October 29, 2011

Easy audience

Entertainers must love performing in Des Moines. It's such an easy auidence.

Take last night, for instance. Frankie Valli, of The Four Seasons fame, played the Civic Center and he got a standing ovation just for walking out on the stage. He hadn't done a thing, yet people stood and clapped anyway.

Maybe they were showing their appreciation that Frankie, at age 77, was still able to walk onto a stage. Or maybe they were applauding the fact that here was a guy well past his prime who would try to sing "Sherry" and "Walk Like A Man," songs with falsetto parts more suitable for a 12-year-old whose voice hasn't changed.

He sang both songs, of course, and yeah, he didn't hit those high notes quite like he did in the 60s, but he was pretty darn close. Pam joked that when he knew he couldn't hit a note, those were the times he held the microphone out for the audience to sing along.

Frankie had four young male singers -- The New Seasons? -- backing him. It was fun to see those guys get into the songs because they weren't even born when Frankie and the original Seasons hit the big time. Frankie had his own six-piece band, plus an imported five-man horn section. They either play together a lot or spend hours rehearsing because it was a very slick production.

At one point, Frankie said he was going to do some songs from a new CD. That's usually the low point for an "oldies" show because fans don't want to hear new songs. They want the old ones they remember from their youth. Fans still cheer when Paul McCartney sings his recent material, but they go wild when he does Beatles stuff.

But Frankie's "new" material turned out to be his version of old songs like "Call Me," "Spanish Harlem" and "Let It Be Me," so it was OK. I never could have envisioned a medley that combined "My Girl" and Groovin'," but Frankie and his bandmates pulled it off. 

In the end, it was a typical concert featuring a popular act from long ago who still has it. Audience members cheered, sang along, danced and clapped in rhythm to the music. And I always think: 40 or 50 years from now, will today's Justin Bieber fans still be going to his shows and singing along?

I just can't see that happening.

Pam and I saw "Jersey Boys" a couple of years ago, so when we learned Frankie Valli would be here, we decided we had to check out the real thing. Or at least one-fourth of the real thing.

Trust me, the real thing was better.



October 18, 2011

"Run to Remember" at Des Moines Marathon

One reason my blog writing has been non-existent: I've been in training for the IMT Des Moines Marathon. Not the entire 26.2 miles. Just to do four miles as a member of a "Run to Remember" relay team on October 16. We raised money for HCI Care Services (formerly Hospice of Central Iowa) and the work done around the country by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Central Iowa "Run to Remember" participants have generated more than $4,000 to date during the 2011 Des Moines Marathon (still accepting funds through November 15). 

Since gentle yoga is my idea of exercise, training has been a stretch and an adventure. But as I wrote on my fund-raising page, "running may never be anything I'm passionate about, but for the patients of HCI Care Services, I'm delighted to be doing it." The back of my team shirt showed that I was running in memory of the "Patients at Kavanagh House" (one of HCI's residential hospices, where I volunteer and where my mother died in 1998).

My four teammates—Debbie Kissinger, Terry Terrones, Ellie Du Pre and Donna Boots (all HCI staff or donors)—took pity on me as the non-runner and the oldest. They gave me the shortest and opening leg. I'd never been in a race before, and between my excitement and the upper respiratory ailment I was battling, I slept three hours the night before. 

Sunday a.m. arrived and there I stood, relatively clueless, with 5,500 people and holding our precious cargo: a tube containing the names of everyone our donors had asked us to remember as we traveled the miles. We exchanged it like a relay baton throughout the marathon.

So how was my start? Well, the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners had already completed a mile before I made it from the back of the pack to the actual starting line. In fact, when James Kirwa, the winning marathoner, crossed the finish line at 2:12:54, I probably was still coughing, blowing my nose and trying to catch my breath.  

To my awesome teammates—who brought us in at 4:51:57—I salute you and I love you ladies for letting a real amateur have a shot at saying, "When I ran in the Des Moines Marathon..." The photo below—when we met near the 26 mile mark to travel to the finish line—will link us together forever. To my many generous friends and family who helped me surpass my $2,000 fund-raising goal, I'm forever grateful for your support and your "you go, girl!" messages. And to HCI Care Services, thanks for all you do. It was a privilege to "Run to Remember" what your passionate and loving care means to patients and their families. 

