Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I woke up this morning and I thought I would just flip the TV on, something I do when I want to wake up, maybe even doze off again. What I came across was really sad. There was a ministry that was talking about children that were sold into prostitution. When you see some of the film where children are walking the streets in India and Thailand trying to make a living, it makes you wonder how anything could be so off track. These poor children are promised a good job and instead are sold into slavery, tortured and have no kind of life. These stories are endless, and as soon as I see one, I think to myself what could be worse? But then, some other form of media outlet has another story just as horrible as the previous one. There's no end to the problems that we have in this world, but it doesn't mean we have to live with it. What I mean is that we can make changes, even small changes that could affect a child and change their world for good. Will I act on contributing to what they're doing to alleviate the problem? I would like to, but if we took on every cause, there's not enough money in the world to solve the problem. I think that sometimes we feel the weight of the world's problems on our shoulders and the problem is so huge that it puts us in a state of paralysis, not doing anything. It reminds me of that Ten Years After song so many years ago that my friend used to always play on the guitar.
I'd love to change the world,
but I don't know what to do,
so I'll leave it up to you.
Instead of that, most of us who have jobs and have enough, can do something, and I guess that's maybe the way the bigger problem gets solved, one little bit at a time.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
I was never sure what people would expect or react to when it came to this blog. It's been an interesting journey to talk about nearly every aspect of everyday life, and make it easy to access from our company web site. For a lot of people, it may not make any sense, it's all so ordinary, possibly a waste of time for some. I understand that, reading something like this isn't for everyone, it's for those people who want to perspective from the average Joe. I don't know that we get that in today's society very much, and if we do, we don't get enough of it. There's so much that the average person, like you and me, has to say about life, but most are too busy to take the time to say it with words. I think I fell into that category, or at least for most of my life I did, but now I can't imagine ignoring the subtleties of everyday life and talking about it. There are some of my competitors that saw me writing like this, so they copied what I was doing, thinking it was some kind of gimmick to get better online exposure. What most of them don't understand is why I write this blog, which has almost nothing to do with the business I run. I like being original, being different. There was more to me than what I do for a living, more than any of them will ever understand, and I'm sure most people feel the same way who view what they do as art, regardless of the occupation. The world is full of robotic people who think their duty in life is to make money, as much as they can, get the kids grown and off, then take a vacation. I've said this before, it's silly, and that's not life. It's hard to explain, but I think there's something deep within everyone that wants to go beyond just doing what they're told they should be doing, beyond the formulas. If I had listened to the robots, I would have been greatly diminished, something less that what was intended. Writing this blog flies in the face of what everyone in business told me to do, stay focused, be efficient, do one thing and do it well, keep your head down and don't get personal. Well, all that was rubbish, it was just a way to control me and the day I realized it, I was free to do what I wanted. I'm not saying it was easy, but it was right, true and revealed that quality of life outside the box, outside other's misguided expectations. I'll say it again, I like being original, I hope you do too.
Friday, March 26, 2010
It's that time of year again when our local neighborhood lawn competition gets in gear, all the contestants battling for the coveted Ashton Ritchie Cup. Last year's winner, Mike Haut, will be trying to repeat his glorious victory with a thick, luxurious lawn. He's a tough competitor as he manicured his lawn and made it a pleasure to walk through in bare feet. All that being said, it's a new year, a new beginning where we all start from zero as the temperatures warm up. The other contestants have already begun doing some raking, getting the turf prepared for the Scott's fertilizer and getting rid of possible winter kill. It looks as though this year is going to be the most competitive yet, with everyone intending to get a jump start this Spring. I should describe the Cup as you see it here. It's not like those cheap plastic fake gold coated trophys, it's all metal, sturdy and the names of the previous winners lovingly engraved each year. It reflects the quality of the competition and the master lawn guy Ashton Ritchie himself, we don't skimp on our awards in this neighborhood. It's so prized that a particular winner kissed it and placed it conspicuously in his home for all to see. It's that kind of passion, for lawn, grass and the integrity of the competition which makes this a unique event. It looks like more lawns will be entered this year, so let's mix it up boys, it's time for the Ashton Ritchie Cup neighborhood lawn competition!
