Thursday, December 21, 2006

Visions of Christmas Past

As was certainly true for most young boys and girls in their single digit years, Christmas for me was a colorful and mysterious event with its own compliment of scents, tastes, sights and experiences to awe and amaze.

From our home in northwest Indiana, we made an annual Christmas journey to Chicago by South Shore, an electric passenger train. Cars painted a dull orange would take us directly to downtown shopping, depositing us right at the doorstep of Marshall Fields. Only after careful consultation with the Sears Christmas catalog were my brother and I ready to make the trip. We understood that Santa brought a great many things our way, but we also knew Mom and Dad supplemented what was in Santa’s sack. So, Ron and I made lists of all the toys we could possibly want and included a few extra knowing that we could not get everything we desired, and knowing it didn’t hurt to hedge our bets a little. Then, at some point, Mom, Dad, Ron and I whisked off to Chicago, ostensibly to see all the store displays but there was more to it than that.

Ron and I were very much dazzled and preoccupied by the animated Christmas displays luring shoppers to store windows. It was like nothing else we had seen before. Electric trains journeyed around magical towns occupied by elves that slowly moved their heads and arms. Mechanical toys that went far beyond our imaginations filled the windows and made us want to revise our Christmas lists with a couple of lengthy addendums. By the end of the day, Ron and I were so tired we hardly took notice of the sacks Mom and Dad carried with them as we boarded the South Shore for the trip back home to Indiana. They had done a little Santa work while we soaked in the lights, the sounds of traffic, the crush of shoppers.

At home, we alternated each year between an artificial tree and live ones we purchased at a grocer in town. But one year Dad took Ron and I to a farm to cut a live one ourselves. I think we ended up going to a farm that belonged to somebody Dad worked with. I can remember snow on the ground, not much, just a dusting but it started to snow again while we were picking out a tree to take home. For someone as tall as a seven year old, the Christmas trees looked big and they were difficult to see around. There was a shuffling among the trees and I looked over to see two horses make their way into the clearing we occupied. They didn’t stay long but it was an impressive sight to a city boy.

We ended up taking home two trees that day. One big one for the living room and a smaller one for the room Ron and I occupied. We were proud of that tree. It was the first time we had one of our own. I can recall drifting off to sleep to the twinkle of Christmas lights and the scent of pine needles.

Suddenly, deep in the night, Ron and I were startled awake by strange noises that seemed to be emanating from our tree. It was a popping sound, the source of which was not clear until morning. Only then did we realize that the tree had been set up too near a heat register. Anytime the house needed to be warmed, pine cones on the tree opened up and seeds sprang forth, ready to produce a sapling. Difficult to do on hardwood floors but the pine persisted, evidently convinced spring had arrived.

I haven’t even begun to tell you about singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to Grandma, or Dad as Santa, or any one of a thousand other wonderful Christmas memories. But this blog entry can only cover so much. I’ll leave the rest for other times because I am certain I will never forget.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Missing the Point

As a young production supervisor, one of the myriad training classes I was required to attend was produced by a company called Kepner-Treghoe. I don't know if they are still in business, but I'll never forget that class: problem solving. We were taught how to separate the symptoms we observed from the actual problem. That way we could attack the real issue instead of stomping out fires that never seemed to go out. The concept was simple and straight-forward. We were given the tools needed to go after real problems armed with real solutions. It all made sense and I actually used some of those techniques throughout my career.

It's relatively easy to miss the problem at hand and go off tilting with windmills like some modern day Don Quixote. We do it all the time. And, granted, much of the time it is very difficult to separate the real problem from the symptoms that annoy us.

But once in a while the problem glares at us so intensely it is difficult to miss, whether we've had any formal training or not. Take, for example, the recent events in Las Vegas. The city council in its collective wisdom decided to pass an ordinance barring the feeding of indignants in city parks. Suddenly, it was a criminal act to feed even one hungry person in a Las Vegas city park. An indignant, as defined by the wording of that ordinance was a "person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive assistance" from the government or under state law.

Interesting, huh? What exactly does that mean? What do people who are "entitled to apply for or receive assistance" look like? Reminds me of an ad I saw once that showed two people standing next to each other. One was dressed in a nice suit, the other had long hair, a tattoo and a full beard. The ad asked us to identify the drug user. Of course, the ad was meant to challenge our pre-conceived notions. The guy in the suit was fingered as the drug abuser.

Maybe the law enforcement officials of Las Vegas should have simply heeded the word their mayor, Oscar Goodman who said, "certain truths are self-evident. You know who's homeless." Well, that cleared things up, right? Talk about pre-conceived prejudices.

Thankfully, just three days before Thanksgiving, a U.S. District Court judge declared the ordinance unconstitutional because it targeted a certain segment of the population.

The point of me telling you all this is to examine the real issue here. Was it feeding the hungry? I don't think so. Las Vegas has long been trying to deal with its homeless population. The problem is not feeding those less fortunate anymore than it is to blame litter in city parks on the same class of people. The problem is that the homeless exist at all.

If we attack anything else, we are only attacking symptoms. And my Kepner-Treghoe training tells me that as long as we go after symptoms, the problem causing them will never go away. I know it is a grand, noble and extremely difficult task to house and employ the homeless. But preventing those who care from providing a meal is not going to make the problem of homeless people in Las Vegas disappear.