 L to R: me, Terry, Donna, Debbie and Ellie


September 08, 2011

Iowa-Iowa State 10 years ago

Every generation, it seems, has that riveting moment, when there's an event of such magnitude that you'll always remember where you were when the news broke. My parents' generation had Pearl Harbor. For those of us who are Baby Boomers, it was President Kennedy's assassination (sixth-period study hall in the eighth grade at Elida Junior High School). Those born after JFK was shot had the September 11 terrorist attacks 10 years ago.

Pam and I were in the kitchen, watching one of the morning news shows on our 9-inch portable TV, when the jets slammed into the Twin Towers. I was getting ready to drive to Ames for Iowa State's weekly football press conference and, with a full staff in the AP Des Moines office working on the Iowa angles, I was still free to see what was happening at ISU.

It was eeriely quiet. All the regular reporters were there, but the normal kidding and jocularity was absent. Everyone seemed compelled to speak in hushed tones. The Iowa-Iowa State game was to be played in Ames that Saturday and it was like no one wanted to appear crass enough to ask the question until someone finally ventured, "Do you think they'll play the game?"

The question went unanswered that day, a Tuesday. The next day, the two schools announced they would play. A day later, the game was off, part of a domino effect of postponements started by the NFL. Eventually, officials from the schools decided to reschedule the game for the end of the season, on November 24.

Maybe it was because of what led to the new date, but I didn't notice the rancor and pettiness among fans that usually occurs during the week of this game. The terrorist attacks had given us a new perspective on sports. Also, both teams were 6-5, so each had a good chance of going to a bowl regardless of who won. No need to get upset about anything. Just play football. And it turned out to be one of the better games in the series -- for me, maybe the most enjoyable of all the Iowa-Iowa State games I've covered.

Iowa State won 17-14. The game wasn't decided until ISU's Adam Runk made a late interception and quarterback Seneca Wallace ran for a first down that enabled the Cyclones to run out the clock. Both teams received bowl bids and Iowa got the better deal: the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Iowa State went to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport.

So, which game to cover? I'd never had to make that choice because this was the first time in my career that both teams went to a bowl. Hmmm.

Actually, it was an easy decision. Sorry, Cyclones, I just couldn't pass up a chance to go to San Antonio and hang out on the River Walk. Which I did -- after spending each day working, of course.

Now it's 10 years later and we're getting ready for another Iowa-Iowa State game. Iowa State needs to win more than Iowa does because when you look at the Cyclones' schedule, you don't see many potential victories. But the Hawkeyes have regained the momentum in this series and they're going to play just as hard to keep it going.

Just give me a game that's close and entertaining and I'll mark it down as a good day.


July 25, 2011

I'm a Hosta

I've long assumed that I was drawn to these shade-loving, easy-to-care-for herbaceous perennials because our yard is filled with trees. And some variety of hardy hosta will grow wherever grass won't. But today I'm thinking hostas and I have a deeper connection.

Last Monday I had a 30-minute session with Madhu Maron, who helps people get unstuck. Our introduction came via email a couple of years ago when a mutual friend suggested that Madhu, who coaches people in reinventing themselves, check out the Schoffner blog. We've corresponded about business ownership, I helped with a bio for her professional musician husband, and we've been following each other on Facebook. A recent email exchange on a day when I was over-the-top crazed with commitments left Madhu picturing me as a high-energy Tasmania Devil in full-throttle behavior. She simply wrote, "Let's set up a time to talk, and you can't be sitting at your desk when we do."

We connected a week ago as I sat in front of our house beside a flower bed that gets enough sunlight to contain both hostas and other colorful, flowering plants. Madhu asked me about my surroundings, so we talked about the hosta beside me. Before I knew it, her gently probing questions helped me focus on a lot of things about my multi-tasking self. Primarily, I've been forgetting to bring my heart along in all the things I tackle each day. I've been blessed with loving so many things about my life (family, friends, clients, writing tasks, volunteer interests, leadership commitments, etc.). The abundance each provides daily needs to be celebrated and savored. But that doesn't happen when one forgets to pause in the present to be thankful.

After that session with Madhu, the week was indeed one in which I stayed in the moment and worked to put self-care and appreciation into everything I did. Whether during the activities of the day or in the middle of the night, when I felt angst I pictured the heart-shaped leaf of that hosta and calmly massaged my hands (hey, that's self care) as a thank you for all the typing, gardening and other tasks I ask of them each day.

Madhu doesn't see many hostas in the Bronx. I sent her the photo above and she saw a whole lot more than I'd been seeing. She wrote: "I notice how dynamic this plant is. It's low to the ground yet reaches up high. The display of green in its leaves is grounding and of the Earth, while the flowers are airy, light and of the sky. Hostas seem to be good multi-taskers, provided they get the shade they need. Sounds like a great metaphor for you, Pam."

