“My little black book” (Dec. 19, 2007) We‟ve all watched enough movies to know that the “little black book” is what everyone is desperately looking for. In it are the names and numbers that hold the key to solving the mystery, exposing the culprit, or revealing the murderer. My “little black book” is not so ominous or mysterious. It‟s a thin, 3 x 5 inch hardbound volume called a Moleskine. These small journals have been around for many years and were constant companions of such notables as Hemingway and Picasso. One day, while reading the Travel section of the Sunday paper, I came across a short article providing the reader with a list of those “must have” items when traveling. The Moleskine journal was paramount, first on the list of those items. The pages are not removable so you don‟t lose your notes or jottings. It features a small accordion file on the inside back cover, perfect for holding receipts and ticket stubs. I went to www.moleskines.com and bought several for myself. So, what would you find in my “little black book”? Shopping lists, reminder notes, insurance info, prescription refill numbers, website addresses, phone numbers, and just about anything else I need to keep track of. If I need to buy materials for a home project, it‟s the best place to sketch diagrams and write down relevant dimensions. And, best of all, I no longer rely on those annoying loose slips of papers. It‟s all written down in my “little black book”. I‟ve also discovered another, more important use for my “little black book”. It helps me focus on living my life better. Not, living a better life, but living my life better. There is a difference between the two. When we think of living a better life, images of lottery winners, wealthy families, and luxurious vacations come to mind. Living life better is something each one of us can do regardless of social position, education, occupation, or financial situation. Living life better involves the myriad of choices and decisions we must make each and every day. Decisions about money, health, jobs, or how we spend our free time. It concerns the choices we make in how we treat people regardless of who they are. Most people profess some sort of religious affiliation. Most religions have published writings filled with guidelines for conduct and religious practices. I profess the Christian faith. The well known guide of the Christian faith is the Bible. Have you looked at a Bible lately? It sure is thick and it contains a whole lot more than just the Ten Commandments. It contains an incredible amount of information on how we can live life better. I haven‟t memorized the entire contents, nor do I expect to. That‟s where my black book comes in handy. I recently started writing down a day and date on the line of a page first thing every morning. Next to it, I write down something that I can concentrate on doing for that particular day. For instance, on Thursday, Dec. 13, I wrote, “Say no unkind thing to anyone or about anyone”. That‟s it. I focused my attention on that one thing throughout the day. This does not mean that I act recklessly in everything else. No. Rather than try to remember too many things and be overwhelmed, I can try to focus on one thing. My hope is that I‟ll develop better habits and make better choices in the days ahead. Where do I get my ideas? From the Bible, as well as other authors and from courtesy and common sense. My “little black book” may not be as notorious or as exciting as the ones in the movies, but like Hemmingway and Picasso, it‟s now my constant companion. I know where to look for my notes, lists, and jottings. And, best of all, it contains a good reminder for the day ahead. “Surprises and treats” (Nov. 26, 2007) My grandmother, Signe Haraldson, was a schoolteacher. The school was located in the small town of Danube, Minnesota. Occasionally, she would hop in her 1960‟s Dodge Dart and drive up to the Twin Cities to visit us. I think most grandmothers drove Dodge Dart automobiles back in those days, or so it seems. We‟d look for her to pull up in front of our house and park on the street. As kids, we looked forward to her visits because she usually brought “surprises and treats”. Sometimes she would bring paper and pencils. Other times she would bring storybooks from the school. The edges of the books would be stamped with the words, “Danube Schools”. I‟m hoping that these were books slated for removal from the school library and replaced with new volumes. It would be a disappointing memory to think that my grandmother, who drove a Dodge Dart, was systematically pilfering the school library, one book at a time. Although I am not a grandparent I find it very satisfying to be the one who brings “surprises and treats” on visits to family and friends. My best friends have four girls. Ever since the first girl was born, I was the babysitter. First it was one girl, then, two, and, well, you get the picture. Whenever I would visit, I made sure that I had “surprises and treats” in hand when they greeted me at the door. Most of the time, it would be a candy treat. I still have the list they wrote out for me years ago with all four of their names on it. Below each girls name was the name of their favorite candy. It doesn‟t bode well to show up with beef jerky strips when “Skittles” or “Snickers” bars were on the “List”. Like my grandmother, I would also bring paper, pencils, pens, markers, etc. Kids seem to go through those things rather quickly. And, who doesn‟t like scratch off lottery tickets? Those are always a hit when you visit kids. Kids should not be the only recipients of “surprises and treats”. When I first bought my house in St Louis Park, I made friends with my neighbors. There was one couple living two doors down who had a small dog, a terrier mix, named Cydney. I started to buy dog treats for Cydney. She went ballistic when I brought her a treat. It wasn‟t long before Cydney would regularly sit on the edge of her yard late in the afternoons waiting for my truck to pull into my driveway. She knew the sound of my truck. After I hopped out and headed towards the back door, I noticed her staring at me, trying to catch my eyes. She wanted to be sure that I saw her. Her tail would wag. I‟d look over, say her name, and her tail wagged even more enthusiastically. I‟d grab a treat and start walking towards her. She would leap two or three feet into the air in excitement. She couldn‟t inhale the treats fast enough. Her owners, Carol and Jeff, told me that she only acts this way when “I” bring treats. When they gave her the very same treat, she hardly responded. It must have tasted better coming from me somehow. Neighbors come and go. Carol, Jeff, and Cydney have moved on. I still keep treats on hand for Coda, the golden lab next door and Cocoa (I call him, Butch), the little dog across the street. I think Butch learned how to go ballistic from Cydney. He goes bonkers when he sees me coming across the street. Coda, on the other hand, is more reserved. He‟ll just sneak up on me quietly if I‟m in the garage or in the yard. He stands close by waiting for me to say the magic words – “Are you ready for a treat?” Together, we walk calmly to my back door. I‟ll step inside and grab the bag of “Schmacko Sticks”. When I step back outside, I find that Coda has drooled on the back steps in anticipation. Each dog has their own way of showing their enthusiasm. “Surprises and treats” are not for kids and dogs only. Adults enjoy “surprises and treats”, too. Why not bring donuts to work on occasion? Sending flowers to someone for no reason is a fun thing to do. Chocolates are always popular, too. I‟d like to think that my grandmother had fun when delivering “surprises and treats” to our house. It‟s one of those “feel-goods” in life that each one of us can do. Make sure you don‟t mix things up though and bring “Schmacko Sticks” to the kids and “Skittles” to the dogs. Your popularity will wane if that happens. Have fun. Life‟s too short. “Going against the grain” (Nov. 21, 2007) That reminds me of that old song title, “Get Out of the Wheat Field Honey, We‟re Going Against the Grain”. It was in that classic genre with other songs like, “Run to the Roundhouse Nellie, He‟ll Never Corner You There” or “Let‟s Go to the Cornfield and I‟ll Kiss You Behind the Ears”. Perhaps these songs never actually hit the airwaves. They may not have been real songs at all come to think of it. Oh well. It was humor years ago. Going against the grain suggests non-compliance to the “rules” or living contrary to social “norms”. It‟s generally attributed to the person who doesn‟t do things the way other people do things. A good woodworker or carpenter knows how important it is when sanding wood, to sand with the grain, rather than against the grain. Sanding against the grain will leave “scratches” and ruin a fine piece of wood. History has proven that many people, going against the grain, have become notorious, causing tremendous evil and harm to mankind. Going against the grain receives more bad press than good press. I ask you to consider where we would be without those characters, who, went against the grain in their time and accomplished great things. Christopher Columbus went against common belief that the earth was flat only to discover new worlds. Martin Luther challenged overwhelming odds to show that God could be personal to each person. Discovers, adventurers, scientists, and doctors alike have all gone against the grain at some time or another to make this world a better place. Kids are most successful in life when they choose to go against the grain of unhealthy peer pressure. They may not be “popular”, but their lives will be better for their decision. The news is filled each day with stories of kids dying from binge drinking or drugs. They would not go against the grain and make an independent, wiser choice. Who gives a damn what someone else thinks? Going against the grain does not only pertain to life changing decisions or discoveries. It permeates all aspects of our lives. I started thinking about this idea of going against the grain as I closed my garage door this morning before leaving for the office. Unlike “everyone else”, I leave my garage unlocked throughout the day. This may seem like a stupid and reckless idea. I guess I‟m going against the grain so to speak. I have a reason for this however. My reason to leave my garage unlocked is known to my neighbors. They know that they are welcome to stop by anytime to borrow whatever they may need from my garage. It can be a tree saw, pole saw, or lopper. I have a variety of shovels, pitchforks, rakes, and hoes. They can find a pickaxe and a sledgehammer if needed. Besides several ladders, I keep a roof rake on hand to pull snow off the roof to prevent those irritating ice jams. If someone needs a lawnmower or snow thrower, my neighbors know that they can borrow it as well. It could happen someday that thieves may steal something from my garage. Oh well, I can buy another of whatever it is. The reward of helping my neighbors far exceeds my concern of theft. I like going against the grain. Going against the grain has influenced other areas of my life. Choosing to remain single may be considered contrary to the social “norm”. I know many people who went the way of the socially accepted “norm” of marriage, who, are, once again, single, this time with baggage. No thanks. I tend to go against the grain in how I dress. Fashion trends pass me by each and every year. Comfortable blue jeans and “Vans” skate shoes will always be included in my wardrobe. My attire will be casual. It will always be neat and clean, but casual. It may not be the “norm” or the attire of the people in my “age group”, but I am quite comfortable. My attitude, activities, and choice in music may not always be found in the “Handbook of Etiquette for People Over 50”. What a rebel! I‟m going against the grain again. I know I‟ve driven my sales managers nuts over the years because I still use the “ancient” tools of pencil and paper to take notes during phone conversations and to keep track of quotes. Although I tend to be slow to adopt computerized technology, these sales managers reluctantly concede that I seem to be an organized person. To my credit, I am making forward strides in adopting our new high tech programs to create quotes and proposals. I‟m going “with the grain” for a change. I guess that means I‟m going against my “own” grain. Hmmm. In any event, my intention with this little essay was to spur us to think independently, to do the right thing, and not cave in to peer pressure or social pressure. I do not promote going against the grain for disruptive or harmful purposes. If the atmosphere where you work tends to be negative, filled with gossip, go against the grain. If you are expected to do something dishonest, go against the grain. Be creative. Be yourself (a well worn metaphor). Think for yourself. Be upright when people around you may not be. Be courteous and kind in a cruel world. Be helpful in a world where people think only of themselves. Give someone a hand when the “norm” would be to ignore that person. Step outside of “your” box (another well worn metaphor, sorry about that) and do something daring and different. In other words, don‟t be afraid to go against the grain. If you do it right, it won‟t leave “scratches”. “Blowing out candles” (Nov. 17, 2007) There are two very good reasons why a birthday cake should not be adorned with the proper number of candles for anyone over the age of 50. The first reason? All of those hot lit candles represent a realistic fire hazard. The second reason? The person who is 50 years old or more may hyperventilate and pass out in their attempt to blow hard enough to extinguish all of the candles in a single breath. Enough said about that subject. This is not what I had intended to write about when I chose the title, “Blowing out candles”. Please, follow along. If you took out your dictionary and turned to the word “gentleman” I wouldn‟t be surprised if you found a photograph of Pete Peters next to that word. If you paged further into your dictionary to the word “professional” you may find Pete‟s photo next to that word as well. Who in the world is Pete Peters you ask? Pete Peters was a man I had the good fortune of knowing many years ago. He was the local factory rep for Panasonic Professional Video Products. As he was contemplating retiring, we asked Pete to join our small staff as sales manager. He accepted. This was in the early 1980‟s. Pete was every bit the gentleman and professional. Unfortunately, he wasn‟t with us for very long. Although for an older man, he was in very good shape. He exercised regularly and seemed to enjoy good health. Colon cancer claimed Pete as a victim, in rather short order, too. While working with Pete, I learned two valuable lessons. Whenever Pete would take a phone call or make a phone call, he had pencil in hand and a spiral notebook opened and ready to write down detailed notes about the conversation. Since then, I, too, have pencil in hand with paper in front of me taking notes whenever I‟m talking with anyone on the phone. My customer‟s are usually impressed that I “remember” our conversations. The more important lesson that Pete taught me came from something he said. We were talking about the competition, the other dealers one day. He said, “Blowing out someone else‟s candle doesn‟t make yours burn any brighter”. In other words, bad-mouthing a competitor or criticizing another dealer does not make you or your company, look better. To the contrary, it is very unprofessional. I try to remember those words in my business dealings each day. I‟m pretty good about it, too. Unfortunately, I‟m not very good at it in my personal life at times. It‟s so easy to let loose a sarcastic remark or criticism. There is a perverse need to prove that I am right and someone else is wrong. The most cowardly thing that I can do is to belittle someone. It‟s not a proud moment to blow out someone‟s “candle”. My “candle” does not burn any brighter after that. Pete certainly knew what he was talking about. This is one of those life lessons that I‟ve never forgotten. It was time once again to remind myself of those words. The next time I am tempted to let loose with a negative or hurtful comment, I need to pause, hold my breath, and say nothing. After that, I‟ll say. Thanks, Pete”. “I voted” (Nov. 6, 2007) Those are the two words printed on the round, red, sticky label handed to me this morning as I exited my neighborhood, polling place. “I Voted”. A very short phrase packed with meaning and backed by history. Our neighborhood polling place is “Prince of Peace