I had some dreams ... they were klowns in my koffee.


(With apologies to Carly Simon)


This is my journey through job transition from a toxic environment to a better life. Join me for a few thoughts and a few laughs along the way.
What are "klowns in my koffee"? They are the factors large and small that make you less than you are. A "klown" can be a grossly incompetent boss,
a short-sighted policy or a moronic coworker. They won't kill you, at least not immediately, but they abrade the soul
as you scrape past them to get through the day. Sometimes it's best to dump them out of the cup.


Thursday

Let The Sun Shine

Daily Kup (My Life on Spring Break)
"Can I play a video game?"
"Are you done with your chores?"
"Almost.  Can I play a video game?"
"Please finish your chores.  Then we are going to run some errands."
"Can I play a video game instead?"
"No.  We are going to a museum."
...
...
"Do they have video games?"

Saved by the Bell (Museum)
Attila the Son went to baseball practice, something that is just like a video game but much bigger and only slightly more realistic.  On a Geeky Girls' Night Out, I loaded Princess Potatohead in the yellow bus and we struck out for the Bell Museum of Natural History located on the east bank of the Twin Cities Campus of the University of Minnesota.

I'm very fond of the U of M since I spent several years there off and on attempting to graduate, a feat that I finally achieved in my mid-thirties after having been initially enrolled in college half a lifetime before.  In short, I know my way around there except for those pesky new buildings that keep blooming from holes in the ground.

The Bell is known for dioramas featuring taxidermy.  If you are a badger and want to spend eternity with half a squirrel hanging out of your mouth, the Bell's the place.  Sooner or later, every schoolchild is the urban area is bussed to the Bell for their share of pelts and antlers that can be touched.  Here and there are live things and, when they move, it really creeps you out.

In a move away from mallards frozen forever in mid-paddle, the Bell has a current exhibit on sustainable shelter and featuring a solar house.  As a special event, they were hosting a vendor fair this evening that promised to include some interesting resources on sustainable living and general green stuff.

Speaking of green stuff, here is biodome that is consuming a small child:


Note:  No children or biodomes were harmed in the production of this blog.

She is actually climbing up on a stool and has her head through a hole in the bottom of the huge glass terrarium.

The solar house was designed and built by students and faculty for the 2009 Solar Decathlon Competition in Washington DC.  They came in fifth overall out of twenty teams, a good showing for a first time entry.

The house is cozy and capable of generating 13 months' worth of energy in a 12 month period.  Since the house is quite small and the tour was very full, I wasn't able to get a good photo that captures the essence of the rooms.

Though compact, one or two people could live comfortably in this feature-packed space as long as each was relatively neat.  I had the definite sensation of being in Ikea.

We came home with a free lightbulb, some energy-saving documentation, and a business card of a store that has classes in raising chickens and other crazy earth momma things that I'm interested in.  And, of course, we patted a stuffed moose.

Wednesday

Brace Yourself

Daily Kup (My Life Limping Along)
Ever the graceful swan, I survived smacking into a few walls and landing hard on my back yesterday on roller skates only to blow out my knee skating across the carpet as I went to fetch a Slushie.  This only goes to prove the Slushies are dangerous, and not only if you don't want a blue tongue.  Ever notice that they are labeled as having actual flavors -- cherry and blue raspberry -- but they are only called "red" and "blue"?  I've grown lots of raspberries and they have all been raspberry-colored;  not a blue one in the bucket.

Tendons?  Ligaments"  I don't remember which is which but something that used to be attached to one side of my kneecap has relocated and is not happy about it.  I suppose I can cross that major league football opportunity off my career options list.  Too bad.  I'm a better photographer than Brett Favre.  (Don't be afraid to follow the link -- it's not to any portion of Brett Favre.)

With my knee brace, I have that stiff-legged, graceful gait that was so appealing on Chester on reruns of Gunsmoke.

Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer
The blogger's equivalent of the fuzzy kitten is a group of little girls in fancy outfits dancing for their parents.  The rojo number that Princess Potatohead is sporting was a gift from her sister's semester in Spain.


Embarrassed to Admit
When I see the Judds, I can't immediately figure out which one is the mother.

How to Keep a Giraffe From Robbing Your Convenience Store

Tuesday

Good-Bye, URL

Daily Kup (My Life Between Winter and Spring)
The two youngest, Attila the Son and Princess Potatohead, are on Spring Break.  They haven't broken me yet.

As a first birthday present for KiMK, I bought my domain.  We are now http://www.klowns-in-my-koffee.com/ without the .blogspot, though the old URL will still forward.  Forgive the analogy, but it's like being out of diapers and into Pullups.  (Is that like SSDD 'same sh!t, different day'?  Ouch; too close.)

Cheap Skating -- Literally
We went roller skating today.  The phrase is tossed off casually, as though I often grab my elbow pads and battle my sisters in the derby.  We went to the Roller Garden, a local landmark known for its huge floorspace and brontosaurus-themed decorations.

Attila the Son is a natural athlete and easily picked up the new sport while still practicing coolness times ten.  Princess Potatohead clomped around the 0.1 mile oval on her little pink skates with determination.  I held her hand whenever possible and was pulled down to hit the hard, shiny floor on several occasions.  After one particularly vicious thwack as my back hit the floor, I decided to lie there for a few minutes near the wall thinking that my best contribution to the sport of roller skating might be as an obstacle.

I had some time to look up at the lights from my vantage point of lying near a carpeted wall and trying to breath.  These global lights from a roller rink started in 1943 are exactly the same as the ones in my kitchen. Somebody needs to do some updating.

Gaining a second wind and, for once, being pleased with the ample padding with which I am endowed, I coughed up the extra three bucks to rent inline skates rather than the traditional models that I had been using.  This allowed me to gain enough confidence and speed that I hit the floor less frequently but even harder.  I recommend it.

I was finally able to remain stable enough to hold my daughter's hand on the floor without risking spinal injury.  Fully worth the $3.

We skated for three hours for $5 each and had a wonderful time.  After a couple of hours of practice, I took a victory lap at a fairly fast clip to the final song, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" -- a bittersweet success as I realized that I was the only one skating who was older than the song.

Speaking of URL

Monday

Day 365 - Scars Are Souvenirs You Never Lose

Daily Kup (Celebrating One Year of Change)
I started a one-year experiment ... well, one year ago.  The year has gone by quickly.  My highly unenforceable non-compete contract has expired.  I honored the provisions not because I thought that they were ethically or legally valid but because I am a person of honor.

Most rankling was the clause about not revealing any information that would compromise my former employer in the marketplace.  It was stressed to me that this included any revelations about attempted falsification of test data for defense contracts or management purposefully shipping untested and/or defective hardware.  These aberrations are disgraceful in light of the many hardworking, competent and quality-conscious employees who wanted to deliver the best products to customers and were often able to do that despite an unsupportive environment.

"Don't tell secrets about processes, pricing, supplier and customer information" -- Perfectly understandable and appropriate.  "Slide over the whole thing about signing government contracts with no plan or intention for complying" -- little sticky on the whole citizenship responsibility area.  Not a problem.  I hear that "everybody does it."