I don't have an answer to this problem for Las Vegas or anywhere else. I wish I did. But I will suggest this: if it is too difficult for the Las Vegas city council to identify what really needs fixing, I would be delighted to lend them my dusty old Kepner-Treghoe training manual.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Matter of Trust

Sometimes we do things just because we’ve always done them the same way and because it’s just too difficult to change. But if we take a moment and examine those things from a different vantage point, the folly glares back at us and, suddenly, it’s not so undesirable to change after all.

For example, there are countless hours spent in countless organizations across the globe developing elaborately worded policies just to make sure people dress properly for work. I’ve seen some of those policies. They spell out every detail from skirt height to whether jeans can have holes in them. These policies attempt to define the difference between “blue” jeans and jean-like materials and even the size and shape of pockets. And those are the ones written for professional people with one or more college degrees.

Now, I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have learned a few things about people in my years as a manager. Like how 90% of employees really do want to do a good job and would just like us to define what a good job is, then stay out of their way and let them get it done. The other 10% don’t belong in our organizations anyway and we should be trying to ease them out – quickly! The fallacy in what managers end up doing is spending 90% of their time chasing after the ten percenters and virtually no time with the 90% who will work with little or no supervision at all.

A couple of times in my human resources management career, I was lucky enough to work for companies that were havens for progressive thinkers. They applauded outside the box thinking and trusted me enough to try new approaches to managing people.

It was great when one of those companies nodded when I ditched our eight page dress code policy and replaced it with the following two sentences: “We trust our employees to dress appropriately for the type of work they do considering their contact with customers, employees and investors. We reserve the right to question attire we feel is inappropriate and address concerns with those individuals on a case by case basis.” That was it, except of course for my signature.

It worked so well I used the same memo with the same language at two other places I managed, one of which had spent around thirty hours of time over several months wrestling with dress code language. In all that time over three organizations, we only had one person whose attire we had to question. She agreed, went home, changed and that was that. Amazing things can happen when you trust your employees.

My point is, managers should try to adjust their thinking and shift their energies toward the ninety percent of employees who want to get the job done. Spend time with them, develop their skill levels, coach them, expect good things from them, write policies geared toward them, trust them, recognize and reward them. The other ten percent? Maybe you should try sending them to your competitors.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Old Suit

A year ago today, I said goodbye to my brother. His wife tried to wake him for church that morning, but he had already left, having died in his sleep. Ron was 48.

I have to admit, I didn't know Ron very well. I'm not sure many people did. He had a big heart and a warm personality, he laughed heartily and he never lost that child-like wonder and excitement of his youth. In fact, you should have seen him at Christmas. You could give the guy a Bic pen and he would have reacted with unbounded joy. As long as it was something to unwrap.

But he had opportunities along the way he never seemed to fully seize and a desire to learn he never seemed willing enough to allow himself to nurture. He had good jobs and left them, had money sometimes and spent it quickly.

It would have been easy to describe Ron as lacking ambition or self-confidence, but I don't think so now. I think his was a soul that never felt completely at home in this life. Everyone's heard the old chestnut about not feeling comfortable in one's own skin, and I think Ron exemplified the saying. No matter where he looked or what he tried to do, it was like putting on a poorly tailored suit. The sleeves were always too long or the pants cut too high.

I don't think Ron in any way hastened his own death. But neither do I think he feared dying. He was ready when the time came. And for Ron, that time came sooner than later.

Ron's last days on earth were spent with his son and his grandson - fishing. They were happy times for all of them and I'm glad for that. Ron loved fishing, and he loved his son, and he loved his grandson. Maybe, if only for the last week he was here, Ron felt like the old suit fit him.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


On a break from work one day, one of my co-workers (that I'll call Jim) told us about growing up poor in Arkansas. Jim's family owned a small plot of land where they grew a few crops to sell at local markets. Jim's father worked at odd jobs to supplement the small income his family earned from scratching out a living off the land.

All in all, though, Jim said it was a pretty happy childhood. He and his brothers and sisters played, worked, and the family created strong bonds between them. Although they had little in the way of material posessions, it didn't really matter to Jim and his family and they seemed to want for very little.

That went for Jim's parents as well, hardy people who could make due with whatever little they had on hand to build a storage bin or fix the tractor. The only real wish Jim could remember his mother ever expressing was a desire for running water in the kitchen. The old clapboard house was not plumbed for water but they did have a hand pump about fifty feet away that brought up cool, clear water from a deep well. Still, Jim's mother felt her time could be better utilized by working the fields than by walking to and from the hand pump every time she needed to wash dishes or wash the children.

As you can imagine, money was tough to come by and an extravagance like a water spout in the kitchen was hard to justify. But Jim's dad planned to accomodate her some day and probably wished so hard that he could make her dreams come true on the spot. Jim's mom never made a fuss about the lack of water. She most likely just mentioned it a time or two as anyone would about something they wanted.

Things went along the same for many years. Times, financially, for Jim and his family didn't change much, but they were able to get by.

Arkansas lies in a part of the country where storms can be very strong. Pressure systems can sweep across Texas and Oklahoma, combine with copious amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and produce high winds, large hail and crop drenching rains that can sometimes wipe out fortunes in minutes. Many times, small farms like Jim's have a difficult time recovering.

