Lick your iPod – A Lesson in ‘BE THERE!’

Lick your iPod. If you are standing outside in the bright crisp blue of a blisteringly cold Minnesota morning in the blast of a 30 below wind chill, and you lick your iPod, it will stick to your tongue. Of this I can assure you. It’s a bit like you think it might be, to be that kid in that movie who stuck his tongue to the flagpole on a recess dare.


I was simply trying to get the itty bitty switch into the “on” position so I could rock my Valentine’s Day 5K playlist. Wearing two pair of gloves, fingers fumbling, I desperately needed to hear Get Your Freak On. Or so I thought. Until I found my iPod stuck to my tongue.

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Leadership – The Pros & Cons of “Mystique”

I had a look, back in the day. Black suit. Hair slicked into a bun. Severe. Serious. You might think I meant business. Truly, I just didn’t have time for much more in the morning than quick rinse and a dash out the door. I had to get my hustle on, get to the office, plunk down in my maroon cube, and gear up to climb the Corporate America ladder.

Eventually, I got my big break. My big boss got the flu, and I got to sit in for her at a leadership roundtable. I bought a new black suit. I bought a plane ticket. I bought a fresh notebook, sat in the middle seat and spent two hours at 30,000 feet imagining what the big picture of leadership might look like.

The event was hosted at the headquarters of the Top Team. They put on a show, pulled out all the stops. We got fruit baskets. At the outset, I felt like an insider.

I had traveled quite a distance with the express assignment of sharing best practices, being enthusiastic and collaborative, listening, learning, and bringing back the revealed secrets of success. While Top Team Leader was taking us on a tour of her trophies, I asked, specifically, “What is the secret of your success?”

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Make More Memories

One week into the New Year, and many of us have hit our rhythm. We’re back from vacation, back at work. We’re bold enough to open the first round of bills and sick enough to hide or eat or re-gift the last of the holiday cookies (or throw them in the yard in a fit of pique). We’ve put away the decorations and put on our gym shoes, arrayed in a sense of renewed “what’s next?”…

At the gym we high-five each other. We sweat a little harder, check our new heart rate monitor, jog an extra mile. In the hallways and locker room we joke about our resolutions and bucket lists. Want to lose a few pounds. Want to bag the big project. Want to earn more money. Want. Want. Want.


There’s an invisible man at the gym. He’s the guy with the bucket. The guy with the rags. The guy with the spring in his step and the smile on his face as he sanitizes the sweat from the treadmills in between users. He sees us. He sees us recognize each other and wave soundlessly as our headphones blare playlists. He hears us. He hears our complaints about our jobs and our weight and our big project and our paycheck. He notices everything about us, but we don’t notice much about him. We’re watching ourselves in the mirror, worrying about how long it will take to forget our resolutions and wreck the things we want.

He wants us to notice him. He wants me to notice him. Because I have in the past. We collide at the water fountain. Where he’s sought me out. Read more →

Drawing Dragons

I sat staring at a blank page of paper on and off for days, trying to decide what to pen as my resolution for 2015. I needed it to be precise and concise and confine my fantastic plans to few words.

Full of nothing and in need of inspiration, I called on a Ninja. Jen said yes – Ninjas are like that – and we met for supper.

“I’m stuck,” I said, one hand hovering over the bowl of corn chips, the other gesturing wildly at the universe. “I have so much to finish and I don’t know where to start. Super stuck. I can’t even write my stupid New Year’s Resolution.”

“Draw a dragon.” Jen nodded at me with wisdom and surety.


“Every time Jonah asks me what he should draw, I say ‘Draw a dragon.’ And then he says ‘No, I can’t draw a dragon, I don’t know where to start or what it will finish like.’”

Jonah is Jen’s kid. He’s an excellent example of 10-year-old boy. He likes treasure and zombies. And he likes to draw. Once he drew me a Fridge Ninja. It’s on my fridge.

