Thursday, December 9, 2010

A wiff of Cranberry and a battered bank account

Found this on "We the Savers Website".  Wish I wrote it, but did not.  What are your thoughts to this article?

The Holidays are a funny thing. It’s the time of the year when my desire to save and my compulsion to spend come to a knock-down, drag-out royal rumble. And when the smoke clears, there’s nothing left but a faint whiff of cranberry and a battered bank account.
Making the merry is pricey. Especially if you want to do things right. That means a real tree. And why not buy the big one? It’s only 20 bucks more. Oh, they sell real wreaths too? Better pick one up for the door. Yeah, you’re right. Both doors. Oh, the lights don’t work anymore. Better buy some new ones. What’s this? Inflatable Santas?!? Riding motorcycles?!? I’ll take two!
And that’s just dressing up the house. That doesn’t include traveling back east to visit family, all of the extra food bought for the various get-togethers, holiday pictures of the kids, and of course, the presents.
Oh, the presents.
When you have a kid, I think a blast email goes out to every toy company in America that says “send your catalogs to this address in a never-ending barrage of consumerism.” It’s pretty ceaseless year-round, but during the holidays, the number of and consistency with which catalogs hit our door climbs to epic proportions. Whole forests are in my recycling bin right now.
And my kids eat it up. My three-year old will quietly sit on the couch, studying a toy catalogue as though she was studying for the Bar Exam. I’ve never seen such grim determination in a little kid as she slowly devours an entire section of Barbie toys with her eyes. Ask her what she wants, and she points in the catalog and says “This, this, this, this, this, this, this, this…” — times infinity.
My wife and I are no better. It’s not that we want a lot of things. It’s that the things we want are really, really expensive. You know it’s bad when the least expensive thing on your wish list is a new iPhone (me) or a KitchenAid mixer (her). Needless to say, I don’t think a laptop or a motorcycle will be under the tree for me this year.
And of course, this year, the holidays are a little wonky. As I mentioned previously, we’re having a third kid. This addition, while welcome, will make our current car and housing situation obsolete. So the house is on the market, and a new car is on the horizon. I talked to my wife about not buying each other anything and the new car being “a Christmas present to each other,” to which she replied, “Okay…but I still want stuff under the tree.”
But if I’m honest with myself, I really want stuff under the tree, too.
So, we’re back to square one. Happy faces, and our bank account takes a flying elbow from the top rope to the face. We’ll do what we can, not using our credit cards (or paying them off immediately), not dipping into emergency funds, trying our damndest to stick to a budget (ha!), but the sad simple truth is that to get full of Holiday Spirit in November and December, you’d better be prepared to live off of Debt Ramen Noodles in January and February.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Confessions of a bartender, part II

It's Christmas party season at the golf course.  Corporations, small businesses, and large families take advantage of the holiday decorated banquet room to hold celebrations, enjoy good company as well as fine dining and drinks.  The festive atmosphere is contagious, even the bartenders get into the holiday spirit.

For the past several years the Lenzen Chevrolet auto dealership out of Chaska has held their annual Christmas party at the Ridges at Sand Creek golf course in Jordan.  This Christmas party, in particular, has become one of my favorite events to bartend.  It has become so, because of one man.

John Lenzen. 

To describe John I have to tell the story of my first experience bartending the Lenzen Christmas party.  The party traditionally takes place the first Saturday in December.  When I enter the banquet room I notice outdoor inflatable decorations dotted around the hall, Christmas trees, a table full of sporting event tickets, TV's and other prizes.  Then at each table setting there is a bag of gourmet coffee.  All these are gifts for the Lenzen employees.

At 6 o'clock the employees start to filter in and order a few drinks (which are paid for by their employer).  Mr. Lenzen comes up to the bar and orders a 5-Star Brandy and water - tall.  I pour the drink, set it in front of him and I receive a hearty thank you and a $20 bill in the tip jar.  This is a very unusual surprise, as most of the people so far have tipped very little.

"This guy is pretty generous." I reply to Scott, my colleague bartender. 

"Yeah, he ordered a drink earlier and did the same thing," says Scott.

As the employees are mingling with Christmas music in the background the chefs start to bring out a Christmas feast.  Ceasar salad, pasta salad, baked potatoes, scalloped cheesy potatoes, wild rice, green beans, seasoned chicken, barbeque ribs, and prime rib.  Never has any event, in the history of the golf course resulted in such a large spread of delicious, mouth watering food.  Oh did I mention there were appetizers beforehand and dessert after?   There was.  This cuisine doesn't come cheap.

Then, at the end of the night John surprised all of us again.  He tipped each golf course employee $50.  Not just the bartenders, but the chefs, the dishwasher, the manager, and the teenage bus staff each received a $50 bill.

Have you ever heard the phrase, "Live like no one else, so you can give like no one else?"  John Lenzen personifies that phrase.  He gives like no one else.  I can't help but want to be able to give like he does.  

I think we have it backwards here.  We think of the rich as cheap, lying, arrogant bastards that have screwed the little guy on their way to the top.  Yes, there are rich people who are like that, but I choose to believe those are in the minority.  I think you would find most millionaires are like John Lenzen.  They are hardworking, honest, and treat people with respect. 

I also like to think that God blesses those who spend their money wisely.  He blesses those who know that the money isn't theirs, but HIS.  They tithe 10%, they don't buy things they don't need.  When they give and you are the recipient, you are blown away.

This December I did not work the Lenzen Christmas party, but I did work in the building on the same night.  John came up to the bar, and tipped me $40.  I told him he was the most generous guy I have ever met.  He said that in his 33 years of owning a car dealership, he has only been in the red one month.  One month.  John went on to say, "I treat the customer right, I expect a lot from my employees, and I give back to the community.  I've been blessed.  Some people, they take from the community, those people don't last long."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to put yourself in a good mood

The following is a portion of Dr. Zimmerman's latest "Tuesday Tip".  To subscribe to his free weekly tips, sign up here 

This story helped me start off my day right, I hope it does the same for you. 

Bill Lee is one of my role models when it comes to serving others. Bill says, "Based on my experience ... the best and least expensive cure for depression is to be proactive about doing something for someone who is worse off than you are." And Bill knows what he's talking about.

But let me tell who Bill Lee is. He's one of eight members of an elite group known as "Master Speakers International," eight professional speakers who are tops in their field and a household name to millions. I've had the privilege of being one of those eight members for the last twelve years, and those seven other people have blessed my life and my career in ways I never could have imagined.

Bill taught me that one of the best ways to stop complaining is to start serving others. Eleven years ago, Bill was introduced to mission work at an orphanage in Mexico. Since then, in addition to his full-time speaking and consulting business, Bill has made 50 trips to Mexico to work with the orphaned and abandoned children of Casa Hogar La Familia ... all at his own expense.

As Bill puts it, "I can't possibly say enough about the personal benefits of giving service to others. I have learned so much about happiness from a group of 30 children who have no material things whatsoever." No toys. No electronics. No brand-name clothing. In fact, each child has a cubby hole in their dorm room that is 15 inches wide and 36 inches high that contains 100% of everything they own.

"And I tell you this," Bill continues, "these same children are enormously happy. They almost never fight ... cry ... or complain. I never return from a mission trip that I am not amazed ... compared to other nations in the world ... how rich we are in this country ... and how much time we spend complaining that we don't have even MORE."

Because most of these children have been abandoned by their parents ... virtually all of them have good reasons to be bitter and selfish. Yet they're not. They are amazingly generous in their service to others.

Take Arturo, for example. Bill has seen him grow from age 5 to his present age of 16. Arturo is the second oldest of four children ... all of whom have lived at La Familia virtually all of their lives. And like the other children, Arturo has no personal possessions.

During one of the mission trips Bill led to La Familia, one of his team mates gave Arturo a straw hat he had purchased to wear while in Mexico. On the last day of our mission trip, they bought a large cake and had a big birthday party for all of the children who were celebrating birthdays during that particular month. One of the birthday boys was named Cesar.

During the celebration, Arturo came running over to the man who had given him the hat and was rattling off a mile a minute in Spanish. The man didn't speak any Spanish, so he asked Bill what Arturo was saying. Bill told him that Arturo wanted permission to give his hat to Cesar as a birthday present.

You have to understand ... Arturo loved that hat. He wore it every minute of the day. He even slept in the hat. After all, that straw hat represented 100% of everything Arturo owned in this world, yet he wanted to give it to Cesar as a gift.

As Bill finished his commentary, he said, "Living a life that includes being of service to others ... is always more beneficial to the giver ... than it is to the recipient." You learn to practice an attitude of gratitude when you're serving others and you just naturally stop the complaining habit.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The problem with the Lions, Rotary, and Service Groups

I just don't get it.  People who participate in service groups like the Jaycees, the Lions and Rotary not only volunteer their time to make a difference in their community and the world, but they actually PAY to be a part of these organizations.  This is crazy!