One such storm entered the area where Jim lived and it spawned a tornado. Luckily, Jim's family had an old root cellar near the house and they were all able to make it inside moments before the tornado swept across their farm. Jim can recall the frightening sound of limbs being sheared and tin hitting trees as the tornado's wickedly high winds tore through, nothing but destructon in its wake.

It's an eerie thing about tornadoes. As quickly as the winds pick up to a deafening roar and destroy in minutes what it took years to build, it is just as quickly that a still calm replaces the storm and the sun smiles again.

Fearing the worst for their small place, Jim's dad cautiously swung open the root cellar's door. Everyone gasped when it became immediately obvious that the house was gone. Where it once stood was only a patch of wet dirt and a a pile of tree limbs. Jim looked at his mom and saw fear in her face, some of the smaller children were sobbing. Jim understood then how much they had lost and wondered how they would go on now. Where would they live? Who would take them in?

As a hundred different emotions coursed through Jim, he looked up to his father still standing on the cellar steps. His father slowly turned back to the family, a widening grin stretching across his face. They looked back at him wondering if the loss had jarred his sense of reality.

"It stands," was all Jim's dad said. He pointed to his right.

Everyone clambored up the steps, surrounding the father as they strained to take a look. Sure enough, the house stood. In tact, except for a few broken windows and a large swath of missing roof shingles. Jim had heard about this kind of behavior from tornadoes. He read about a church organ being found atop the rubble of a leveled town miles away from the church were the organ had once been. The organ was unscratched and still playable. It amazed Jim that his house was now not unlike that church organ.

Once everyone had piled outside the cellar, they could see there was work to be done on the farm, clean-up had to begin soon so they could save what they could and rescue the crops. Jim's dad headed to the house and told everyone to wait outside while he went in to make sure it was safe.

He sooned stepped back into the sunlight, another silly grin across his face. Montioning rapidly with his index finger, Jim's dad said, "Come here, all. You just got to see this."

The floors of the old house looked pretty solid, no worse then they had ever been. The walls were all right, too, although the beds and bureaus were wrecked and clothes were scattered about. But it was the kitchen where the father wanted everyone to assemble.

He hugged his wife, smiled at her and said, "Honey, you got what you wanted." The house had landed square on that old hand pump. Jim's mom now had running water. And in the kitchen to boot. Jim went over and worked the pump a few times. A steady stream of cold, sweet water issued. Soon, everyone was smiling. What was once a terrible misfortune now seemed a little brighter.

Someone, I don't know who, once described God as "the world's greatest comedian playing before an audience who is afraid to laugh." We often seem to blame the worst of events - floods, hurricanes, tornadoes - on God, ascribing them to His will. I think those things happen because it's just the way the world and the universe works. A constant state of flux and change, upheaval, creation, destruction and re-creation. It isn't God who sends those events upon us, but rather it is His love and His laughter that get us through them.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Rose

A small gathering of the Korpella clan took place at my mother's house this Easter weekend. We got the opportunity to visit, we got caught up on each other's lives, and we ate to contentment. Maybe even a little past contentment.

As a result of my daughter's school assignment, our conversation turned to my Grandma Rose, my mother's mother. Grandma died in 1964 when I was still very young, but I have fond memories of the diminutive woman with the hearty laugh that couldn't help but make you laugh, too. I recall her smile to this day, one that was genuine and seemed to never leave her face, even when she was in pain the last days of her life.

One of my warmest memories of Grandma Rose was a Christmas when she was bedridden but still not willing to sit out the season. She loved Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and would gleefully hand over a silver dollar to any of her grandchildren who would sing her the song. I was painfully shy in those days and usually walked around cowboy hat hung low over my eyes, head down and hands in my pockets - about as withdrawn from the world as an eight year old boy could get. I was far too shy to sing in front of anyone, even my own grandmother, so Grandma made a rule change for me. I only needed to say Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to collect my silver dollar. Even then, it took all the courage I could muster to say the words, but I did say them and I did get a silver dollar. I got several of them that Christmas, and I still have every one of them today.

Grandma Rose was also a very brave person. At the tender age of fifteen, when most young children are facing the specter of entering junior high school with all its trappings, Grandma Rose set out alone from her home in Austria to a new beginning in America. She sought and found her sister, who had settled in Ohio, then moved on to Chicago where she met Andrew, an immigrant himself, and the man who would become my grandfather.

I never got a chance to meet him. He died of asthma long before I was born. But he and Grandma Rose had seven children, although two of them died in childhood. With the help of the oldest children, Grandma was able to raise and provide for her family after Grandpa's passing.

Grandma Rose spoke little English, but we always understood her. I think her major purpose in life was to spoil her grandchildren and she was masteful at her art. She loved to watch an old television show called Queen for a Day, although it came out as Queen for To-Day when Grandma said it. I imagine her wishing she could live one day of her life like that, like a queen. But her life was probably a daily struggle of making ends meet, cooking meals, doing laundry and otherwise going about what most would consider a rather routine existance after she made it to the United States.

But routine or not, Grandma Rose knew how to laugh. It was her laughter I liked best about her. Grandma's eyes would tear up and her whole body would shake when she laughed. And everything made her laugh. This was a woman who valued humor in any form, any shape.

History is not likely to recall my Grandma Rose, but I remember. Anyone whose life she touched will remember her in some way. And even those who didn't know Grandma remember someone like her. Someone who left a deep and lasting impression on their lives forever. We're all like that, you know. We touch and impact lives when we don't even realize it. Everyone we have ever met, seen, spoken with or known in our lives is forever different in some way - small or big - because of us, as we are because of them.

