for the better.  Except for the first time I came home to find my empty recycling bin and a bowling-pin-arrangement of empty wine bottles in the driveway.  They could have told me that they don't take glass rather than broadcasting to the Bible Belt that I prefer reds to whites.  A few weeks later they took our recycling bin away.  As it turns out, no one on the street has one anymore. They collect recycling one street away from our house, but not on our street.   This has only exacerbated the hoarding issue.

Now I bag my recyclables, and then wait until the time is right.  When I finally have enough bags in the garage, I start out for my 5:30am run a little early and deposit 1 bag per house in the neighborhood one block over. I used to do this at night, but it embarrassed Paul and he thought someone might call the police.  Who are the gonna call? Captain Planet? 

The only help for a Hoarder like me is a company like SunChips.  They recently introduced packaging that is completely bio-degradable 4-6 weeks after you throw it away.  How cool is that? Yes, it takes away the sheer pleasure of recycling, but I think its a great move on their part in terms of responsibility.  It also is a very strategic complement to their core branding strategy.

Bravo, SunChips!  A small GreeK restaurant in Orlando is the only horse in second place at this point.  Upon closer inspection of the straws that came with our drinks, I found that they were made out of corn by-products!   Pretty cool. Straw Chewers, beware.  As I played with the straw a bit, it was very brittle and easy to shatter.   If you have questions about SunChips, go ahead an call their 1-800 number. Apparently it says that "there's no such thing as a silly question." 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Would you drive a Swagger-Waggon?

Do you trust car dealers?  Does the Pope smoke dope? I can only think of a handfull of people I know that actually enjoy the car buying process. Let's talk automotive today. I do think that local car dealers have been the unsung victims of the last year.   Local dealerships have had their franchises pulled with little to no notice and in many cases have been unable to adequately or profitably liquidate their inventory before being forced to close their doors. 

And now there's the Toyota Recall debacle.  Opinions vary as to the actual cause, severity, and sequence of misjudgements that lead to the largest automotive recall in history.  But once again, I think its the local dealers who share in victimization with actual Toyota owners.  Toyota Motor Manufacturing built a shoddy product, and now its the dealers on the front lines who have to cope with customer concerns, complaints, repairs, and inevitably wavering sales.  

But that's not my beef with Toyota today.  What I really want to know is who promised Toyota that they could reverse decades worth of culture with a YouTube campaign.  For years, the MiniVan has a symbol of one's ultimate concession to their role in suburbia as a soccer dad, grocery-getter, or grandparent.   After I saw a commercial for the Toyota Sienna I wondered if they weren't trying to divert our attention from the safety concerns of American's most popular vehicles with a shiny new marketing campaign?

I give you the "Swagger Wagon."
 [ I think Toyota's corporate marketing channel prevents you from embedding the actual video here, but go ahead and click away.]

We've got 2 parents who talk as if they're in the movie "Best of Show" and essentially get Dutch-Ovened in their new Sienna by their stinky, diaper-clad kids.  Maybe this happens in real life? Any parents out there who can verify this Slice-of-Life creative strategy?     Not sure if that makes me want to sign up for a test drive.  

Bottom line:  I appreciate viral marketing, sarcasm and thinking outside the box.  But I'm still not going to buy a minivan. 

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Do You Bleed Green and Gold?

Sometimes I forget that I live in the South.  Yes, Huntsville is a melting pot of engineers and professionals from all over the country. And you can readily find just about anything you'd want right here in the city.  But, you don't have to go very far to be reminded that you're definintely in Alabama.   This past Friday was Tractor Day at one of the local county high schools.  Tractor Day is a really big deal because you get to drive your tractor to school, ride with pride in the all-school tractor parade, and then feast on delicacies like biscuits and gravy.  

This year over 43 tractors showed up for Tractor Day.  And I couldn't help but laugh as I heard this entire spectacle unfold on the radio.  I have a soft spot in my heart for the one kid who couldn't help but take the riding lawn mower to school for Tractor Day.  That's the County version of a poser. Then again, maybe not so much if it was a John Deere.  We can only hope.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Sharp No. 2

People say the strangest things.  And I'm not talking about, "Oh, my kid said..such and such," or any pedestrian, situationally funny phrases.  Do you harbor a really dark, sarcastic sense of humor, but then get surprised when a stranger says something dark and funny to you?

I was sitting at the Huntsville Library, mooching off of the free Wi-Fi to watch an online class.  And yes, it is mooching, because I feel obligated to buy something if I go to a corporate coffee shop to suck up bandwith and not sip espresso.  But, in any event, as I waited for my computer to turn on, I dug through the abyss I call my purse to find a pen with which to take notes.   A kind old gentleman approached me and asked if I had lost my pen.  Well, as a matter of fact, I had.  And before I could get up to mooch one from the reference desk, he was on it.  Like a hound in a badass game of Duck Hunt, he was on the task and scampered back in no time at all with a dull golf pencil from the reference desk.  I thanked him, and then thought to myself, "Eh,  this will work."   I left him with a courteous smile and he turned and left me to my work.  