Sure it feels good to help others, but I hear the yearly dues can reach up to $100?  I don't understand.  $100 bucks to volunteer?!  What is wrong with these people?  Seriously!  Don't they realize we're in a recession? 

Ok, I admit it.  I belong to a service group.  I'm a Rotarian, and up until three months ago, I was also a (gasp!) Lion.  For a couple of years I was in two service groups at the same time.  I'm a crazy person.  I pay to volunteer.  And I tell you what, it is worth every penny.

To me the best part of being a Rotarian and Lion are the people.  There's nothing quite like a room of dedicated people willing to make a difference.  These are giving people.  These are people with big hearts, and these are people who know how to have fun.  One of the biggest "selling points" a Lion made to me in jest was, "Join the Lions, we're a bunch of dudes who like to give away a bunch of money and drink beer."  Say no more!  When's the next meeting?

A unique feature of the Rotary Club in Le Sueur is the shenanigans of two very distinguished fine masters.  Bob and Bruce.  A pair of jokesters.  When I first joined Rotary, I wasn't sure what a fine master was.  Until I was fined.  They fined me $1 for my name badge.  Then I was fined for wearing a jacket!  I am very careful with my money, and I hate to lose it, so I didn't like being fined.  Was I gonna be out a $1 or more at each of these meetings?  Then a weird thing happened, I actually looked forward to getting fined and donating $1 to the cause.   It's hard to explain, but a fine is kinda like a "welcome to the group, we're glad you're here" type of gesture. 

Most service clubs meet once a month.  Some meet once a week for breakfast or lunch.  All do great things for the community.  I've enjoyed my time volunteering at Fish Fry's, Pancake breakfasts, and even selling tickets for various fundraisers, the money raised always makes the community stronger.  But for me the best part of being a Lion or a Rotarian are the good people in it.  No matter how crazy they appear on the outside, it's always good to be in the company of those who help others.  

I encourage you to check out a meeting and find out more about the service groups in your community.   Tell them Nate told you to drop on by.   


Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Have you ever said something negative about someone, only to discover that person was in earshot from you?  I confess, this has happened to me more than I care to admit. 

While watching a high school baseball game I made some critical comments about one individual athlete on the home team.  I spoke about the lack of talent and intelligence in this young lad (putting it nicely).  A few moments later, I noticed the player's mother was one row in front of me.  Open mouth, insert foot.

Last week, I said some unflattering things about a parent, only to realize the parent's son was right next to me.  Then it dawned on me.  Just about every time I open my big mouth to cut another person down, it bites me in the rear.  I don't necessarily think the negative outcomes are a coincidence. 

On the flip-side, it seems to me, that treating others well can have some unintended positive consequences.  

During my college years I shared some education classes with a girl named Kathy.  Kathy was a fun-loving gal with a good heart.  During the course of a semester I got to know Kathy better and became friends with her.  Turns out Kathy grew up just 25 minutes from my hometown of Jordan.  She lived in Le Sueur, the land of the Jolly Green Giant.

After college, Kathy and I lost contact and went our separate ways.

Seven years pass after college, and a posting for a community education director opens.  In Le Sueur.  Kathy's hometown.  Before this opening I had been applying for community education director positions at many school districts in the Twin Cities metro area, only to receive numerous rejection letters.  For the better part of 11 years, I had been putting all my efforts into becoming a community ed. director.

For whatever reason, the job in Le Sueur felt promising.  So I sent in my cover letter and resume.  Weeks pass after the application deadline, and I don't hear anything.  Not a good omen.  Then on a Friday morning, I received a call from the Le Sueur-Henderson school district superintendent asking for an interview the next week. 

In between rehearsing answers to possible interview questions, and researching the school district, our family decided to go to chutes and ladders in Bloomington.  Funny thing happened there.  I ran into Kathy, the only person I've ever met from Le Sueur.  "I think this is a sign," my wife mentions to me.

It gets better.

Naturally Kathy and I discuss what we've been doing the past seven years, and I bring up that I have an interview at the school in Le Sueur.  Then Kathy says, "Did you know my dad works for the school as the district accountant?"

Are you serious!  What are the chances of running into Kathy, and her dad works for the district I am applying to, and has strong connections with the man who will be hiring me!?  Unbelievable!

When we returned home that afternoon, we found it humorous to see the legion baseball team just happened to be playing Le Sueur.

A day after the interview, I was offered the job.  Coincidence?  I'm not sure.  I like to think God had something to do about it.  Did Kathy's dad put in a good word for me?  I don't know.  However, I do know that if I was a jerk to Kathy, her father would have raised some red flags about me, and I wouldn't have been hired.  

Talk about a reason to treat people with love and respect.  You never know if the relationships you have with others, or the way you talk about others, will open or close doors for you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Confessions of a wedding bartender, part I

As a bartender for wedding receptions, you think you've seen it all.  Then somehow, each week the wedding guests always surprise you.  Let me tell ya, I could write a book.   Wedding receptions typically start out the same.   First on the scene is almost always the cute elderly folk, slowly strolling in with their walkers and canes.  But from there, its anyone's guess on what the night has in store.   From the mundane, "lets go to bed early" wedding to the, "we are going to party like this is our last night on this earth" wedding - you just don't know what is going to happen.

Today's wedding tale occurred a few weeks ago at the number one rated public golf course in the state and my wedding employer, Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan.  

Walking into the wedding hall with my tuxedo shirt and bow tie, I hear a female co-worker announce that Tommy Kramer, former NFL Vikings Quarterback, was out on the course golfing.  Not only was he golfing, she exclaimed, but she had kissed him.  On the lips!  Whoa ho!  The 40 year old married woman was beaming.  Well that's kinda cool I thought.  It's not too often that anyone of any notoriety comes to Jordan.

After setting up the bar, my bartender friends settle into our cramped but cozy spot behind the bar and start dishing out mixed drinks and tap beer.  

Later dinner is served and the teenage bus boys and girls frantically work the tables to fill water glasses, and clear dishes.  A couple hours pass by, and this wedding is turning into your standard wedding reception.  I mention to my bartender friends, that the last month of weddings has yet to produce many water cooler stories.

Enter Tommy Kramer

"I think we have our story." I said to my co-workers as I nodded towards Two-Minute Tommy.

Those Minnesotans who are old enough to remember Two-Minute Tommy, remember that he liked to have his share of adult beverages.  Today was no exception.  Tommy was drunk as a skunk and he was crashing this small town wedding. 

And the wedding guests were loving it!  "Look - it's Tommy Kramer!"  "Hey, Let's get our picture taken with Tommy Kramer!"  Tommy was shooting the breeze with everyone and posing for pictures.

It wasn't long before Tommy came to the bar and ordered a drink.  We asked him what he was doing here in Jordan.  He replied that he lives in Texas, but hates to sweat when he golfs so he comes to Minnesota to golf.

Then out of the blue the M.O.B (mother of the bride) yells, "EEECKKK!!! Tommy Kramer!  Tommy Kramer!  You have to dance with my daughter!"  She proceeds to grab him by the hand and run him to the dance floor where the bride and her new husband are dancing alone on the dance floor.  The newlyweds are gazing lovingly into each other eyes when mom and Tommy burst onto the floor and cut into their dance.  The bride had a confused look in her eyes that screamed, "Who is this guy?  What is going on?" While the husband just stood there with a blank look on his face..

Mom watched with a big smile while others went up to take Tommy and the new bride's picture while the two of them awkwardly danced.   I'm positive the bride had no idea who Tommy Kramer was, but just went with the flow anyway.

The wedding guests loved him.

Why?  I think its because we admire people who have done the extraordinary.  Playing for the Vikings is extraordinary.   What I don't get is, why does Tommy Kramer, choose to waste the opportunity with his notoriety?  His legacy, unless he changes, will be a life of drunkeness.   It's been 20 years since Tommy has played football.  2 decades wasted in more ways than one.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

To the Jordan High School class of 1995

Last Saturday, 20 members from the class of 1995 met to reminisce and reconnect.  It has been 15 years since we roamed the halls of Jordan high school.  With this reunion, we've now spent more time since graduation away from each other than our years spent together in school.

That blows my mind - how can we be that old where our time out of school has surpassed our time together!?!

15 years have come and gone, but I remember something funny that happened to our class.  I mean something really unusual.  Something that defies belief in today's society....  We all got along.  Don't get me wrong, our cohesiveness definitely wasn't the case in junior high and even during our junior year.  We had our cliques, our differences.   I bet each one of us, if we are being honest, could say we treated others poorly and were ourselves victims of being treated badly. But senior year we realized that this was it, after graduation we wouldn't see each other every day.  We'd maybe see each other every five years.  By the time we went on our senior trip to Wisconsin Dells we all realized the end of school was here and we were going to make the most of it.  We enjoyed our remaining days together.

