About Us, Personal Growth

Letting Go.

dsc06932Our son was 45 minutes old when he stopped breathing. He was born, and began to nurse. Then he went limp and turned blue.

The day before began like every “we’re having a baby!” story. Rachel went into labor and we went to the hospital. Nurses worked and friends cheered from afar. But no baby arrived. A combination of bad angle and a big head (blame his father for the cranial circumference,) made him stuck, and left mother and baby exhausted. The result was an emergency C-section that his doctor later confessed was the most difficult he had performed in his three-decade career. And yet, he extracted a perfect baby boy, whom the nurses cleaned up and handed over before leaving the room to fill out their charts. There we were, suddenly a family of 3 in perfect peace, until our new family member turned blue and stopped moving.

It was a miracle that Rachel noticed, in a dim room with 45 minutes of experience as a mother, that something was wrong. And I didn’t believe her at first. “Hey, come here, he’s not breathing” she yelled. Calmly I told her that he was a tired infant, and probably just went to sleep. But his arms flopped behind his back when she raised him into the air to prove her point, and I quickly caught her mood.

I ran into the hall where I met the same calming response that I had given Rachel, until the nurses saw my face. Then one of them, a fiery woman from somewhere in Eastern Europe, elbowed her way through the crowd. Her expression made it clear she was in charge of reviving babies, even if not specifically assigned to them.

What followed was sixty seconds of hustle that felt like an hour, as she worked a facemask attached to a clear plastic bulb the size of a football. The baby went from blue to purple, then dark pink and finally turned the pink-ish peach color he was supposed to be. But he still wasn’t right.

The next two hours included tests and x-rays in a small room, blood samples and murmurs among the nurses. He was alive, but not lively. And his blood sugar was too low. Then an x-ray showed a collapsed lung, which prompted a call for a helicopter to a larger hospital.

Somewhere between the blood samples and the helicopter, I realized that nothing I could do would change the outcome. And so far it seemed that nothing the nurses could do would change it either. As a person of faith, I spent most of those hours in intermittent prayer. I thanked God for the blessing of a son, but finally accepted that the baby was His to give and take. I prayed to keep him, and then left it in the hands of God.

It’s a lesson that I have to learn again and again. It’s not my stuff. It’s not my work. It’s not even my kid. It’s all God’s stuff, and I thank Him daily for letting me take care of it. That prayer, the “God, it’s yours to give or take, and it’s all for your glory,” doesn’t mean I always get to keep it. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. But it lifts the anxiety from my shoulders to His, and brings a sense of peace.

Rachel and I had been awake for a long time when the helicopter arrived, so my father gave me a ride to the larger hospital. Rachel stayed because of her surgery. It was strange to approach the front desk and answer my “relationship to the patient.” I thought for a moment, and then said for the first time in my life, “I’m his father.”

The doctor in charge of the infant unit looked toward an unlabeled crib in a brightly lit room. “There he is,” she said without expression, and pointed when she realized I couldn’t recognize him yet. He was covered with wires and monitors, blinking and beeping. “And he’s fine.”

“What do you mean?” I asked her. “He’s fine,” she said again. “He’s tired from a rough day, but he’s sleeping and doing great. He’s fine.”

That day I handed Caleb to God, and God gave him right back. We still monitored his breathing for months, but it never stopped. The collapsed lung on the x-ray was in order by the time they got him off the helicopter. That too, belongs to God.



Be Awesome at Social Media

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Lisa of Fresh Eggs Daily uses social media to spread the word about chickens and eggs. Amazingly, she stars in a TV show, writes a newsletter with more than 35,000 subscribers, writes a blog, and regularly posts to Twitter, Instatgram and Facebook.

Her FB page with 676,868 likes does the following in a month (August, 2016).


  • Posts 77 times. Yes, 77!
  • Posts 54 pictures including chickens/eggs/veges/fruit.
  • Posts 12 pictures including people.
  • Links her blog 5 times.
  • Posts events 5 times.
  • Finds time to give you 9 small chicken farmer tips.
  • Shows off her chickens via video 4 times.

In the end you know her chickens. They have names and, I’m sure, a group of fans who worry about them. Her FB page could be labeled “A Day in the Life of a Backyard Chicken Farmer.”