So hat's off to you, Grandma, a simple tribute to a wonderful woman who lived on this Earth for a mere sixty-seven years but was able to touch lives well beyond her short stay with us.

Friday, April 07, 2006

New York, New York

Many years ago, when I was a shift supervisor at a manufacturing company, a group of us headed to the local watering hole for an after-the-work-week drink. We were assigned to evening shift, so we got to the bar around twelve-thirty in the morning, which feels just like five-thirty in the afternoon to anyone on nights. And, like the song says, “It’s five o’clock somewhere” so why not partake?

The bar was packed with the typical Friday night crowd and the din of a hundred different but simultaneous conversations flooded the place. It was so loud, my colleagues and I strained to hear our own conversation. The juke box was playing something, but who could hear over all that noise?

Until Frank Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York” hit the airwaves. This all occurred in Connecticut, which is close to New York, and a small enough state to be considered a New York suburb. Whatever the alliance, a few people started to sing along. Then a few more, and then, more still. All conversations ceased and soon the whole bar was singing along to every verse of “New York, New York” including my friends, and even me. We were all especially vigorous on the chorus. Or maybe it just seemed that way because, even if you don’t know the rest of words, anybody can belt out the name of the song.

No matter what our backgrounds, no matter what our cares, our worries, our own individual triumphs or failures, for three minutes and twenty-eight seconds we were simply one very loud voice in that bar that night. Singing along with Old Blue Eyes just as if we were the best of friends.

Once the song ended, the cacophony started in again as if nothing had happened. Now I know that what went on in the bar that night was no different than what occurs in countless other places all across the world on any given night. We start out as individuals, find some common thread to unite us, then promptly forget all about it.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Lawn Care

I once read that a weed is simply a flower whose beauty has not yet been realized. If that's true, then my front yard is the most misunderstood piece of property in the area.

In my zeal for curb appeal, I've tried most every brand of commercial fertilizer and weed inhibitor approved for residential use. I even thought about renting a crop duster once, but that seemed like overkill. I've reseeded, overseeded, watered and nurtured my lawn (lawn being liberally defined here) to try and establish more understood grasses that would stifle the growth of those pesky weeds. Instead, I got more pesky weeds.

After a decade of unsuccessful lawn care, I finally realized I had fought the encroachment of misunderstood flowers for far too long. A couple of years ago, I stopped buying fertilizers and grass seed in favor of a more rustic frame for the front of my house. And the results have been phenomenal.

If I look outside right now, my lawn is a patchwork quilt of purple henbit and yellow dandelions, which is great, really, because it's almost Easter and purple and yellow are seasonal colors. I've got some green mixed in there, too - some of it in the form of real grass - so the whole front yard is like peering into the bottom of a five thousand square foot Easter basket. Not everyone in my neighborhood is lucky enough to have that.

Plus, the money I've diverted from the purchase of lawn care chemicals was invested - in a new set of golf clubs. And the time freed up from playing in my lawn is now better spent playing on fairway lawns and smooth greens.

I've come to believe we should look at our lawns with the childlike wonder we brought into this world. Children know the benefits of a dandelion. They appreciate the beauty of the flower, not the weed. A child will pluck a few and bring them to her mother as a present from nature. Or they'll take great joy in blowing the white dandelion seeds to the winds, thereby propagating the species and ensuring there are many more dandelion delights in the days ahead.

Yep, I take immense pride in knowing I am ahead of my time. I'm taking that childlike wonder of my youth and realizing the beauty of the flowers growing among the sparse grasses of my front yard. What wonder, what contentment, what freedom.

I wonder if my neighbors look at it the same way?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Howard the Hummingbird

Note: I wrote this piece last fall after observing the real Howard in my backyard. Since these little winged critters are due back in less than a month, I thought it fitting to remember.

It’s September now, which means those mercurial winged summer visitors will soon be leaving for warmer climates. September, while marking the beginning of the next season, also marks the end of those aerial acrobatic feats I’ve enjoyed for the past five months. Hummingbirds seem to zip into our lives suddenly in late spring, then leave just as suddenly at the onset of autumn. I’ll miss watching them chase each other in wild dogfights all over my backyard. I’ll miss their loud chatter - louder than seems could be emitted from such tiny creatures. But travel they must, to follow the warmth and I can certainly understand their need for warmth. Maybe even the warmth of going home. It’s easy for me to think that this is their home – my yard, I mean. It’s another thing altogether to think home for them may be across the waters in some South American locale.

As much food as these little birds consume all the while they’re here makes me wonder how they could possibly make it all the way across the Gulf of Mexico on just one stomach of fuel. That’s a long way for something with a 1200 beat per minute heart rate. Just the energy it takes to keep that little pump pounding has got to be a number akin to the size of the national debt. Then again, it may be the adrenaline rush from knowing they are headed home that keeps those wings cutting the air.

But there’s this one guy in particular I worry about. Howard I call him. No, no particular reason why his name is Howard, it just is. First thing I thought of when I saw him. Maybe that means something and should be further analyzed, but I’m not going to do it. At least not in front of you. Anyway, Howard was a new hummingbird arrival this year, and he had put on some ounces over the summer, let me tell you. We always advise our kids that too much sugar will make them fat and I guess it’s the same for hummingbirds. If there is such a thing in the hummingbird world, then old Howard is a real porker.