I don't remember who gave our commencement speech, or even what the speech was about.  Maybe all of you have forgotten the commencement speech too.  Since I forgot that message, and since I've always wanted to give a commencement speech, I'd like to write to you as if the date is June 1995, and I am still a young kid, head full of hair and ambition, looking to make his mark on the world.

Congratulations to the class of 1995,
We are a unique and successful group.  Never before has a Jordan high school class been so successful.  We experienced state tournament appearances, conferences championships, not just in one sport in one season, but multiple sports in EACH fall, winter, and spring season.  Unprecedented.  But you know what I noticed. We did it all without superstar athletes.  Not one person from our class will go on to play at a division I college.  Because we worked harder than anyone else, we accomplished more.  You have proved that work ethic and team work is more valuable than talent.

Think back to 1st grade.  You were innocent, young, and knew what you were good at.  When you were in elementary school you listened to the voice in your head telling you were good at something.   It might have been doing art, music, fixing things, storytelling, or sports.  Whatever it was, it got you out of bed in the morning.   But somewhere down the line, something changed.  By the time we reached junior high we began to lose that first grade innocence and stopped listening to what we were made to do.   By junior high, the world, our teachers, and sometimes our parents told us it was more important to go after "safe" jobs that will pay the bills and support a family.   You started listening to others, rather than yourself. 

Start listening to that voice again.  When you're 35 years old don't stop listening.  Recall your passions and figure out a way to bring it back into your life.   Am I telling you to quit your job and try out for the Twins?  No.  That's not realistic.  But maybe at night, you turn off the TV, and tune into your strengths.   I'm NOT talking about the stuff you're good at.  I'm talking about the stuff that makes you lose track of time, the activities that make you come alive and make you feel strong.  Those are your strengths!  Rediscover your passion and figure out how to incorporate it into your job, or how you can do it on a small scale on the side on weekends.  

At the very least, teach your children to follow their dreams.  Instead of focusing on the F on the report card, have them focus on subjects they get an A in, subjects that they enjoy and have the capacity excel in.  Their growth will be in areas they are good in, if they focus all their energy on their weakness, life becomes boring, and the improvements minimal. 

More importantly, our time on this spinning rock is short.  Before you know it, we'll be celebrating double digit class reunions.  In that time frame, some of you will experience love on an incredible new level when your children are born.  Some of you will feel the pain of losing a loved one.  Unlike our senior year, we won't know when our time together will end.  But you must, just like the end of our senior year, make the most of your relationships with others.   

Don't wait until its too late.  Do it now.  Don't let high school or college be the best years of your life.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Yelling vs. The Blues

Ever heard the phrase, "If you're not mad you're not paying attention."?  I think I would like to change it to, "If you're not inspired, then you're not paying attention."  Today I was inspired by a pretty talented cross country coach. 

With two weeks to go before the end of the cross country season, and with the workouts increasing in difficulty it is not unusual for some of the cross country athletes to start coming up with excuses to miss the tough workouts. 

Coaches don't like it when players miss practice in any sport.  Period.  So when the Le Sueur Giants cross country team started missing some athletes last week, the head coach noticed.  He mentioned to me that he had a plan to "rile up the team" come Monday's workout.  He didn't tell me his plan.

Flashback to 1992:
I'm a high school freshman on the junior varsity basketball team.  The coach, Brian Wierke.  The man knew basketball, and was a recent college graduate from Bemidji State University.  While there he was a four year college basketball letter winner and was captain of the team.  I immediately liked him.  He taught me more about basketball than any of my other coaches.  He was a yeller, and when we didn't play well - he let us know about it.   We were horrible, so he yelled a lot.  He once said that if he stopped yelling, that was a sign that he stopped caring.  That stuck with me.

Fast forward 18 years to Monday's workout:
When the cross country coach told me he was going to "rile up the team" I wasn't sure what he was going to say, I was expecting the inevitable.  Fireworks.  He was going to let them have it.  I knew that for sure.  He cares for the kids on the team as if they are his own sons and daughters, and like coach Wierke said, if the coach stops yelling, he stops caring.

It's now 3:15.  While the cross country team is warming up, the coach solemnly sits on the bench.  He doesn't say a word.  He pays no attention to the team.  When the team is finished warming up he calls them over and has them take a seat on the ground.

A few moments of silence pass... and visions of a Hitler like rampage are running through my head.  (For an example go here ).  

Then he spoke, "This time of year, in any sport, kids start to lose interest.  Last week there were a lot less runners on Thursday than there was on Monday, and for Saturdays workout only a couple of you showed up.  I sometimes forget that not everyone has the same passion for running that I do."

He paused.  Turned his hat backwards, put on sunglasses, and from his backpack he took out...
a harmonica.  And started to sing:  "The cross country blues!"  A humorous song that brought smiles to all the kids faces and encouraged them to run strong and to run for each other - the cornerstones of the cross country team.  He also sang of how fast the season flies by, and to appreciate each day together.  He had spent the whole weekend writing the music and lyrics.   It was awesome!

Now you tell me which method is more powerful, yelling or "The Blues"?  Today I learned a valuable lesson, that you can accomplish more by building up students, then by yelling. 

Thanks Coach!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Factory society

Typical formula for success in America:

1) Listen to what your teachers say - follow instructions
2) Get good grades, graduate from high school
3) Go to college - listen to your professors
4) Declare a major that will determine your career path
5) Take out major school loans to pay for college
6) Graduate from college with major debt
7) Get a job, marry a trophy wife, buy a house, a new car, and have children.
8) Work hard for somebody else so that you can pay your bills.  Repeat day after day.

Do you know anyone who has followed these 8 steps?  If you know me, then you do.  Am I leading a successful life?  I'm not sure. (Although I Totally lucked out on #7)

I kinda feel like a product out of a factory.  A factory who's product is starting to become obsolete.  Hidden somewhere, deep down I hear a voice calling for me to do more.  It's a tiny voice.   Questions arise:

Should I listen the voice or stay on the same path?
What exactly am I being called to do?
Am I happy with the way things are going?
What if I change... and the change is awesome?
What if I try something different and fail? 
Could I recover?
What if I do nothing?

Am I alone, or do you too have an inner yearning, a belief that you are called to do more.  Have you acted on those gut feelings?  Is the voice getting louder?

I think the trick is to listen to that voice... and then start small.  Baby steps.  Gradually grow until you know its possible - then you go for mastery.  But the important thing is action.  If you fail, you learn.  If you learn, you can do it better next time.

Anyone want to join me?  I have a feeling this factory system won't cut it much longer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The problem with blogs

Is it me, or is there some sort of negative vibe that comes with writing a blog?  I kinda sense it.  Is this why more people don't write a blog?  That's too bad, because I tell you what, we all have survival stories and uplifting news that many people would benefit from and want to hear about.

Here is a few stories that some of you could provide that would generate interest:
The story about how you met your D. A. (Domestic Associate) aka your spouse.
The story of what got you through a tough loss of either a friend or family member.
The lessons learned from your terrible or great boss.
The many stories of what it's like to be a stay at home mom.
If you are in a job you love, what steps did you take to get that job?
In order to succeed in anything we all have sacrificed something - What price did you have to pay and how did you do it?

Maybe why more people don't write a blog is because we create excuses like:

"I'm not good enough"
"People will laugh at me"
"I'm too busy"
"I don't write well"
"People don't care about me"
"My mother didn't breast feed me as a child"

We come up with so many excuses that we become paralyzed.  Then we don't do the work.  Don't listen to the excuses in your brain!  I have news for you people - you have stories that should be shared, you have the ability to do great work and the simple act of deciding to write about it, will separate you from others and may even lead to new opportunities for you.  If anything else - blogging is a neat way to connect with others.

Have a blog you want to share?  List it in the comments section - I promise to read it and share with others if you like.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Refrigerator Rights

Open up that icebox and find yourself surprised to find all the necessary ingredients for the perfect sandwich.  Thick slices of meat from the butcher, garden fresh tomato, cheese, lettuce, mayo, and right in the middle, my personal favorite, one egg over easy with the yolk all smothered everywhere between two pieces of sturdy Texas toast.  Get your sandwich on long, get your sandwich on strong!

You're in sandwich heaven, baby.

The question is, when a friend comes over, do they have refrigerator rights in your house?  Is your relationship close enough that they can come into your house - prop open that fridge door and help themselves to your sandwich fixins?  How about your kid's friends?

What if you only have one cup of chocolate Jello Pudding left!?  Do you still give your friend refrigerator rights?