Lutheran Church”. The election judges are familiar faces to me having lived here for over 16 years. They are mainly retired people who volunteer their time to make sure that everyone knows what to do and where to go. It‟s almost like visiting friends that I‟ve not seen in a long time. There wasn‟t much to decide upon today. We had one only choice for mayor, unless we wanted to write in our preferred candidate. The same was true for two other elected officials. I often wonder why we need to fill in the oval next to their names when they are the only choice? Then I wondered if anyone was ever elected because an overwhelming number of people happened to write their name on the ballot? Hmmm. The voter turnout has seemed to diminish over the years with the exception of the “big” election years when we cast our votes for our Presidential candidates. Even during those years, less people take the time to get out and vote. I‟m disturbed by that trend. Apathy has replaced patriotism. Indifference has replaced pride in our country. Voting is considered an inconvenience in our over-packed daily schedules and lifestyles. Unless the weather is balmy, dry, and perfect, “fair weather” voters will let inclement conditions decide if they will vote or not. This is rubbish. People whine and say, “How can my vote make a difference”? My answer? Have you ever heard of “recounts” because the tallies are so close? Have we forgotten the Al Gore, George Bush election results? People today still argue that Al Gore was the decided winner. In discussions with friends, I‟ll hear all sorts of viewpoints on “voting”, even who should be “allowed” to vote. One friend suggests, that unless someone “fully” understands all of the issues, the candidates and their viewpoints, and is not swayed by what the candidate promises, that person should be deemed ineligible to vote. I find that to be a bit extreme. I agree to a point. A person should not step into the voting booth ignorantly and haphazardly cast votes for anyone. In our media rich age, it doesn‟t take much of an effort to investigate candidates up for election. I think we should check „em out, not unlike a father would do when checking out that young lad who wishes to date his daughter. When I left the church this morning and headed towards my car, my first thought was of the political turmoil going on in Pakistan right now. The military president and leader has thrown out the Constitution of the country. Pakistan is in chaos. Then, I thought about our troops fighting overseas. Ultimately, they are defending our freedoms. How can we let weather, apathy, indifference, or a minor glitch in our precious daily timetables keep us from stopping by our neighborhood polling place and casting our vote? Do you have an American flag decal on your vehicle or a flag flying at your home? Do you have a bumper sticker that says, “Support our Troops”? Do you stand during the National Anthem at a ball game? Did I hear you say that you‟re too busy to vote? Hmmm. I voted. “It’s like a different language” Although I took one year of German language in high school, there are very few words that I remember. Some of the fun words still stand out. One of my favorite German words is, “Kugelschreiber”. It‟s the German word for, “ballpoint pen”. My favorite phrase is, “Nicht gefinger poken vile machinen verkin”. Translated, it means, “Don‟t point your finger in the machine while it‟s working”. I may have taken liberties here. It was printed on a humorous sign in a print shop where I worked in college. It was posted next to a big German printing press installed by a German engineer who also thought it was funny. Today, I‟m not referring to a different language like German, French, or Spanish. There is a whole different language that people speak in various situations in life. What happens when you place a baby in the arms of a grown adult? Besides making odd noises and sounds with their mouth in an attempt to humor the baby, they start talking a different language. I call it, “Goo-goo talk”. It‟s true, isn‟t it? The whole tone of their voice goes up. They talk in short sentences or ask idiotic questions as if the infant can answer. You know the ones I mean? “Oooooooh, aren‟t you a cute little thinnnnng?” “You‟re sooooo big, aren‟t you?” “Oooooooh, did we make a doodle in our diaper?” It goes on and on. I expect that my niece, Cassie and her husband, Matthew, are gurgling over with “goo-goo talk”. Together, they just produced my grandniece, Claire. Cassie‟s proud sister, Auntie Carlene, has probably picked up on “goo-goo talk” real fast. I know Granny Lynn, my sister and beaming grandmother of this fine little girl is willing to bring anyone and everyone up to speed on the proper way to converse with an infant - “goo-goo talk”. Enjoy it. The time to talk like that is very short and precious. I dated a girl once whose family owned a small, white, toy poodle mix named, Gigi. They had developed a new way of talking to Gigi. Logically, I named it, “Gigi talk”. No one seemed to mind. It was a fact. To talk “Gigi talk”, you must first clench your teeth and keep them clenched during the whole time you are talking. You must also raise the pitch of your voice. It‟s like changing the tone on your radio from bass to treble. Try it. Right now. Clench your teeth and start talking. It really alters your speech. I don‟t think Gigi would hear you if you spoke normally. She only understood and responded to, “Gigi talk”. How many pet owners out there have developed special voices and languages they use when talking to their pets? Some are quite annoying. Then, there are those people, who talk differently, when meeting a non-English speaking person. I think Tim Conway and Harvey Kormann, both from the “Carol Burnett Show”, did a humorous skit about this. We‟ve seen it happen elsewhere. The English speaking person will talk very slowly and loudly to the person who doesn‟t speak English. They will over-annunciate every word in an attempt to communicate understandably. If a Frenchman walked up to me and spoke French slowly, loudly, and clearly, I don‟t believe I‟d have any better idea of what he was saying. A number of years ago, I underwent vocal chord surgery. I was unable to talk for a week or two. It was an interesting experience. People automatically assumed that I was deaf, too, since I could not talk. People would talk slowly and loudly. One woman put her face six inches in front of mine and asked if I could read lips? People talked differently to me when I could not talk than when I could talk. People develop different languages and different mannerisms depending on the particular situation. Words are carefully chosen without much inflection or emotion when speaking to the boss, pastor, or priest. How many guys fall apart when they meet an attractive woman? Their mastery of the English language is lost, put on hold. They bumble along, desperately hoping that nothing stupid will be said. It‟s “defensive talk”. After they part, there is regret. Why did I say that? What an idiot! Last year, I attended a workshop sponsored by a leading manufacturer of video security cameras. Many cameras have been developed for use with IT network systems. That‟s what the workshop was about. The people attending this workshop were “video” people, not “IT” computer people. The engineer speaking at the workshop could just as well have spoken Russian. None of us understood the “language” that he was using. I learned nothing from attending. He was well meaning, but he missed the mark. That brings me to my concluding comments. As a sales rep for video and audio equipment, I have to be keenly aware of who I am talking to. I cannot assume that the person on the other end of the phone knows what I am talking about when I use certain words or terms in my conversation. It‟s courteous to ask questions first. It‟s important to understand what they know and what they want. I‟ll take things a step at a time using a language that they understand. My success depends on this strategy. In our personal lives, we need to talk in a language that people understand. How can we help someone or be a friend if we don‟t take the time to listen to determine our response? Talking loudly to a hearing impaired person or non-English speaking person gets us nowhere, no matter the volume. Being pompous and arrogant is useless, too. For our relationships to be successful and meaningful, we may have to learn different languages and ways of speaking. “Elm trees, pick-up trucks, and golf courses” (October 27, 2007) For those of you who regularly read, and hopefully enjoy, my short essays, you know it‟s not uncommon for me to select a title that may not make a whole lot of sense at first glance. What could elm trees, pick-up trucks, and golf courses possibly have in common? These three things remind me of a word. That word is “appreciation”. When I first moved into my little house on Wyoming Avenue, there were mature trees everywhere. Our street was lined with majestic old elms. There were three large elm trees in my backyard that provided my house and yard with shade against the western sun. Disease claimed the life of many of those elms on our street as well as those in my backyard. With the absence of those trees and the large trees belonging to the neighbor behind me, there is little relief from the hot sun on a summer afternoon. The handle on my back door gets hot to the touch without the shade. I decided to have aluminum awnings installed above my windows and doors. They certainly help, but they are an inadequate substitute for large trees and the shade they provide. I took those trees for granted. I figured that they would always be there. I certainly enjoyed my elms, but I never fully appreciated them until now. Two weeks ago, a train hit my truck. I‟m OK, but I can‟t say the same for my truck. It‟s in a body shop undergoing a massive overhaul. The car rental agency has me driving a “Matchbox” car. It‟s quite a drop in elevation sitting in this little car. I‟m used to sitting up high in a Ford F150 4x4. I use my truck to haul things for people. I‟d let people borrow my truck from time to time. Having a truck allows me to do what I enjoy most, which is helping people. It sure is hard to haul anything in a little car. I‟m discovering that there is a difference between “enjoying” something and “appreciating” it. I‟ve always enjoyed my trucks throughout the years. Not having one for a month has done wonders to increase my appreciation for a truck. You know, I think I‟ll start washing it a little more often once I get it back. That brings us to the topic of “golf courses”. For those of us in the northern climes, the opportunity to enjoy a round of golf is limited to six, sometimes seven months. My golfing companions and I look for the first golf course to open up in the spring. We‟re also the die-hard golfers you‟ll see on the course wearing gloves, sweatshirts, and jackets in late fall. Fall golf presents its challenges. It‟s easy to lose a golf ball in the fallen leaves that line the rough. Quite often, there will be leaves on the green, too. We brush away enough of them to create an unobstructed path between our ball and the hole. With the advance of the colder weather, it‟s usually windy on the course in the fall. During the summer, we enjoy our golf. During the spring and fall, we appreciate the warmer golf season. We also appreciate any last chance to get out and swing the clubs before Old Man Winter arrives. During the dormant winter months our appreciation for playing the game intensifies. We‟re all guilty of going through a day, every day actually, of taking something for granted. That something can be many things. We routinely set our alarm clock before hopping into bed, assuming that we will be alive to hear it ring the next morning. We take for granted that our heart will continue to beat and our lungs will continue to contract and expand while we sleep. In the morning, we expect our muscles to work, allowing us to stand up, stretch, and walk over to that alarm clock to turn it off. What I find incredible is how many of us assume that our life and bodies will continue to function effortlessly and flawlessly while abusing ourselves with harmful habits day after day. In doing this, we demonstrate very little appreciation for life, the greatest gift we have. I‟m guilty of taking some things for granted and failing to appreciate. Appreciating something or someone is not passive, but active. It requires purposeful thought and may require that we do something. If we say that we appreciate life and our bodies, we need to make changes in our lifestyles to prove it. It requires that we abandon those habits that take away our life, that destroy our bodies. Perhaps there is someone you appreciate. Don‟t keep it to yourself. Tell them. Send a card or make a phone call. Do you appreciate your home? Well, keep your home and your yard looking good. I appreciate loyal customers. I need to let them know that more often. The list goes on and on. Too often, we do not take the time to appreciate something until it is taken from us. We are too busy cruising and abusing through life without giving much thought to life itself. It doesn‟t hurt to stop and take the time to think about what we‟re doing, where we‟re going, the people around us, and the things we hold dear. Don‟t just enjoy friends and family. Appreciate them. Don‟t just enjoy good health if you have it, appreciate it. It goes without saying that the person who changes their mindset from “taking things for granted” and converts it to “appreciation” will notice changes in their life. I firmly believe that changing our mindset from “enjoyment” to “appreciation” makes a big difference, too. Making these mental changes will lead to making physical changes. Who knows? It might help to finally and successfully “kick” out bad habits. What‟s wrong with that? I think I‟ll plant a couple of fast growing trees in my backyard next spring. I‟ve already resolved to let my truck know much I appreciate it by visiting the car wash more often. It appears that we may have a chance to golf one more time this year before our favorite course closes for the season. Saturday and Sunday may only be 50 degrees. That‟s okay. We‟ll bundle up, swing away, and appreciate the fact that we can play the game one more time with good friends. “Land of the Giants” (October 17, 2007) Irwin Allen, the TV show genius and early special effects master, created a TV series called, “Land of the Giants”. It ran for two seasons in 1968 and 1969. The first episode began with Suborbital Flight #612 heading for London when it crashed. The crew and passengers soon realized that they were not on Earth, but in a “different” place. The occupants of this place were giants and everything in this place dwarfed the stranded earthlings. The series chronicled their adventures. As many of you know, my truck was struck by a train last week. The damage was extensive. After being towed to the body shop, I entered the offices to have the work order written up. Seated in a chair in the lobby was a man I thought was another customer. He turned out to be a car rental agent, patiently waiting for his next victim, uh, I mean customer, in need of a rental car. I was his next customer. He was a pleasant enough chap who already had a car on the way for me to rent. Since the railway company has admitted total responsibility for the accident, they are paying for the rental, which, will last for three more weeks. I was led outside to a shiny new Toyota Corolla sedan. Now, I‟m used to driving a full-size 4x4 Ford F150 pick-up truck. Crawling into this little car was a new experience for me. At once, I was transported to the “Land of the Giants”. Thanks to a train accident, I now found myself in a different world, where I am dwarfed by many things and I dwarf a few things myself. At first, I needed to familiarize myself with the basic controls. The gearshift is not on the column in a little car like it is in a big truck. It‟s on the floor. The windshield wiper/washer controls are on the column. For the first week, when reaching to put the car in gear, I washed and wiped the windows. At least they are clean. The cruise controls are also located on the column below the wiper/washer arm. Once again, I am cleaning my windshield whenever I attempt to activate the cruise control. The steering wheel is about the size of a Frisbee. It does not sit up high where I can drive with my arms extended. It‟s located between my legs. That alone makes me rather uncomfortable. Turning this little wheel requires a different motion than that of a big steering wheel. I expect I‟m