I watched Howard land on his favorite hummingbird feeder and I swear the thing tipped toward him as he perched there. For certain, he was never in any hurry to leave, resulting in a lack of proper exercise which no doubt added to Howard’s girth. He’d while away the dog days by taking long draws of the red syrup and hanging out for a while just taking in the scenery and enjoying life. None of the other hummingbirds tried to shoo Howard away, either. I guess his size was intimidating to other hummers. Or maybe he had a reputation as a tough bird in hummingbird circles. I don’t know. I just know the guy could hold his weight in simulated nectar and never even let on that he was the least bit inclined to work it off. I also know that when this husky fellow has to vent, look out below! How could such a (relatively) small bird make such a big … well, you know.

The reason I worry about Howard is that, like I alluded to earlier, it’s a long way to South America. And over vast stretches of water with no where to light for a few moments’ rest. If Howard’s not getting any exercise now, how’s he supposed to get in shape for the journey of his life? Doesn’t he care about going home (or on an extended vacation, whichever the case might be)? Really. It would be like you or me preparing for the Boston Marathon by laying in front of our television sets, eating Krispy Kremes and washing them down with non-diet, full strength sodas by the liter!

I wish I could speak hummingbirdese. Maybe I could talk some sense into Howard before it was too late. Better yet, I wish I could come up with some kind of hummingbird treadmill or maybe a fan to offer Howard some wind resistance so he could do a little isometric flying and burn off some of that excess flab he’s carrying around. But I have a feeling Howard wouldn’t listen to me anyway, and he would probably use the treadmill and fan once or twice then put them in the corner to gather dust, or to be used as a sort of hummingbird shelf for storing whatever it is hummingbirds have a notion to collect.

Can hummingbirds get heart attacks? Can you imagine what would happen to something beating 1200 times a minute when the brakes are slammed and it goes to zero in an instant? That can’t be pretty. So what’s up, Howard? Don’t hummingbirds think of things like that? And doesn’t it just kill you to be surrounded by svelte young hummingbird babes and sleek hummingbird dudes? That should be encouragement enough to drop off a few grams at least.

But, Howard doesn’t look like a bird that would take advice from a human. I think he has already made up his mind. Oh, he’ll probably set out on that journey, all right. Instincts alone will make that decision for him. And I’ll bet the rest of Howard’s plan is wait and see. Wait and see if his weight will hamper the flight. Wait and see if he falls too far behind the rest of the hummers and loses his bearings. Wait and see if his chest starts heaving and struggling for every breath. Wait and see. Poor Howard.

I do worry about him. I hope he has a plan, and I hope it all works out just the way he wants. But what I hope more than anything else is that I get to see old Howard again next spring. Until then, Godspeed, Howard. Godspeed.

Friday, March 24, 2006


As most of us learned (or should have learned) in high school biology, over half the human body is made up of water. And, if our geography lessons took, we also found out that over seventy percent of the globe is covered in water. Pretty much all life as we know it depends on water.

A few years ago, a gentleman named Dr. Masaru Emoto decided to subject water samples to different thoughts and feelings through written and spoken words as well as through music. Now I know that sounds a little odd but stay with me in this. Dr. Emoto then froze the water samples, observed them through a powerful microscope and used high-speed photography to capture images of the ice crystals.

What he found was astonishing. The crystals varied in shape and color depending on what the water samples had been subjected to. For example, the photo on the right is of a crystal formed by water that had been drinking up Mozart while the shot below it is a water crystal on heavy metal music.

More interesting still are the two photographs below, the first of which is a crystal formed from water that was labelled "You make me sick." Take a look at how that one compares to the bottom right photo of water that was drowned in a sea of love and gratitude.

Dr. Emoto says that water from clear springs and water exposed to kind expressions generally show "brilliant, complex, colorful, snowflake-like patterns" while polluted water as well as water exposed to negative thoughts form "incomplete, assymetrical" patterns with "dull colors."

Having a difficult time fathoming all this? Read on:

Recently, researchers at Stanford University made a big splash when they discovered that water is not quite what we all thought it was. It had long been assumed that four water molecules got together to form a sort of pyramid structure with a triangular base - a tetrahedron. After examining X-rays of the little rascals, scientists found that concept was all wet. Most water molecules seem to only attract two other water molecules and form strong bonds with them in a ring and chain fashion.

I emphasized most because not all do. William Tiller, a former Stanford scientist says that "water can indeed have its properties and hence its structure changed rather easily." His review of over 100 different studies concluded that water is "a 'zoo' of mixed sizes of molecules." Professor Giulia Galli of the University of California Davis said that "in a tube ... holding 60 to 80 water molecules, interactions with the wall of the tube might change water's structure."

So if water molecules can be so easily persuaded to change structure and interact with other media, maybe the idea that they can react to suggestions, well, holds water. A Los Angeles company, H2Om (yeah, Om - like the mantra) is betting on it. They take bottles of spring water and claim to alter the structure within by labelling it "Love" and "Perfect Health." Nice entreprenurial move there, guys. But who's to say they're skating on thin ice?