We were not meant to be alone, we all need someone to love and for someone to love us back.  I am not an outgoing person, and have only a few close friends.  But I wish I had more close friends.  Friends that can come over any time and feel comfortable enough to help themselves to whatever I have.  There is one friend in particular that has invited me to their house several times- I've been there once.  I need to change that.  Maybe someday I'll have refrigerator rights there (not for the food, but for the friendship). Yes we're busy.  But hey, all you need is love and a good sandwich!

Can you do me a favor?  Send a friend or two a link to my blog and tell them they have refrigerator rights in your house.   Thanks!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Law of attraction

I read a facebook status update today from an old high school friend and it reminded me about a funny, although thought provoking routine from best selling author and speaker Andy Andrews:

Do you have someone in your life, either at work or in your family that you never dare ask the question, "So how are you doing?" Because you know, the answer will take 10 minutes and go something like,  "Well, you wouldn't believe it, it's just one thing after another, I mean after last year, and this year it's been no different - It seems like every time things start to turn around, a big semi-load back ups and dumps their crap all over us again.  I don't know what it is, but our lives keep getting worse and worse."  

Do you know someone like that?

How do you respond to that?  "Great!  Let's spend the weekend together!"  No, if you're like me you say, "Well, we'll be thinking about you.  See you later!"

You know what I think about these people - the whiny, groaning, complaining people who think their lives are getting worse and worse?  Their lives really ARE getting worse and worse.  My high school facebook friend, all they ever write for their facebook status... is how bad their life stinks. 

And here's one reason why things keep getting worse for them.

Nobody wants to be around them.  We get our information and our opportunities from the people around us - and if nobody wants to be around us, guess what?  Yup, you guessed it.  Less opportunities and less useful information.

Subconsciously, when I coached basketball I was drawn to the athletes that wanted to get better, that hustled and had a good attitude.  I find that to be true today as I run with the high school cross country team - the kids that pay attention and have that drive to improve seem to draw the coaches in. 

In 1996, I remember the press conference that was held to announce Kirby Puckett's retirement, at that time Kirby Puckett was Minnesota's favorite athlete.  Tom Kelly recalled how lucky he was to have the hardest working athlete on his Twins team also be the most talented.   He was Tom Kelly's favorite.  Kirby wasn't perfect, but there is no doubt in my mind that his character and charisma helped advance his career.

Just like in sports, the people that go after big goals in life seem to attract people.  They draw us in, and what makes this even more interesting, I believe we are drawn to people who have overcome obstacles to obtain their goals.  Because haven't we all had setbacks?  They give us hope that we ourselves can accomplish the goals that are sometimes buried deep within us.

Dig up those goals deep inside, you never know who you'll attract in your life.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Story of Billy Miske

The following is a true story about a Minnesota boxer in the early 1900's. It shows the power of your mind.

In the ring Billy Miske had the skill and heart to beat any opponent, but outside the ring, he couldn't defeat the disease that was eating away at his body. His illness should have caused him to retire, instead he choose to sacrifice his health for the benefit of his family.

William Arthur "Billy" Miske was an American boxer of German descent who competed successfully as a light-heavyweight and heavyweight, defeating many well-known fighters such as Tommy Gibbons and Harry Greb. But unknown to both his competitors and his family, he was harboring a troubling secret. In the spring of 1918, Billy's doctor had diagnosed him with a debilitating kidney ailment called Bright's disease. Given only five years to live and the advice to immediately retire, Billy decided to keep his illness a secret and continue his boxing career.

In addition to his health Billy took the advice of friends and started his own car distributorship business. Thinking the business would help support his family after his death. However, the automobile business was something that he had no experience or knowledge of. This business cost Billy almost $100,000 dollars in debt, so despite his doctor's wishes he continued to take on boxing opponents in order to pay off his debt and provide for his family. He did the one thing he was good at.

Boasting an impressive record, that included only one knockout at the hands on none other than Jack Dempsey, Billy climbed into the ring 30 times after being told of his “death sentence”. After each bought, Billy’s health declined. But fights were few and far between with his purse winnings going directly to paying of his large debts. In January of 1923, after knocking Harry Foley out in one round, his health began to deteriorate even more. Forced to stay home and rest through the spring, summer, and fall, Billy's concern for his family's security continued to grow. As he strolled through the streets during the first snowfall of the year, all Billy could do was think of how little he was able to provide for his wife and children and how bleak their upcoming Christmas would be.

Feeling worse every day, Billy went directly to his manager, Jack Reddy, and begged him for a fight. He pleaded with Jack to ignore his sickly appearance and get him one more bout before Christmas, so he could give his family the Christmas they deserve. A concerned Reddy fretted for his friend's life, but knew what he had to do and managed to set up a fight with an impressive and a physically bigger boxer named Bill Brennan. Billy was so weak that he couldn’t train for the fight and barely got out of his rocking chair until the day of the fight. But when fight night finally arrived, for those 12 minutes Billy was no longer a dying man. With thoughts of his family in his head, Billy fought Brennan valiantly, winning the fight with a knockout in the fourth round. As Billy Miske's arm was raised in the victor's salute he smiled at the crowd for the last time. Winning the fight enabled Billy to walk away to with substantial money.

He took the money back to his family in St. Paul, Minnesota paid off his remaining debt and bought furniture to fill the rooms in his house that had been empty for so long. He bought a piano for his wife Marie and toys for the children, and even had enough money left over for Marie to put aside for the future. Billy and his family had a joyous Christmas, by far the best ever for the Miske clan. But despite the wonderful Christmas festivities, Billy began to feel extremely sick and retired to his bedroom. Waking up the day after, Billy was in agony and called Jack, his manager and friend, to come and take him to the hospital. Billy was rushed to the doctor and forced to finally come clean with his wife about his secret illness. Six days later, on the morning of the New Year, Billy Miske passed away.

In June 2010, Billy Miske was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame

Story from

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Where you're at is not as important as....

Two statements really struck me today.
1) Where you're at is not nearly as important as where you're headed, and
2) Your attitude toward your problem is the most important factor in overcoming
your problem.

My wife and I have been married for eight years and have had a happy marriage for about
seven of those eight years. Three years ago September was the beginning of our most difficult year of marriage. We purchased a small business. Awakenings Coffee Shop. The price was low and the thought of being our own boss was calling. Buying a coffee shop was all my wife Autumn could think about. I was, to put it nicely, hesitant. 

Autumn and I purchased the coffee shop for under $12,000 and took out a line of credit for start-up cash.  We opened the business in September.   Two months later Autumn's step-dad and only father figure died of cancer.  By December the coffee had lost so much money that our start-up cash was gone.  The coffee shop went from being a fun idea to a huge strain.  Fear was everywhere.  Anxiety filled Autumn.  She couldn't eat and was constantly sick to her stomach.  I felt so much resentment towards my wife in causing this huge burden that I abandoned her.  Not physically, but mentally.  I blamed her for everything.  She walked alone when she needed a husband the most. 

That summer gas hit $4/gallon, and the great recession was starting, spelling more bad news for a struggling coffee shop.  By the fall we were looking to sell the coffee shop and fortunately were able to find a buyer by December. 

The selling of the coffee shop did not end our troubles.  The sale did not bring enough money to settle our debts.  Autumn and I would lick our wounds, and spend the next year healing our marriage and our finances.   

Which brings me to the point of today's post - where you're at is not as important as where you're headed.  The coffee shop, in a way has been a huge blessing for us.  Yes it was a dark hole in our career, marriage, and family - but through the struggle - I realized the importance of standing together as one with your spouse, and how and when to support her.   I love her more than ever.  On top of all the loving we are doing on one another, the financial hit the coffee shop brought us, sent my wife and I to a place we don't ever want to be again.  Broke!  Now we spend every dollar wisely.  We are close to being debt free and financial independence. (We just knocked down another debt last week)

I may not like where we are at - I know I don't like where we were - but I like where we are headed.

And I hope that gives you inspiration to head in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Email can wait

Triathletes using their "strength"
What are you interested in?  What activity, when engaged, causes you to lose track of time?  Do you experience success in that interest?  Call it an interest, a spark, a strength, a passion, or my personal favorite, "your sweet spot" - whatever you call it - that activity makes you come alive and brings meaning to your life.  Without engagement in that spark/strength/passion, you may feel drained or even lost.  

The past year I have spent a good number of hours researching and reading about strengths.   Specifically, how to discover your strengths and how to put them to work for you.  I am convinced, more then ever, that spending time in your areas of strengths will give you more personal growth than you ever imagined and lead to a more fulfilling career and life. 