using a different set of muscles that I normally do not use when driving a big truck. Who knows, maybe I‟ll have bigger, stronger arms after this rental has concluded? Getting in and out of a small vehicle is rather awkward. I feel like I‟m the second person on a sled with my legs bunched up near my knees while hugging the person in front, the person here being the steering wheel. The dashboard controls are smaller and closer together. I still can‟t adjust the rotary volume knob without skipping through the CD tracks or switching radio stations. I‟m in the “Land of the Giants” when I‟m driving. My first time down the Interstate was rather unnerving. I‟m not used to looking at the hubs of the wheels on semi trucks. Mini-vans seem like “Maxi-vans”. I can‟t see when driving behind them or along side of them. I find this rather embarrassing. The family station wagon and larger sedans present visual challenges. These vehicles seem enormous to me now. In my full size truck, I could see above, around, and along side of mini-vans, full size cars, pick-up trucks, and most SUV‟s. It certainly takes longer to pull out of a parking spot than it ever has. Inevitably, I find myself parked between the Chevy Suburban and the dreaded mini-van. I cannot see a thing until I have completely exited the space. I retreat slowly, hoping a passing car will see me. I think I‟ll park at the furthest end of the lot where others dare not go. Hopefully, no one will park alongside. This morning, on my way to the office, I stopped at the post office to “drop” a couple of envelopes in the drive through mailboxes. One does not “drop” mail into the box when driving a small car. I pulled up alongside of the blue box, rolled the window down, and looked up, I mean way up, to the slot where I needed to deposit my envelopes. I had to unfasten my seatbelt and stretch as far as I could to tip those letters into the slot. Had the mailboxes gotten bigger? No. I shrunk. Drive through windows at the fast food restaurants and coffee shops seem more elevated as well. Everything around me seems to be bigger now that I am driving a little car. Some people drive beater cars with bumper stickers that read, “My other car is a BMW, or Mercedes, or whatever”. I‟m thinking about creating a bumper sticker that clearly reads, “MY BIG 4x4 TRUCK IS IN THE SHOP. THIS IS A RENTAL CAR”. I‟ll place one on the tiny front bumper, the tiny back bumper, and on the tiny roof, which, unfortunately, most other drivers see. If I were to conduct an informal survey about driving and vehicles, I think I‟d find that more people would agree that it takes more time to adjust to driving a big vehicle after driving a small one than those who say it takes more time adjusting to a small vehicle after driving a big one. That puts me in the minority, I guess. The crew of Suborbital Flight 612, were also in the minority in more ways than one after landing at that mysterious place, the “Land of the Giants”. I‟ll have to rent the final episode of that TV show to see if they returned home where life is normal. In three weeks, I‟m hoping to escape from the ”Land of the Giants” and return to normal driving. How does that song go, “You don‟t know what you‟ve got „til it‟s gone …”? My Ford truck, although sustaining extensive damage and repair, will look as good to me as the day I saw it on the dealer‟s lot. If the TV networks decide to re-create a series based on that TV show, I will not be applying for any acting positions. I think I‟ve had enough of “mini-adventures” in the “Land of the Giants”. “How I long for waxed paper” (October 10, 2007) Some people go in search of things that challenge them physically or mentally. Others have challenges thrust upon them involuntarily. Day-to-day living isn‟t without it‟s “normal” challenges. Getting to work on time, raising kids, paying the bills, trying to stay healthy, etc., all represent “normal” challenges. How I long for waxed paper. I remember a time when I could open a box of breakfast cereal and the inner bag with my bare hands. At six feet tall, I only tip the scale at 152 pounds. People do not confuse me with the “Bionic Man”. Today‟s packaging materials requires that I be the “Bionic Man”. They represent those new challenges thrust upon us involuntarily. I was brought to my knees last week trying to open up the sealed inner bag in a box of animal crackers. Yes, I admit it. I love animal crackers. The bag is made of some indestructible and super slippery plastic material that cannot be grasped nor opened with bare hands. It‟s this same material that our cereal and snack crackers are packaged with. What is going on? What has happened to good old-fashioned waxed paper? Manufacturers, please consider the castaway marooned on a desolate island with no metal cutting tools. If your food packages wash up on their beach, how will they open them? Please, consider the male of our species. He can no longer impress the female of our species with his ability to open the bag without the use of implements. When we attempt to do so, the bag is mangled and ripped, the contents destroyed. How often have you had difficulty separating one, just one bag from the rack at the end of the self-serve checkout lane to bag your groceries? Those plastic bags are extremely thin and even more slippery than cereal bags. After I select bulk fruit and produce, bagging them is a challenge. You know the routine, tear a bag off the roll and try to open it. I can‟t open it unless I lick the end of my thumb and forefinger. I feel like I‟m breaking one of the Laws of Sanitation when I do. Well, enough about slippery and “unopenable” bags. I‟d like to meet the person who invented the method of packaging and sealing music CD‟s. There are nylon pull strings, sticky plastic tabs, and foil tabs to contend with. Each must be carefully removed in the proper sequence or the CD may self-destruct. I‟ve never opened a CD package without resorting to the serrated kitchen knife. Who, among us, has not been challenged with the dreaded “Plastic Clam Shell” package? You know the one I mean? All those items and toys hanging on racks in those hard plastic bubbles sealed airtight with super adhesives. If you attempt to open them with your bare hands, you run the risk of cutting your hands and severing fingers. That‟s a pleasant thought, eh? It‟s all part of the “Packaging Conspiracy”. And just what is this conspiracy? Companies have taken advantage of these various forms of “unopenable” packing materials. New cutting tools and specially designed knives are now advertised online and on those annoying TV Infomercials. I visited the website, “AsSeenOnTV” today to test my theory. My favorite tool was the “Amazing OpenX”. The advertisement shows an angry woman‟s face as she tries to open the package of shower curtain rings she has just bought by chewing on the package. If she only had the “Amazing OpenX” her life would be so much better. It makes opening those impossible, yes, they admit it, impossible plastic packages a snap. I think the special TV offer included some funky looking scissors that did everything from trimming nose hairs to opening walnuts. Can life get any better? How I long for waxed paper and sensible packaging that does not require a college degree in “Extractology” or the use of sharp implements of destruction. Some of us have a propensity to accidentally injure ourselves while using sharp things. I won‟t mention my name. I guess that‟s enough ranting and raving about modern packaging technologies. I‟ll continue to pack my groceries in paper bags whenever possible rather than embarrass myself wrestling with slippery plastic bags. As long as the “Sanitation Police” don‟t catch me licking the ends of my fingers, I‟ll keep bagging my fruit and produce my way. When the time comes to open up the “devil” of all packaging, the dreaded “Clam Shell Package”, I‟ll do the manly thing and use my Craftsman circular power saw. No one will point their finger and laugh at me then. “The first person I’d like to meet in heaven” We‟ve all heard that question, “Who is the first person you‟d like to meet or greet when you get to heaven?” The answers vary from Shakespeare to Houdini or relatives to politicians. It may be someone from the Bible or from Hollywood movies. The first person I‟m going to track down is my guardian angel. I‟m going to give him or her a big hug and a hearty handshake, and then take them out for dinner. I‟m hoping there will be restaurants in heaven. My guardian angel was looking out for me once again early yesterday morning, Monday, October 08. It was a dark and rainy morning when I left my house at 7 AM to go to work. I wanted to be sure to arrive early since there was a monthly sales meeting planned for 8 AM. For some odd reason, I chose to drive a slightly different route to the office. As I was driving down a quiet residential street called Brookside Ave, I followed the left hand turn in the road and proceeded slowly over the railroad tracks. I‟ve set the stage now for various scenarios, haven‟t I with darkness, rain, and railroad tracks? Let‟s add three other ingredients – no flashing red crossing lights, no train whistles, and no train headlights. So, what happened? As I began to cross the tracks, I heard glass shattering and metal crunching, and I felt the impact of something heavy hitting my truck. I did not know what had just happened. I looked to my right and saw that a small locomotive with a large crane arm mounted to the front had just struck my truck. This particular locomotive is called a “Kershaw Tie Crane”. The crane and steel jaws are used to lift and place railroad ties. It was the first of four locomotive work engines heading down the tracks to a jobsite. I looked around the truck cab and saw broken glass everywhere. The outside mirror from the right side was now lying on floor beneath my feet. I was covered in broken glass. My truck was still running and I was able to pull it over to the side of the road. I got out and started walking back towards the tracks where the locomotive engineer and several other railway workers were standing. They asked me if I was okay and I said I think so. I said it appeared that the crane arm took out my passenger side windows. That‟s not all it took out. When I headed back to look at the right side of my truck, it was as if someone had taken a large can opener and peeled away the metal side front to back. To make this short, they had decided not to activate the red flashing crossing lights. I‟m not sure why. I could not see them coming since trees block the view to the right of what may be on the tracks when driving west to east. There were no warning whistles or horns. To quote the locomotive engineer as he talked with the police officer, “That poor guy didn‟t have a chance.” That “poor guy” referred to me. I did have a chance, however. I had a guardian angel. On this particular morning, I used up the third of my nine lives. After arriving at the auto body shop with the tow truck driver, we surveyed the extensive damage, which is likely going to “total” my truck. One thing struck us. Had that crane arm been elevated one or two inches higher in the air, it would not have struck the side of my truck with such force from front to back. It would have slid across the hood and taken out the windshield, the cab, and me. In spite of the fact that I had broken glass in my shoes, my briefcase, my computer case, my drivers seat, and everywhere else, I had no scratches or cuts. In the rain I leaned on the shoulder of one the railway workers so I could dump glass out of my shoe. It was a morning I‟ll not forget. Today, I‟m puttering around in a tiny Toyota Corolla rental car with my butt dragging on the ground, looking up at cars as they drive by. I‟d prefer to be sitting up in the cab of my Ford F150 4X4 truck, looking down at cars as they drive by. It really doesn‟t much matter at this point. Whatever position I‟m in, I find myself once again looking up to the heavens, thanking God one more time for looking out for me. I don‟t know the name of that guardian angel assigned to follow me around, but I hope to someday. They certainly have been busy. He or she can fill me in on the details of all the other “near misses” in my life that I don‟t even know about. You, too, have a guardian angel assigned to follow you around. I‟m convinced of it, even it you are not. Think of those “near misses” in your life. It doesn‟t hurt to pause and be grateful. God likes to hear from us. I‟m sure He‟ll let that angel know when he does hear from us. So, who do you want to look for when you first get to heaven? Is it some insignificant Hollywood actor or author? Why not look for your guardian angel, give them a big hug, and take them out for dinner? That‟s the first thing I‟m going to do. “And that’s the way it is …” (September 16, 2007) I believe a news anchor years ago would end his news broadcasts by saying those very words, “And that‟s the way it is.” Facts are facts. What has happened has happened. Now it‟s up to us to consider it and deal with it. It‟s the same thing with each one of us. Things have happened in our past resulting in consequences that may be with us still. What has happened has happened. That‟s the way it is. How we deal with those past events shape our lives today. We may harbor guilt, anger, and unforgiveness. If we were smart, we would accept what happened, learn from it, and simply move on. Regret and remorse, are not exactly the ingredients for a healthy, happy life. It was quite ironic that both my sister Lynn and I dealt with our own ghosts during the same week. It was the week prior to the Labor Day holiday weekend. Grand events were planned for that weekend. All of our siblings were coming into town to celebrate our mother‟s 75th birthday. After that, it was off to Breezy Point Resort for the Haraldson family reunion. Although my Dad has just the one brother, there has been a whole lot of “begetting” going on. We descended en masse upon the unsuspecting resort. But, that‟s another story, which involves a whole lot of people, whom I‟m related to, with names I can‟t quite remember. The birthday party for our mother was Thursday evening at my brother‟s home. The entire family was there. Prior to this party, my sisters once again instructed each once of us to write down our memories of Mom on paper. These sheets of paper would then be bound in a “memory” book and presented to her. I say “once again” because we were required to do this very same thing several years ago for our Dad‟s 70th birthday party and his memory book. At first, I was nervous about the assignment. Later, I became annoyed. You‟re probably wondering why someone would be upset about having to jot down some memories? A valid question, to be sure. This assignment was forcing me to deal with the consequences of an incident that occurred back in 1975. Simply put, I was in a serious auto accident. I was unconscious and in a coma for several days. The doctors told me I have retrograde amnesia. In other words, I can‟t remember the accident and time prior to the accident. That length of forgotten time varies with each person. I guess it depends on how hard the blow is to the head and what spot on the brain that was injured. To compound this head injury, I contracted spinal meningitis in July of 1993. It affects the spinal fluid and the fluid that surrounds the brain. Massive headaches were followed by several seizures. You know, just your everyday malady. The end result of these events? Significant memory loss. I have very few specific memories of my family. Writing down memory pages was a daunting task. I was embarrassed. It was time to clear the air. They say confession is good for the soul. They, whoever “they” are, knew what they were talking about. Everyone was seated in the living room. My mother was handed this enormous bound volume. I was sitting on the steps leading upstairs. She began to read Debbie‟s writings. Debbie recounted in such detail and with such style, one childhood memory after another. Everyone was laughing and throwing in their comments and remarks. Then, it was on to Lynn‟s memory pages, which were written with detail and flair. Everyone was howling and choking on their beverages. I found myself laughing even though I had no idea of what they were talking about. Soon, she began reading Matthew and Emily‟s pages. Emily was born while I was in college. Her stories were fresh and new. A couple of the grandkids and nieces had contributed their pages, too, complete with colored drawings. The time had come to read what I had written. I asked if I could read aloud what few words there were on the page. But