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Sometimes I wish we could go back to the way it was many years ago, when everyone just had one phone, one way to contact us. Well, maybe there was three ways to contact us, we could just go see someone face-to-face or send them a letter. It worked well for a long time, the time before all the gizmos. All these new electronic devices have complicated our lives in some ways, and made them better in others. We seem to be preoccupied with what's on our phone, our e-mail or some other type of electronic communication. I wonder how other people handled this type of upheaval in other times throughout history. There was the middle ages when people didn't have books and they were very few libraries, then came the printing press, and I think that was the last big change when it comes to communication. We're almost like children, they don't know what they want, but what ever it is, we need more of it. I think technology is fine, if you have a specific purpose that it's trying to accomplish to make your life easier. If it doesn't do that, then it's just more clutter, more confusion and just one more thing to think about. Just because we have these tools, doesn't mean we have to use them in every way, in fact, it flies in the face of a simpler life. I'm afraid that we've gone down a road we can't turn around on, we inevitably need to keep going forward now that we started a communications revolution. It's as if we think that the complication of communication is okay for right now because we believe that something simpler is coming down the road that will fix all this. Unfortunately, that's not possible. Things don't go from simpler to more complicated and then back to simple again. How do you stuff the genie back in the bottle? You don't, but you can choose which genie you want to let out. And that's it for me for technology, it has a purpose to make my life better, not more complicated or complex. Recently, I ditched my cable TV because they were going to make it more complicated and more expensive, so I chose another service. I hated doing it, but nobody likes to be held up into doing something they shouldn't have to do. I know that the pain of changing everything is worth it, if the reward at the back end is simplified. That's the bottom line for me on any kind of technology decision, does it simplify life, or is it just another gizmo to babysit?
Monday, March 22, 2010
I stumble across all kinds of crazy stuff when I go to the supermarket, and it's probably because I'm one of those people who actually reads the back labels. I'm always curious as to what's in the food we eat and where it comes from. Not too long ago, I was in the baking aisle area and was going to pick up the standard corporate maple syrup shaped like some kindly old lady. But then I noticed that they had real maple syrup, something I hadn't seen before. I thought that you could only get these on roadside stands, I didn't think they were in stores, but there they were. There were several brands and I noticed that real maple syrup is runny, more liquid than the fake corporate syrup. The other thing I noticed was that it came from a family business in Cumberland, Wisconsin, about 90 miles away. Cumberland. That was the main town near where my Dad's cabin was, it's where you went if you needed anything when you were in the area. If it's not in Cumberland, you would have to go all the way to Rice Lake or Spooner. So now my curious nature was set into motion, I looked at the back of another competitive bottle. It looked similar and looked like it too was packaged on someone's farm. Sure enough, it was from Cumberland also and the addresses were right next to each other on the same road! So a couple of families were fighting it out next to each other with authentic maple syrup. Who new that humble Cumberland was the epicenter for the real maple syrup industry in this area? To further encourage my sick sense of humor, I believe these two families, these syrup rivals, take up drastic action to gum up each other's operation. I'm sure that sticky midnight attacks occur, doing who knows what to each other in the name of maple syrup supremacy. Out in the middle of Wisconsin, there's no one to hear you curse your neighbor, the only retribution is that shelf space must be maintained. Okay, I'm sure this isn't the case, I'm sure these folks are good friends, practically family, making the syrup and making a good living. But I'm surprised by this town and it's people to make some of the best maple syrup you ever tasted. I didn't mention that. Once you taste the real thing, there's no going back to the corporate syrups, they just don't have the taste that comes from real maple trees. It's wonderful, somewhat expensive, but worth every penny. I'm surprised local restaurants don't add it as an extra for breakfast, it probably would sell. It would be so unique that a place might just get a reputation for serving the really good stuff. I wish I had known about this all when my Dad was alive, we could have made it a cabin side trip to see where it's made. I'm curious about the operation and all that, maybe I will make a stop, pick up a gallon jug up at the factory and witness the sticky rivalry, sounds like a plan.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