Just a few steps later he made an about-face, and came walking back. Oh God, I thought.  Is he going to want to read over my shoulder or hang out for a while?  "You know,"  he said as he stuck his pointer finger into the air, "if you were looking for a gun, I wouldn't have been able to help you."  And then he turned around and walked away, presumably to mettle in someone else's affairs for the afternoon. 

Was that supposed to make me feel better?  Random, funny, and dark all in one.   All I know is that he was certainly a man I'd return a pencil to after borrowing it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Take a Picture, it Lasts Longer

Have you ever heard of Kevin Connolly?   Until I caught a few minutes of the XGames and the mono skiing event, I hadn't.  I can't even say I knew there was such a thing as mono skiing.  But, once I looked up, I coulnd't break my gaze.  Connolly is not your typical ice-luge XGames skier.  As you'll see from the picture, he was born without legs.

The last few heats of skiers flying down the icy mountain luges hadn't been all that exciting, but this guy was.  Connolly raced against 2 other mono skiers, each with their own physical challenge.  Right off the bat, one guy took a huge spill, hit his head and broke a piece of his equipment.  Then it was just Connolly chasing the guy in first place.   He didn't win, but he did capture my attention.  

His name stayed with me, so I looked him up.  He's a champion skier, a world-traveling college graduate, and a photographer.  The more and more I read about him, I saw that there was a common thread woven into all 23 years of his life.  He has always been stared at.  Being frank, I can understand why.   Americans, and humans in general, just aren't good with deformity, or really anything that makes someone or something different than the accepted norm.  But, in his short 23 years, Connolly has accomplished a lot. As I read the online review of his book Double Take,  one thing caught my attention:

Connolly also shares his memories of an important, defining moment: when he decided to use photography to gaze back at the people who stared at him. “Each photo was a miniature catharsis,” he writes, adding, “Finally, I was able to find my own use for that stare, and it felt good.”

What an awesome way to find purpose through the challenges that life throws at you.  It wasn't a matter of ignoring or overcoming the stares.  Of course some were rooted  in pure human curiosity, and I'm sure some were rooted in ignorance and malice.  But through photography he found the wisdom to channel that energy and make it his own.  Wow.

(Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Julia Never Made Alpo in her Bare Feet

Gold-diggers, children, animals and old people all get distracted by shiny objects. And so do I. Wave that glittering, sparkling aspiration in front of me and I'm instantly distracted. I have to have it. This time the aspiration was a big one. And even was food.

Boeuf Bourguignon is the quinessential comfort food recipe from the first American culinary goddess: Julia Child. Beef Bourguignon is a succulent, warming, indulgent beef stew whose first step in preparation is the rendering of fat from 8 ounces of bacon. Bacon is never on my grocery shopping list, but I decided that if I could simply follow the recipe, I too, could join the ranks of Julia and change our lives with this meal. Surely, we'd think to ourselves, "How did we ever deign to consume anything less than Boeuf Bourguignon?"

I set out to construct the ultimate weekend meal. This is far from a food blog, so bear with me. I started with the Barefoot Contessa recipe for Beef Bourguignon. Ina Garten, a contemporary culinary goddess who hangs in the Hamptons, typically offers excellent recipes that are easy to execute and that live up to your expectations. With my high expectations in tow, I skipped over Kroger and headed straight to Publix, living large with every push of the buggy. Veggies, broth and seasonings made their way to my cart. I think I even looked down my nose at other shoppers; after all, I was about to make Boeuf Bourguignon... what were they going to make? Chicken and rice casserole?

I approached the deli and decided that I could half the fat in the recipe by using 4 ounces of pancetta in lieu of the bacon. I'm a budding food snob, and anything Italian sounds much better to me than pedestrian American bacon. Freshly sliced pancetta in tow, I headed to the meat department. Determined to select the perfect cut, I even consulted a friend I found in the aisles of this exclusive food market. Once again distracted by shiny objects, my eyes went to the cut of beef that was all bright, succulent red. I decided I'd even butcher the three pounds down to cubes myself. Beaming with all the pride of a kept woman who has just spent her allowance, fun money and mad money in one shot, I made my way home eager to put my plan into action.

The cooking process was fairly straightforward. Chopping carrots and onions, searing beef, adding a bottle of red wine, and allowing the entire concoction to simmer in the oven for a few hours. And now the moment of truth...the results looked like Alpo wet dog food. If I had a dog, I'm sure that he would sniff my beef stew, wimper in distaste, turn his nose and saunter away. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a bad cook and my beef bourguignon was not inedible. It just didn't change my life, and I know it didn't change Paul's either. And, by the way, this isn't a blog about trying each and every one of Julia Child's famous recipes anyway.

The lesson learned is simple. If you're distracted by a shiny object, and you've just got to have it, don't settle and don't cut corners to get there. Pancetta is salt-cured, and this move served only to half my fat and double the recipe's salt content. And that lean, bright red cut of beef had no fat and marbling in it to make it tender. But as a health nut, it sure did look like the best cut!