first, I said, “I have a confession to make. I have a problem. The injuries to my head have had more of an impact than I realized. I have very few memories of my family and growing up.” I turned to Debbie, only two years younger than I and told her that I could not recall one memory that included her and that this made me very sad. From the tears in her eyes, I think she was sad, too. My only recollection of Lynn was the day she was born. It was on my 10th birthday. Matthew was only 5 when I left home for college at age 17. It was two days after graduating high school. I can‟t remember my high school graduation. Hell, I couldn‟t even tell you if was held inside or outside. I turned to my mom to read what I had written. I told her that she baked the best chocolate chip cookies. Her brownies were terrific! They were not ruined with nuts or frosting. Never under baked with a light crispy top. I told her that I remember her sense of humor. She loved to laugh and see others laugh. I‟m delighted to say that I inherited her “laugh genes”. Humor is so much a part of my personality and my way of life. I thanked her for that. Unfortunately, I lamented the reality that I did not inherit her culinary skills. The microwave oven is still the center of my little used kitchen. It felt good to admit to everyone where I was at. I think my family and I took a step forward in understanding things better. The next time I‟m visiting my family or relatives, I‟ll still feel a bit like a visitor, but a visitor who is welcome with nothing to hide. What has happened has happened. That‟s the way it is. I‟ve dealt with it and finally accepted it. How about you? Turning our “later’s” into “now’s” It‟s already August 2007. Time seems to move along at a faster pace with each year that I get older. Why is that do you suppose? A day is still 24 hours, an hour is still 60 minutes, and a minute is still 60 seconds. Perhaps it‟s the realization that I actually am getting older. I no longer plan my future in terms of 30 or 40 years from now. I think in terms of 10 or 20 years. That‟s a considerably shorter span of time. Oddly enough, I seem to be catching up in age with people I once thought were much older than myself. People like Hollywood celebrities, sports figures, or musicians. People I perceived as older when I was younger are actually closer to my age than I realized. The most sobering age for me was when I turned 38. I realized that my dad was 38 when I left home to go to college. We always think of our parents as being so old, don‟t we? At 38, I did not feel old or look old. If we go back and look at the photos of when our families first started, it‟s quite remarkable how young our parents actually did look. I guess we forget that somehow. I remember going to a surprise birthday party years ago for a dear friend who turned 50. I was close to 30 at the time. Fifty years old seemed ancient. Twenty-five years have passed since then and I‟ve blown by 50. I don‟t feel ancient, but I do feel older. My knees aren‟t quite as flexible as they were. Neither is my back. My blonde hair is slowing giving way to the inevitable gray. My eyesight really depends on glasses. In spite of it all, I‟m quite comfortable with these changes. These are changes I cannot control. It‟s no use getting bent out of shape over (no pun intended). I can‟t slow down time and prevent my body from the natural aging process. I do think it‟s important that we take charge of those things we do have control over. We are still responsible for our attitude, our appearance, and our time. Speaking of “time”, take it from someone who has used up two of his nine lives already. I could just as easily not be here as be here. Although I do not subscribe to a fatalistic point of view, we never know when our last day might be. How many times have we said, “Later, I‟ll do it later or when I get around to it.” When is it “later”? Later may never arrive. We only have “now”. What have you been putting off until later? Calling someone to apologize or to set up a time to get together? Taking a lesson? Going back to school? Starting a savings account or paying off a debt? Taking a vacation? Ouch. That one hit‟s home. I haven‟t taken a real live vacation for more years than I care to remember. Although my work is important to me, I have to realize that I need to take time for myself. It‟s vain for me to think that the company will collapse in my absence or my customers will abandon me and go elsewhere from now on. I have volunteered my time to the 2008 U.S. Women‟s Open Golf championship coming here to Minneapolis next June. Prior to the tournament, I‟ll be building scoreboards, signs, and benches. During the tournament, I‟ll be a Marshall. This may not seem like much of a vacation, but it will be a pleasant change of pace for me. I‟ll be outdoors, working with my hands, and meeting new people including professional women golfers. Just knowing that I have planned to take those two weeks off already feels good. It‟s a step in the right direction. Now I need to stop and think about those other things that I have on my “later” calendar. Some of those things we should do now, rather than later, may not be easy. We may feel uncomfortable, apprehensive, or unprepared. It‟s in making the choice to do it that we find strength and confidence. Think of all of the opportunities that slip by because we say, “later”. Opportunities like getting to know someone better, completing a project, taking a trip, or volunteering. There is probably no avoiding some regrets in our life. Even, when we choose to do something now rather than later, not everything goes as expected. The reward is in knowing that you did it. Obviously, there are things in our life that are legitimate “later‟s” so to speak. Retirement and that fun-filled physical examination by the doctor at age 50 and 60 do not demand the immediate attention of a thirty-four year old person. I, myself, at age 54, have not traded in my rock and roll CD‟s for “elevator music” CD‟s. Even though I have received my personal invitation to join “A.A.R.P.”, I‟ll let that ride until “later”. I believe I‟ll hold off on that trip to “Toupee‟s “R Us” until it becomes absolutely necessary to do so. I think you get the drift of what I am trying to say. Take a good look at your “later” calendar. Start moving those “later‟s” over to your “To Do List”. Who knows, you might discover a whole new you! You may have fun! You may be rewarded! It sure beats looking back someday, wishing you had done things differently. Who needs more regrets? None of us, that‟s for sure. Let‟s all try to turn our “later‟s” into “now‟s” instead of becoming regrets “Going back in time I‟ve not yet figured out a way to overcome the laws of physics and “timeology” (if there is such a word) that will transport our bodies back to a different time or place. Hollywood can only attempt time travel in make believe movies. There are ways to go back, so to speak. That ability is within each one of us. Dr. Keith Swanson is my dentist. He has been my dentist since I was 17. His office is located about a mile from the neighborhood where I grew up. After my visit to Dr Swanson is over, I‟ll hop in my truck and drive through my old neighborhood. We had a great neighborhood with lot‟s of kids, where neighbors knew one another, where people got along. On a recent return to the neighborhood, I noticed a pick-up truck at the Elliott‟s house, across the street from my old house. Mrs. Elliott had six daughters including a set of triplets. She and I shared a common hobby, raising tropical fish. I decided to pull into the driveway and knock on the door. Keep in mind that I had not been there since I was 17. A woman with a bit of gray in her hair answered the door. She took one look at me and said, “Hi, Marty”. After 36 years, she recognized me instantly. Who says plastic surgery doesn‟t pay? I‟m just kidding. It was Dallas, one of the triplets. I asked if her mother still lived there? She did. She looked good, too. Mrs. Elliott was very surprised to see me. We took a walk around her spacious backyard. As kids, we played baseball in that backyard. It brought back a flood of good memories. Standing there, it was if I had gone back in time. It felt good to be there. Seeing the people and places that we fondly remember is one way we can go back in time. Our sense of hearing can also take us back. Whenever I am lying in bed at night or early morning, the sound of a small single engine airplane, flying overhead, leaves me with a peaceful feeling. As a kid, I did not like thunderstorms. Towards the end of a storm, I would sometimes hear a small plane, flying overhead. It calmed me down. I figured that it couldn‟t be too bad outside if a small plane was flying. Hearing a small plane overhead still leaves a peaceful feeling. There is a particular song that brings me back in time and provides good memories. Don Henley, formerly of the “Eagles”, sang a song called “The Boys of Summer”. It‟s about the end of summer. “Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach, I can feel it in the air, summer‟s out of reach. Empty lake, empty streets, the sun goes down alone”. This song first hit the airwaves at the end of summer. I don‟t recall the year. I heard it for the first time while walking around Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis. The roads and the beach were deserted. Those words were so appropriate for that particular day and time. Hearing that song instantly takes me back to that day. I still get the feeling I had at that time. It‟s rather melancholy, but a good feeling, nonetheless. Some people say that our sense of smell is the most powerful of our senses to trigger memories. I‟m inclined to agree. There are many odors that can trigger memories and stir up feelings inside of us. My truck has a large moon roof. I like to open it up whenever possible. While driving to work the other day, I had an experience where a smell brought back good memories of when I was a boy. It had rained the night before. There was a damp and musty, yet refreshing smell in the air. It reminded me of day camp. As kids, we would go hiking in the woods, make crafts, and enjoy the outdoors. The smell that morning brought me back to day camp. I almost hyperventilated trying to breathe in as much of it as I could. There are times in a shopping mall or store where I will be behind a woman who is wearing a certain fragrance. I immediately recognize it as “White Linen”, made by Estee Lauder. Boy, do the memories start to pile up. In my 20‟s, I dated a girl named Sherie. I regret not marrying her. She wore “White Linen”. Last, but not least, taste can be our means of traveling back in time. One of the women here at the office brought in brownies one day. They were not ruined with nuts or frosting. They were plain with a slightly crispy top. I took one bite and it reminded me of my mom‟s brownies. I‟ve yet to come across chocolate chip cookies that tastes like the ones my mom baked. If I do, I‟m sure I‟ll be transported back to the 1960‟s. Eating good lefse takes me back to the small towns of Jasper and Pipestone, located in southwestern Minnesota. These towns are where by grandmothers, great grandmothers, and great aunts lived. They would serve lefse when we visited. It was very good. So, it is possible to go back in time, in a way. Whenever my senses detect that “trigger” that transports me back in time, I try to make that moment last as long as possible. I savor the “feelings” that those memories provide. That quick trip back just makes you feel good. We can all use that once in awhile. It may not be medically sound, but I‟m going to suggest to the AMA that “feelings” be added to the list of human senses. Wouldn‟t you agree? So, be on the lookout for that moment when one of your senses is triggered. Slow down and take it all in. I hope I hear a small plane, flying overhead, as I fall asleep tonight. “Platinum and beyond” That title, “Platinum and Beyond”, could be the theme for a metallurgist‟s convention. It could even describe an exclusive organization whose members must be blonde. I‟ve chosen this title to tell a story about “qualifying” for credit cards. I‟ll even throw in a couple of other miscellaneous, somewhat related topics into the mix also. This will be a mixed bag of “dribble”. My bank and I have been together longer than many married couples. It‟s been 30 years or so. During this time, my bank has changed its name three times. I can‟t tell you how many times they have redesigned and remodeled the interior. I‟m sure these changes are not cheap. I wonder how my bank can afford to continually upgrade the level of my credit card without additional up charges to me? My standard level Visa card was just fine at first. The bank decided that I later “qualified” for their “Silver” level card. I was okay with that. Then, right on cue, it was later announced that I had “qualified” to be upgraded to “Gold” card status. I must admit that I felt pretty sporty toting that “Gold” card around in my wallet. Although very few people ever actually saw my card, I still felt sporty. Guess what? Years later, my “Platinum” level card arrived in the mail. Could life possibly get any better for me I wondered? Apparently, my bank thought it could. With much ado and fanfare, it was announced that I, Marty Haraldson, had “qualified” for the ultimate in credit card status. I was eligible to receive their new “Signature” level Visa card. I received numerous mailings telling me to expect my new card in August. I was given the option of phoning my bank before July 20th to decline this exciting new offer. Who was I to pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity? These mailings also said that my exciting new card would have a new account number as well as a cornucopia of benefits. Needless to say, I could hardly eat or sleep. Well, not really. I have my new card. My life has not changed. I‟ve not drawn better numbers in the Lottery. Women have not been beating a path to my door, anxious to meet me and enjoy my new, high-powered lifestyle. I still charge a few things and then pay the balance when the statement arrives in the mail. Ho hum. Apparently, I “qualify” for many other offers and promotions without any effort on my part. I arrive home each day to a phone answering machine blinking wildly telling me that I have “important” messages waiting to be heard. There are companies who call to tell me that I “qualify” for their spectacular debt reduction programs. Evidently, they failed to do any market research on my financial situation. Had they done so, they would have found that I have no debt. I wonder how I “qualified”? The messages continue with those people who call to tell me that I‟ve “won” something! I‟ve won a car, a vacation, a mobile home, or free colonoscopies for life! Mortgage companies are quick to call to remind me that my excellent payment history “qualifies” me for a fantastic new low interest rate. Just for fun, I‟ll call them back and listen to their pitch. After they‟re done talking, I‟ll ask if their rate is better than my current rate of 4.78%. A moment of silence follows. I‟ll hear some mumbling followed by, “Have a good day, sir”. continued Evidently, the tree trimming companies have no idea if the person they call with their special tree trimming offers lives in a house or an apartment. I doubt they know if the person they call has trees. I do not “qualify” since I lost my trees to Dutch Elm disease, years ago. My favorite marketing messages are from those satellite dish companies. They proudly announce that I “qualify” for their four receivers and dish package. I live in a small bungalow. I suppose I go “high- tech” and have a satellite receiver installed in my bathroom. What do you think? Why don‟t I ever receive phone calls from people and companies with offers I‟d be interested in and do “qualify” for? It‟s the same with the mail. My mailbox is stuffed each day with offers that make no sense whatsoever. I‟ll receive catalogs for women‟s clothing, bra‟s, and shoes. I am not a “cross dresser” I assure you. Why do I receive pet supplies catalogs? I have no pets! I‟m particularly fond of catalogs and brochures for clothing and shoes of all types that use “Velcro” only. What‟s with that? I‟m not a toddler or a feeble old man, at least, not yet. During the warmer months, my recreational passion is golf. The only golf related catalog to appear in my mailbox comes from a company who thinks that I build and assemble golf clubs (?). There are some great deals on heads, shafts, grips, glue, vises, and special tools. Where did they ever get the idea that I “qualify” for such