Two strength stories.  The first one is a story of what happens when strengths aren't identified:
The Search Institute studied the effect of teachers who recognize and share their area of interest with their students (be it music, sports, or a hobby), compared to teachers who don't exhibit an interest in any area.  Search Institute found that teachers who don't show an interest in anything actually hurt the academic performance of their students.  Repeat, teachers who don't show an interest in sports, music, art, or anything else, HURT the academic performance of students in their classroom.  I'll let you draw your own conclusions of why that happens. 
The second story is one from our own backyard. It is a powerful example of what happens when you discover and use your strengths.  It's the story of Andrew Gerdts - a cross country runner for Le Sueur-Henderson High School who transformed his life when he discovered his gift.
To see what I'm talking about, check out the KARE 11 video of Andrew by clicking here. (It is about a 6 minute video)

Rick Warren in the Purpose Driven life explains,
"Like a proud parent, God especially enjoys watching you use the talents and abilities he has given you.  God intentionally gifted us differently for his enjoyment... all these abilities bring a smile to God's face.  You don't bring glory or pleasure to God by hiding your abilities or by trying to be somebody else.  You only bring enjoyment by being you.  Anytime you reject any part of yourself, you are rejecting God's wisdom in creating you."

Not only will using your strength bring more fulfillment in your life, but it also brings a smile to God's face.  I'd say those are good reasons to spend more time on your strengths.  Email can wait.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Go For Weirdness

Today it is normal to:
-Have credit card debt.
-Live paycheck to paycheck.
-Be unfulfilled with your job.
-Be overweight.
-Keep up with the Jones.
-Read less than one book a year.

According to the book "The Millionaire Next Door" the average millionaire:
-Reads one book a month
-Shops at Walmart
-Never buys a new car
-Lives in a modest house
-Has a spouse with similar financial goals and is smart with money.

I read the following from Steven Pressfield's blog today: 
"Are you ambitious? If you’re reading this blog, you must be. Do you want to do something great? Do you feel a secret power inside you? Do you hate being ordinary and normal? Do you refuse to accept that?
I do. I hate that s!*^. I don’t believe anyone’s ordinary or normal anyway. An oak litters the earth with ten thousand acorns, and inside every one is the drive to grow to be as mighty as its daddy. Every lion cub, every fledging eagle carries in its DNA the will to be king of beasts and lord of the air. That’s nature’s law. Why should we humans expect to be different?" 

Well said Mr. Pressfield!  To read the full blog post click Here

Be weird, be ambitious, you have the ability.  I can accept that you may not want to be weird and ambitious.  But that you don't have the ability.  I don't buy that for a second.

I write this blog for others, and myself.  Today this post was more of a reminder for myself.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Who needs parents?

How much influence do parents really have on the lives of their children?  How big of a factor have your parents played in your life?

In our community education programs, we literally see all the different styles of parenting.  Through our Adult Basic Education (A.B.E.) program we see young adults who struggle in life because their parents never show them the value of determination, creativity, or hard work.  Instead, their parents show them how welfare works and how to blame others for their dire situation.   Its a vicious cycle that few are able to break. 

My father is one that broke that cycle.  The oldest of eight children, he and his siblings grew up in a humble three bedroom house under the rule of an alcoholic dad and a saint of a mother.  My grandmother did the best she could to provide sanity and love to her children.  Unfortunately love and sanity wasn't enough for all her children.  My grandmother's strength held the family together.  That strength, coupled with my father's desire for a better life, has provided me, my brothers, and my young children a different life. My father was able to break the chain of alcoholism, but the same can not be said for all his siblings.  Two years ago my dad's brother died, after many years of struggling with alcohol.  The choices Grandpa Warden made (grandpa also had an alcoholic father), in my mind, was the biggest factor in my uncle's death.  Today, the family does not talk much about my late grandfather.  Judging from the silence, that's probably a good thing.
On father's day this year, my mom told me I am at the age she was when she lost her father to cancer.  She recalled that her father was always there for her, supporting her.  No matter the circumstances, he was her rock.   My mother's childhood was much different than my fathers.  She looks back upon her youth and sees a hard working, supportive father with unconditional love.  Her face changes when she talks about her dad.  She misses him.  I look at my own daughter, and hope she remembers me, like my mom remembers grandpa Kaster.  That's motivation to be a better dad.   

Two fathers, two different families. 
Your impact on your children is huge. 
Of the men I admire:
John Wooden credits his success to his parents - (he mentioned his father often in his writings).
Colin Powell credits his success to his parents.
Seth Godin credits his success to his parents.
You get the point.  I could go on and on with a list of people who have done great things in their lives.  The one constant in the people above - they had parents who constantly supported them and told them they could accomplish their dreams.  Think about it...  if you always hear that you can accomplish your dreams, by the time you reach adulthood you'll believe it. 

If you struggle with how to raise your children right, the best advice I can give is to lead by example.  They already look up to you, undoubtedly they will follow in your footsteps.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Raising Children

Raise your hand if you love your kids!  Are you like me - where you know you'll always love your children, but sometimes, they drive you crazy?

This blog post is aimed at keeping you sane and allows me to share some of my fatherhood stories.

On Saturday nights in the summer, I moonlight and work as a bartender for weddings at the local golf course.  It's a great gig, providing many interesting tales to tell my wife the next day.  However, I generally don't get home until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.  2:00 a.m. isn't bad if you get to sleep in.  Unfortunately, in my situation I typically have one or two kids who love to jump (knees first) on me come 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning.  Which is funny because they never seem to jump on me when they have to go to school on weekdays - it's a conspiracy to ruin my sleep people!  My kids seem to know that I tend to give in when my bones are weak and tired.  "Yes Jake, you can cut your sister's hair."  Or,  "Yes Winona, you can use Pepsi instead of milk on your Frosted Flakes.  What's that, you want cotton candy for dessert?  Sure, why not?  You'll lose your baby teeth in a couple of years anyway".

Ok, maybe I don't give in that much when I'm tired.   On those Sundays when I'm worn out, and my wife is away working, I have to push myself to do my most important task in life.  Raising my children.  Yet sometimes, I still fail at fathering.  Because it is hard.

It's hard to keep your composure when at the grocery store and your child is having a meltdown
It's hard to make choices that benefit the family but not yourself.
It's hard to know if you're doing the right thing.
It's hard to sacrifice time with your career, personal interests, friends, and spouse.  
And the list goes on.

Many times you want to give up.  You must persevere.  Even when you have failed, try to correct your mistakes and keep going.  Yes, you long for a regular life - but that's not what you have chosen.  You can do this.  Don't give up.  Their future depends on it.

How do I persevere?
-I think about how much of a gift they are.  If taken away, there would be a hole in my heart that would never be healed.
-During tantrums and meltdowns
  • I recognize my elevated anger and frustration, then set those feelings aside.
  • Try to act as if my actions and my child aren't being judged by others.  
  • I realize that the meltdown is an attempt to manipulate me.  Giving into the meltdown means future tantrums.
-When my children cross a boundary I've set, I follow through with the consequence.  No exceptions.  I don't know for sure, but I bet this works for all ages.
-Time is flying fast.  I Try to slow down and savor it.  Empty nesters tell me only of the great family vacations they took, the quirkiness of their children when they were young, holiday stories, and how their kids grew up so quickly.
-When in a difficult stretch, I try to remember that it will pass.  Every winter has its spring.

My best advice:
If it hasn't happened already, someday your children will tell you that they hate you.  And it will hurt.  Don't for a second believe them.  A fourth grader in one of my after school programs is losing her father to cancer.  All she does is draw pictures of him.  She doesn't want to forget.  A kindergartner in the same program lost her mother to a car accident four months ago.  That kindergartner is so devastated that she hasn't spoken to anyone since the accident. 

Your children love you.

It makes dealing with the difficulties of parenthood worth it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I have a secret

I have a secret that I've kept inside for a while.  I'm worried to tell you my secret, because if I spill the beans, your view of me would change.  It may change drastically. 

My secret is an opinion on something, an opinion that if revealed would be like your best friend revealing to you that your girlfriend is ugly, is no good for you, and that you should dump her on her butt.

My secret:
I think following sports is a waste of time. 

Before you kick me in the nuts, let me explain myself.
I know this goes against society, as people in the USA spend billions on direct TV, sport packages, season tickets, jerseys, and spend endless hours watching ESPN, listening to sports talk radio and reading only the sports section in the paper.
Don't get me wrong, sports are great for those who are playing them and I encourage everyone to play their favorite sport for as long as they possibly can and push themselves to achieve all they can.

The benefits of sports are unmatched.  There have been several studies that have proven the advantages sports can have on high school students' self-esteem, GPA and well being.  Its also been well documented that many life lessons can be learned through athletics.  I myself am passionate about playing and improving my game, which I think is good and healthy.

Being passionate about playing sports is one thing, but being passionate about following sports is completely different.

In a study performed in the psychology department at the University of Utah, professors discovered that depending on the outcome of a sporting event, a man's testosterone level will either go up or down depending on if the team they are following wins or loses.  Obviously testosterone levels can greatly affect a man's mood.  If the guy's team loses, they feel a little less manly.  But if the team they are following wins, they feel stronger, are more confident, and are in a better mood.