I know this: we are all made up of water. Fifty to sixty percent water. Seventy-three percent water if you're a baby. And if Dr. Emoto and the Stanford team are right, what do you think we accomplish if we look in the mirror and say, "man, I look old" or "I'm too fat." Or what if we say something mean to another person? Are we completing some self-fulfilling prophecy for that individual? On the other hand, think of how good it feels when someone tells you they love you and you sense they really mean it. You know the warm feeling that seems to encompass your entire body. Could it be the reaction of millions of water molecules interacting with the words you heard? Makes me wonder.

And by the way, did I tell you I think you're great? No, really. I like you a lot. I'm thankful for you. Why not put on some Mozart, crack open a bottle of spring water and float in a sea of love and gratitude? You deserve it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Floating Feather

Sometimes I feel like Forrest Gump. By the sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time, I've managed to run into or meet some famous people over the years. And, with the exception of two occaisions, I wasn't looking for them - they just sort of showed up ... or I ran into them - literally.

The late governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan, was giving a speech at a conference I attended at Lake of the Ozarks. I had to participate in a phone call to the office and ended up missing most of his speech. Afterward, I was rushing off to another part of the conference, rounded a corner of the building and all but collided with the Governor. He was obviously startled but, probably realizing I was a registered voter, regained his composure, stretched out his hand and offered a friendly if tentative hello. Guess he didn't know I voted for the other guy. I didn't tell him, either.

Once, at an auto show in Chicago, I saw Muhammad Ali and his entourage. It was back when he was still in the ring. They say the camera adds pounds, but not in Ali's case. He was much bigger, much taller and much stronger than he ever appeared to be on television.

Airports are great places to hobnob with the rich and famous. While waiting between flights at varous airports, I've spotted the likes of Joe Namath, Bart Conner and Dr. Christian Barnard. I also ended up seated next to Rep. Roy Blunt - twice.

One of the two times I sought someone famous was at another conference I attended. This one was in Atlanta and Elizabeth Dole was a keynote speaker. After the speech, several people went up on stage to meet her so I joined them. She was nice. Warm, friendly, conversant, looked us square in the eye and greeted us with both her hands extended.

The other time I sought someone famous when when I was twelve. Bobby Kennedy was running for president and was visiting my hometown. My folks took me to the street where his motorcade was slated to pass. I was painfully shy in those days, so it must of taken everyone by surprise when I ran after Kennedy's car hoping to get an autograph. In what seemed like a surreal moment that passed in slow motion, I reached out and Kennedy reached back. I couldn't quite keep up with the vehicle but I remember we made eye contact, his famous hair seemed lighter than it did in photographs and our fingertips touched just before the secret service agent in Bobby's vehicle gently pushed me aside and the motorcade moved on.

I don't travel as much or attend as many conferences as I did during my human resources career, and I have no desire to chase any motorcades. So it's not clear whether I'll run over other governors or spot athletes in airports in the future. But you never know when the wind will blow that white feather in your direction.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Pennies from Heaven

I heard this story some time ago and I wanted to blog it. Problem is it's been a while and I can't recall who originated the story or even if I got all the details right, but it's still a good story:

A couple of people shared walks on occasion, discussing anything that suited them. One of the two made certain to stop anytime he discovered a dropped coin along the path. He would look at the coin a moment, then smile broadly and slip the currency into his pants pocket. Everytime he found a coin, he would repeat the same ritual - stop, pick it up, study the coin for a moment, smile, then slip the coin into his pocket.

After several such stops, curiousity overtook the companion and he had to ask why the apparent joy of finding currency that was sometimes only a penny. The coin collector explained, "Each time I find a coin, it's a reminder that God is thinking about me." Sensing the companion's confusion, the collector turned a coin over and pointed to the words, "In God We Trust." "It's stamped on the back of every coin," the collector said. "Doesn't matter the denomination, I'm in His thoughts."

Ever since I first heard that story, I make a special effort to retrieve any discarded coins I come across. I put them in a jar at home, and the money eventually finds its way to a local church. Both acts make me feel good - getting a chance to pick up the coin, and getting a chance to pass it on.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Old Hardware Store

I like going to Lowes or even Home Depot as much as anyone else who enjoys building projects. But there's just something about that small, family-owned hardware store that harkens to another era. I've been in a few that occupied old brick buildings with creaky wood floors so worn by traffic that you just have to wonder how thick the flooring is anymore. Others are in more modern structures, metal framed and tin roofed for durability. Most all of them have nails sold in bulk instead of in neatly packaged, windowed boxes. And if you just need one or two bolts to finish off a project, they'll usually tell you it's on the house, "just come back when you need something," they'll say.

That friendly service is hard to beat. Shortly after I moved to the town I still live in today, I had to replace a heating element in my hot water heater. I had a replacement element in-hand, having purchased it, then put off the project for no real reason. When the time came that everyone in my house was tired of rinsing in cold water after a nice, lukewarm shower, I set about replacing the element.

Now, if you've ever replaced one of those things, you know that the best tool to use to loosen the old one is, well, a hot water heater element wrench. It's not anything complicated, just a metal tube shaped at one end to receive the element nut and with slots for a cross piece on the other end. The cross piece makes the loosening and tightening process alot easier. So, the thing is, I couldn't find my wrench and had to buy a new one. Problem was, it was 6:30 on a Saturday night.

I called the local hardware store and asked how late they'd be open. Bob, the owner, told me he had actually already closed - at 5:00 pm - and that he was just finishing off some paperwork. He asked me what I needed and I told him. "Just come on down to the store," he said. "I'll look for you and open up. We'll get you squared away."