publications? These catalogs show up each month at no charge to me. I keep them in case I ever lose my job. I can always try to make a living building “MARTY” brand golf clubs in my basement. I‟m sure that they will be recognized and accepted by the PGA and LPGA Associations. I guess that this is enough mindless dribble about a bunch of nothing. I have to wonder about the “logic” of phone marketing people, lending institutions, and companies that flood the Postal Service with tons of junk mail. Perhaps this hit or miss approach yields economic results. One thing is certain in all of this. I do not have to do anything on my part to “qualify”. As long as I‟m living, breathing, own a mailbox, and have a phone number, I‟m “qualified”. Thanks for reading. Once in awhile it‟s good to take a break from more serious and logical topics and unwind. If you gleaned any inspirational or motivational thought from the preceding words, it was purely accidental. Enjoy your mail and phone messages. “When is good enough, good enough?” How many times have we muttered that short phrase, “It‟s good enough” during our lives? It‟s usually associated with half-hearted efforts, settling for less, buying cheap and inferior products, and trying to get by. When we were students, we would exert limited energy when writing that paper, doing that report, or studying. Our goal was to get by and get a passing grade. Upon completion of that task we would say or think to ourselves, “It‟s good enough”. As working adults, how many of us do the minimum work required at our jobs thinking, “It‟s good enough. I‟ll still get paid”? As consumers, we can often fall into the trap of purchasing cheaper, inferior products or services while trying to convince ourselves we are being thrifty and smart. Once again, we think or mutter, “It‟s good enough”. Weeks or months later, we find ourselves once again in search of that very same product because what we settled for is now broken and did not last. Taking care of our bodies, managing our weight, and avoiding nasty habits does not appear to be on the forefront of people‟s minds these days. Popping vitamins and occasional dieting is what people do in an effort to get by. “It‟s good enough” is the rationale behind that. There was a rather odd news story on the TV last week. I didn‟t catch all of it. It seems there is a growing trend among certain single people to hurriedly find a mate, to rescue them from singleness. I didn‟t know that being single was so terrible. I‟ve been single all my life. I enjoy my freedom. I‟ve had married people tell me how they envied me. Anyway, these desperate singles are using whatever means at hand to latch on to someone, even the first one who comes along. That sounds somewhat like “It‟s good enough” to me. How about you? I wonder how meaningful and long lasting that union will be? Settling for less or giving a half- hearted effort will never yield positive results. So, when is “good enough”, good enough? For those of us old enough to remember, “Sears and Roebuck” published a thick printed catalog years ago. Why was it thick? It was chock full of stuff. Many of their products came in three choices, “Good, Better, and Best”. For example, on one page, there would be three electric power drills shown. The “Good” model was the least expensive. The “Better” model offered additional features and cost more. The model labeled “Best” was their top model with all of the features, it was heavy duty, and had the highest price tag. Who would be a candidate to purchase the “Good” power drill? How about the weekend home repair handyman? His demand for a power drill would be occasional and light duty. This model would be “good enough” for him. The professional carpenter who depends on his tools everyday for his livelihood would make a serious mistake selecting this lighter duty model. It‟s not “good enough” for him. He would be wise to choose the “best” power drill. Does everyone need to drive a large expensive SUV? No. It is very appropriate for many people to purchase a small, economical, fuel efficient, car. That is truly “good enough”. Although I am single, I choose to drive a full size, 4 X 4, pick up truck. Why? I do volunteer handyman repair work for people. I also make myself, and my truck available to my friends, co-workers, neighbors, and volunteer agencies. It is often necessary to haul supplies, furniture, power equipment, dirt, gravel, and whatever else. It is rather difficult to do that with a compact car. The 4 X 4 feature comes in handy during our Minnesota winters. That brings me to our modern day situation. For the past 28 years, I have been with the same company selling professional video and audio equipment. My customer base is quite extensive and may I say, rather loyal? Why are they loyal? I provide first class, personal customer service to each person I deal with. People know that I will return their phone call or email, promptly. If I tell someone that I will send a quote, they expect to see it. My price is always fair. It may not be a ridiculous, unrealistic, Internet type price, but it is fair, nonetheless. The Internet has become a valuable tool for those of us in our business. Information on products is instantly available. Our vendors offer excellent websites where we can retrieve instruction manuals, service manuals and product brochures. The Internet has also become a nightmare. Never before has the phrase, “It‟s good enough”, become such a part of the everyday experience. There is no end to the number of online vendors and resellers willing to “give away the store” as it were. Any product can be found on the Internet for a “cheaper” price. There is no personal customer service to accompany that “cheaper” price, however. People looking to save a buck and avoid their local “full service” dealer, justify their Internet purchase by saying, “It‟s good enough”. Their thinking quickly changes after the product they purchased online at “astronomical savings” decides to fail. They call the Internet dealer. Does a live person answer the phone? Not usually. After pushing the buttons on their phone while listening to recorded prompts, they may get lucky enough to actually talk to a live human being. The excitement builds. Their expectations are soon dashed as that person tells them that it‟s not “their” problem. They tell you to call the manufacturer of the product. The product must be sent to a service center across the country. What happened to “It‟s good enough”? The price savings have evaporated. After paying for shipping charges to have their product serviced and paying possible hidden service fees, the customer has actually paid more and suffered untold frustration. When I receive a call from a potential client looking for a product, I‟ll make certain that the product asked for is their best choice. When asked to match an Internet price, I‟ll say no, unless they are willing to settle for no customer service after the sale. If they agree to not call me if any problems do occur, pay up front with a credit card, and pay for all shipping charges, I may consider it. “It‟s good enough” is not a part of my vocabulary in the way that I treat my customers. It should not be the way I think when dealing with friends, neighbors, and strangers. Adding one small word to that phrase can make a world of difference. Why not join me in changing that tired old phrase from, “It‟s good enough” to “Is it good enough?” “The unexpected” “The unexpected.” That sounds like it could be the title of a movie, don‟t you think? What kind of a movie would it be? If I were to take a survey, most people would probably say it would be a scary movie. I‟m sure that few would say it was a family movie like those featured on the “Hallmark Channel” The word, “unexpected”, is usually associated with a tragic or sad event. It‟s often used in the same sentence when referring to storms, accidents, heart attacks, lay-offs, bills, etc. Insurance companies do not like it when the “unexpected” occurs. Investors do not like those “unexpected” dips in the stock market. And so it goes. It‟s too bad. I almost feel sorry for this word. If the word “unexpected” had a personality, it would probably be out lobbying to encourage people to use it more, for happier occasions. There is a good side to the word “unexpected”. It‟s that good side I‟d like us to think about. What are some unexpected things that could happen to us that are good? How about a phone call from someone we have not heard from in a long time, or, a visit from someone? It could be a bonus check, a rebate, a larger tax return, an award, a surprise party, or for the golfer, that elusive birdie or hole-in-one. There is no end to the possible “unexpected‟s” that can occur in our lives. We have no control over if and when something good may unexpectedly happen to us. We do, however, have control over unexpected good things that can happen to someone else. We can be the person responsible for causing something unexpected to occur. It doesn‟t have to be spectacular. It need not be limited to a family member or friend. Step outside of that circle and do something unexpected for an acquaintance, someone you do business with, or a stranger. Be daring. Be creative. It‟s a blast! On one of my last visits to the laundry where I have my shirts cleaned and pressed, I stopped and bought a big box of mixed pastries for everyone who worked there. I didn‟t just walk in with a bag of dirty shirts. I brought donuts, too! They were pleasantly surprised. When I brought my truck in to the Ford dealer for routine maintenance, I did the same thing. I stopped and picked up donuts for all of the mechanics and service personnel. Most people who bring their vehicles in for service are cranky and complaining. I chose to do something that they did not expect. I did something they would enjoy. You can never go wrong with donuts. Each year, I have the same person at the same tax agency go over my taxes and file my returns. This year, they moved to a swanky new office tower. When I arrived at the tower and entered the cavernous, marble lined lobby, I walked towards the Concierge/Receptionist. Seated behind the counter was someone who looked familiar, someone from my past. She recognized me and said, “Hi, Marty”. I admitted that I knew her, but I couldn‟t remember her name. It was Mary. Many years ago, I worked with her sister, Marcia. Marcia had set me up on a blind date with her best friend, Sherie. We hit it off. We dated for several years. I wish to this day, that I had married her. That‟s another story. Mary and I had a delightful chat, catching up on things and people. It was an unexpected surprise for me. The next day, during my lunch hour, I stopped at the nearby florist and picked up an arrangement of flowers. I personally delivered them to Mary with a note that read, “It was a delight to see you again. I hope you have a very pleasant day”. She was very surprised and pleased to get the flowers. I delivered an “unexpected” to Mary that day. As I said earlier, it‟s okay to do something unexpected for a stranger. This was the theme in the movie, “Pay It Forward”. If you‟ve not seen it, rent it. You‟ll be glad you did. I had an unusual experience last winter in a shopping mall. While waiting at the ice cream counter for my strawberry shake, I noticed an old woman shuffle by. Shuffle is the best word to describe how she walked. Her appearance resembled that of a bag lady. Her shoes were nearly falling off her feet. The heels were non-existent. The backs of her shoes were worn through. I caught up with her in the open center of the mall. I introduced myself, told her I noticed her shoes, and I‟d like to buy her a new pair. We went into a woman‟s shoe store. She couldn‟t find anything suitable at that store. She then said she had to catch a bus and I needn‟t bother with her shoes. As she headed to the bus stop area, I dashed into a department store, ran to the nearest manned register and purchased a gift card. I ran out of the store towards the bus stop. I had just missed her as her bus was driving away. I don‟t think I‟ve ever felt so sad in all my life as I did then, watching that bus drive away. I was unable to give her the gift card. I didn‟t even know her name. When I returned to the office, I told my friend, Jackie, about what happened. She told me to feel good rather than sad knowing that I tried to do something unexpected, something good, for someone I didn‟t even know. Please don‟t think that I write about my experiences to bring attention to myself. I simply want to point out how easy it is to do something “unexpected”, something good, for someone else. It doesn‟t have to be donuts or flowers. Perhaps, it could be a visit to someone in a hospital that you don‟t know? How about cutting the grass for a neighbor who is out of town or ill? If you see some guys doing roadwork in your neighborhood on a warm day, why not bring them some cold sodas? Let‟s start thinking of someone who would appreciate something “unexpected” today. Do something that can only come from you. Imagine all of the “unexpected” possibilities. “I’d like to help you, but ….” It‟s no secret to anyone who knows me that I have a natural propensity to injure myself. It‟s accidental and unintentional, I assure you. My nickname is “bonehead”. It‟s a moniker that I wear proudly. One time, I sat down and listed as many of my injuries and accidents that I could remember. People laughed as they read it. They couldn‟t believe that all of these things could happen to one person. Well it‟s true. Perhaps, for fun, I‟ll share that list with you someday. It‟s quite humorous, actually. But, that‟s another tale. Every time you turn on the news or look at a newspaper, you hear or read about some dimwit who spilled their hot coffee in their lap while driving. Then, they have the nerve to blame the coffee shop or fast food restaurant for their injuries. People doing stupid things, getting hurt, and then blaming others and filing lawsuits has become “normal” today. It‟s to the point now where people and organizations are paranoid about helping anyone. This was very evident to me a number of years ago after, what else, another injury. It went like this. I arrived home from work one Friday afternoon. As I unlocked my backdoor, standing on the landing, a thought flashed in my head. I haven‟t had any mishaps for at least three or four months. I was on an “accident free roll”. I cannot explain why that thought popped into my head at that particular time. The next morning, Saturday, I took my neighbor to the landscape nursery to pick up gravel for a project in front of his house. I have a full size pick up truck. We loaded up the gravel and returned home. I was sitting on the tailgate, which was down, taking a break. I gently hopped off the tailgate and landed wrong. When I righted myself, my left foot felt like I was standing on a rather large stick. The problem? There was no stick. I had broken my foot. Wouldn‟t you know it? Just the night before, I was reveling in the fact that I had been injury free for the past few months. So, it was off to Urgent Care. I could drive myself since it was my left foot that was hurt. I arrived at the Medical Center, but I had to park in the movie theatre lot, which was a distance away from Urgent Care. As I was hobbling along at a snails pace in obvious discomfort, the security guard for the Medical Center drove by in his shiny new black SUV and slowed down. He rolled down the window and asked, “Can I help you?” I told him, “Yes. My foot is broken and I would appreciate a lift to the Urgent Care across the parking lot.” “I can‟t do that. It‟s against policy. We could get blamed if you hurt yourself in my vehicle. I can get you a wheelchair,” he offered. “But I can‟t push you. We could get blamed if you get hurt while I am pushing the wheelchair." I‟m thinking great, why did he stop to ask me if he could help me? Then, I started to imagine myself in this wheelchair, my injured leg extended in front, weaving through the concrete barriers and cars in the parking ramp. Do you know how hard it is to steer a wheelchair by yourself? It‟s doubly hard if you‟re a “bonehead”. I finally arrived at Urgent Care. That‟s a bit of an oxymoron considering how long it took me to get from my truck to the door. You may recall reading from one of my earlier essays, about my adventure helping two young women in the store parking lot. They had just purchased a fully assembled bicycle, but were unable to fit it in their car. We needed only to loosen and lower the handlebars. The manager of the store refused to lend us a wrench. She was concerned about liability. What if the wrench