Now that the mantle of the non-compete agreement has been removed, I'm not nearly as interested in ploughing this ground as I was a year ago.  What was some bitterness has ameliorated into a kind of bemusement, the same way that you shake your head and wonder why they don't euthanize a performing wild animal when you read in the newspaper that it mauled someone in the audience.

The past is now the past.  Year One was expansive and frightening and ultimately satisfying.  There seems to be no need to number my days any more to remember that I lived them. The continuum of my life as it moves forward without artificial divisions will be even better.

“Living well is the best revenge”
~George Herbert

What I Learned On My Reality Vacation


Next, To Change a Latitude ...
We all say we hate a catchy, syrupy pop song with little redeeming social value.  And we hum them when no one is around.  As balding pop rockers go, Jimmy Buffet seems to be having a lot of fun and his devoted fans are absolutely nuts.  When I found out he had a tour called "Year of Still Here," I knew it was a sign.



OK, Well, Maybe a Tiny Drop of Bitterness Left
I was researching owls with my son for a Cub Scout project.  Owls don't have teeth.  They swallow their prey whole.  They later cough up a pellet of the indigestible portions like fur, bones and teeth.  When I read this, I immediately imagined that the head of Human Resources at Porkus had a special wastebasket in her office for just this purpose.

I'm allowed one last parting shot, right?

Sunday

Day 364 - Kazakhstan Part 30

Occasionally, this blog will describe our life-changing trip to Kazakhstan in 2005 to adopt our two youngest children. While some of our friends and family have seen a few of the pictures, we've never put it all together in an organized format. One of the reasons is that I hesitate to subject others to a 21st century version of the endless slideshow of vacation photos harking to some relative's visit and a lost evening of my childhood. Still, the story must be told before details are lost since this is my children's unique birthright. When we get to the end of the story, I'll edit the posts together into an extended and separate blog page and then have it printed by one of the blog-to-book(let) services for my kids. For people with less interest, these posts will be easy to identify and avoid.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

We were into the second hour of one of the first days of our visitation with Nurlan, a cherubic and thoroughly uncontrollable toddler.  In the first hour, he had inspected and rejected the bag of toys that we had acquired for a king's ransom at the Russian toy store and then gorged himself on a huge bag of animal crackers while we sat like idiotic, grinning statues.  Our attempts to extricate the cookie bag from the ravenous child resulted in a scream from the child and an opened door and a "look" from the interpreter.  It was a very long hour.

The boy had limited interest in me.  My most fascinating feature seemed to be my camera bag.  I took a deep breath and pried the camera out of his sticky hands, weathering the violent screaming.  In this picture, Nurlan sits surrounded by toys but is still clinging to the camera bag.  The double door is slightly open in case we require another "intervention."

After the camera bag and searching for food, Nurlan was most interested in Terry.  He'd get within arm's length, which at this early stage in our relationship was just like a hug.  Terry tried to show the toddler how to color.  Nurlan liked coloring.  He liked watching Terry do it. He didn't seem to want to color himself, but really just wanted to watch Terry color.  Terry didn't really want to be a performance artist, particularly since he had to sit on the floor and bend over or balance the book on his knee.  Nurlan started to gaze with interest again at the tables of lovely, breakable artifacts.

I was trying to head him off when he nimbly rotated 180 degrees and headed straight out the door into the hallway occupied by Inna and her magazines.  Our interpreter popped out of her chair and hustled him back in the room with a guttural syllable or two.  Once again, this early twenty-something girl had established control where we felt we could not.

In those early visitations, we felt like samples of pond scum pressed flat on a slide under a microscope.  We didn't look like anyone else and we had no idea what we were supposed to be doing.  Everyone repeated instructions slowly and twice and then conversed with each other in a language that we didn't understand.  I can see why people become suspicious and self-conscious in these situations.  The other people may be saying to each other, "Isn't the weather lovely today?" but the outsider imagines the message to be, "Look at the jerks."  Of course, I'm fairly sure that "Look at the jerks" was the actual communication at least once.  Maybe on this day.

Inna firmly shut the door and we were left to ride out the storm.  Terry simply resolved the issue by grabbing the boy and swinging him around so that he couldn't get loose.  The combination of the variety and the centripetal force kept Nurlan occupied and out of trouble.  Terry, on the other hand, was losing steam after juggling this wriggling sack of potatoes for twenty minutes.  It was probably the best workout he'd had in weeks.  Nudges toward the coloring book were not positively received so it was up in the air again.

I peered in the hallway where Inna sat reading.  "How are we on time?" I innocently asked, hoping that the true meaning of "When can we leave?" wasn't too apparent.  Some things transcend the limitations of language.  Inna gathered her magazines and attracted a caregiver.  Nurlan clutched the coloring book and crayons.  He swaggered to the door and, once again, didn't look back.

We were exhausted, both physically and mentally.  Perhaps our afternoon visitation with Anastasiya would go better.



Saturday

Day 363 - Badges and Promises

Daily Kup (My Life on Spring Break)
Kollege Kid is packing to return to school. Great piles of laundry go down into the basement, are dragged up the stairway two hours later, and are swallowed whole by the gaping maw of an enormous duffel bag. It's become a frightening efficient process over these last four years. Everything that has been all over the bedroom floor for a week disappears into the vortex of luggage and is zipped. It takes a startlingly short amount of time to load it into the car and then she's gone, leaving only fiery tire marks like a scene from Back to the Future.

As toddlers learn to walk, they take a further step on each opportunity, going away and coming back. Venturing and retreating. As they grow older, they learn to travel farther on each trip and to move faster. If parenting is a sport, it's not like big game hunting. It's more catch-and-release.

I don't help pack anymore. Kollege Kid has that well in hand. I'm always at a loss for something useful to do during the energetic and stylized dance that is returning to college after a vacation.

Earlier in the day, a souvenir of another time had been unearthed from the deep recesses of a dresser drawer. For the amusement of six-year-old Princess Potatohead, Kollege Kid pulled out her old Brownie and Junior Girl Scout vests. The Brownie vest was intact, if a bit wrinkled. The Junior vest came complete with an envelope of badges that I said that I would sew on many years "as soon as I have the time." Somehow, in twelve years I hadn't managed to scrape up the time.

I Scrape Up the Time
There it was -- a little pink envelope with thirteen badges left over from fourth and fifth grade. Envelopes only 'stare at you accusingly' in really bad fiction so, if not staring, this envelope was displaying a bit of attitude.

This was just one forgotten promise shut away in a drawer, well-intended but now thoroughly irrelevant. Promises don't stay ripe forever. They have a shelf life.

Promises made to children are particularly important. Children trust you until they get to be old enough to understand that adults are people. They don't know a pipedream from a plan, a musing from a mission statement. If you have a glass of plum wine with your General Tsao's Chicken and airily announce, "One day, I'm going to live by the ocean," children run to get their bathing suits and beach toys.