Here is August for two other popular farmer FB pages:

Second place (by random research) belongs to Long Meadow Ranch with 51,135 page likes. The farm/restaurant/winery posted 50 times and featured peaches the whole month of August. Twenty of their pictures integrate peaches. Peach cobbler, peach lemonade, peach salad, etc, etc. Loads of pictures.

And in 3rd place, White Oak Pastures with 16,175 page likes and 26 posts. The meat and farm product producers love showing pictures of their pigs.   Twelve pictures include animals.  Animals rule.

My lessons: Post often (preferable more than once a day), post pictures, and make sure your pictures tell the story of who you are.


Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Strategy

How to Get Destroyed by Wal-Mart and Amazon.com (or not.)


Our recent Airstream acquisition has allowed me to patronize stores that I hadn’t considered before. “Black water” tank sanitizer tablets, for example, were not part of Ahlmann family vocabulary before last week, nor had I ever installed a brake controller or shopped for a locking hitch ball, a clever device intended to keep unapproved folks from hitching up your rig without your permission. (This is particularly relevant if you’re sleeping in it.)

It was the locking hitch ball adventure that made me wonder if local shops in small-town America stand a chance. I first purchased said device at Wal-Mart, because I was in a hurry and already picking up diapers, but the hitch lock didn’t fit. Sensing a need for expert advice, and frankly for emotional support, I pulled into a local RV Service and Parts purveyor. “Yeah, we don’t sell a lot of those,” said the man behind the counter, clearly more interested in replacing a black water tank than helping me solve the problem. “Of course you don’t,” I thought to myself on the way to the door. “You don’t sell them when you don’t carry them!” But I saved this insight for a more receptive audience, and went to the second RV shop where…

…they didn’t carry them either. I was apparently the only one in town concerned that someone would hitch up and steal my house, except for the folks at Wal-Mart who carried the item for “houses” of a different size. But at the second shop they offered to order one. Fine, I thought. Never mind that I can order one from Amazon myself. Here I can at least get help to find the right size, and still have a chance at that emotional support I came for in the first place.

But alas.

To the owner of this store, it wasn’t clear from the catalog which size would be most appropriate either. And the frustration this caused him eliminated all chances of emotional support. So I politely excused myself after 20 minutes of strolling dusty aisles of tank valves and pre-LED RV lighting fixtures.

Amazon.com, you win.

Or do they?

In a nearby town, the 3rd owner of the local bike shop greets his customers at the door. He creates community by offering guests a soda while he works on their bike. He leads rides from the shop, and coaches the high school bike team. He offers professional-style fitting sessions for a fee, and builds customer relationships like a refined politician.

Are local shops in small-town America toast? Not until Amazon.com learns how to build community, fix bicycles and coach the local bike team. In the mean time, opportunities are alive and well for small shops that do business right.



We’re getting hitched. Again.


The project started as a ridiculous idea that wouldn’t go away. You know, ideas like “we should move to El Salvador, live in a grass hut and restore a dilapidated coffee farm into a national brand,” or “hey, if we sold the house and bought a vintage Airstream trailer, we would never have to pay a mortgage, and we could park it anywhere with a great view and awesome farm surroundings!” That second one, actually, is the idea as it appeared. It came up over tea six months ago, and yesterday we bought the vintage Airstream.

As previously confessed, we won’t defend the plan as normal or even reasonable. It’s not. But when we began to talk about it, we realized it would be fun. And it would certainly be a challenge, and an opportunity for growth. Not normal, but an adventure.

That adventure started with an extensive search of Airstream options, from the gutted 1930-somethings to the $150,000 yacht-style 2017 models. Our capacity for handiwork eliminated the first, and our bank account eliminated the latter, so we settled somewhere well below average on a 1983 Airstream Excella that reaches 31 feet from hitch to tail lights. We picked it up on the coast of Washington, and hauled it 781 miles home, where Six Sigma’s trusty Ford Diesel pulled it to the top of the gravel infested hill above our house.   There Rachel and the kids are cleaning it out as I write.

While any plan involving a 248 square foot living quarters and 3 kids is subject to alteration, here is where we’re at: Sell the house (the sign is up), fix and paint the rig, test it on a few weekend tours, and then downsize our belongs to fit in the plethora of cubbies and overhead storage compartments. After that, we plan to move in, and experience the many views of Six Sigma Ranch, along with a selection of farms across Northern California.