Julia Child had a goal in mind and she followed simple, straightforward steps to get there. She practiced incessantly, and she developed tried-and-true methods for excellence. So, yes, improvisation has its place. But, substituting for something that "might get the job done" will leave you in the dog house...with dog food. I guess wisdom is in knowing the difference.

Currently Drinking: the last glass of wine from the bottle of Pinot Noir that went into my Boeuf Bourguignon

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Victim of the Laws of Physics

Sir Isaac Newton had it easy... of course what goes up must come down. You could say the same of Benjamin Franklin and his shocking discovery of electric currents.  And these cursory mentions of major discoveries wouldn't be complete without Albert Einstein and the theory of relativity.   Sometimes the most fundamental laws of nature are the most obvious ones.  

But, at this point I'm plagued by another law of physics...the law of interia.  Inertia is the notion that objects in motion will tend to stay in motion....and objects at rest will tend to stay at rest.  Unless said object is acted upon by an outside interfering force, the path upon which the object... or person... treads will remain the same.   A friend of ours once suggested the possibility of "Relationship Inertia,"  a type of dating limbo where the no one's boat gets rocked by any sort of current...emotional, physical or intellectual.  The path is set, and without an outside force, will not change or develop.   Do you think she stayed with that guy for very long?  I think she exerted a force of her own on that relationship.

But, to be fair to Inertia, to dwell on its ability to keep objects in a state of rest would be unfair.  You've got to acknowlege its powerful force and ability to grant momentum & progress as well.  I'm working on turning the tables on inertia and making it work in my favor.  A lot of this is having the courage to turn off the TV and go do something instead!  Putting my thoughts on paper, working a confection or baking project, reading, writing a business plan...something to catapult me over this quarter-life crisis where I feel like inertia is getting the best of me.  

So, here's Step One.   I'd like to share with you a weekly memo entry from the Wizard of Ads.  The Wizard is Roy Williams, noted marketing & advertising consultant, author, creative mind, small business coach and modern day philospher.   I have followed him more and more recently.

The Wizard wants you to learn about the power of the elbs.   Elbs are exponential little bits. Its the power of the elbs that's going to help me turn inertia and all of the laws of physics in my favor (ok, so I still trip alot, but grace and poise are another issue).  As The Wizard says...
"When daily progress meets with daily progress, it doesn't add;  it multiplies."
   I think the elbs apply to everything.... nutrition, exercise, work ethic, procrastination, and kindness to others.    So, go click on this brief read about the power of the elbs. 

What little bit are you going to make happen today?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Is the Vacuum Bag Half Empty or Half Full?

James Dyson is a sick, sick man. More cunning than any Columbian drug lord and more opportunistic than the top Starbucks executives. This man doesn't mess around. He's profiting off of those of us with a weakness that transcends addiction to legalized stimulants. He's a bottom-feeder in the retail market. He's going straight for people like me.

Type A Neat Freaks. Those of us who are compulsively clean and who can spot a dust bunny from across the room. Like sharks circling their prey at the first sign of blood in the water, we'll launch into a crusade of dusting and cleaning before tackling the real items on our to-do list. The ones with actual pressing deadlines.

I recently invested in a Dyson vacuum cleaner. I bet you're automatically thinking: Ooooh, the cool one with the ball? No. Not the one with the ball. As far as I'm concerned that ball is no good to me. (Did you know that the Dyson ball is based off of a wheelbarrow he originally invented?) What I'm talking about is the cyclone technology wrapped up into the DC 17 All Floors Model.

The best part of this vacuum is the clear cannister where all of the dustbunnies and grime I've swept up whirl about in dustbunny pergatory. With increasing satisfaction, I continue to sweep and to reach for the furthest crevices of the house until the cannister is full. Then, with the satisfaction of a hunter who has bagged a 12-point buck, and a sinner emerging from a dark [dusty] confessional, I detach the cannister from the vacuum, proceed to the garage, and purge its contents with a satisfying trigger pull. Secretly, I consider this action more of a "jetison" if I'm on the international space station and with the push of a button am sending our dustbunnies away to a black hole...never to be seen again.

Dyson aside, here's the real issue. Its a shame that the Law of Diminishing Returns is only covered in Economics cirricula. It needs to be a part of Home-Ec and maybe even psychology. As I vacuumed this morning, no matter how hard I tried, and no matter how many couch cushions I moved, the Dyson cannister simply wasn't full. The plus side: the house was relatively clean to begin with and is now in a satisfactory state. On the down side...just because the cannister is half full...the dustbunny purge was a little less satisfying. If you're a neat freak, you'll understand.

So, I entreat you, Gentle Reader, to be kind to the neat freak in your life today and clean your crumbs off of the kitchen counter. Or, if you're the thoughful type, you'll nonchalantly brush them onto the floor so that they can be vacuumed up later.

Currently Drinking: Espresso from my stovetop Bialetti espresso pot

Currently Baking: Cornbread to go with Chili for dinner

“The more original your idea, the more resistance you will meet." James Dyson