It's not just the heat that's making me step into the shade right now. Thanks, Madhu. 


June 17, 2011

A wall of their own

Fenway Park has its Green Monster, Wrigley Field its ivy. Old Crosley Field in Cincinnati had a terrace angling up to the outfield wall, which made life interesting -- and sometimes perilous -- for those chasing down fly balls.

Unique touches are part of a ballpark's charm and so it goes with the Martensdale-St. Marys High School diamond in the tiny town of St. Marys, south of Des Moines. When a hitter sends the left fielder back to the wall, you can take that literally. Because part of the left field fence truly is a wall _ the brick wall of an old gym.

There's no longer a school attached to it and it's not even a gym anymore. Now it houses -- get this -- an indoor hitting area. Martensdale-St. Marys may play in Class 1A, the division with the state's smallest schools, but it's strictly big-time when it comes to baseball.

The building's roof rises initially at a modest angle from the top of the wall, then inclines more sharply upward to the peak. A ball that hits off the wall is in play. A ball landing on the roof is a home run. Learning that bit of information took me back to my younger days when I'd stand in the barnyard of my grandparents' farm in western Ohio, toss a ball into the air and try to hit it onto the roof of the barn. Or, if I really got ahold of it (that happened only rarely), over the barn.

The St. Marys diamond, which sits on the east edge of town, doesn't have a barn. But a postcard-perfect white church stands beyond the right field fence, replete with stained glass windows and a tall, elegant steeple. I forgot to ask if a powerful left-handed hitter had ever broken one of those windows.

Naturally -- this being Iowa, after all -- a cornfield borders the ballpark down the left and right field lines. That adds to the challenge of finding foul balls that carry out of the park, but there's always a handful of youngsters eager to tromp through the rows of green stalks to find them.

On a warm summer evening, with the sun dipping behind the church, a baseball fan would be hard pressed to find a more bucolic spot to watch a game. Did I mention the concession stand? Alas, no cheese balls, but bag of popcorn, a hot dog and a large pop costs all of $3.50. Let's see, $3.50 in a major league park would get you, well, it probably wouldn't get you anything.

Topping it off, you get to see one heck of a high school baseball team. On Thursday night, Martensdale-St. Marys routed Winterset 18-3 (it took the Blue Devils only 3 1/3 innings to score all those runs) for its 60th straight victory, which broke the state record held by Lansing Kee, another small-school baseball giant. 

Highlighting the victory: Robert Walker tagged one onto the left field roof, the ball landing with a thump and rolling halfway to the top before tumbling back down. The church, on this night, escaped untouched.

If the Blue Devils win out and claim their second consecutive state championship, their streak could reach into the upper 80s.

Even those diehards at Fenway would be impressed with that.


June 02, 2011

Time Management: One day at a time

You've heard them before: "Time is money. There are only 24 hours in a day. Always set aside time for yourself. If you want time you must make it." Suggestions are everywhere regarding how to better manage that precious finite resource each day.

I've been exploring those tidbits of advice for a NAWBO-CI "happy coffee" I'm hosting on June 6 at 5 p.m. on the Greenbriar patio in Johnston. Women business owners will gather to share our time management strategies or perhaps the lack of them. We'll discuss what's working and what's not. I've downloaded 130 time management tips to see if there's some workable nugget that I haven't yet tried. There's always some idea worthy of consideration, but to insert another known phrase into this blog: Old habits die hard.

Yesterday was a time management gem for me. By 1 p.m. I'd completed all my appointments and the morning tasks that I'd prioritized to be done by 2 p.m. During the rest of the afternoon I was able to work on three projects at my desk; two of those had come up during my morning appointments and I'd labeled them "urgent." Yes, that pushed some "important, but not urgent" tasks to the top of today's list, but yesterday ended great. I quit working by 5:30 p.m. because it was a gorgeous day and I wanted to get out to enjoy it. The evening provided time to sit outside and relax, read, do a Sudoku puzzle or two and have a nice dinner with Chuck. Reminder to self: Savor June 1, 2011.

Because other days my ever-present to-do list is untouched by 10 p.m. When you're a sole proprietor in a service business, some days are spent reacting to pressing requests and living in the dreaded "fire fighter" quadrant Dr. Stephen Covey describes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. No amount of routine-building and establishing of priorities is going to work on those days. Yet that's one thing I love about being a freelancer: Every day is different. I haven't been bored in 31 years. And some mornings (hey, I've identified mornings as my most productive time) I even "make" time to write a blog! But as you can tell by my sporadic posts, blogging is in an "important, but not urgent" category for me. Hope to see central Iowa WBOs on Monday night to share time management insights.