My question:  Why follow something where you have no control in the outcome of the game and subsequently your frame of mind?  I have friends who tell me they don't like to think about the Vikings 1998 NFC championship game loss to the Falcons, because it depresses them.  Losing a friend is depressing, but a football game (that took place 12 years ago), where they had no control in the outcome is not depressing!  Give me a break!

This isn't the main reason why I think following sports is a waste of time.  The main reason: There are SO many better things you could be doing with your life.

You could:
-Figure out what you are passionate about and find a way to make money off of your passion.
-Go play football with your son.
-Take the light rail into downtown with your family.
-Volunteer to help in your town or to mentor a kid.
-Talk to your spouse or even go on a date
-Read a book or two
-Learn a new language
-Give your parents a call on the phone

None of these suggestions above are perfect.  But they are better than sitting in front of the TV on a glorious Sunday afternoon in the fall.

I hope I don't sound like a hypocrite, because I do occasionally listen to the Twins on the radio, or go to a Gopher basketball game.  I admit, I admire what some of these athletes can do and enjoy watching that, but no longer will a win or loss determine how I feel for the rest of the day, week, or the next 12 years.

Just like a good friend tells you the truth even though it hurts, let me tell you this:  The professional sports you follow are a waste of time - you should dump them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Walmart Test

Have you ever walked down the aisles of Walmart (or any public place) and spotted someone you'd like to avoid?   Maybe that person is someone you don't get along with, or worse, someone who has treated you badly.  When confronted with this scenario what are you likely to do?

Do you-
A) Pretend that you don't see them and walk down another aisle.
B) Quickly jump into a clothes rack.
C) If you are with your kids, pinch one of them hard, causing them to cry really loud and you to turn into the consoling parent - assuring no conversation with anyone will happen.
D) Use your room clearing fart reflex.
E) Pleasantly say hello, and then under your breath curse the person and their family - "Oh I'm sorry, no I said, I hope you and your family go do well, not to hell!  Silly you!" 
F) Do you greet this person with a genuine smile and a sincere "How are you?  It's good to see you!"
The above is what I call "The Walmart Test" Its a test to see what your relationship with others is like.
Unfortunately I have probably used answer A far too much in my life.

Not too long ago I had a conflict with a person.  I don't like conflict, but this one blew up in my face.  A casual conversation went from pleasant to ugly in about 2.3 seconds.  I left the room with steam coming out of my ears, and could not shake the anger off for a couple of days.  If I ran into this person at Walmart, I'd be using answer A with him.

Funny thing is, two weeks before that incident, the pastor at our church (Mike Golay - he's pretty much awesome) gave a great sermon about being a Peacemaker.  He talked about the relationships that we have with others and if there is conflict with someone else you will not have peace until it is resolved.

So what do you do?

Take action, humble yourself, and apologize.   

Even if you are 95% right, be the bigger person and apologize.  I knew what I had to do.
It took me two weeks to get up the courage to face this person and apologize even though I felt I was 99% right.  My mind played out every scenario that could happen, and I must admit, I feared that it might not go well. 

But I did it anyway. 

Here's how it all went down.
I went into a room where I knew he would be and the first words that came out of my mouth were, "I'm here to apologize, I didn't do what I was supposed to do." And the very next thing he said was, "Oh you have nothing to apologize for, everything has turned out fine, you know next time I should probably be on the ball a little earlier".  We smiled, shook hands and went back to our work.  No more conflict in our interactions.

It was a thing of beauty!  And boy did I feel better after that conversation.

I realize that this conversation could have gone awry.  Does every peacemaking conversation turn out okay?  I can't guarantee that.  Some relationships may never heal.  But I can tell you this, it's worth a try.  Especially if the conflict is with a loved one. 

Thanks for reading!  We'll see you at Walmart!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

When in a slump

This post is coming out two days later than usual.  I'm in what baseball players call a slump.  I felt like I haven't had a hit in while.

During the last week I have done the following:
-Forgot a meeting
-Missed a deadline
-Spent too much time online
-Watched depressing television (the evening news)
-Swallowed myself in pity
-Stopped drinking from good books and instead been drinking an extra glass of wine
-Repeated in my head, "maybe I'm not smart enough for this job"

Why is this downward spiral happening?  Maybe its because last week I had not one, but two instances where people told me they don't like the work I'm doing.  Maybe I'm using those negative people as a scapegoat for my slump.  Actually it's my own fault.  I shutdown my ability to do work that matters.

Steven Pressfield call this shutdown the "resistance."  The resistance is the little voice in your head that keeps your head down, and encourages you to follow instructions.  The resistance lives in fear and doesn't hesitate to shut us down at the first sign of possible derision or the first hint of conceivable putdowns. 

I'm finding that your mind is terribly powerful, more powerful than I imagined.  Your mind controls where you go.  Are you going to go up?  Or down?

So how do we overcome our slump?
  1. Don't feed the resistance.  This means control your thoughts.  If you think you're going to fail, you have a good chance of being a prophet.  Up above I wrote that I repeatedly thought,  "Maybe I'm not good enough to do my job".  You are what you think about. 
  2. Acknowledge the resistance - recognize that its there, and then we walk to the podium and do the work.  We acknowledge the resistance, so that we can ignore it.
  3. Write a blog post about overcoming a slump (seems to be working)
  4. Don't watch the evening news - (When is the last time you felt uplifted by the news?)
  5. Read good books that cause you to grow professionally and personally.
  6. Surround yourself by people that encourage you.  
Have any other good ideas?  I'd like to hear them.  Post your ideas in the comments section.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010


    The following is a true story that happened to my wife Autumn a week ago. I find it inspiring. I hope you do to.

    Autumn works as a waitress at the Shakopee Applebee’s. As a waitress, you meet all kinds of people. Most customers are forgotten once they walk out the door. A few are memorable for reasons you’d like to forget, but some customers can touch your heart. On a busy Saturday night, Autumn waited on a thin man who wore a graying beard and a gentle smile.

    Towards the end of the meal, Autumn asked if the man had saved any room for dessert, the man replied, “Oh I don’t need dessert, I make the best cheesecakes and I have some waiting for me at home.”

    “Really!? Said Autumn, “I love cheesecake. I’d like to taste some of your work!”

    “When is your next shift? Because I will to stop by and give you one of my famous cheesecakes.”

    Not knowing this man, Autumn felt a little uneasy, but since she wasn’t giving him her home address she accepted his generous offer and told him she worked Tuesday at 5:30. And then not giving it another thought, forgot about the man, figuring that she wouldn’t see him again.

    But then at 5:30 on Tuesday, while walking into work she saw the kind man in the parking lot – with the most delicious looking cheesecake she had ever seen. The cheesecake looked like a picture right out of a Martha Stewart magazine, with perfect graham cracker crust, and smooth creamy cheesecake. Along with the cheesecake were several containers of blueberries, cherries, and his homemade caramel sauce so the cute waitress could pick her favorite topping.

    “Do you have a few minutes? “ The man said.

    “Sure, I’m a couple of minutes early for work– Let’s go in and sit down.” Autumn said, her mouth watering over the cheesecake.

    “My name is Dave, I bake about 100 cheesecakes a year and give them away to different people. Many times people are skeptical with me, why would this guy give me a free cake, is it poisioned? What’s the catch?

    He continued, “You see, a couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer and wasn’t’ given very long to live. I’m living on borrowed time now and making the most of it. I don’t have a family, or much money, but I love to see people smile and my cheesecake seems to do the trick. Like I said, I make the best cheesecake.”

    Autumn told me this story, and immediately I wanted to share it with everyone I know, because Dave is giving away his “art”. He knows that when you have a gift, when you share that gift with others you undoubtedly make a difference in their life.

    And that feels good.

    Later on in the week, I felt compelled to share Dave’s story with the faculty and staff at Le Sueur-Henderson schools. You see at LSH we are launching a new initiative. We want the staff and teachers to work on their strengths, on their art, so they can be better teachers and ultimately we have students who discover their strengths so they can achieve more than ever before.

    As part of a presentation I told Dave’s story in the high school auditorium Monday morning. His story is an example of sharing your art, and the joy it can bring to others, I hoped Dave’s story would inspire our schools to do great work.

    I had asked Dave if he would share his art with all of the faculty and staff. He agreed. At the conclusion of the presentation each teacher, administrator, and secretary had a piece of Dave’s cheesecake.

    Dave spent all weekend baking cheesecakes and topping. This may not seem like a big deal, but we found out after picking up the cheesecakes from him that he did so while feeling very weak and ill. He may not have very long to live.

    He did this for complete strangers. Because, as Dave said, “My work is not yet done.”

    Don’t’ wait to share your art. Go, make something happen! 

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    I need to get away from all this vacation!