My own parents were masters of this type of dreamy projection. Brighter days were right around the corner and we were going to do some wonderful things. Like have a harness racing track in our backyard near the old barn. Or go to the fancy school with the children of the rich people. I'm not sure why these ideas were appealing but they sounded good as the yarn was spun. My parents not only counted chickens before they hatched but before there were eggs or even some hens and a rooster. It was their charm.

I specifically did not want to be the kind of parent who teaches children that any dream is most likely a wild and baseless musing. I never promised an elaborate tree house when we didn't have any usable trees in our yard. I never got out maps and drew over highways in red marker to places that we weren't really going to go.

But there's that envelope again. It stands for favorite clothes that did not get mended and play dates that weren't arranged. Promises that went stale.

The promises that we unwittingly break that affect the people around us are small open sores that sap our energy. Even worse but somehow more acceptable are the promises that we make to ourselves that never see the light of day. Read more books? Keep in touch with friends? Thirty minutes walk three times per week?

It's a long list. They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Or one stitch. While Kollege Kid packed, I got out the thread.

"Why are you doing that NOW?"  "Because I said that I would."

Hey, it's a start. Maybe I'll surprise her by building that bookcase in her bedroom that I bought the wood for in 2001.

The Last Drop
What little unfulfilled commitments, either to yourself or others, have you been carrying around?

Friday

Day 362 - Pop Princess

Meet the latest pop princess. I've heard she's had some "work done."
You be the judge.

Thursday

Day 361 - Farewell to a Friend

Daily Kup (My Life in the Last Half-Century)
The first day of spring break came with a snowstorm, a broken serpentine belt that idled one of our vehicles, and the sad news of death of a friend.

The latter made the first two so much less meaningful.

Ron had the knack of calling at the end of the workday. If the phone rang at 5:25, it was sure to be Ron. When parts had to ship overnight and they didn't get to the carrier in time, Ron would call to take responsibility. He'd tell a long and colorful story for which I had almost no enthusiasm since it meant that I needed to let some customer know that a promised part would not arrive as planned, a communication that would also come late since the customer had likely closed for the day by the time that I was notified. He was always apologetic and yet also unfailingly upbeat, a trait that at first annoyed me.

Only later when I understood him better did I learn that he deliberately chose his embullient attitude to overcome situations that weren't going well.

To die from an heart attack at age forty is ridiculous and wasteful and simply unfathomable. It makes me angry and it makes me sad.

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.


~ Gilda Radner


For RW

Wednesday

Day 360 - Shaken and Stirring

Daily Kup (My Life on the Distaff Side)
I wanted to finish the birdhouse. I really did. We made a pilgrimage to the wild bird store to get the hanging hardware. Attila the Son knew what color he was going to stain the cedar exterior. We were all set. And then the house behind ours caught on fire.

"This is the kind of thing that I should tweet about, if I were a tweeting kind of person," I thought as we pressed our faces against the bedroom window and watched the firetrucks.

Smoke was billowing out of the garage. We could see that a large back window from the main house as open and smoke was pouring out of that, too. A lot of fire fighters were milling around. We took this to be a good sign since their excitement might mean that something wasn't under control.

Our soggy roof didn't seem to be at risk from flying ashes but the possibility of exploding gaslines was fresh in our minds from a recent incident in the news.

It's not gawking if you are concerned that your property is in danger. Well, it was a little like gawking if we stayed there a long time looking out the window.

But at least we didn't try to hang a birdhouse in the yard next to the firetrucks.

Blonde, James Blonde

This is a little change of pace that I stumbled across. It's being shown as a public service announcement in the United Kingdom for International Women's Day.



Tuesday

Day 359 - Spring Arrives With A Cough

Daily Kup (My Life on the First Day of Spring)
In the Upper Midwest, when the calendar says that it is Spring, by golly, it's Spring because — darn it — it's gonna be!

As much as the transition to Daylight Savings Time is disruptive, the natural light later in the day leads to happy thoughts of gardens and school vacation and baseball season. I read that sentence back and realize that the sophisticated urban detachment that I had once sought in my life is as long gone as the odds of playing beach volleyball in a Pepsi commercial.

But Spring has returned on schedule. As if on queue, the icicles have leaped off the gutters and trees are gaining collars of brown-green mud. The remaining snow looks grimy and deflated as every day it sinks lower and lower. (A good place for a Charlie Sheen or Porkus analogy -- NO, No, must resist.)

Spring is a juggernaut now. Winter, you can have one or two more measly snowstorms. You can have freezing rain. You are on the ropes, dude. Spring will crush you and usher in picnics, walks on warm evenings, and the sounds of children jabbing each other with sticks in the backyard instead of weeding the garden like they are supposed to. OK, it's not that bucolic. But it's good.

'Another Sign of Spring' News Flash: Cub Scout Builds Bird House

Can a crystal radio be far behind? I don't know why that particular youth organization bothers to hand out neckerchiefs — each new member should simply be given a birdhouse kit because you know that's what's going to happen anyway.

This bird house is meant to attract wrens, those little loud brown birds who get louder when you are trying to take a nap.

Tomorrow, we'll show you how we built it, we'll trick out the basic Cub Scout model for the exclusive use of wrens, and give you the plans so that you can make one yourself. Come on, you need a birdhouse more than a nap!

The Pessimist's Ballad of Spring


Ice dams drip and gutters fail,
Icicles poised to plunge and impale.

Cats shed fur, kids shed coats,
Low-lying backyards become moats.

Puddles rise and snowbanks melt down,
Displaying lawns a crappy brown.

Snow recedes and reveals the prize --
Broken branches, every size!

Retired travelers return tanned,
Small town rivers grow bags of sand.

We survived the last, we'll make it through --
Winter cold to springtime flu!

~A. Grumpy Guss

Monday

Day 358 - Brownie Baking Day

Daily Kup (My Life in Recovery)
A houseful of people with drippy noses and worse attitudes is just about as fun as it sounds. Mr. T stayed up all night working on a new website. Typically, I wake up in the middle of the night and retrieve him from the sagging end of the couch when he is doggedly pursuing some project beyond common sense but last night's Nyquil cocktail prevented timely waking.

When he stays up all night and accomplishes little, any further brush with humanity resembles poking an addled bear with a pointy stick. Some semblance of good humor was restored after figuring out that actually reading the directions might be faster and more effective than repeatedly stating at intervals more and more loudly that one had read the directions.

This is a small portion of the fallout from my illness. The confusing thing to me is that T typically washes the dishes when I cook. For the couple of days when I was cooking little and eating less, he didn't wash the dishes at all, but merely piled them up in colorful stacks like crop circles awaiting a visit from the planet "Do-your-chore-without-being asked."

Alas, that visit never came and now dried-on oatmeal is the tie that binds us together.

I gave up and ordered a pizza.

Bless you, Papa John!

Brownie Baking Day

Our Daisy troop attended Brownie Baking Day yesterday. Despite the possible confusion over the name, this is an event where Daisies (the children, not the flowers) and Brownies (the children, not the food item or the mythical sprites) bake brownies (the food item).