slipped and the bike was scratched? She was concerned that we would hold the store at fault for that. When the tree service was at my house last week, removing a huge cottonwood tree that was hovering above my garage, the crew chief asked me if I knew the neighbor behind me? It was her tree that decided to fall down. He wanted to talk with her about removing the tree and debris from her property. I told him that I knew her quite well. If he wanted, I would ride along with him, around the block, to her house, where I would introduce him. He told me that I could not ride in his truck, even for a block. What if something should happen? I could file a lawsuit. It‟s too bad that things have deteriorated to such a low. Once again, the few have spoiled things for the many. There are still too many dimwits running around our world, scaring and threatening people because of their own stupidity. Well, I‟m not a big company, retail giant, or coffee shop. If I see someone who needs help, I‟ll stop. My volunteer efforts have included filling and stacking sandbags, in anticipation of rising flood waters, helping neighborhoods clean up after the ravages of a flood, and volunteering to help search for a missing person. The people you meet at such events are marvelous people. These people come together to help, no strings attached. Years ago, in the northern town of Moose Lake, Minnesota, a young woman had disappeared, the victim of abduction. I took a day off work to help search for her. I was overwhelmed when I pulled my truck into this small town. I still get goose bumps thinking about it. The search headquarters was the local fire/police/rescue station. Hundreds of volunteers had shown up, even from other states. Retail stores had contributed pallets of bottled water, beverages, snacks, and food. Ladies from the area churches were preparing hot meals for everyone. We were going out in busloads to certain rural areas. Thirty or forty people would form a human chain with outstretched arms and methodically cross the terrain, searching for any clues. We would walk through bogs, marshes, creeks, grasslands, and forests. The chain remained intact. It was quite a sight. At the end of the day, we were driven back to the command center where a hot meal was waiting. I was never so tired in all my life. As I exited our bus, a local TV reporter asked if she could interview me? I agreed. All I could talk about were the people who came to help. Not one of them said, “I‟d like to help you, but…” “Our age and golf clubs” What could our age and golf clubs possibly have in common? Our age is measured in numbers or years. If you look at most golf clubs, you‟ll find a number engraved on the club head. When I first took up the wonderful game of golf in my late thirties, I bought an old set of clubs from my neighbor, Tom. At the course, I asked him to explain what those numbers on each club meant and when I was to use each club. He said, “It depends. Everyone is different.” He did explain when each club was used in “normal” situations. While watching a PGA golf broadcast years ago, a pro golfer, on the 18th fairway, was preparing to hit his approach shot to the green. Some of the commentators were surprised and quite rude with their comments about his choice of club. He had a six iron in his hands. Under “normal” circumstances, it may have been “too” much club. A loftier club may have been a wiser choice. Pat Summerall spoke up and reminded those “know-it-all” commentators that the number on the club is for personal reference only. One person may use a six iron, another, a nine iron. Needless to say, the golfer swung the club and the ball landed within a couple of feet from the pin. It silenced the critics. Our choice of golf club is dependent upon our accuracy and strength when swinging the club. It depends, too, on our confidence and our attitude. That is where the similarity to our age begins. How old ARE you? Notice, that I have put the word ARE in capital letters. Repeat the question with emphasis on the word, ARE. Age is certainly a number. That‟s unavoidable. It‟s our attitude and response to our age that makes the difference. Years ago, I visited several different churches. I also checked out the Sunday school class intended for people “my age”. I was in my late thirties,early forties. I was appalled by what I stumbled into. These people seemed to be forty going on sixty. For activities, they were only interested in going out for coffee or going to a play. Didn‟t anybody want to ride a bike, play softball, or golf? Apparently, these activities were for the “younger” set. Being a certain age does not mean that you have to conform to what is “normal” or “expected”. It does not mean that activity and fun must take an exit. I‟m not required to dress like people my age usually do. At what point does it become acceptable for a man to wear dark dress socks and dress shoes with plaid shorts? Where is it written, that a 53 year old man, can no longer wear “Vans” tennis shoes, slim fit jeans, and funky tee shirts? Where is it written, that a woman must abandon her tasteful wardrobe and begin shopping at “Bland Women „R US”? On Friday, July 6th, two contrasting things happened to me that day. My friend Bob Follestad and I took the day off work to golf. At the course, we were paired up with a father and his son. The father looked older, but I suspected that he was younger than me. On the seventh tee box, I hit a nice long tee shot. He turned to me and said, “Nice shot young man”. I said, “Thanks, for the compliment, but I am quite certain that I am older than you. How old are you anyway?” He replied, “I‟m 48”. I told him, “I‟ll be 54 next month.” “Oh”, was his response. I think my attitude and wardrobe portray a younger age, although my gray hair is starting to overtake my blonde hair. Later that afternoon, when I arrived home, I found something interesting in my mail. It was my official invitation to join “AARP”. Apparently, this organization has now opened their membership of “retired people” to include anyone over 50. I did glance it over. There were numerous benefits and discounts available. Unfortunately, most of those activities were for the “older set”, one that I did not yet belong to. It made it‟s way to the recycling container. Although my age, like golf club numbers, should fall into the “norm”, it doesn‟t. I hope it never does. If you have friends or family with kids, start hanging out with them. There‟s nothing like kids to help you feel and act younger. It does me a world of good to hear my friend‟s kids tell me I‟m cool. They would not say that if I pulled my pants up to my chest, wear a boring shirt, a belt with a huge buckle, and old dress shoes. There are too many men and women out there who have let their age, their number, get the best of them. They let themselves go, don‟t care how they look, or what shape they are in. After all, it‟s expected and acceptable after age 50 isn‟t it? If you are a golfer, go ahead a use the club that suits you best. I‟m sure some people chuckle inside when I step up to the tee on a 135 yard, par 3 hole, with my 7 wood in hand. Most people would use a short iron. After a short controlled swing with the ball landing on the green, the chuckling stops. I may not hit the green all the time, but I keep trying. No matter what your age is, don‟t believe for a minute that you must conform to “that number”. Stop letting your age get in the way of having fun and doing things you‟d like to do. There will come a day when time will stop each one of us in our tracks. Quit hurrying it along. How old ARE you, anyway? “It wasn’t clever and it wasn’t funny” Another odd title for a short essay, don‟t you think? It aptly describes an incident that occurred when I was a young boy. I thought it would be a good lead in for my topic today, which is “courtesy”. One day, I was walking up our street, heading home, when I saw a neighbor girl standing on her front lawn, by the curb, wearing a flowery dress. I thought it would be both “clever” and “funny” to run by and flip up her dress to see her panties. There was one unforeseen flaw to my plan. I did not realize that my Dad happened to be looking out of the window from our house at the time. I ran up the street as fast as I could and flipped up Susie‟s dress and laughed. Then I heard a booming voice yell out, “Marty! Get over here, right now!” Oops. It was my Dad. I went home. Apparently, my Dad did not think my little stunt was all that “clever” or “funny”. Now, I do not recall the punishment I received, but I do recall his words and the lesson I learned that day. He told me in no uncertain terms to always show respect and courtesy to all girls and women. My Dad didn‟t just say that. He lives by those words. I can‟t think of anyone who is more of a gentleman. He set me on the right track that day. I can‟t say that I have always shown courtesy to everyone at all times during my life, but I keep trying. Courtesy seems to be lacking today. Wouldn‟t you agree? Unfortunately, people are often surprised when someone is courteous to them. That‟s a sad commentary on the present state of humanity. Courtesy and being courteous should not be optional. Nor, should it be selective. The character, Frank Burns, from the TV show “M.A.S.H.” once said, “It‟s nice to be nice to the nice”. Well, duh. That takes no effort. How about when people aren‟t so nice? Showing courtesy towards them is a real feather in your cap. Courtesy should have no borders. It should be given regardless of race, religion, social status, and occupation. Courtesy is not just a few, polite, well chosen words. It can also be refraining from saying something that ought not be said. For me, it has become a daily adventure and a challenge to take advantage of even the smallest opportunities to be courteous. These opportunities can take on hundreds of different shapes and sizes. When was the last time you said “thank you” to someone who did not expect it? It can be something as simple as slipping a couple of dollar bills into the hand of that boy or girl at the grocery store who just loaded all of your bags into your car. Using your turn signal while driving is courteous. Next time you exit a building, take a quick look behind you. If there is someone following you, hold the door. It‟s that easy. This past Tuesday, my neighbor, Tom, called me at work around 1 PM. He suggested that I consider coming home – immediately. I had visions of Ed McMahon sitting on my front steps holding a prize check or the PCH Sweepstakes van parked in my driveway, ready to hand me the sweepstakes check. He called to tell me that a huge cottonwood tree belonging to my neighbor behind my property had just toppled over and was poised to flatten my garage. I decided that it would be prudent to return home – immediately. I pulled into my driveway and was greeted by a crew of tree removal specialists. They were pondering and discussing how they were going to remove this behemoth from my property with a minimal amount of damage. This tree was hanging on the power and phone lines and partially snagged in a big tree next to my garage. I had every reason to be concerned as I saw this tree hovering a foot above my garage. Some would say I had every reason to be upset. What‟s the point of that? The first thing I did was to ask everyone what kind of soda they preferred. I ran down to the grocery store and bought a bunch of cold bottles of Coke and Sprite. Upon my return, several of the guys told me about the service call they made prior to coming to my house. The people were angry, swearing, dropping the F bombs, and ragging on their crew. Did they appreciate the cold sodas? What do you think? It was something simple, something courteous. I‟m not here to toot my horn, but to give an example of how the opportunities to show courtesy and kindness can vary, day to day. After a long and stressful afternoon of difficult work, I shook their hands and thanked them for their carefulness and concern for my garage and cedar fencing. The only damage suffered was to some ground ivies. They will bounce back. How often do people thank them and shake their hand? Not often enough I‟m afraid. Be on the lookout for even the smallest ways to be kind and courteous. If you are a parent and you smoke, why not refrain from lighting up in the car when your kids are with you? Help a neighbor rake some leaves or shovel some snow. In Minnesota, one of the best things you can do for someone you work with is to scrape the ice and snow off of their car windshield when you go out to do your own. Courtesy is not a means of earning “brownie points” or “gold stars”. It‟s not something we do to get ahead. We do it because we ought to. In our “me first, be first world”, I find it relaxing and rewarding to let others go ahead. The reactions you get are of surprise and gratitude. It just makes you feel good. At the end of the day, I would rather feel good about the day, what I did, and who I am. I do not need the stress that comes with being rude, unkind, always having to be first or right. I have to agree with my Dad those many years ago. What I did was not clever nor was it funny. I‟m glad he took the time to teach me simple courtesy. “The joy of hitting bad golf shots” Unlike Tiger Woods and other professional golfers, I did not spend every waking moment of my childhood and youth permanently attached to a golf club. I did not hit hundreds of golf balls every day under the watchful eye of a club pro. As a matter of fact, it wasn‟t until age 38, that I picked up my first golf club and attempted to intelligently advance that little white ball in a forward motion towards the cup (forward being the key word here). I must thank Steve Olson, in our accounting office, for my start in golf. Years ago, he heard that some of the businesses in the area were forming a friendly Tuesday night golf league. Steve sent out an email saying if “anyone” was interested in playing to let him know. As an “anyone”, I was certainly qualified. As a “golfer”, I was rather suspect. I took a chance. My neighbor, Tom, graciously sold me a mixed bag of old clubs for $30.00. I went to a par 3 course with Tom a couple of times before the league started. I asked him what each club was for and when I should use each one. That, was the extent of my “formal” golf training. I picked up quite naturally on the game and soon discovered which club suited me best in the different situations. Golf has become my fair weather passion. Like most “weekend” golfers, I hit good shots and bad shots. Mark Rosen, a local TV sports anchor said it best, “We, the weekend golfer, can hit a good shot and not know why it was good. We can hit a bad shot and not know why it was bad. We only see the results”. After golfing for a couple of years, I was getting to the point where I began hitting more good shots than bad. It was then I developed a rather nasty attitude. I began thinking that I should be immune from “bad” golf shots. After all, I had been playing for a couple of years. When I‟d hit a bad shot I would get upset. I‟d slam a club on the ground or mutter to myself incessantly. These unsportsmanlike tirades were not doing me any good nor was it courteous to those I was golfing with. It was not a pretty sight. Something happened to change that. It happened one Saturday morning. I loaded up my golf cart, clubs, and golf shoes into my truck. As I was driving to the golf course along Texas Ave near the Junior High School, I came across a man driving a motorized wheelchair along the sidewalk. He had the biggest smile on his face. I asked myself, “Why would this man be smiling? After all, he was in a wheelchair.” Perhaps, he just received this motorized wheelchair and this was his first “independent” trip out of the house by himself and he was thrilled. He felt free like never before. Even though it was only a trip up and down the sidewalk, this may have been his longest outing ever on his own. Maybe, he had been ill for a time and unable to get out. This was a sunny Saturday morning and he was scooting down the sidewalk, a big smile on his face. It was at that moment I came to my senses and put things into perspective. Who was I to complain about miss-hitting a golf ball? After all, I can get up in the morning, stand on my own two legs, load golf stuff into my truck, and drive myself to a golf course. I am free to walk the course, swing golf clubs, and hit good shots AND bad shots. There are many people who do not have that opportunity. I‟ll bet that man in the wheelchair would switch places with me in a heartbeat. If he were given the opportunity to “walk” a course, swing a club, and hit a golf