May 14, 2011

Oh, the things you learn

A little research can turn up the darndest bits of information.

What I found Friday is a perfect example. I was looking for some background on Chuck Connors. Now, anyone from my generation knows Connors starred in the TV series The Rifleman as Lucas McCain, the sharp-shooting rancher who was always helping the local sheriff deal with the bad guys. And most trivia buffs can tell you that Connors also played major league baseball, albeit for a short stint -- one game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 66 with the Chicago Cubs. More than a cup of coffee, but not enough for a caffeine high. He did manage to hit two home runs, though, one of them off New York Giants ace Sal Maglie.

What I didn't know until Friday was that Connors also played professional basketball. He was tall and lean around at 6-feet-6, so he certainly had the build. And this was in the 1940s, when 6-6 meant you played center. Anyway, Connors played one season for the Rochester Royals, another for the Boston Celtics and then played four games in a second season with the Celtics.

Alas, his hardwood career was just as undistinguished as his career on the diamond. It turns out that ol' Chuck's TV character was a much better shot than the guy who played basketball. During his time with the Celtics, Connors shot, get this, 25 percent from the field.


Oh, but there's more. It seems that Connors' most noteworthy achievement in basketball was becoming the first NBA player to shatter a backboard. Once I stumbled onto this little nugget, I found it mentioned in many places. But really, who knew?

The thing is, Connors didn't break the glass board with an eye-popping, Blake Griffin-type dunk. And no, he didn't shoot it with his rifle. All it took was an ordinary shot hitting in just the right place. Or, in this case, the wrong place.

It happened while the Celtics were warming up for a game with the Chicago Stags at Boston Arena. They had to move out of the Celtics' usual home, Boston Garden, because Gene Autry's rodeo was playing there. Everything seemed fine, except that a worker had failed to insert a piece of protective rubber between the rim and backboard. So when Connors fired up a two-handed set shot, the ball clanked off the rim (what would you expect from a 25 percent shooter?) and, as fans and players looked on in shock, the backboard shattered.

You know what a really bad shot in basketball is called, right?

Yep, Chuck Connors shot the ultimate brick.




May 06, 2011

Never say, "I'll never..."

Amy Kolln, Considerate Done Appreciation Marketing, has me eating my social media words. That's because I am sure I once said, "I'll do LinkedIn, I'll try Facebook, but I'll never be on Twitter." But after attending two of Amy's information-packed workshops on social media this week, I'm on Twitter. Amy told of getting her Twitter account and spending months just taking it all in before she ever Tweeted. That sounded like a good first step, as well as a good avenue for practicing my listening skills. Plus, I was sitting right there with someone who could hold my hand every step of the way!

Amy's first career was as a kindergarten teacher, which translates well into one of her current passions: teaching social media as a way to help others build relationships. As a teacher, she is patient, lovingly laughs a lot at the boo-boos of her students and provides superb one-on-one attention when needed (which is often when you're five years old, as well as 60+). She's all about giving and showing others how to master relationship marketing. Amy's a life-long learned who loves to read. So she's connecting professional women in Booked for Lunch. And her faith and love of family comes alive in the "Momentum" group she started for mom entrepreneurs, as well as her commitment locally in Women of Faith. 

She's all about connecting. In addition to teaching me Twitter basics and pledging to make herself available for many of my "how do you do...." questions, she opened my eyes to many social media tips and I'll share just three:

• how to convert your Facebook URL to your name (or your company's name) instead of a mass of numbers, symbols and letters,

• how to link Facebook posts to Twitter, and

• that one needs a clear social media plan or you'll flounder, especially on Twitter. 

This is probably why I've avoided Twitter; my social media plan is hit or miss. In other words, nonexistent at the moment. So for now, I'm "listening" on Twitter. We'll see what I can learn there. Thanks, Amy!


April 03, 2011

Butler coach is tops

Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey has been raking in the hardware lately. The Associated Press named him its men's coach of the year. So did Basketball Times and the United States Basketball Writers Assocation. 

Brey is deserving of those awards. He did a fine job with the Irish this season. They won 27 games, challenged for the Big East regular-season championship, earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and reached the Sweet Sixteen, all notable accomplishments.

But someone else has proven himself to be the best basketball coach in the country. How can you not give that tag to Butler's Brad Stevens? Two straight years in the national championship game? Butler?