The sponsoring troop also had the girls color placemats for Meals on Wheels while the brownies were baking.

Note the picture of Kollege Kid as guest helper since I wanted to avoid contaminating any more small children with my cold.


Sunday

Day 357 - Feed A Cold, Starve A Family

Daily Kup (My Life on the Non-Eating Plan)
The flu is Nature's way of saying, "Hey, I think you're eating too much."

Since I've been sick, I've had no appetite. My family has no understanding of this concept.

They shuffle through the kitchen like 50's movie zombies bouncing from the counter to the island and back again, mouths gaping open and eyes wide and searching. They open each cupboard door and stare. "What!" Disappointed again. There's only food in there and not an extended arm with a filled plate on it. Close the door. Walk into the living room. Stagger back to the kitchen. Open a cupboard door. "What!" Still no arm. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Somewhere my husband learned that the appropriate way to enter a room where a sick person is sleeping is to slam open the door, turn the dimmer light to full intensity and bellow, "What are we going to eat?" This is, of course, only if he is hungry. OK, that's most of the time then.

On those few other occasions, the routine is exactly the same except he says something like, "Whatcha doing?" or "When did you want me to wake you?"

That last one is particularly annoying since we all know the answer is "Not now."

As an aside, please note that the last many months of reflection and growth must have been good for me since I can now respond to these situation, if not with good humor, at least not by throwing heavy objects.

Compelling Reasons to Wake Up Sleeping People

● The house is on fire.
● The sleeping person is on fire.
● The person needs to get ready for work.
● There's an emergency involving another family member.
● Ed McMahon arrives with a giant check.

Not Compelling Reasons to Wake Up Sleeping People

● A house on TV is on fire.
● You need to get ready for work and you think that you set some socks down somewhere.
● You're lonely and want to chat.
● You promised someone a check and can't remember what today's date is.
● You want to tell the person a funny joke you heard.
● You want the sleeping person to drink some milk from a carton to see if it has turned sour or sniff some laundry because you can't remember if you wore the item or not.
● A child wants to know where babies come from and you answered last time.

Mr. T was uninspired about heating up some soup, though he eventually managed it when no arm had emerged from the cupboard despite multiple verification attempts. I took this as a personal victory because it felt like I had used telekinesis to "will" the soup from the container to bowls for consumption, straining like Uri Geller bending spoons. (The celebrity quotes on Geller's site are fun to read and for those who have not received psychic powers from a UFO from the planet Hoova, a less flighty description is found in the Skeptic's Dictionary. But I digress.)

The children each ate a small amount of soup and announced, "We're not all that hungry. We're sick."

Saturday

Day 356 - International House of Contagion

Daily Kup (My Life Swilling Nyquil)
Rasping coughs fill the air. Loud, sticky SNIFFs are interspersed with the mom voice: "Get a tissue!"

Yes, Princess Potatohead and Attila the Son stayed home from school today. I tried to rouse Attila early this morning to assess his condition. Since I couldn't get his little head to pop out from the sheets on the top bunk, I plunged a hand in and found a feverish melon-y head. Back to sleep, little boy, while I call the school.

Three hours later, when he woke to consciousness, he was very annoyed that he would be missing an event where they watch a movie and eat pancakes.

I'm very grateful for many of the things that the school does, but I stand by cluelessly at some of the activities. Multiplication tables are passé but pancakes are in.

I remember in Kazakhstan that kids went to school for an additional half-day on Saturday. The whole country has a ten year plan to turn their newly found oil wealth into modernization, industrial diversification, and benefits for all the citizens. They saw the Middle Eastern countries become dependent on supplying oil and developing few other industries while growing the gap between the few on top and the multitudes on the bottom. In Kazakhstan, they felt part of the solution was universal and rigorous education. I'm not sure that the answer is school uniforms and not pancakes, but that may be food for thought. Literally.


Sick Children


Friday

Day 355 - Shaking and Shamrocks

Daily Kup (My Life with Sinus Drip) Princess Potatohead dragged her tired, cold-ridden little body up the stairway after a long day at school. Her persistent cough and 102 degree temperature tell me that she won't be going anywhere tomorrow. Attila the Son is slightly better — still dragging but well enough to regain a touch of combativeness.

As a tribute to St. Patrick's Day, the ache in my head has taken on the formation of Irish Soda Bread with fiery lines of pain in quadrants. How festive! The cold chills are nice, too.


While Kollege Kid went downtown to see the big parade, the rest of us celebrated in a more sedate fashion. We ate corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots washed down with some Nyquil.


Death Be Not Proud ... nor Socially Incorrect

Princess Potatohead is obsessed with my demise. She frequently drops little bon mots like, "When you die, I'm going to miss you" and "I'm going to go to your funeral." She was planning my funeral again today when she became concerned that rules of social decorum would be breached.


"Are you going to send me an invitation?" she wondered. I explained that this would probably be her party to throw and she could invite whom she chose. She thought about it for a little while and evidently was not convinced.


"When you start to go, could you quick write me an invitation?"

A Big Thank You to Mr. T ...

... Who went out to get me a Shamrock Shake for my sore throat at 11 PM.

Thursday

Day 354 - Wait For No Man?

Daily Kup (My Life in the Infirmary )
The kids have head colds. Every sentence is punctuated with a loud and sticky-sounding SNIFF. This is actually an improvement over the constant squeals and screams.

As each hour passed this evening, the coughs grew louder and more rasping. Sick little kids are sad but they are also affectionate and strangely compliant. They have lost the strength to argue, to tattle, and to kick furniture. A warm bath is now their idea of fun. They stay where you put them and don't sneak away to steal Girl Scout cookies. They do their homework and ask to lie down.

It's like a little vacation for parents and teachers.

For taking advantage of this, we are kind of rotten parents. Rotten parents with a little quiet time.

Now That It's Too Late

Here is nutrition information for Girl Scout Cookies. Please note that the word nutrition is used somewhat academically here. As we all guessed, each box of Thin Mints should come with a trowel for applying directly to the thighs.

Thin Mints? Hey, Marketing people! You're not fooling anyone with your tricky names! No one has forgotten that KFC is Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Actually, They Waited Quite a While ...

Wednesday

Day 353 - Five More Sets of "Three Little Words"

Daily Kup (My Life in Transition)
Kollege Kid is home for Spring Break. The floor of her room has disappeared under laundry and large, mysterious bags. Her car rumbled into the driveway at 1:30 PM; she reported to work back at the pizza restaurant at 2. "Hi." "Bye."

Please notice little changes in the blog's format. Bigger changes and new artwork coming soon to push the blog to the next level.

Latest Job Openings

Dalai Lama (Winner of the award for the best resignation letter of all time)
Spokesduck for Aflac insurance (Gilbert Gottfried fired for tweets)

One More Reheat

Last week on Day 346, I reposted the inspiring message of Dr. Alan Zimmerman on the topic of ten three-word-phrases that are key to establishing and maintaining personal and business relationships. He presented the first five of the ten critical phrases last week. Reposted below are the remaining five.