I was amazed. An hour and a half past closing on a Saturday night when old Bob would probably much rather be going out to dinner with his wife, he waited for me to show up and buy a six dollar tool to fix my hot water heater. Now that's service!

Sure, I still hang out at Lowes from time to time, and I buy a little lumber there. But when it came time to replace the whole hot water heater, I went to get one from Bob. And when I needed to rent a power washer, a twelve foot ladder and a set of floor jacks, Bob got my business. In fact, Bob's gotten a lot of my business over the years. And he's apt to get more. Not a bad trade off for opening up shop to sell a six dollar part. Oh, did I mention? Small town hardware store owners have excellent business savvy.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Ever pondered the concept of forever? I mean, really thought about it. It's difficult to wrap your mind around, isn't it? Everything we know about is finite: we finish a race, we complete projects, our pets die, we die. You can take off in any direction on our planet and eventually get right back where you started. Your journey ends.

But cast your eyes to the heavens on any clear night and realize that you could travel as far as you want and never reach the end of the line. Even trips to stopping points in your galactic adventure would take what we finite creatures consider enternities. If you started at one end of our galaxy - the Milky Way - and you could travel as fast as light, 100,000 years would elapse before you reached the other end. Then it would be on to the next galaxy, Andromeda. Of course, you'd have to allow another 2.9 million years at the speed of light before you got there, so be sure to fuel up and let the kids go to the bathroom first. You could skip along the universe hopping from one galaxy to another without ever reaching the point where you began your journey. Forever. Not finite, not ending. Forever.

To ponder this beyond what you see when you look up, check out the Hubble site when you get a chance. Lots of amazing photos of the world beyond our own. One in particular, of the Tadpole Galaxy, I set as the background on my computer. In that photo, at least a dozen other galaxies are visible. And that's just a very small section of a very large space. We have no idea how many galaxies could be out there. We could not even estimate because the universe expands forever.

Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? Some would probably contemplate the concept of forever and the immensity of the universe thinking it makes them small and insignificant in the scheme of things. But when I take a look at the heavens above I think that, with all the stuff God has to worry about, He still has time for me.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Left Lane / Right Lane

I wonder what makes cell phone users drive in the left lane of a four lane highway. Is the reception that much better eight feet left? And here's some breaking news - you really don't have to drive that slow to maintain reception. Your phone really will continue to pick up cellular signals at or above the posted speed limit.

Today, while waiting at stop lights on my way home, I made a very casual survey of cars going by to see how many drivers were talking on their cell phones. Fully 1/2 of the twenty-two vehicles I observed were piloted by cell phone users. Ten of those were lumbering along in - that's right - the left lane.

I suppose it's more convenient to occupy the "passing" lane than to deal with all the right turns other drivers are making, but if you are paying so little attention to the road ahead, shouldn't you make your calls while stopped? It's just a little scary to come up behind someone driving (I use the term loosely) in the left lane, cell phone in one hand, smoking a cigarette, shifting a manual transmission and attempting to steer the vehicle while travelling between five and fifteen (it varies wildly) miles per hour below the posted limit. All at the same time. Help me out here, but that's using more hands than most of us have been equipped with.

Cell phone users expand your horizons! Don't just be left laners. Use your right lane once in a while, too. The change will do you and the rest of us a lot of good. Who knows? The slight shift in lane occupation could allow you to see life from an entirely different perspective. It could cheer a dour disposition or relieve boredom, maybe it could even fire some brand new synapses for you and reduce your chances of developing dementia later in life.

The point is, you need not feel the urge to identify yourself as simply left laned or right laned. Balance, my friends. Balance is the key.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Unusual Discipline

I was a human resources manager for many years, working for several well known manufacturing companies. In that capacity, I interviewed a lot of people and read countless scores of resumes and applications. By far and away my favorite was the guy who answered why he had left his previous position by stating, "My boss shot me."

Now, in my experience, I had taken some creative and sometimes some drastic measures when employees failed to follow work rules. But I never shot anyone. Nor has any supervisor I ever worked with or ever knew shot an employee. My curiousity got the best of me and I knew we had to interview this guy to get the rest of the story.

Turns out his boss at the previous job was his father-in-law. They were putting down flooring in a client's home when, apparently, an argument ensued between them. Things got hot and the father-in-law grabbed a nail gun and fired at his son-in-law, our interviewee. Got him in the head, which left only a red mark that eventually disappeared but the real damage was already done. How could you ever again trust a boss that shoots you? I couldn't blame this guy for quitting his job, but I just couldn't hire him either. Too hard headed.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Chocolaty Keen

"Chocolaty keen with cream in between." That's how it was billed and when I was a kid, and that was all it took for my mouth to ache with desire for a Lucky Cake. Tip Top bakery was responsible for the confection and my quarters helped fill that company's coffers. The old black and white television commercial featured a childlike figure, with a flute if I recall correctly. But it was a long time ago. I doubt Lucky Cakes are even made anymore. Which is too bad because writing that first sentence puts the taste back in my mouth.

For those unaffected by Lucky Cake fever, the snack/dessert/breakfast food was simply a moist, round chocolate cake cut in half sandwich style and layered with the finest white cream filling imaginable. That was it. No icing, no fancy swirled white frosting across the top - just plain cake and filling that you were lucky to discover and even luckier to consume.