ball, would he get mad if the ball went to the left or right rather than forward? I don‟t think so. Golf has become much more enjoyable for my friends and me. It‟s still a challenge to keep my attitude in check, but when I do, it‟s much more rewarding. As you probably have guessed, this isn‟t just about golf. We may have “miss-hits” in other areas of our lives. We must learn from our miss-hits, get a new grip on the “club” and try to intelligently advance that little white ball forward, whatever it may be. My golfing buddies Bob and Mina and I try to re- call our favorite shots after our round of golf. It‟s actually quite fun to do so. Quite often, it‟s not a “birdie” putt or a dramatic chip for “par” that we talk about. It‟s usually a “rescue” shot we recall that got us out of trouble and back into the game. We try to take a positive thought with us rather than dwell on the dumb shots. In life, it‟s recalling our good fortune, our blessings. Whenever I think about getting mad about hitting a ball into the trees or water, all I need do is remember that man in the motorized wheelchair, zooming down the sidewalk with a big grin on his face. Yes, it is a “joy”, so to speak, to be able to hit bad golf shots. “Getting there” This is simply about “getting there”, from point A to point B in the car. How we did it years ago, how we do it now, and how it can once again be a pleasant experience. Minneapolis and St Paul are known as the “Twin Cities”. Surrounding these cities are many suburbs and towns. This entire region is referred to as the “seven county metro area”. It encompasses many square miles. Even with four and six lane freeways and interstate highways, it takes time to travel from one county to another. Back in the late 1950‟s through the 1960‟s it took much longer. The main “highways” were two lanes and often featured traffic lights. The speed limits were much lower also. We lived in a southern suburb called Bloomington. Our cousins lived in the northern suburbs. I remember going on “car trips” to visit them. It took awhile to drive to their house. The main road we would take was called Normandale Boulevard. Its southernmost point began in Bloomington, only blocks away from our house. As you drove north, eventually through St. Louis Park, the name of the road changed to Lilac Way. It was given that name because of the hundreds of lilac bushes planted along the side of the road by the highway department. You can still see many lilac bushes growing along the road through St Louis Park. There is also another reminder of years past among those lilacs. When I drive by and see these crumbling reminders, I pause to remember the days when the pace was slower and the “car trips” to visit our cousins were fun. The highway department built rest areas along Lilac Way for the metro traveler going to the northern suburbs from the southern suburbs. These rest areas were designed to enhance the driving experience. They built “beehive” shaped brick fireplace grills. There were picnic tables scattered on green, grassy areas. Back, then, most cars did not have air conditioning. By the time you reached St Louis Park from Bloomington or points south, you were ready for a break. There are only two or three of these crumbling brick “beehive” fireplaces still standing. Years ago, Lilac Way was re-developed into a four and six lane highway. The name was changed to Highway 100. I think some drivers think that is the actual speed limit. Most people driving by at fast speeds may not notice these crumbling rest areas. If they do, they have no idea why they are there. Getting from Point A to Point B was a deliberate and pleasant experience. People, today, think that the only way to get from one place to another is to race at breakneck speeds down the freeway. There are times when the freeway is the most prudent way to go. When given the choice, I prefer to take less harried routes. A quiet trip through side streets is calmer. I get a chance to see other neighborhoods, other cities and towns. I designate Friday‟s as my “take a different route to work day”. My trip may vary only by a few blocks. I may go a mile or two out of my way, but I arrive at work relaxed and refreshed. When I go to visit friends and family, I make it a point to go one way and return home by a different way. I‟ll even turn off on a road I‟ve never driven before, and using the compass on my dashboard, I‟ll drive in the right direction knowing I‟ll eventually meet up with a road that is familiar. I‟ll come upon a town, a lake, or golf course that I‟ve never seen before. Driving and enjoying the drive is considered by many to be a waste of time. A car has become an evil necessity to get them to where they have to go in the shortest period of time. It‟s too bad. I find driving to be relaxing, almost therapeutic. To see what people in other neighborhoods have done with their homes and yards gives me ideas of what I can possibly do. I particularly enjoy seeing older homes and buildings and wonder what the area looked like when these places were first built. I still like looking at Christmas lights and decorations that people put up every year. What is more beautiful than seeing fall colors while driving the side streets and country roads? You really miss out on some pleasant experiences when you drive only on freeways and interstates. Turn off the air conditioner. Open up the windows. Take a different road, one that‟s slower, one that offers scenery, one that takes you back to the days of “car trips”. It‟s okay to leave a bit earlier and give yourself time to get to your destination. Tomorrow is Saturday. I have a 9:10 tee time to golf with my friends, Bob and Mina. As much as I like golf, I also look forward to the drive to the course. I could take Highway 169 to I-394 over to I-494, north to Bass Lake Road, but I won‟t. I‟m going to take the side streets that will bring me to West Medicine Lake Drive. I‟ll drive along the shore of the lake enjoying the views and the older lake homes that line the road. I‟ll breath in the fresh lake smell, watch a fisherman or two out in their boats, and pass some runners out for a morning jog. I suppose racing down the freeway with some idiot tailgating me while they‟re talking on their cell phone is someone‟s idea of “getting there”. It certainly is not my idea. Take a different road next time you go somewhere. Why not slow down and see what you‟ve been missing? I have discovered the joy of “getting there” once again. It‟s my wish that you do, too. “The mysterious symbols are everywhere” The original 1956 movie, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is still a spooky movie to watch. It was filmed in black and white without expensive computer generated special effects. Slowly, but surely, aliens from outer space assumed the bodies and identities of people in one town. If you‟ve never seen this original film, rent it and watch it. In the film, Kevin McCarthy, as the town doctor, tries to convince people outside of that town that aliens are taking over. As you would expect, no one believes him until… well, I don‟t want to give away the ending. I‟m convinced that our world is slowly, but surely being prepared for alien visits. It‟s not the crop circles or UFO‟s that provide the clues. It‟s all of those “mysterious symbols” appearing everywhere in our daily lives. When did you last look at a nozzle of a spray bottle containing a cleaning solution? Very few of them have actual words printed on the nozzle. Many are covered with Braille like symbols attempting to describe “Open, Close, Spray, or Stream”. The iron I own is imprinted with symbols and pictures depicting the types of spray, steam, surge, and dry ironing modes. I can‟t remember which is which. When I go out to the garage to start my snow thrower in the winter, the dial does not say, “Choke, Open - Close”, “Run, Fast - Slow”, or even “Start or Stop”. The engine is labeled with alien symbols and pictures that supposedly I am to understand. Every time I go to start my snow thrower, lawnmower, or leaf blower, it‟s an adventure in hieroglyphics. Check out the “Care Tags” in the pants, shirts, or dresses you wear. The tag does not give the washing and drying instructions in plain English words. A series of symbols greet you, some with “X‟s” drawn through them. I expect my pants legs to be shrinking with each and every week. Last weekend, my neighbors purchased a very nice set of metal patio furniture. I stopped by their garage to see how Sean was doing with the assembly of the patio furniture. He said the instructions, well, in kinder words, were awful. Most of the instructions used symbols and pictures to describe the assembly process. He did not learn “picturology” in school. Whatever happened to using “words”? Did some worldwide consortium gather to decide that “mysterious symbols” would become the universal language? Are words too difficult to print and comprehend? Where does one go to learn what all of these symbols mean? Perhaps someone in Africa can read my clothing tags better than me. I may need to consult with someone in Taiwan before starting my lawnmower. Perhaps the University of Cairo is offering an online course in understanding hieroglyphics. When I flip open my cell phone, I‟m greeted by an array of symbols on the tiny LCD screen. I‟ve determined that the bar graph indicates battery life. The round symbol with a cross in the middle remains a mystery, as do most of the symbols. When I press the “Menu” button, six exciting symbols appear boldly on the screen. One looks like the microphone that sits on the desk of David Letterman. Pressing that button must ring David Letterman‟s phone directly. The second symbol looks like a white envelope. Perhaps it‟s some kind of email link that I did not include in my bare bones cell phone package. The picture of a gear wheel with a wrench looks cool. Next to that, the symbol depicts a handheld phone receiver attached to a dynamite blaster. I don‟t dare press that one. It must be a 007 James Bond spy phone feature. Last, but not least in this fascinating “Menu” display, is a picture of a handheld phone receiver superimposed on one of those strange European AC plugs. This must mean that I can call someone in Europe. As you can see, I‟m not very adept at interpreting alien instructional symbols. It‟s my hope that nothing catastrophic will happen to me someday because I could not follow the directions. If walking into the “Women‟s Restroom” by mistake is the worst thing to happen to me because I could not “read” (a play on words), then I guess I‟m making “Much Ado About Nothing”. Be careful when you wash your clothes, operate power tools and household equipment or use spray bottles. If you happen to know any aliens who can explain these things that perplex me, have them call me on my cell phone. Be sure to tell them to be patient as I figure out which button to push while the phone is ringing. If they hear a loud “blast”, you‟ll know which button I pushed by mistake. In that event, please dial 911. Thank you. “New words, same things” For those of us past the 40- and 50-year mark in age, we‟ve seen many words and terms given new identities. They still mean the same thing, but hopefully they sound more modern and refined. Take for example, our mothers. Most mothers in the 50‟s and 60‟s stayed at home to tend to the family. There was no embarrassment in being known as a “housewife”. Someone along the way decided that this was inappropriate and changed the title to “domestic engineer”. My mother did not major in trigonometry, calculus, or science, which you would normally associate with an “engineer”. She kept house, cooked very well, and did laundry. This “housewife” took good care of us and our home. Once a week, the “garbage man” stopped by to pick up, what else, our garbage. The title now is “sanitation engineer”. When his truck was full, he would drive across the Minnesota River to the “dump”, uh, excuse me, “sanitary landfill”. I find that phrase to be a bit of an oxymoron. We had a friendly “janitor” in our elementary school named Harry Bottleson. He opened up the gym every Saturday morning for all of us waiting to play dodge ball and pin guard. If Harry were still living, I guess he would rather be known as the “custodial engineer”. Notice an “engineering” theme here? It seems to the modern, catchall word. When I flew on an airplane years ago, a charming “stewardess” would attend to the needs of the passenger‟s or should I say, “flight attendees?” The politically correct title for our stewardess is now “flight attendant”. It doesn‟t appear from the recent news stories that their new title comes with any significant salary increase. Oh well, one thing at a time, I guess. This leads me to my experiences with new titles and names in the sales business. I‟ve been in sales with the same company over 28 years. I‟ve seen my share of marketing managers and sales managers come and go. Throughout the course of time, it seems “necessary” to change the company logo, company motto, and company colors. Along with that, comes the re-classification of the sales department. The sales reps are all given snappy, modern, new titles. During one such identity overhaul, it was decided that the title “Account Executive” was to be printed on everyone‟s business card, replacing the forbidden word “Sales”. I objected to this. In 1979, I was asked to join the company to work in “sales”. My responsibility was to sell and that is what I do. I‟m proud of my profession. It need not be masked by an ambiguous title like “Account Executive”. Heck, I don‟t wear ties or suits. I wear jeans and sandals on occasion. My card simple said, “Sales”. The time has come around once again for companywide “re-identification”. We now have new logos with new colors. It‟s most exciting. Our sales department has been dissected during this process. What was once our “Systems Sales Group” has been sub-divided into exciting new classifications and market ID‟s. At present, my new business card will state only my name, our address, complete with our new logo and colors. Apparently, the title, “Sales”, has become a concern. I was asked if I would allow the title, “Technical Consultant” to be printed on my business card? “Why, I asked”? The answer: “You always advise and teach your customers. It‟s your method of selling”. Well, that‟s true. It is. My reply? “How about adding the word “Sales” to the end of that sporty new title? I don‟t want people to think I‟ve abandoned what I do – which is “sales”. No decision was made. The moment of truth arrived. Our office manager placed a box of new business cards on my desk. I anxiously opened the box to see what high tech modern title I‟ve been given this time. It reads, “Marty Haraldson, Accommodation Sales and Consulting”. Hmmm. Please see me if you need a hotel reservation, I guess. By the way, I still am in “Sales”. “The other side of giving” I do not want to go on record as the guy who publicly contradicted something Jesus once told people, “It‟s more blessed to give than to receive”. I don‟t think anyone would disagree with that. I don‟t. But, things have happened in my life prompting me to consider the other side of giving – and that is, receiving. Thankfully, our world is filled with people who want to give. People who give their love, their time, their friendship, their money, you name it. People are motivated to give for reasons too numerous to list here. There is a joy, a satisfaction, a peace, if you will, that comes to the person who gives. If you are a giving person, you know what I‟m talking about. As you may have determined from some of my other short essays, I like helping people. I learned to handle tools at an early age and in my travels, I‟ve picked up the practical skills needed to be a handyman. I‟ll attempt most projects including electrical and plumbing, but I don‟t like to paint. I‟ll do those proverbial windows, but don‟t ask me to paint. I‟ve also developed a “MacGyver” type knack for fixing things with unlikely ingredients. Helping people and fixing things is very satisfying. It was back in July 1993 when my life began to change. While driving to work one morning I heard two radio personalities interview the VP of Northwest Airlines. This station, WCCO, along with Northwest Airlines, was sponsoring a weekend volunteer project called “Operation Good Neighbor”. They opened their phone lines at 7 AM to accept calls from people willing to fly to Des Moines to help people clean up after the devastating floods. I pulled over to a gas station and called in using the pay phone. They instructed me to be at the airport early the next morning for the flight to Iowa