In the news recently, I heard of a game show that was starting in France, and it mirrored the old Milgram authority experiment. This is the experiment where people were quizzing others and a wrong answer was then followed by an increasingly severe electric shock. And if the person administering the shock questioned the morality or couldn't do it, the authority figure told them to go right ahead and keep doing the experiment. Of course, there was no electric shock administered, it was to see if people would keep shocking others if an authority figure told them it was okay. It's a classic experiment and many people in the early 60's thought it was a really sick experiment. But was it? I don't think so. When people question how others could do terrible things in this world, I think that this often gets to the heart of it. This is why authority needs to be questioned, to make sure that the motives are good and right. Without checking things out, we have the potential to slip into a form of obedience that hurts others. It's a fascinating defect in the human personality that if an authority figure says it's okay to hurt others blindly, most people will do it. In the original experiment, some people would decline to continue when they heard someone howling in pain, but that was the smaller percentage. This is important to understand as it helps us to see why people do what they do. I've seen this first-hand as I saw people do this again and again in life, resting on an authority as they damaged others, because they were told it was okay. It's a trap and relinquishes us from responsibility to literally do anything without concern for real people. This is why it's important to question authority, not because it's an authority, but because the authority may have impure motives or be just plain evil. We must personally decide what is right and act on it, and not by what an authority tells us to do. Here's a video that outlines the experiment:
Saturday, March 20, 2010
There are some things in this world that don't make sense, especially when it comes to matters of faith and religion. No person in his right mind should get into arguments about other people's entrenched belief systems. If they're not open to opposing views, they go their own direction for good or ill, and there's nothing you and I can do about it. I was reminded of this when I was watching a news report on Anderson Cooper 360. The story revolved around a church group that believed in faith healing only, so they would withhold medical treatments from their kids or themselves, believing that God will heal if they just had enough faith. This happens every year, and unfortunately, too many children have died because of this, usually over diseases we can easily treat through a doctor's care. I don't understand this at all, but beyond what I personally think, it makes no logical sense when it comes to faith anyway. If God would be obligated heal you when you had enough faith, then death should never happen, but we all die, regardless of how deeply or heartfelt our belief. Not only is there a misunderstanding as to why we have doctors or a reasoning mind, but the logic is skewed. When I hear about stories like this, it makes me sad, sad for all those kids who have no say in treatment, and aren't with us now. I know this blog entry is a downer, but I get so tired of people who claim to know God, but understand little of His compassion for sick and hurting people, especially children. Having faith doesn't mean ignoring people who need our help, but rather taking part in making the world a better place by being there, actively involved as best we can. Does God do the miraculous? More often than than any of us would ever know I suspect, but it often comes in the ordinary aspects of life, through regular people doing what they are gifted to do.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Recently I had the duty of taking one of my kids and a few friends to the Waterpark of America. It's a massive indoor waterpark near the Mall of America. I was there because there had to be parental supervision, which is something I like to do anyway. I spent some time on a mezzanine area, doing some work and trying to survive the stifling humidity. It was so bad that every once in a while I had to step outside just to get some air. Later in the afternoon, I saw another man like me with a lot of kids and they were having some kind of birthday party. After all his kids went down to the water park itself, he was also doing some work and making a few phone calls. After some time, I went over and struck up a conversation with him, I asked him what he was working on. He said he worked for KMOJ which is a radio station in the Minneapolis area. It's not a major station, but it has a mission to be culturally uplifting. It's a station that's aimed at the African-American community and our conversation had become very interesting. I have never talked with anybody from the station, but I knew something about what they did. Oddly enough, I never got his name even though we talked for some time. We got into almost everything about what they do, the state of race relations in the country and where things were heading. He had some insight that I rarely get to hear, a perspective about his community and his feelings about the whole country as well. He was passionate and so am I about the views we had and there was much agreement about many things regarding culture. It's interesting to see our country moving in a positive direction, especially when it comes to various cultural backgrounds. So many of us have our roots in different cultures, but we live in a country that plays it down as we become a singular people unlike any in the world. If you believe in the American ideal, this experiment where all men are created equal, then no matter who you are and what you look like, you're welcome here. Even today, there are few countries like ours where we come from many backgrounds and faiths becoming one nation. That cultural diversity has served us well as we get the best of everything, better ideas and passionate people that simply wanted freedom, but what they gave in return was better for us all. The conversation ended as quickly as it began as we both needed to get kids picked up, and I was sorry it had to end.