    Spent the memorial weekend on sky blue waters, caught numerous fish, ate like a king, rested tired muscles, and loved on my wife and kids. It was a joy! Rest is necessary and good for the soul.

    Yet, I have projects at work that I'm itching to get back to. I love my job. Can't wait to start work in the morning.

    Doing work that you love, is much better than a love of work. Working on things you love, is where the passion is - where you go from good to great and where you start to make a difference. What's really sad, is working for the weekend.

    I hope you find yourself saying more of, "I made a difference today and it was awesome!" and less of, "TGIF".

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    What you should forget from high school

    The teaching methods and education formula that high school students go through today were successful - back in 1950. They are not successful anymore. Here is a list of things that I hope you'll forget from your school experience.

    What to forget
    1) To Follow the crowd.
    2) Do exactly what the teacher or future employer asks of you.
    3) The more "stuff" you have the more successful you'll be.
    4) The comments from friends, teachers, or even family members that you're not worth something or can't achieve something.

    Instead try following this formula (From Seth Godin)
    1. Go, make something happen.
    2. Do work you're proud of.
    3. Treat people with respect.
    4. Make big promises and keep them.
    5. Ship it out the door.

    My Ideas
    1. Turn your strengths and passions into money making endeavors.
    2. Live as though your time left on this spinning rock is short.
    3. In your place of employment, do more than what is expected of you.
    4. Spend less than you earn and donate 10% of your earnings to your church or favorite charity.
    5. Most importantly establish and build a personal relationship with J.C.

    There are many more ideals to live by, but if you don't do anything please remember this: Your next step is always more important than your last!

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    One Percent

    "Did we improve by 1% today?" This was coach Rey's daily question to the St. Mary's basketball team. We were a bunch of young men, who were being mentored by one of the best motivators we had ever known.

    Coach Rey knew that 1% improvement each day over time would bring dramatic results.

    He was right. Our team led the conference in fewest points allowed, free throw percentage, and three point field goal percentage. We didn't have many wins to show for our effort, but...

    That's not bad for a team with a roster of 6 with the tallest athlete being only 6'3" and possessed no vertical. (we had several athletes that became ineligible or injured)

    My question to you today is: Are you improving? Can you handle 1% improvement each day? Just 1%! Anybody can do that! If you are reading this, your work in this world isn't finished. God still has plans for you. If you are looking for good information on how to improve, I have help for you. Check out my favorite blogs, all authored by people smarter than me, and use the 1% strategy. Reading these blogs WILL make you smarter. I guarantee it. - learn how to be indispensible and think not outside the box, but on the edge. - learn how to do more great work, and less busywork. - Learn about motivation 2.0 and a whole new mind. - The Art of Non Conformity - Dr. Zimmerman's Tuesday tips are great! - by Marshall Goldsmith, Get your mojo on! - Find out how to achieve financial peace - Just plain fun.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    You are the average of the five people closest to you

    Who are the five people closest to you? Are they relatives, friends, coworkers? If you took their annual salaries and averaged them up, how different is their salary from yours?

    How different from you is their fitness level, their morals, and outlook on life?

    I may be stretching here, but I'm guessing if you averaged the 5 people closest to you, they would hold similar values, fitness level and probably be close to having the same income as you.

    What am I suggesting? That if you want to make a change in your life, you should ditch your friends and family? No. But if you need to be better with money, hang out with people who are good with money, if you want to be a better parent, hang out with parents who have great kids, it you want a healthier lifestyle, avoid those who eat at McDonald's every day.

    Here's my story:
    Last Saturday, I ran the New Prague Half-Marathon. New this year to the half, were pace setters. If you wanted to finish at a specific time, you could run alongside a pace setter (pace setters ran holding race finish time signs) and finish real close to that specific time.

    I decided to run with a pace setter.

    The experience was eye-opening for me. All throughout the race the pace setter was giving advice on how to run against the wind, how to face the large looming hill, and gave encouragement the final legs of the race when your body is weakest, and your mind must be strong so you can finish the race. The pace setter was a running expert.

    Running with the pace setter vaulted me to a new personal best. Beating my previous time by 7 minutes. By surrounding myself with an expert runner, with their advice and encouragement, I did better than expected.

    My advice, be careful who you hang out with, because you will become them. We all need pace setters in life, find the right one, and see where it takes you.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    Interview with Todd Oakes

    Recently, I asked Todd Oakes if I could do a "blog interview" with him. I asked because not only do I admire what he has done for baseball in Jordan and the Gophers, but because of the solid role model he is for Jordan youth. I found out through this interview, that he has some insight on life that can help you and me go from good to great.

    Enter Todd Oakes, current pitching coach of the Minnesota Golden Gopher baseball team. As a player Oakes was drafted by the San Francisco Giants, where he played in the organization for four years, and then spent the next 12 years as a pitching coach in various levels for the Giants. I'm honored that he choose to be interviewed by me. To read the entire interview, see below.

    Most people only dream of making a career out of baseball, you’ve done something that almost every young boy dreams of. When did you create the goal making a career out of baseball, and what does it mean to you now that you’ve accomplished it?

    I did have the dream as a youngster about being a major league baseball player – and there were many afternoons when I was in my backyard and I would create my own games with my waffle balls and bat (offense) and with throwing a rubber ball against the house (defense) – I had the whole Twins line-up (Tovar – Carew – Oliva – Killebrew – etc) and I would play my own backyard games – you don’t see much of that “sandlot baseball” anymore – that’s where I developed my skills and created my passion for baseball – right in the backyard.

    Making a career out of baseball has been awesome – I have to remind myself often how great a job I have – my work clothes are a baseball uniform – can it get any better than that?

    What has been the greatest or most interesting baseball accomplishment for you?

    I would have to say my greatest baseball accomplishment has been coaching the Legion Baseball team in Jordan the past 6-8 summers – however long it has been. The success those teams have had and all we’ve accomplished has been remarkable and winning those D2 state tournaments and regional titles are some of my fondest memories in baseball. Driving back from places like Ely, MN and Viroqua, WI and Buelah, ND after winning the regional titles and listening to Ronny Beckman”s ipod music created memories I will never forget.

    I guess maybe one of my more interesting memories was the number of times I got to throw batting practice to Barry Bonds when I coached in the Giants organization. I respect what he did as a player but I do not respect how he went about it, how he treated other players, how he did not respect the game, how selfish he was. I think he was actually insecure and baseball was his only outlet. I got to know his Dad a little bit – Bobby Bonds – and enjoyed getting to know him – went golfing with him a few times.

    We all go through rough spots in life, have you ever had set-backs and what helped you persevere?

    We all experience setbacks in our lives. Sometimes I take the game too seriously and see every loss as a setback – and it’s really not – losing is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and get better.

    I guess my biggest setback was some health issues I experienced a few summers ago - it was a “wake-up call” for me. It’s pretty sobering to hear a doctor say – “You know 33% of people that experience a pulmonary embolism die from it.” Boy does that hit you right between the eyes. How did I persevere? – faith, family, friends!

    What information about division 1 baseball should be shared that isn’t?

    Random thoughts on this:
    1. Baseball athletes seldom if ever get “full rides” like some other sports – notably football and basketball. We get 11.7 full scholarships for a roster of 35 players – you can do the math – a lot of 25-33-50% scholarships.
    2. The aluminum bat is destroying the integrity of the game – look at the college baseball scores – the game is way out of whack. TJ Oakes got hit with a line drive below the knee in our game last Sunday vs. Iowa and it was recorded at 105 mph off the aluminum bat – 105 mph and you’re standing about 50 feet away after you release the ball – I cannot do that math – but that’s scary and very, very dangerous.

    As coach of young men, (college and high school) what type of impact do you hope to have on their lives?

    My biggest goals with coaching young men are:
    1. Teach them how to compete – you must compete every day – whether you are a baseball player, a farmer, an auto mechanic, a computer technician, whatever you do for a living – you must compete every day.
    2. Teach them life skill skills – not just baseball skills – teach them how to compete, how to develop a work ethic, how to be responsible, how to make mature decisions, how to be an unselfish teammate.
    3. Teach them mental and emotional skills – teach them how powerful your mind is – teach them how to have a positive attitude – teach them how to visualize success – teach them how to win and lose with poise and humbleness – teach them how to deal with adversity.

    When you leave baseball, what would you like to be known for?

    This is a tough question. I guess I would like to be known as a coach who cared more about the young men I coached as human beings and not just baseball players. I am hoping I have and will continue to be a positive role model for young men – that I displayed the character and attitude and competitiveness that they would like to portray. The relationships you develop are more meaningful and important than the wins and championships and rings. I hope I can teach young men how to be a responsible person and an unselfish teammate. I hope I can help prepare them to become Christ-like fathers, husbands, and citizens who can make the world around them a better place.

    What was the best advice you ever received?