It's a longer post but, like eating your vegetables, it's colorful and you know it's good for you.

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Dr. Zimmerman's TUESDAY TIP:

Words that soak into your ears are whispered ... not yelled.

Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Personal Commentary:

A man was going door to door, soliciting donations for a local charity. When he came to the door of a preacher and asked him for money, the preacher said, "I'm sorry. I'm just a poor preacher." The solicitor replied, "I know. I heard you preach last Sunday."

In a similar sense, some people are poor communicators. They don't know how to build rapport, show respect, and gain the trust of others. They don't know how to motivate others to give their very best, and they don't know how to elicit their full and willing cooperation.

Of course, I teach all those things in my keynotes and seminars on "The Leadership Payoff: How The Best Leaders Bring Out The Best In Others ... And So Can You." You can read all about it click here. But to get you started, you need to learn and appropriately use the ten, magical, three-word phrases. I gave you five of them last week. Let's go through the other five right now.

6. I thank you.
Gratitude is exquisite. And those who express a great deal of gratitude always seem to have the most friends, the best friends, and the closest friends ... versus those who take people (and what they do) for granted. In fact, I would wager to say that the people who have the smallest, most constricted circle of friends are those who do not have an attitude of gratitude. They seldom say, "I thank you."

As I've traveled and spoken around the world, I've learned that these three words might be the most important words for me to share with others, especially if I learn to speak to them in their language. These three words have brought out smiles, started relationships, and opened doors to business opportunities that might not have come about any other way. The secret is to be genuinely thankful and genuinely humble when you say these three words.

As the famed basketball coach John Wooden taught me, "Talent is God given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be grateful. Conceit is self-given; be careful."

Not too long ago, I received these three words ... "I thank you" ... from Father Philip Chircop, a Jesuit priest from the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. He wrote, "I have been reading your 'Tuesday Tip' for many years, and your tips have often informed and reformed me as I deliver retreats. So I am taking some time to send you this short note as I hold you deep in my heart, with deep gratitude, for the gift that you are to so very many people." He went on to say: "May your day be blessed, May your words be blessed, May your dreams and desires be blessed, May your life be blessed, and May this present moment be blessed."

His words made a profound impact on my life. Go out there and tell people "I thank you." It's one of the greatest of all motivational phrases and one of the surest relationship builders.

7. Count on me.

You've heard the old saying, "A friend walks in when others walk out." It's true. Loyalty is an essential ingredient of any true friendship. It's the emotional glue that bonds people together. When troubles come, a good friend is there ... indicating you can "count on me." But it's also a key ingredient in any successful business. They have loyal customers ... because they can count on that business and the people in that business.

This magical three-word phrase is all about MATURITY, dependability, integrity, and keeping one's word.

By contrast, the IMMATURE have excuses for everything. They are the chronically tardy, the no-shows, the gutless wonders who fold in crises. Their lives are a maze of broken promises, unfinished business, and former friends and customers.

In a world with so many "immature" people, we desperately need people who say "Count on me" and mean every word of it. None of us want to be in surgery and hear the doctor say something like, "Save that. We may need it for the autopsy ... Did anyone see where I left my scalpel? ... Oh oh. I think I just removed the wrong organ ... or ... I forgot. Why did we open this guy up again?"" No, we want a doctor we can count on. Peter Marshall, the former Congressional clergyman, made it quite clear. He said, "Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned."

In other words, we want people in our lives who do more than talk, promise, and pontificate. We need people we can count on.

Now you may be saying, "I use those three magical words ... 'Count on me' ... and people can count on me. But what can I do to encourage other people to follow through so I can count on them?" ASK for what you want. ASK them to be accountable. It can work wonders.

William Grimes talked about that in a "New York Times" article entitled "In War Against No-Shows, Restaurants Get Tougher." He wrote about Gordon Sinclair, the owner of Gordon restaurant in Chicago, who had an epiphany when he began adding up the cost of no-shows and found that the grand total was $900,000 a year, a figure that got him thinking, fast. He made a change in the restaurant's procedure. He instructed his receptionists to stop saying, "Please call us if you change your plans," and start saying, "WILL you call us if you change your plans?" His no-show rate dropped from 30 percent to 10 percent!

In other words, by asking a question and eliciting a response, Sinclair created a sense of obligation. And getting that soft commitment made a huge impact on his bottom line. So if want other people to be more accountable, ask for the behavior you want them to exhibit.

8. I understand you.

It doesn't matter if it's a work team or a family group, people become closer, enjoy each other more, and get more done when they feel the other person understands them. Somehow understanding conveys a certain sense of respect and acceptance ... even though you may disagree with one another.

The famed Dale Carnegie often talked about the six ways you can make people like you. And at the very core of those six ways was his prescription. He said, "Become genuinely interested in other people ... Be a good listener ... Encourage others to talk about themselves."

The same thing could be said for great leaders. They're great listeners. They know that no one has all the answers, so they listen more than they speak. And in the process they learn so much more about a variety of topics and come to understand other people so much better.

What about you? Are you saying "I understand you" often enough? And are you doing the listening work you have to do so you truly understand the other people in your life and work?

9. I forgive you.

If you aspire to be a leader, you must learn to forgive. As leadership expert Phil Van Hooser says, "A strong argument could be made that grudges are the equivalent of cancer to leadership."

In other words, if you don't deal with your gripes and grudges, if you don't bring them out in the open, if you don't learn from them, if you don't resolve them in an expeditious manner, you'll destroy your ability to lead and motivate your followers. They'll be afraid that their mistakes from years before are still fresh in your mind and may be used against them at some point in the future.

Of course, some people think that an expression of forgiveness will weaken their authority. Actually, just the opposite is the case. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."

When you say to somebody else "I forgive you," you're saying that everybody makes mistakes. You're saying you still accept the other person as a person of value. And you're saying you want the relationship to get past the problem and onto something better.

By contrast, if you refuse to forgive, you not only kill off the future of that relationship, you also hurt yourself. As Gautama Buddha taught, "Holding onto anger is like grasping onto a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the one who gets burned."

So the next time you're reluctant to forgive somebody else, ask yourself if it's really worth it. Can you afford to pay the price of holding on to your grudges?

10. I take responsibility.

In today's business world, "engagement" and "accountability" are popular words. But they're also critically important words.

After all, when "engagement" and "accountability" are the norm, an employee becomes a professional, a group becomes a team, and a business begins to make a profit. So no matter how good or bad the economy is or will be, there's always room for a person who takes responsibility.

In fact, when you study highly successful people, the most identifiable quality is their intensity of purpose. You can see them taking responsibility. When they want something, they learn what they need to learn, so they can do what they need to do, in order to achieve what they want to achieve. They do more than get good ideas. They take responsibility for turning those ideas into reality.

As Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, put it, "Everyone who has ever taken a shower has had an idea. It's the person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something about it that makes a difference." Could that be said of you? That you're proactive?