It defies comprehension. Because he's not doing it with McDonald's All-Americans coming out of high school. As the old joke goes, Roy Williams, John Calipari, Bill Self and Mike Krzyzewski sign McDonald's All-Americans. Stevens' guys eat at McDonald's.

Let's be fair. The Bulldogs aren't just a bunch of guys that Stevens rounded up one noon at the YMCA. The star of last season's team, sophomore Gordon Hayward, was good enough to go in the first round of the NBA draft and is now with the Utah Jazz. Matt Howard, this season's leader, was regarded as a top 100 high school player by some recruiting services.  Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and Zach Hahn were all-state players in high school.

Still, these weren't players who had coaches across the country drooling over them. They're just solid players who know the game, understand their limitations and can figure out how to capitalize on their strengths. And for the second straight year, they're playing on the final night of the season while the bluebloods of the game can only watch.  

Stevens looks like your high school valedictorian. If you were a bartender and he walked in and ordered a drink, you'd card him.  But Stevens knows which buttons to push and when. He's got it figured out and he coaches players who know how to win. Heck, they easily could have gotten knocked out in the first round by Old Dominion. But there was Howard, in exactly the right place for a putback just ahead of the buzzer.

Virginia Commonwealth was loaded with athletes, yet Butler outrebounded them by 16 in Saturday night's national semifinal and held the Rams to ... let's see ... oh, zero fastbreak points. Pittsburgh shot 62 percent against Butler in the second half, yet the Bulldogs still won. They held Wisconsin, one of the most efficient teams around, to 30 percent shooting. When Butler and Florida were tied at the end of regulation, it was time for us to leave to join some friends for dinner, so I turned the TV off. When Pam queried, "Don't you want to see the end of the game?" I told her, "I don't like Butler's chances in overtime." Shows what I know: Butler 74, Florida 71.

Connecticut is favored by 3 1/2 points in Monday night's championship game, which makes sense. UConn's Kemba Walker will be the best player on the floor. The Huskies' coach, Jim Calhoun, is more than twice Stevens' age and already has won two national titles. And they've been an amazing story themselves, winning five games in five days in the Big East tournament, then adding five more victories in the NCAAs.

But win or lose, Stevens still gets my vote. What he's done the last two years is nothing short of remarkable. You sure wouldn't want to count he and his team out Monday night.



March 24, 2011

Change Your Brain, Change Your...

Life! That's the title on one of many books unearthed during my recent trip to California to ready the home of my aunt for her return. Donna, who came into our family as my grandparents' foster child, battles a lot of demons and always has trouble making good choices. A hoarder with serious financial problems, Donna is now 79 and on medication for Alzheimer's, OCD and bi-polar disorder, among other things. Finding that book, with a bookmark less than a quarter of the way through, told me that Donna still desperately wants things to be different.

In January she fell over clutter in her bedroom at night. When firemen broke in days later to rescue her, one—overcome by the smell and the condition of the inside—said, "That woman will never go back in that house!"  But now, with rehab nearly completed on her broken shoulder, she's soon headed home. A willful and wily fighter, Donna tested well psychologically, and she'll be released by the end of this month. When social services comes to her door to see how she's doing I already know she won't let them in (I've sent them before), and it will be a matter of waiting to see what happens next to rock her independent, defiant soul.

My unbelievable friend, Julie Janss, and I just spent five days making her home livable. It wasn't just the book that told us Donna wanted to live differently. We found things such as a plethora of brand new garden needs (trowels and other tools, a foam kneeling pad, bulbs and seeds) scattered around the floor. But sadly, Donna doesn't execute. I'm not sure how the lone colorful geranium growing in her front yard got there, or how it, like Donna, somehow survives. 

The Band-Aid boxes numbered in the hundreds, as did the plastic water bottles scattered throughout the house, the endless change discovered among the papers on the floor, the containers and newspapers that never made it into recycling, the Post-It Note pads, tablets, pens, greeting cards, books of postage stamps, unfilled prescriptions, empty prescription bottles and canvas bags. The plastic bags tossed through the house had to number more than 500. Donna embodies the consumer concept that buying things will add something to how she sees herself or how others see her, but it just doesn't add anything (but debt) to her shaky sense of self. So for now, I pay what bills I can from her Social Security and small pension, waiting for her release and knowing that I don't know how to protect her from herself.


My dear friend Julie at work in the living room of my aunt's home in California. Bless her for being my rock and creating moments of laughter and love during our ordeal of discovery and filling over 100 garbage bags with trash (not to mention all the bags for recycling).