“Finally I told him, ‘Just start. Just start drawing dragons and by the time you finish, you’ll know how to draw dragons. Then you can draw dragons anytime you like. Like right now. Because your mamma wants a dragon. Draw me a dragon.’ And he did.”

“How was it?” I asked, enraptured.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 3.15.42 PM

Jonah’s first dragon. Perfect.
I’m pretty sure that’s a Ninja riding it. Also perfect.

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Five Bold Steps to Zombie Inoculation

Zombie Invasion
I saw two on the street yesterday, slack jawed and shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder with vacant stares. Before I could blink a third zigzagged by on a bike. I slammed on the brakes. Aware. Scared.

I shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve watched the insouciant invasion ooze in. Zombies are all over the place.

I’m not talking predictable B-movie zombie or trendy pub-crawl zombie. I’m not talking classical theatrical zombie or even creepy make-you-scream haunted mansion zombie.

I’m talking terrifying regular everyday zombies. The zombies that walk among us. You know the ones. You see them too.
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The FISH! Philosophy in Kalamazoo-topia

I was there the day we decided Kalamazoo is Utopia.

uto·pia noun yu̇-ˈtō-pē-ə
: a place of ideal perfection

The event, hosted by the Downtown Kalamazoo Retail and Restaurant Association, was called “Connecting with Customers.” We laughed, we talked, we looked each other in the eye and decided it is possible to create utopia, in any community. I have a pretty big crush on Kalamazoo. They gave me a unicornfish.

Click on the unicornfish to see Deena in action!

Looks like they’re sweet on me too…I found this article, whereupon nice things are written around “creating an environment where customers feel terrifically comfortable saying ‘yes.'”.

Yes Kalamazoo. I heart you too. I meant it when I said you have a unique quality of being accessible. You’re irresistible. Keep doing that.

Read what Kathy Jennings, managing editor of Second Wave Media, had to say about following four steps that have become known as the FISH! Philosophy:
Be There! Play! Make Their Day! and Choose Your Attitude!

A Cup of Gumption

Today is that day. The day I need to be brave, step to the front, and speak for my people. I am more than a little nervous. I am the MC.

Master of Ceremonies is typically the tenor’s post, but he’s up at the lake or at a softball game or finishing up a daunting work project. Fortunately, I have his notes. Painstakingly prepared and perfect. Five pages of flair. Unfortunately, I don’t have my glasses.

Today is that day. The day I need gumption.

I sing with the TC Jazz Cats on odd weekends when we’re mostly all available. We congregate from remote corners of the music universe to volunteer in senior communities and care centers. We rock the cantina, as it were, with toe-tapping rhythm and smooth crooning. The residents love it, and we love them; the entire experience a real treat. I’m the new kid, still getting the swing of it, the spontaneity born of in-the-moment collaboration.

Today is that day. The day when I part with precious coin (four dollars and thirty-two cents worth – to be precise) on a spendy cup of gumption. A coffee treat.

The coffee shop is a treat for me. The place where I occasionally break my spendthrift habit of making plain, perfectly serviceable coffee at home. The place where I break the chain of isolation. The coffee shop is built on interaction; the fancy cup of caffeine is incidental, taking second place to the social boost.

“Today is that day.” I proclaim, walking in. “The day I pay you for a fancy cup of gumption.”

“Excellent.” smiles Coffee Dude. “What are we putting in your cup of gumption?”

Together we confabulate a coffee treat. You know the one. The fancy one. With whip.

“Name?” asks Coffee Dude, hands hovering over the register.

“You pick.” This is my favorite coffee shop game. “You pick a name, and I’ll be that person for the rest of the day.”

Coffee Dude nods. He likes this game too. He squints a little bit, considering. Today is our first encounter, and serendipity demands scrutiny. Coffee Dudette looks over his shoulder as he types my sobriquet into the computer. She smiles wide.

I step aside to wait for my treat, musing on the responsibility of venturing into unexplored worlds, of speaking up.  Of being amplified, in front of an audience, and maybe flubbing it up.

“Order up! Order for Princess Leia!”