In "The E-Myth Revisited," author Michael E. Gerber takes it a step further. He says, "The difference between great people and everyone else is that great people create their lives actively, while everyone else is created by their lives, passively waiting to see where life takes them next. The difference between the two is the difference between living fully and just existing."

To have great relationships with your customers and coworkers, to have relationships with your friends and families that really work, take more responsibility. Stop making excuses. When people hear you say "I take responsibility," they can see that you mean it.

As German-born missionary and Nobel Laureate, Albert Schweitzer taught, "Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will -- his personal responsibility in the realm of faith and morals."

To conclude, learn these ten, magical three-word phrases. Live them out. Speak them out. And you'll make quick and dramatic improvements in your communication and in your relationships.

Action: Use each of these phrases at least once this week.

Make every day your payoff day!

Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Tel: 800-621-7881
E-mail: Alan@DrZimmerman.com "2010 Dr. Alan R. Zimmerman.

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Internet newsletter, the 'Tuesday Tip.'

For your own personal, free subscription to the 'Tuesday Tip' as well as information on Dr. Zimmerman's keynotes and seminars, go to http://www.drzimmerman.com/ or call 800-621-7881.

Tuesday

Day 352 - Bad Girl Scout Cookie Recipes

Daily Kup (My Life in Sugar Shock)
We've been hawking Girl Scout cookies for weeks now. Our own personal consumption has cost a (thin) mint. Every day, Mr. T takes the blue plastic milk crate of cookies to work. Every weekend, he takes Princess Potatohead in her little blue vest on a jaunt through the neighborhood with Attila the Son carrying the blue crate and occasionally running back to grab more stock.

I see Attila running up to the house as though he has broken through the enemy lines; his voice raspy with exertion, he can barely cough out, "More Samoas, more Do-Si-Dos."

Suitably restocked, he runs back to the front lines of the cookie war.

Like the armchair general that I am, I sit comfortably behind the lines and count the cash.

I have sold no cookies. Not a box. Unless you count consumption.

Mr. T and the kids have sold about 130 boxes and counting. In the hierarchy of cookie sale incentives, this nets a patch, a bandana, a little notebook and a plastic necklace. There are some nice prizes for really high sale quantities, but they are not easy to reach. For example, one of the prizes is an iPad. To receive this prize, it is necessary to sell enough cookies to put all of Southern California into a sugar-induced coma.

Due to the quantity of unsold cookies, the Council announced that the selling period would be extended one more week. On one hand, I was glad for the hyper-ambitious troops who find themselves stuck with a few hundred boxes of cookies that they will have to buy if they can't get rid of them. On the other hand, I'm getting tired of seeing the things around the house.

The kids have been very helpful in getting rid of the cookies. In fact, I didn't appreciate how helpful they really were until Mr. T came back with the crate and this: Look carefully to see where the cookies were removed and then the flap taped close. The children disavowed all knowledge despite the fact that they were caught with another empty carton.

It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to stand there with a box of cookies and insist, "Mom, Dad, we didn't take any. I have no idea how this box got in my hand."

The follow-up argument was no more effective: "You NEVER believe me!" Years from now in therapy, these kids will tell the story of how their awful parents made them wear a sign pinned to their shirts for the whole day saying, "I'm a LIAR and a THIEF." Desperate times demand desperate measures.

Maybe if little Bernie Madoff had been forced to wear a sign, he'd have made different choices later in life.

Bad Girl Scout Cookie Recipes

Traditional Girl Scout cookie recipes
are along the lines of grinding up the cookies and mixing them with yogurt or pudding for a refreshing parfait. I've got way too many cookies to get rid of to limit the scope to desserts in a glass. It's time to get creative here, people.

Thin Mint Brandy Alexander

Crush two thin mints into a fine powder. Dip the rim of a cocktail glass in water and then into the crushed cookies, coating the edge around the circumference. Pour a Brandy Alexander into the cocktail glass. Consume drink. Repeat until you can't tell the Thin Mints from the Tagalongs.

Chalet-Dos

This recipe requires one box each of Do-Si-Dos and Lemon Chalet Creams. Carefully twist apart each Do-Si-Do and scrape the peanut butter filling into a small container. Now twist apart the Lemon Chalet Creams. Scrape the lemon cream filling out of each Lemon Chalet Cream and place it between two halves of a Do-Si-Do. Use the peanut butter filling to fill each Lemon Chalet Cream sandwich cookie in a similar fashion.

If you are particularly bored, then reverse the process to put the cookies back to the original.

Ho-Ho-Horribles

Place two Samoas face down on a counter. Use a hair dryer to lightly melt the back of each cookie. Before they have a chance to cool, slap them together back to back. Tie a ribbon through the hole in the center and hang them on your Christmas tree.

Quick Tips
* Nothing says home cooking more than a pork chop fried in a coating of ground up Trefoils.
* Tuck a few Thank You Berry Munches into your next meatloaf before placing into the oven for a taste treat that will catch your family by surprise.
* Sprinkle chopped Dulce De Leches on your icy sidewalk to improve traction.

Monday

Day 351 - How to Help With Tsunami Relief Efforts

Daily Kup (My Life as a World Citizen)

Mashable.com has posted an informative article on seven legitimate online ways that we can aid the relief efforts called Japan Earthquake & Tsunami: 7 Simple Ways to Help.

Sunday

Day 350 - An Overdue Card

Daily Kup (My Life Filled with Gratitude)
A dear lady in our extended family will be 102 on March 15. I haven't seen her very much in the last few years as she is in that part of the family related through my older daughter's father, my ex-husband.

When families realign through changing relationships and circumstances, it is sadly common that peripheral ties are stretched or dissolved. Tongue-in-cheek, families line up along "the fault line" either intentionally, or more often, through the desire to avoid creating real or potential hurt feelings.

How many times have you heard of the person who remembers of an influential teacher and tracks him or her down to express gratitude after thirty years? In some of the stories, the teacher has been waiting for years to hear a single word of appreciation. There is a heartfelt reunion and tears all around. In other stories, the statement of gratitude arrives on the day of the funeral or twenty years too late.

Less dramatic, the average person simply never gets around to doing anything but feeling a pang of guilt.

For the last several years, I've been wanting to tell this particular centenarian how much I admired her courage, her graciousness, her humanity and her common sense. She has lived a life surrounded by music, friends, and hobbies. She lost a son to an improbable and tragic childhood accident. She became a widow over 50 years ago. I'm sure that life wasn't easy for her but she has always managed to keep the ups and downs in perspective.

I kept her company one day years ago as we stood on the road next to a cemetery plot as a monolithic family tombstone was installed on a bitterly cold day. She said that the last day that she had been in a cemetery was when her husband was buried and she didn't intend to go back again until someone was burying her. We watched the installation from a distance and got back in the car.

A piano teacher and accomplished musician, she made a goal to play three Chopin concerts last in life and accomplished this feat in her early nineties.

I've thought of her frequently over the last few years but didn't take the steps to send a card or make a visit. "Oh, well. I've been busy. I'll do it next year." At advanced ages, it's easy to imagine that the next year may be too late.