with other volunteers. It was hot and very humid in Des Moines. The neighborhood along the Raccoon River where we were stationed had been very hard hit. The smell was overwhelming. My job was to ride around on a garbage truck and pick up all of the rotted and discarded “stuff” people had set out by the street. It was a filthy job. That experience and the courageous people I met will be another story. In short, one week later, I became seriously ill. My volunteer trip to Iowa caused me to contract spinal meningitis. I spent the next week in isolation in the hospital in a great deal of pain. The effects of this illness are with me even today. Three years later, I woke up one morning and found myself lying on the floor near my bed. That was rather odd. I didn‟t feel well, either. I walked into the bathroom, turned on the light, and couldn‟t believe what I saw in the mirror. My face was badly bruised. I opened my mouth and saw that I had severely bitten my tongue. Needless to say, I was scared. I had no idea how I came to be in this condition. When I arrived at work, a bit shaky to say the least, our general manager, Stan Stanek, asked what happened? I said I didn‟t know. He immediately suggested that we call my doctor and head to the hospital. My doctor determined that I had a seizure during the night. It wasn‟t my first one, either. So, there I was, in a hospital bed again. Evidently, people who have had meningitis can be susceptible to seizures. Could things get any worse? Yes. The State of Minnesota does not allow anyone who has had a seizure to drive a motor vehicle for six months. Was this a problem? It certainly was for me. I was single, I lived alone, and I had no partner to help with driving. Even before I was released from the hospital, people, from my workplace, including the owners, had started to work up a “shuttle schedule” to provide me with rides to and from work. That was overwhelming. My best friend, Cindy McCullum, put it best when she said, “You have always helped our family, but you are reluctant at times to receive from us. Well, now you have to receive from us and from the other people you have given to. You have no choice. Think of how good it makes you feel when you help people. Don‟t deny us that opportunity to help you and to feel good in doing so.” She was absolutely right. No matter how independent or even arrogant we may be, we must learn to receive, graciously. We need to allow others in our lives to give, to us. It may not be easy at first. I assure you, learning to accept what others are delighted to give, has it‟s own rewards. Don‟t stop giving. Just take the time to be aware of those around you who have something they would like to give you or do for you. I think we can add to that instruction by Jesus. Consider, if you will, “It is a blessing to others when we graciously receive”. It brings a different kind of satisfaction and peace. “Jumping to conclusions” I‟ll bet that you, the reader, took one look at the subject title and “jumped to a conclusion” about what you would find written below. I just “jumped to a conclusion” by assuming that you would “jump to a conclusion”. And so it goes. It‟s easy to do and it happens to all of us everyday. I‟m not going to get on a soapbox and tell everyone never jump to conclusions. There are times when it is advisable to do so. If we see a small child playing on the end of a dock and suddenly see that child fall into the water, it‟s prudent to jump to the conclusion that perhaps this child cannot swim. If we don‟t take action and go to the rescue, a life may be lost. I would hope that the paramedic who rushes to the aid of an accident victim, would jump to a conclusion regarding the proper aid that needed to be applied. The air traffic controller, who sees an unauthorized “blip” on the radar screen and jumps to the conclusion that a rogue aircraft has entered a busy flight zone, may prevent a mid-air disaster. If that controller thought it best not to jump to conclusions thinking that the blip may only be a false echo, would not be a very responsible controller. I had an interesting chat on the phone last night with my sister, Lynn, who lives in Clarion, PA. She recounted a little episode that happened to her the other night that inspired me to consider this topic of “jumping to conclusions”. Rather than go to the gym one evening, she decided on a “power walk”. With I-Pod in hand, she set out. At one point during her walk she noticed up ahead, a block away, a young African- American man standing on a street corner with a piece of paper in his hands. She jumped to the “logical” conclusion that he was going to try and sell her something as she passed. Even so, she continued on. To her surprise, this young man said to her, “I‟m sorry to interrupt your walk, but could you help me, please? I have this bus schedule in my hand, I can‟t read it, and I do not know where I am and where I should go”. I think she felt rather bad about the conclusion she jumped to. But, this young man, too, jumped to a conclusion. He probably thought when he saw Lynn approaching, that she would avoid him and keep on walking. She was white and he was black. Both people jumped to conclusions that could not have been further from the truth. I find it a sad commentary that one human being thinks it‟s necessary to apologize before asking for help. That‟s another subject altogether. One of the owners of the company I work for told me his interesting story. Each year, our company gives awards to the “Sales Person of the Year” and the “Employee of the Year”. In advance of this occasion, he went to the Mall of America to purchase two rather expensive watches as gifts for the award winners. He was not looking for a $79 Timex. He had in mind to spend several thousands of dollars. It was a Saturday. Dressed in typical Saturday garb, sweat pants, tee shirt, and athletic shoes, he stopped first at an exclusive department store, well known for its jewelry and watches. He found himself standing at the counter for a long period of time before any clerk would consider helping him. Obviously, they jumped to the conclusion that this “casually” dressed man was not a likely candidate to purchase a fine piece of jewelry. Finally, after waiting all this time, a woman clerk reluctantly approached him, nose hoisted in the air, offered to “assist” him. He felt snubbed. He did not tell her that he had thousands to spend. He simply walked away. I believe that he made a substantial purchase at the next store where people there did not jump to conclusions based upon the way he was dressed. The wealthy eccentric, Howard Hughes, had similar experiences in his life. I‟m sure that you have had these experiences, too. There are times when jumping to conclusions can be humorous. Many years ago, I lost my voice. It simply disappeared. After a visit to an “eye-ear-throat” specialist or “eye-nose-throat” specialist or whatever they call themselves, it was determined that I had a small growth on my vocal chord. This is a similar condition that rock-n-roll singers develop. Well, I can‟t sing, but I am required to talk on the phone with customers for hours each workday. Simple, same day surgery was required. Following the surgery, I could not talk for a couple of weeks. I had to eat mushy foods. Whenever I wanted to talk with someone, I wrote down on a notepad what it was I wanted to say. While riding my bike one Saturday, I stopped at an outdoor café for lunch. The waitress approached, read my note that said, “I cannot talk, I had vocal chord surgery.” She proceeded to place her face not more than six inches in front of my face, and speaking in a loud, slow, animated manner, said, “So, you can read lips, then?” I laughed. She had jumped to the conclusion since I could not talk, I could not hear either. I quickly scribbled down on my notepad that I can hear just fine. I think she was rather embarrassed. It turned out just fine. I had a nice lunch. She received a nice tip. We both learned something valuable that day. I briefly sampled life with a disability. That‟s another subject for another time. Not every situation has a “happy ending” when we jump to conclusions. Feelings get hurt. Opportunities to help someone are wasted. Sales are lost. We miss the chance to get to know someone else. It goes on and on. Next time we are tempted to jump to a conclusion and misjudge someone, try to think of other possible “conclusions” there may be. Who knows? We may even come to the “proper” conclusion. The results then, could be very rewarding. “It’s Always Big!” Anyone who travels up and down Highway 169 near Hopkins, MN, can‟t help but notice the large billboard on the side of the road sponsored by the “MN Lottery Association”. It‟s digital display changes daily as the Powerball jackpot changes. But it‟s the main message printed on that billboard that caught my eye: “Powerball – It‟s Always Big!” Unless something is “big”, people today seem to ignore it or show contempt for it. How many people do you know will not purchase a couple of one dollar Powerball tickets unless the jackpot reaches astronomical proportions? Apparently, the starting jackpot of 12 to 15 million dollars is not worth winning. After a quick review of my financial “empire”, 12 to 15 million dollars would be just fine, thank you. I‟m sure that I could make do with that amount, even after taxes. This mindset seems to carry over into daily life. It affects relationships, the quality of our work, and our personalities. Unless the reward is “big”, it‟s not worth the effort. If our efforts will be seen only by few, why put forth the effort? Why go the extra mile in my job if I will not be compensated for it? One summer, during my college years, I accepted a job at the Red Owl Bakeries in Hopkins. This was a huge facility that supplied all of the baked goods for every Red Owl grocery store in Minnesota. I worked the graveyard shift, 11 PM to 7 AM, as part of the cleaning crew. It wasn‟t glamorous work. I was in charge of cleaning the greasy, frosting covered equipment in the massive donut making room. During one of our scheduled work breaks, our crew chief took me aside for a chat. He was rather concerned about my work habits. It seemed that I was making everyone else look rather bad because I worked hard. He explained that I need not work that hard since this was a union shop and we would all get paid regardless of the intensity of our labor. There were no bonuses or rewards beyond our paycheck. I quickly set him straight. My dad taught me when I took my first job at age 15 that whenever I agree to work for someone at an agreed wage, I was to give it my best effort. This has been my creed with every job I have ever had. It seems that the only way sales managers can induce their sales staff to work hard is to offer perks, spiffs, bonuses, and commissions - the “big” things. Many people will not give of their time and talents to worthwhile causes unless the accolades are “big” and public. It‟s too bad. Many good things go undone because they are not the “big” things in life. Think about the message that the MN Lottery Association is trying to convey. At 12 or 15 million dollars, it‟s still “big”! Taking the time to help a neighbor or stranger, even if no one else sees you do it, is “big”! Jesus Christ said it best when he said, “Don‟t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.” Why not take the time today to do something “big” that only you can do? Why not buy a Powerball ticket, too? If 12 million is too small for you, send it to me. “The Gift Certificate” My weekends would not be complete without the mandatory run to the local Target Store to buy those unexciting items one must have in the bathroom, cleaning closet, and laundry room. It‟s as much fun as spending cold, hard cash on underwear and socks. During the week I will use the last roll of this or that, squeeze out what I can from the tube or bottle in a heroic effort to postpone my trip to Target until Saturday. I keep thinking that I should be keeping a list of those items I‟ll need to buy, but I never do. Perhaps admitting that I won‟t remember all of those items come Saturday stems from the same male gene that does not allow the “man” to stop and ask for directions. In any event, it never fails. I return home after my shopping expedition only to realize that I did indeed forget one or two items. And, usually, the most obvious items. Duh. So much for being macho. Have I started to make a list for the upcoming Target run? Well, not exactly. I can‟t remember what those items were that I forgot to buy last Saturday. I do have high hopes of remembering, someday. This was not what I had intended to write about. I guess thinking of Target set me off on a tangent. What I intended to communicate was my observations about people and their low level of trust and wariness concerning a stranger. Someone once said that you can say ten nice things about a person and one bad thing. What are people most likely to remember hearing about that person? That‟s right, the one bad thing. Bad people, doing bad things dominate the news. It‟s to the point now that people simply will not trust anyone unless they know that person very well. I‟ve always believed in the “kindness of a stranger”. Most people we see each day are strangers. They‟re everywhere. We, ourselves are strangers to most people we see each day. I find it very rewarding to help a stranger. It‟s not always easy to win them over, to convince them that you‟re not an axe murderer. One cold Saturday morning, last spring, I drove into the Target Store parking lot. I deliberately pulled my pick-up truck into a parking space near where two young women were standing by their car with a brand new, fully assembled bicycle. I quickly assessed the situation and came to the conclusion that this brand new bicycle would not fit in their small VW Jetta automobile. I approached them and said, “It looks like you‟ve got a problem.” They tried putting it in from the side as well as the back, but with no success. “Do you mind if give it a go?” I asked. After assuring them that I was not an axe murderer and my intentions were honorable, they agreed to let me try. It would not fit. It would fit if the front wheel was removed and the handlebars were loosened and lowered. I did not have any tools in my truck. I offered to take the bicycle and one of them to their house in my truck. They said thanks, but the bicycle was a birthday gift for their dad who lived in New Prague. They were driving to New Prague directly from Target. We took the bicycle back into the store to see if they could remove the wheel and lower the handlebar. The manager explained that they employ an outside company to come in once a week to assemble the bicycles. Target would not loan us a wrench. They were concerned about “liability issues”. I turned to these two frustrated young women and said, “I have an idea. I live only several blocks away. I‟ll run home, collect some tools, return, and take care of this for you”. They seemed willing to trust me. After all, I didn‟t have any axes hanging from my belt and I seemed pleasant enough. I drove home and returned within three minutes. They were standing by their car with the troublesome bicycle. I wish I could describe the look of surprise on their faces. It was if they were amazed that I actually did return, with tools! They said, “You really do live nearby”. I said, “Yes, of course. Besides not being an axe murderer, I don‟t lie”. Within minutes, we had the front wheel removed, the handlebars lowered, and the bicycle safely tucked away in the car, ready for the trip to New Prague and their Dad‟s birthday party. “He is going to be so happy about this” they said. After putting my tools back in my truck, I turned to wish them a safe trip. They handed me a red envelope saying, “We‟d like you to have this. Thank you for helping us”. Instead of saying that this was not necessary, I graciously accepted the envelope knowing that they delighted in giving it. They drove off and as I was walking towards the store to buy those things that I could remember to buy, I opened the envelope. It was a ten dollar gift certificate. To many of us, ten dollars may not seem like much. I figured that they were both college girls, strapped for cash, yet very grateful for the “kindness of a stranger”. That gift certificate really made my day. So, what‟s the point of all this? Although we live in a wary, untrusting society, I believe we should still take chances and offer people the “kindness of a stranger”. We may not always get a gift certificate, but a smile, a handshake, a hug, or a look is far more memorable and longer lasting.