I laugh. Out loud. Really loud. I’ve had some good coffee shop sobriquets in my day, but today takes the cake. I’ve been Adelle and Susy-Q. I’ve been Batgirl. I’ve been Shanaynay, which I liked so well I reused the cup until it disintegrated. Consistently, long after the coffee and the cup is gone, I recall the treat of interaction.

Today? Today is that day when what matters most is not perfection, but interaction and gumption. Honored and humored, with a grin and a cup, I float out the door. My mind plays the melodious refrain of Princess Leia’s theme song. And I am made brave.

A world of gratitude to Caribou Coffee Dude. I had a blast being Princess Leia.

What (and more importantly who) propels you?  Who gives you gumption? 

Musical Interlude:  I YouTube’d a lot of Leia themes before landing on this for your listening enjoyment, played with genuine gumption by the Greater New Haven Youth Orchestra, led by conductor Netta Hadari, a leader who loves his job.


Jolly Holidays Guv’na!

This morning I awoke to the classic winter wonderland out the window, Minnesota making good on her climatic commitment to give us that freshly powdered-sugar look in time to get jolly for the holidays.

It makes me wistful and want to build a snowman, but I don’t have time… I have to get my hustle on. And my bustle.

I’m a professional Christmas caroler, one of a group of five. The good old-fashioned Victorian-costumed kind. We start rehearsing Christmas in July. We know the names of all the reindeer and all the verses to Good King Wenceslas. We know your favorite.

We sing at Brit’s. Have been for years. We’re the holiday house band.

It’s the kind of traditional British pub where you can enjoy fish & chips or bangers & mash and watch the match on the telly with your mates. There are lots of photos of the Queen Mum. They offer a proper tea, with little pots of jam and fancy sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Warm, welcoming, Brit’s is always packed, merry and full of cheer.

Yesterday we were back in our old green room, laughing and reminiscing and stepping on each other, dressing and getting theatrical. We took a minute before taking stage to tell each other why we love to carol, why coming back to Brit’s is so vital to our holiday celebration.

We’re singers and actors, for certain. Practicing our craft for an engaged audience is key. But it is more. The music reminds us of that halcyon holiday, the sugar-plum-fairy, spun-sugar, yes-there-really-is-a-Santa celebration that so often seems relegated to the movies. The music makes it real. People sing along, strangers smile at each other, folks scoot a little closer together and make room for one more person at their table, someone sneaks a kiss under the mistletoe.

The fruits of our labors are even better than fruitcake. We’re friends. We make music. We make new friends.  Jolly Holidays!

Focus, Flexibility, Fulcrum & the F-word

I try not to say the F-word too often. The F-word is considered impolite. I know that. Good manners go a long way. (Number 7 of #47ThingsILearned.) But we all have those F-word days. Frustrating.

I see stasis as a symptom of frustration. The world goes wonky. I find myself fixated. Sometimes I will sit, stuck, struggling with “not doing”, in stare down against the object of my irritation.

We’ve all done it. Said over and over: “I’m not going to ‘fill-in-the-blank’”. Eat chips. Worry. Spend too much. Be too alone. Over and over we find ourselves chanting the mantra of what we don’t want, until it becomes a one-way neural path to neurotic disappointment.

When we feel let down we slow down. Set limits. Stasis sets in.

Sometimes, instead of the F-word, I dig a little deeper into my vocabulary for something better.

FLEXIBLITY: The elastic capacity to bounce back, the momentum to move, and newfound FOCUS.

We keep going because we keep going. (Number 39 of #47ThingsILearned.) What we need is a nudge: a shift of focal length, a happy button to punch, and lever to lift us up.

“A Lever of the First Kind is one in which the fulcrum is between the power and the weight… where F represents the fulcrum, P the power, and W the weight.” – Quackenbos 1859

George Payn Quackenbos was a smart cookie.  I commandeered his concept for our community:

“A lever of the Ninja Network Kind… is one in which our lives pivot positively… where F represents a better future, P the people who propel us, and W a world brought back into balance.” – Ebbert 2012

Hang up the hang-ups and hit the happy button, transitioning focus from “not doing fill-in-the-blank” to filling in the blank with wonderful DOING. As in “Watch THIS! I can DO!”