I checked my file of birthday cards and found one that I had purchased in purple, her favorite color, and had neglected to send fifteen years ago. It was easy and satisfying to add a sincere note of gratitude and admiration. Princess Potatohead and I visited the retirement facility and left the card in good hands to be shared at the birthday party.

Next, there are five or six teachers ...

Saturday

Day 349 - It's a Small World After All

Daily Kup (My Life in a Small World)
Today's highlight was having lunch with another Porkus refugee. We chose a small local restaurant off the beaten track. As we were shown to our table, we noticed that the group two tables away consisted of the current Porkus employees whom we had just been discussing. Greetings were exchanged but the whole coincidence was decidedly odd. Synchronicity, a deity with a twisted sense of humor, or evidence of alien control?

I Thought I Thaw ...

After the jovial lunch, I took the long way home with camera in hand.


Friday

Day 348 - And How May I Help You Today?

Daily Kup (My Life on the [Phone] Line)
A few months ago, I came to the conclusion that the best solution to the time/money tightrope act would be to find a part-time job with flexible hours that paid really well.

Note that there are three factors to this equation. There's an old theory in manufacturing that products can be characterized by the product cost, the quality level, and the speed with which the product can be produced. Of these three, you can only optimize two at a time. This is where we get cheap, fast and lousy or slow, high quality and expensive.

Like all flawed theories, there is an inner core that rings true. The same idea certainly seems to apply to part-time employment, though I'm somewhat surprised by the number of poorly paid, inflexible part-time jobs there are. "You've crossed the line from being a person to being a resource." "I'm not a number. I'm a free man!"

Siding with Meatloaf that Two Out of Three Ain't Bad, I interviewed today for a part-time home-based call center position with a well-known national company. I'm sure it doesn't pay very well but there's level of flexibility that can't be matched in traditional employment. Compared with the last "real" interview that I had, this went swimmingly and I got passed to the next level.

Job search experts will tell you differently but I don't think all the preparation and practicing the answers to "What kind of tree...?" questions is worth it. The best interviews I've ever had were when I clicked with the interviewer and the worst were when I didn't. We'll see what happens next.

Who knows? The next friendly voice you may hear on the phone might be ... mine.

Jobs That I'm Not Applying For

Conservative Radio Host
Celebrity Apprentice
Matchmaker
Contestant on Dancing With The Stars
Lead character on Two and a Half Men

Thursday

Day 347 - Origami Mommy

Daily Kup (My Life Folding on the Dotted Line)
Late winter is a parade of one school or organization project after another. This isn't a complaint. We made a conscious choice to volunteer for these organizations. "We" isn't exactly truthful. "I" chose or demurred or got suckered into many of these; Mr. T is merely stuck in the sidecar and planning to bolt at the next stoplight.

The next project for which we had weeks to prepare is the school Imagination Fair. Since we have weeks to prepare, we like to make it more interesting by waiting to start the project on the night before it is due. The Imagination Fair is the evolutionary descendant of the old Science Fair. The scope has been expanded to include just about anything that a kid wishes to submit. These projects are more fun in the anticipation than in the implementation; the night before, we try to imagine the project being done.

There are trends in projects. There are always carnations with the separated stems stuck in two different vials of colored water, a potato clock, and collages about countries where grandparents conveniently visited and sent back souvenirs. The most popular projects involve giving out food samples.

At every Imagination Fair I've attended, there is a six-foot-tall roller coaster made of 5000 pieces of K'nex. The sign says that this project was made by a kindergartner. The child is nowhere to be seen but a beaming dad is always standing there, vibrating slightly from the aftereffects of staying up all night to drink coffee and snap little plastic pieces together.

From observing the projects, kindergartners are pretty clever. They submit very elaborate projects with smooth, professional lines and electrification. By fifth or sixth grade, parents have given up the dream of really early Harvard entrance. Older kids glue two rows sugar cubes to a piece of cardboard and write "Alamo" across the front in crayon.

We decided to create an origami display this year. How hard could it be? It's just paper. Easy to do in one night, right? We bought one of those foam triptychs for a painted backdrop showing the different environments of our imagined herd of origami animals. Our kit even had dotted lines on the patterned paper and a tiny sheet of non-English directions with a lot of arrows.

Princess Potatohead promptly fell asleep and was down for the count except for a brief lucid period when she made a butterfly and then dozed off.

Attila the Son and I tried mightily but the secrets of making a frog eluded us even though we watched the DVD slowly and repeatedly. Ditto the walrus, polar bear and turtle. Even the ubiquitous crane proved to be beyond our skills as we watched the lightening hands of our DVD instructor, a man who must deal blackjack in his spare time.

The dotted lines didn't help. There were extras. In some print shop in Japan, they are dancing and chanting, "Serves you right for World War II."

In the end, it was late and we used our imaginations. I grabbed a bowl that my son had glued tissue on in the first grade. It's only purpose in our house currently is to hide money from birthday cards that I take away from the kids before they've written thank you notes. We plopped a lump of Play-dough in the bottom of the bowl (after removing and re-hiding the birthday money) and taped our few simple origami animals to bamboo skewers. After arranging our impaled zoo, I observed, "I imagine that this will be good enough."

Good to the Last Drop

Dudley, want to do some good in the world? Here are three very different sites to start on the path. Next time you are questioned about your excessive computer usage, you can respond, "I am not just playing a computer game. I am getting donations of rice for those in need."

The Giraffe Heroes Project - An inspiring and information-filled site for the organization whose motto is: To foster the citizen courage and know-how that are essential to a just, ethical and compassionate world.

Free Rice - Answer multiple choice questions about English vocabulary or other topics. The World Food Programme donates 10grains of rice to the world's hungry for every right answer. Learn the names of famous painting while feeding people. A true win-win.

Create the Good - The AARP has created a site to let you find volunteer opportunities in your area by simply entering a zip code. The opportunities range from very short to longer-term commitments. Even though the site is managed by the AARP, there are no age restrictions. After all, 60 is the new 40, and 40 is the new 25, and 21 is now an embryonic stage.

Wednesday

Day 346 - Laissez les bon temps rouler

Daily Kup (My Life at Mardi Gras)
I'm not really at Mardi Gras but sitting here in the Upper Midwest where today the temperature soared to ... freezing.

I was writing in my office — that's what I call the desk stuck between the living room and the dining room — and would hear the occasional thump and thrashing of a squirrel slipping on the icy, melting roof and catapulting, cartoon-like, off the edge. Fortunately, they fell into the waist-high piles of snow beneath and lived to skitter another day.

Mardi Gras is literally French for Fat Tuesday. While not in New Orleans, I am fat and it is Tuesday, so you work with what you have. I am wearing the beads. Don't ask.

The Mardi Gras or Carnival season is known for wild parties and the potential for overindulgence of all types. Or, as the natives call it, another day in the life of Charlie Sheen. Ah, Charlie. The only person on earth happier to be fired than I was. I'm giving up Charlie Sheen jokes for Lent.