I don't know about you, but during every major seasonal change, I become more reflective. It's so easy to go along in life, with the flow, without stopping to think about what's going on. It's a mindset that's easy to slip into, not thinking about what's up ahead. A seasonal change seems to precipitate that type of process, looking at things differently, looking at things changing, in the outer world and the inner world. I tend to take long walks, thinking about where we've been as a family, as a business and our relationship to people outside our smaller world. It seems that as we get older, our world can become more restrictive, less open if we don't take the time to really see. I suppose that most people are like this, but I have no way of knowing, it's not something anyone cares to talk about. There's so much more to life than getting up every day, going to work, coming home and in general taking care of things. That's all important activity, but it's just that, activity, if we don't give it some deeper meaning. All this being said, it's a wonderful thing to experience the change of seasons especially going into spring. It's great to get outdoors again, to be able to walk on solid ground as opposed to crunching snow and ice. It feels good to spend longer periods of time outdoors, and for me that is a special time. It opens up the world again, this yearly melt with new possibilities and a sense of optimism. It's as if we come out of a dream where everything is white and then all of a sudden it becomes dazzling color. I suspect that this year will have many of the challenges that we all faced last year, but like spring, there's also a sense of rebirth, something new that's being created. I can't help but be optimistic about life because every year at this time, the land becomes alive again, and that's something in itself to feel good about.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
We had the good fortune of some unusual weather for mid-March, it was 65 degrees here in Minnesota. Normally, it's much colder and we often have some snow in March that still makes an appearance. Spring has not officially started yet, so most people feel lucky to have a day that felt more like summer than spring. Like any major warm-up, this gets everyone back outside, doing anything that will require them to be outdoors. Short sleeves and shorts were the order of the day as many non-winter activities took over. I know it may seem strange to go on and on about this dramatic change, but only 2 months ago, we suffered through -20F, about an 80 degree difference, so it's a big, big deal. Along with the great warm-up, we've enjoyed several days of fog as all the snow melts and some of it goes back into the air, making the atmosphere very moist. There's also been a lot of animal activity as they seem to come out of some form of hibernation. It's just the first hint of spring, and we could be cruelly fooled into thinking that this is it now, no more snow. But our potential snow season stretches into April, so we're not in the clear yet. It's happened in Minnesota, getting a spring blizzard that dashes everyone's hope, going back into a sort of retro-winter. But I think for now, everyone up here believes that it's a done deal, warm summer days and nights await us in the very near future.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
There are some things in life you stumble upon and they bring a new level of odd enjoyment. This viral video is entertaining to say the least. I love the confidence, the lip-sync, the real singing and the movement of this old video. He reminds me of some other singer back here in the US, but I can't recall who it was at the moment. Watching this reminds me that the 1970's were really different, everywhere.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Not too long ago, I went into a local office supply store that will remain nameless. They're a great store and the people are really helpful, sometimes it seems a little too helpful. What I mean is that they are thinking about the extra add-ons at the cash register without regard to the product. I had bought a 4GB memory stick and it was on special for only $9.90. It was such a good deal that I had to make an impulse purchase. These are normally much higher in price, and who couldn't use a little extra memory especially as one gets older? As I was checking out, the clerk asked me if I wanted to buy an extended warranty on the product. Just for laughs I asked him how much would the extended warranty cost? He said five dollars. I was dumbstruck that anyone would even ask me to purchase some insurance on a $10 item, which is becoming more and more a throwaway item. He said that I could get an instant replacement for up to two years, but by that time I figure they'll be giving these away free as a promotion! This brings up the problem that we're having with almost any retail purchase, the extended warranty. It now dogs us nearly everywhere we go, because it makes them extra money. Most retailers know that no one really uses the extended warranty except for in the cases of some high-priced items. That's where it might have some validity, and I stress the word might. So for retailers, it's a cash cow that brings in more money at the point of sale, nothing more. They know that most people will forget about it, or will not have the proper documentation to enforce it. Unless you're dealing with somebody on a personal level, getting an extended warranty on a $10 electronic, no moving parts item is ridiculous. Do retailers actually believe that we don't know what's going on? It's become such a shell game, it's become more than ever a buyer beware situation. Our company doesn't offer extended warranties, we simply do what's right for our customers even if that means making good on something that is past a warranty time. It doesn't cost our customers anything more, but we believe it's a matter of good will. As for my local office supply company, I believe they will do what's right without me buying another warranty. It's interesting the way companies are working at getting more and more money out of people without offering any more value. I don't understand it, if something is defective, you should replace it without regard to a reasonable period of time.