We can do anything good.

Where, you may ask, is this happy button we’re supposed to hit?  Look at the speed dial on your phone. Populate those spaces with the names of the people who propel you, your Ninjas. Punch in their numbers.  You get it, you got it, go get ’em!


O say, can you soothsay? The Ninjascope.

Predicting the future feels a bit like predicting the weather. Without the sagacity of a professional, it’s dicey. Weatherman is not a job for me…everyone is watching…that’s a high-pressure system.

Brick Tamland from "Anchorman" as portrayed by Steve Carell.

Brick Tamland from “Anchorman” as portrayed by Steve Carell.

For the last several days, we’ve been stuck to the live stream of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, waiting to see how the storm would play out on the Eastern Seaboard. Occasionally friends conserving their batteries power up and post, to keep us posted:

“hunkered down and hoping for the best.”
“candelabras and victrolas in the west village. weathering the storm in style.”

From a distance, we didn’t get much more. A few words. Then the power went out. Powerless, the world felt bigger when we lost connection.

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy kept the world watching and waiting. October 2012.

Often, to the irritation of our anticipation, we have to wait until something is over to find out what happened. I get it. That’s time passing and how history is made.

And still I get anxious, jump the gun, lose my patience, page forward to sneak a peek at the last paragraph in the book. And work myself into hysterics about horoscopes. In not-so-subtle ways I become like a ship adrift on a stormy sea, bobbing directionless in the face of an unproven prediction.

I should not read my horoscope before the month is over. I infer. I worry. I sit up nights like a ninny. At the end of October I know I shouldn’t have gazed into the predictive crystal ball of November, but I did. My November horoscope was simultaneously murky and manic to the effect of “TIE UP ALL THE LOOSE ENDS!”, which of course made me a nervous nit. I have a LOT of loose ends!

Flummoxed and  fussing, I posted my frustrations online to my Ninja Network.

Then NinjaOohLaLa posited, “How about having one of your ninjas write your horoscope from now on?”

Brilliant. Let the folks I KNOW help illuminate the path.

And LogicNinja opined: “Your future has nothing proximate to do with the locations of the stars and planets (unless you’re about to get clobbered by a heretofore undiscovered meteorite). Rather, your future is determined by more proximate causes, primarily, your own mind and its desires. You’ll work towards a goal to the extent you desire the goal, and to the extent you desire to engage in the work needed to reach that goal. Your unique goals and desires are probably not fully known to you, though you might be able to infer what they are from your past performance.”

Precisely. RELY on collaborators in community to help set my compass star.

So… I will ask my Ninjas. Shall we change from horoscope to Ninjascope? Yes, we decided. Let’s do that. Here’s my interpretation:

noun ˈnɪndʒə-ˌskōp

Definition of NINJASCOPE
: a discovery of the fascinating qualities of friends and the events in their lives for use in predicting what mighty and awesome adventures might occur next (aka taking active interest in your Ninja Network)
: a ninjalogical forecast (aka the kind of inspiring note you’d write if you were charged with crafting a prediction of the future or “best next steps” for your Ninja)

The Ninjascope

A Ninjascope is a course charted with the assistance of NINJAS!

Your assignment, should you chose to accept it, is to post below an interesting Ninjascope that someone might adopt. Bright and hopeful futures welcome.

You get it. You got it. Go get ’em.

P.S. This update just in from optimistic voices on the east coast:
“Power back on this morning just before 6…enjoying ability to shower, eat, and check Facebook! Hoping everyone else is doing okay….”

You’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re out of the night.
Step into the sun, step into the light.
Keep straight ahead for the most glorious place on the face of the earth or the sky.
Hold onto your breath, hold onto your heart, hold onto your hope.
March up to the gate and bid it open.
~Lyrics from “Optimistic Voices”, The Wizard of Oz