When Anderson Cooper's making Charlie jokes on the news, the story has jumped the shark.

Reheated but Not Stale

I don't often repost, unless you count the frequent quirky embedded You Tube videos. I make an exception today because I received a posting that is what I want to say, only said better than I can do it.

I first heard Al Zimmerman speak about 20 years ago at a Toastmasters conference. You have to be pretty sure of your speaking ability to be a keynote speaker for the Toastmasters, but Al did not disappoint. He's so upbeat and Pollyanna-ish that you almost want to dismiss him as too simplistic. He's a proponent of the almost mystical value of positive attitude.

Funny thing is that the research bears him out. You are as happy as you decide to be, pretending to be positive will lead you to feel and then eventually to become more positive, and positive attitude has a direct correlation with success in life.

I've been getting his weekly email every Tuesday for years and he never fails to provide an insight that can be immediately applied.
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Dr. Zimmerman's TUESDAY TIP:

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

Mark Twain

Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Personal Commentary:

When I was growing up, I was taught a little slogan that was supposed to stop some of the bullying on the playground. I was taught to say, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

As an adult, I realize how ridiculous that slogan is. The truth is ... words are among the most powerful forces on earth. Words can and do hurt. A few misspoken words by a corporate executive could turn off an entire company. A few misspoken words by a husband or wife could destroy a marriage. And a few misspoken words by a politician could start a war.

The GOOD news is ... words can also be the source of great good. Words can motivate employees, build up relationships, and even make us think, wonder, and laugh. For example, I listened to the artful way one comedian put his words together. Among other lines in his routine, he asked the audience, "How do you tell when you run out of invisible ink?" and "We know the speed of light. So what's the speed of dark?" He defined a few terms for us, such as "laughing stock," which is nothing more than cattle with a sense of humor. But he admitted his life wasn't perfect, "He said, I tried sniffing Coke once, but the ice cubes got stuck in my nose.'"

The GREAT news is ... there are three little words you can use to start new relationships, deepen old ones, and even restore those that have cooled off over time. And it doesn't matter if you use these three little words on your coworkers, your customers, your spouse, kids, or friends; they will enrich every one of those relationships. Perhaps the BEST news is ... there are ten of these little three-word phrases you can use. You can choose the three-word phrase that best suits your situation.

Some of them I learned from Perry Walker and Dr. Sidney Simon, and some of them I developed over the years. Here are five of them for this week's edition of the "Tuesday Tip."

1. I'll be there.
When you indicate by your words and your actions that "I'll be there" for you, you're giving one of the greatest gifts you can give someone else. You're giving him/her the gift of support, encouragement, and peace of mind. And these words work just as well in your personal life as your professional life.

If you've ever had to call a friend in the middle of the night ... because your sick child had to get to a hospital or your car had broken down miles from home ... you know how good it feels to hear the phrase "I'll be there." Your friendship is reinforced, and you are restored emotionally and spiritually. The same principle applies to your company or our country.

People are looking for leaders who say ... by their words ... "I'll be there" ... and then by their actions show ... they are indeed there for them.

As Jason Damkoehler, one of my clients at one of the world's largest insurance organizations says: "The world is looking for men and women of greatness to lead them. Companies are looking for men and women of greatness to lead them. Families are looking for men and women of greatness to lead them. Someone somewhere is counting on YOU to become a person of greatness!"

Someone somewhere is counting on you to be there for them. As Damkoehler goes on to say, many people think that a life of greatness is something that is reserved for a few select people. "After all, only one person can be president. Only a few people are kings or queens. Even in the corporate world, only a few people can make their way into higher levels of formal leadership, while most will serve careers in the first-line manager, analyst and support level roles." So what. That's not what counts. Damkoehler finishes by saying, "You may never be president, but you can be presidential. You will never be a king or queen, but you can be regal. You may never be a CEO, but you can be one who yields great influence. You may never be the most popular or a recognizable face, but you can be a person who changes the face of the world around you."

All true ... if you're a person who says, "I'll be there" and then indeed is there for other people.

2. I miss you.
Perhaps more marriages could be saved and strengthened if couples simply and sincerely said to each other "I miss you." This powerful affirmation tells partners they are wanted, needed, desired and loved. Consider how ecstatic you would feel, if you received an unexpected phone call from your spouse in the middle of the workday, just to say "I miss you." Of course, at first glance, this may sound like a phrase that is strictly personal in nature. It couldn't be used in a work setting. But don't be too hasty to judge. After all, it doesn't feel very good if you come back to work, after being gone for two weeks, and no one bothers to ask about your vacation or what you did. It doesn't feel very good if no one says they missed you. And it's even worse if one of your colleagues says, "Oh, you were gone?"

3. I respect you.

It's the number one thing employees want to get from a job ... once they get past the pay, security and benefits. They want to hear and need to feel that they are respected. The same thing goes for those close to you ... if you remember the "circle of trust" in the "Meet The Parents" movie. It was one of the secrets of John Wooden's success as one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. Coming from his humble beginnings as a farm boy in Hall, Indiana, he understood the power of respect. The enormous respect he expressed for his players motivated them to win more games than just about any other team in history. To make "respect" a reality, Wooden often told his players, "Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights."

4. I'm open to...

"I'm open to hearing your side." This is a great phrase for diffusing an argument and restoring frayed emotions. Instead of coming across as rigid and closed minded, which almost always makes the other person more rigid and closed minded as well, you come across as reasonable and flexible. In a sense, when you say "I'm open to..." to your point of view, you're exhibiting your humility. You're admitting the possibility of being wrong. And if you're open to his/her position, you dramatically increase the chances that they'll be more open to your way of thinking or your way of doing things.

5. Please forgive me.

Face it. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody makes a mess of things once in a while. And every one of us has a few faults and shortcomings. And yet, many people find it very difficult to admit their mistakes and take responsibility for the damage they've caused. They see it as a sign of weakness ... when in reality, it is a sign of strength. When you say "please forgive me," you're owning up to the fact you were in the wrong, and in the process of owning up, you're also saying "I'm wiser today than I was yesterday." So don't be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to use this phrase ... as this little phrase has the power to restore broken relationships.

As my friend Rob Peck says, "Forgiveness is the best form of emotional math. It adds compassion, subtracts resentment, and multiplies resilience." Don't let anybody fool you.

Words DO matter. Choose yours carefully. And you can't go wrong by using these three-word phrases. Next week I'll give you the five other magical three-word phrases.

Action: Sincerely use each of these phrases at least once this week. Make every day your payoff day!

Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Tel: 800-621-7881
E-mail: Alan@DrZimmerman.com
"©2010 Dr. Alan R. Zimmerman.
Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Internet newsletter, the 'Tuesday Tip.'

For your own personal, free subscription to the 'Tuesday Tip' as well as information on Dr. Zimmerman's keynotes and seminars, go to http://www.drzimmerman.com/ or call 800-621-7881.

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Or, as the French would say, "Laissez les bon temps rouler." Let the good times roll.