Monday, March 08, 2010
Maybe we'll be lucky this year in Minnesota, it seems as though winter has lost it's hold on us already. Now after writing this statement, I might have cursed us all and we may get 20 inches of snow before the end of the month, but I don't think so. What's so exciting about all this for me is getting the mountain bike out for some serious riding. I know I'm in lousy shape, but riding in the open air only encourages my sense of mild adventure and therefore getting good exercise. I took off down a road that was mostly clear of snow, but there were a few spots where I could feel the crackle of frozen water under my tires. There was one place that was still thick with ice and made an excellent popping sound as I rode over it. The air temperature was just over 50 degrees, so the ride was pleasant if you wore a jacket. For a lot of people around the US, this would be considered cool weather, but for us here, it becomes summer-like as our bodies have adjusted to temperatures that can be up to 70 degrees colder in the middle of winter. It's a fine place to be, riding along, breaking ice and saying hello to everyone you pass. In fact, it's a phenomena the way people come out of extended hibernation around here, even the neighbors. The kids all come out like never before, and there are people doing all sorts of cleanup from the winter leftovers. You never know what you will get in March, you might be walking around in shortsleeves, or you might be fighting a bitter winter wind. I'm always reminded how dirty the streets are, full of muddy residue from sanding roads through the winter, and how truly dull and ugly everything gets as thawing occurs. The bike worked great. Soon it will be time to get out passing the farm fields, past everyone that was locked away for the winter, into the world of green and warmth once again.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
It's been two days in a row eating my new favorite discovery, Tinucci's Hot Chicago Beef sandwich located right across the street from our office. I don't often talk about food or bother writing a blog entry, but this time I have to. Tinucci's is a restaurant here in Newport, and all the locals know about it, but I rarely ordered lunch from the deli. It's been nearly a couple of years being at this location, and I never even went there. It's a 45 second walk to the deli and I feel devastated that I wasted two years of my life going someplace else for a special lunch. What a mistake! Tinucci's deli is very good and the star for me this week is the Hot Chicago Beef sandwich. Forget about $5 foot longs, this Hot Chicago is miles ahead of that, and this month, March, it's on special for only $3.95, wow! This thing is so tasty with lots of hot beef, jalapena peppers, onions, olives, onions, assorted peppers and au jus for dipping, that it has become an instant favorite for me. Not only will this be two days in a row, I could see having this for a week straight, and I still don't think I would get tired of it. I haven't really even talked about the beef. The beef is piled on thick, very tender and it makes it all come together so well. I feel bad that most of the people reading this blog will never experience this Hot Chicago, but there must be other deli's that do Chicago style food across the country this good, but I sincerely doubt it. This is where I go from now on when I don't bring lunch from home or have an itch for something quick. Life is too good for me with little perks like this, it almost makes me feel guilty, but not too much. Even now, some of the oil from the sandwich is rubbing off on the keyboard, which seems so right.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Across the street from our office is the Red Rock Saloon and there were some aspects of the building I wondered about. The building has obviously been changed with an entrance closing, walled up and kind of a hodge podge kind of facade. It looks great, it looks like it has a colorful history, which it does. I was at the Tinucci's deli getting some lunch which is next door and it had a bunch of old pictures of the neighborhood. Most of the local businesses there are still around in some way or another. I was surprised to see a newspaper ad promotion from 1955 about the Red Rock Country Club which became the Saloon. It had a picture of the front which looked the way it was supposed to, with windows and the fancy entrance that is now very ordinary. The neon sign has not changed since the picture which was taken in 1955. You can still see where the neon words "saloon" still had the mountings for "country club". The old article or advertisement from 1955 showed a different world, one where people considered it to be a higher-end nightclub. They showed musicians there with a saxophone, some group of guys and even a magician who would perform. The year 1955 was when a nightclub reminded you of a Frank Sinatra, rather than today's type of musicians. It was more civilized I guess, I wasn't born yet, but the article made it look that way. There was language that talked about the close proximity to the St. Paul loop, something I've never heard anyone ever mention around here. It was an announcement of a night club which also had a fire that year. Jerry Weldon was the "host", the owner, of this establishment. To look at it now, you would never guess what it was, it's a bar and a bowling alley today. I've talked about it before, being the last real oldtime bowling alley that I've ever seen in town. Ah yes, the Red Rock Country Club, a place where people went so long ago, for entertainment, a cocktail and some old jazz music, 55 years ago. A fire took place there in 1955 as well, but didn't destroy the building, which another newspaper article explained. I wonder what happened there so many years ago, who had been there, and why would they come to Newport of all places for classy entertainment? It was a different time, some say a more innocent time and most of the people who visited there are likely gone now. I just wish I knew more about it. It would be fun to be able to travel back in time to a cold Saturday night in 1955, when it was a happening place.