    Too many pieces of advice to list really. But the ones that come to mind are:
    1. You have two ears and one mouth – listen twice as much as you talk.
    2. Never give up and never give in.
    3. I have had the opportunity to coach all three of my sons and somebody told me to spend more time and focus being their Dad than their coach.
    4. I’ve learned through reading the Bible and other FCA events that our ultimate goal in life is to be a “servant leader” for the Lord.
    5. Ask yourself – “why are you here?” – “why are you doing what you do?”
    6. An old coach once told me – “The two most important decisions you will make in your life are the woman you marry and the foods you eat” (My eating habits are terrible – but I over-achieved with the woman I married)

    Knowing that the best learning opportunity comes from your mistakes, what was the biggest mistake/learning opportunity you ever had? What did you learn?

    I think the biggest mistakes I have made have to do with “expectations” – expecting too much. When expectations are too high or unrealistic and they aren’t met – it leads to problems – whether it is your expectations for yourself or the expectations you have for others. Managing your emotions and expectations is a great challenge.

    Looking at your 12 years as pitching coach for the Golden Gophers, the one constant of the pitching staff is improvement. The program is in a different spot than what it was 12 years ago. What motivates you for improvement, and what do you do to continually “raise the bar” year after year?

    I do think I have helped the U of M Baseball program succeed – I hope I have made it better – that’s why they hired me – right? Gopher Baseball has a very strong winning tradition – I have just been a small part of it. Every year, every team is different and presents new personalities and new challenges – that’s why I say you must compete EVERY DAY – strive to get better – strive to help somebody get better and learn more about themselves – help them grow and mature. It all takes daily attention and a commitment to excellence on a daily basis. The young men on the team motivate me every day. There is always room for improvement.

    Is there anything else you would like to share?

    I am blessed with a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior and I trust Him with all my heart and soul. I am blessed with a wife that I do not deserve – she has loved and supported me in a way that I could have never imagined – she has allowed me to pursue a career in coaching. I am blessed with three wonderful sons who have competitive but humble spirits. I am blessed with friends who support me and allow me to be somebody other than a “coach” all the time. We are fortunate to live in a community full of “good people.” This is my foundation and who I am.

    Thank you!

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    When life sucks

    Its no secret. Life is hard. You get raw deals, people treat you badly. So how do you get by?

    What helps me stay positive is recalling all of the cool things in life that you forget about. Here is a short list of my favorite things in life.

    1) After a long day a work, my kids running and yelling "Daddy's home!" as they can't get to me fast enough.
    2) My wife when she's trying not to smile :)
    3) Road trips to Winona... and stopping in Pepin Heights for carmel covered apples.
    4) When fishing, and you feel a bass grab the bait hard.
    5) Watching baseball at the mini-met on a warm summer night, with a beer in hand.

    Below is the story of what can happen when you focus on one awesome thing each day.

    Neil Pasricha is a no-name 30-year-old guy who started 1000 Awesome Things back in June 2008 with the goal of writing about one awesome thing every weekday.

    He did this as his life was falling apart. His best friend took his own life and Pasricha's wife left him. They sold their house, and he moved to a tiny apartment, where he tried to get things back on track by talking about one simple, universal little joy every single day — like snow days, bakery air, or popping bubble wrap.

    In 2009 Neil Pasricha, won a "webby" for his creation of He now just released his new book called, "The Book of Awesome". Currently over 13 million people have visited his site.

    I recommend writing down what you are grateful about. It might just turn your day around. If you don't want to try it, at least sign up for a daily dose of awesome at

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Tough Choices

    Pre-K T-ball: $52
    T-ball: $61
    Dance: $70
    Swimming Lessons: $50

    The above activities are items I'd love to sign my two kids up for this summer. There is just one hurdle - a big pile of debt to the tune of $40,000. We actually have enough to pay for all of the activities and go on nice summer vacation, but a big chunk of the debt will be gone by October if we budget and spend wisely this summer. So that leaves us with a tough choice. Invest in recreational activities that our kids will enjoy now, or pay off debt quickly.

    How do you make tough decisions in life? How do you prioritize? What do you value? During the last 16 months I've tried to align our family values with our family decisions. We prioritize our most important values and make decisions based off those values.

    For example our top three family values are (in order)
    1) Faith in God
    2) Family
    3) Financial security

    We made decisions in the past that were made in haste, and not in alignment with our values. Those past decisions ended up straining our family and our finances.

    As hard as it will be to say no to our kids this summer, I know that the financial security of not being a slave to debt, to be able to put money into college funds and retirement funds sooner rather than later, will be worth it.

    I tell you what, debt sucks. I don't want to stay in debt long, because saying no to enriching my kids' lives hurts - but at least my decisions are based on my values. By saying no, I can provide financial security to my family much quicker than saying yes.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    The Tom Izzo guide for success

    Tom Izzo has success figured out. The Michigan State basketball coach from my perspective utilizes what we all possess, but are afraid to tap into. What separates him from others is one thing. Action. Action to act on his beliefs, passions, and abilities.

    The Tom Izzo's guide for success (as I have observed)

    -Work Ethic. NCAA basketball games last 40 minutes. His teams play hard for all 40 minutes. (How many of us can say we do the same at our job?)

    -W.I.N.(What's Important Now) He aligns his priorities with his values, and makes decisions accordingly. He asks himself, is it more important to prepare for the next game, or to celebrate the latest success?

    -Focus. Tom's quote say's it all "At this time of year, of course, you don't get a chance to sit down and think about it," Izzo said. "That's not what this time of year is for. I'm not even sure the offseason is for that. I think that's the retirement season. I'm not near that."

    -Action: As John Woodens says, "Winners make the most mistakes". You learn from your mistakes. You don't learn unless you take action and do the work. The individual who is mistake free is also sitting around doing nothing.

    -Passion: Izzo loves basketball and loves to teach it. The love creates enthusiasm, which is contagious.

    Question: What would happen if you or I used the guide above for just 1 hour a day?

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Raise the Bar

    Right after graduating from college I thought it would be cool to run a few road races. The running would keep me in shape, and allowed me an outlet to do something competitive, even though the only person I was competing against was really myself.

    For years I was my own personal trainer, and did not seek others for advice. I typically would finish right in the middle of the pack for each race. I did learn a little from each race, and eventually checked out a couple of running books at the library. Reading those books gave me a guideline, and did help me raise the bar a little bit, but nothing earth shattering.

    Then for fun, I asked the cross country coach at the school I work for if I could run with the cross country team for a few weeks. The coach agreed and even encouraged me to run with them, proclaiming that it was good for the athletes to have another set of eyes and someone to support the athletes besides him.

    Little did I know they would teach me a lot more about life then I what I could offer them. They gave me an awareness of where my goals were, and where they could be.

    I started out that mid-August in fairly good shape and was running a 5K race at 23:00 minutes. I would finish the month of August running a 5K at 20:00. Which was a gigantic leap in a short amount of time. How did that happen? My bar was raised. By a lot. Metaphorically I was jumping 4feet, when my potential was much higher.

    This cross county team supported one another, and kept striving for improvement. More importantly I was taught that running the same mileage at the same pace would keep giving me similar results. This team switched it up, they ran shorter distances at fast tempos, they went very long distances at a very slow pace. They optimized each practice run. I figured out real quickly that I was shooting for an mediocre goal, when I had the ability to run faster than I had ever realized. Funny thing is, these students weren't more gifted or talented than me, they just formed a tribe and worked at their craft to do amazing things.

    So are there areas of life that you finish in the middle of the pack? Are you going through those areas alone? Why settle for being average, why raise the bar a few inches, when you have the ability to raise it a few feet! Find a few like minded individuals and watch the bar go higher than you ever imagined!

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    Sobriety Tests, New Cars, and Coffins

    I just started reading "A Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren. In one of the beginning sections the author talks about eternity. We all know someday we will die, and from the book Warren (and myself) believe that after you die you will either spend eternity in heaven with God, or you will be separated from his love.

    The time spent here in your life is very short compared to where you will be in eternity. Which translates into... live a life using the talents and gifts God gave you, establish a relationship with God, and remember the problems we all experience in life are only short term.

    The very next day after reading the eternity section, I got in my car and drove to work. On the highway I encountered a handicapped man behind his car given a sobriety test by two policemen. As I continued on my drive into downtown Le Sueur I see a brand new Ford vehicle that must have just ran into a telephone pole causing extensive damage. Then about a mile before I reach the office, a hearse pulls out in front of me. It was carrying a casket to the church for a funeral service. I followed the hearse a few blocks before I realized the rarity of this morning commute.

    The message to me was clear. We all make mistakes in life, just like the drunken handicapped man, and we all are given raw deals like the damaged Ford car. But eventually we will be taken away, our bodies will remain in the ground while our souls go to heaven.

    Don't lose perspective, don't lose sight of your purpose, and remember your place in eternity.