I remember bugging my parents to buy one (or several if I played my cards right) on every grocery trip. And when the day finally arrived that I was old enough to hike the full city block to the corner store to buy one myself, why it was a Kodak moment indeed. The Price's house was the halfway point in my trek and the point at which it felt I had escaped the gravity of my small house on Mulberry Street and had stepped into the "real world." Across the street from the Price house was a duplex, then an open lot that would soon become a construction site, a battlefield, an alien planet and a fierce jungle in the imaginations of my brother and me.

Across the street from that, on the corner of Mulberry and Columbia, was the market - a butcher shop that also sold a few grocery items like milk, bread and snack items. John was my favorite butcher. He was thick chested, tall (or so it seemed from my vantage point at that time) with light colored horn-rimmed glasses and short cropped dark hair. John was cool. His starched white shirt and crisp apron was always neat and clean despite his profession. He treated me like his best customer and later, after I began frequenting his establishment, John would greet me with a slight grin and point to the shelf where the Lucky Cakes were proudly displayed. Yeah, old John knew his customers all right. I'd plunk down my quarter, John would thank me for my patronage and I'd be on my way.

I must have run all the way home because the return trip always seemed much shorter. And when I got there, it was me, an ice cold glass of milk and my Lucky Cake. Man, life didn't get much better than that for a kid.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Old Dog

I wonder what old dogs think about. I wonder what animals of any kind think about. Nearly every day on my way to work I see this old, white dog patroling the edge of the highway. He (or she) lives out in the country on a back road I like to take to avoid traffic. He looks fairly healthy, but his coat has lost its sheen and he could use some care and attention. He ambles along the end of his territory in no particular hurry. Just taking his time as if he's pondering some great scheme to ruin the neighbor's garden patch, or recalling the younger days of chasing rabbits and savoring soup bones. He looks like the kind that would stop to see you if you were to stop to see him. He'd probably walk over ever so slowly, smell your hand, welcome a pat on the head, then be off to complete his rounds.

There's something about the way he looks at me as I pass by in my truck. Those dark brown eyes lock with mine for just a few seconds as I hurry along my own path. He seems neither concerned nor pestered by my presence, and continues his walk just as soon as I leave.

But I see something in those eyes. Rememberance, maybe, of days now gone, of friends he'd known and lost, of fond memories when both he and his owner were younger, more limber, more spry, more agile. There's a longing in those eyes. A longing for times gone by, or for time to just get on with it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Pirate's Life for Me

According to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyworld, a pirate's life is downright inviting. Being drunk and slovenly is all right with pirates and you can even take a nap right there in the mud with the pigs. Plus, when you do awaken from your alcohol induced slumber, it's perfectly acceptable to fire your pistol, get in a fight or even chase wenches all over town. Who wouldn't want to be a pirate?

The movie of the same name adds further evidence that a pirate's life is full of boundless joy and adventure. And what young boy never dreamed of being a pirate one day, sailing the seven seas plundering riches from any who dared cross his path? Pirates have even been known to become baseball players in Pittsburgh and football players in Tampa, and in Oakland, too.

Why then, I wonder, that of all the images the industries could have conjured did the software and music moguls decide that it was bad to be a pirate? How can these educated leaders expect to stop the copying and distribution of their products if they call the perpetrators pirates? The term piracy doesn't villify anything, it romanticizes it. Our entire society romanticizes it for that matter. A carefree life. Easy riches. Man, who wouldn't want to be a pirate?

These days, of course, few of us own schooners that can cut through pitching seas at breakneck speeds of several knots (except for my neighbor, Rex, but that's the topic of another post). But CD burners and the software to power them are readily available. Which means that any of us can become pirates anytime we want, if we so choose. Now, before you think I'm encouraging copying software or music illegally, I'm not. I'm just saying it's pretty tough for anybody to resist getting a chance to fulfill the childhood fantasy of being a pirate when the tools of the trade are right there at their fingertips. Pretty tempting indeed.

You just can't stop somebody from doing something you don't want them to do by calling them a name that makes them grin with delight. No, moguls, go back to the boardroom and try again if you really want to quit chasing after copiers. It only works when you call them something disgusting, or something no one wants to be. In that vein, I suggest Software Saddams or maybe Music Maggots. But pirates? C'mon, who wouldn't want to be a pirate? Now excuse me, I have to go load my pistol, quaff a few ales and teach me parrot to swear. Aaargghh.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Snow, Birds and Crashes

It's been a mild winter again this year, but we did receive our first really measurable snow yesterday - four inches. It was the kind where the main roads are clear but the ground, the trees, rooftops are covered. Throughout the winter but especially during snows, I like to make sure there's plenty of seed out for the birds. I figure they have it pretty tough during cold weather, so I do what I can. This year, a large covey of mourning doves have taken residence in my yard and at times I've counted up to thirty birds. They are accompanied by a lively flock of finches, sparrows and other small fowl whose flittering movements make the doves seem like they're locked into slow motion.

I do have a bit of a problem with some of the smaller birds mistaking the picture window near their feeder as open air space. No one has gotten seriously hurt yet, but it may only be a matter of time. It's as if the birds realize a little too late that the tree they see is only a reflection, then they pull up just before impact, avoiding a fatal collision. Maybe I just need to put up a warning: "Danger. Not a Throughway." Well ... it's a good intention anyhow.