Required Response: Remember, we are selling to humans.



We sell meat products for Six Sigma Ranch at a local farmer’s market. In the beginning, when someone would approach our stand, I would tell about the products and mention that we have a waiting list for large lots. I would give them a flier and encourage them to sign up on our website.


Early each week, I’d go check for new sign-ups and there wouldn’t be any. It was not that the customers were not interested. They came to ask questions and genuinely wanted our products, but somewhere in the business of life they put my flyer down and forgot about it.


A better tack is a concept called “required response.”


Economist Richard Thaler in his book Nudge tells about different ways people can sign up to become an organ donor.  Here is an example from Illinois:


“Here is how it works: When you go to renew your driver’s license and update your photograph, you are required to answer this question: “Do you wish to be an organ donor?” The state now has a 60 percent donor signup rate, according to Donate Life Illinois, a coalition of agencies. That is much higher than the national rate of 38 percent reported by Donate Life America.” – Richard Thaler


Did you catch that it raised the sign-ups by 22%?


This is how I could turn my disappointing sign-up numbers into a real win. Instead of giving away the flyer, I could ask people to fill out the sign-up form right there at the table and give a reward to them for doing so, like a free tour of the property that is usually a $10 value. More sign-ups mean more tours and more fun had by all.





How to Shear 700 Sheep in 9 Hours


Shearing a sheep has a pattern that, when followed, is efficient, precise and safe for both you and the sheep. In the 1950’s Sir Godfrey Bowen developed a method for shearing that is still used today. The pattern is very specific down to the exact number of strokes each part of the sheep takes. A really good shearer can shear a sheep in less than 2 minutes using his technique. I’m not a really good shearer but it reduces my time by more than half. (Yes, I tried to shear a sheep after watching a few Youtube videos and it took 45 minutes. After a week of shearing school I was down to 20 minutes.)


There are so many things I do every day that would be faster, more accurate and easy if I found the best way. Michael Gerber in “The E Myth,” his popular book on small business, suggests finding the best way for everything, then recording it in an Operations Manual.


Here are my top 5 reasons for putting some effort into writing Operations Manuals.


  1. Your mind is free to be creative somewhere else


  1. It is easier to teach someone else how to do what you do


  1. You have a baseline for tracking effectiveness


  1. When something goes wrong you can look at your process to find out why


  1. You don’t have to waste your time problem-solving something you problem-solved in the past


What have you found to be easier after finding the best way?



Entrepreneurship, Personal Growth

Your Big Idea

Aircraft taking off


A few years ago, I spent a day selling wine with a young salesman for a distribution company in the Midwest. I was there to represent Six Sigma Ranch in his territory, so he graciously introduced me to his accounts. After a few stops it was obvious that he was a nice guy, but not passionate about selling wine. So I asked a few questions about his life and interests as we traveled, and quickly learned his passion was flying airplanes. But he had exchanged this big idea for a sales job because it seemed more safe.

By the end of the day, he had changed his mind. He decided to quit his sales job, and start school to become a commercial airline pilot. We skipped the last account (he wouldn’t have followed up on it anyway), and instead went out for coffee to celebrate his new direction in life.

Every honest person I’ve ever asked has a big idea in mind. Some big ideas are buried, but surface with a few prying questions. Some big ideas are on the surface, because their owners are already living the dream. It seems everyone has a business, a book, a mountain or a pilot’s license in mind to conquer. But most of us never pursue our big idea. We don’t because it’s unreasonably large, or we don’t have enough resources, or it just isn’t a responsible thing to do. What if we failed? What would people think? And besides, some ideas simply can’t be done!

And that’s why most of us leave the big idea alone: It can’t be done.

But chances are it can. Think of human flight. It was widely known to be impossible until it happened.

And fortunately for most, the big idea doesn’t mean quitting a job one day, and applying for pilot school the next. Most of us can work on the big idea one little bit at a time, until it starts to make sense, and doesn’t look impossible at all.

That mountain you want to climb? Start by walking a mile each morning. The book you want to write? Write a page. Then two. The farm?  Begin by growing tomatoes in your backyard, and then chickens. And if you want to fly airplanes, celebrate with a cup of coffee and go get it done.


PS. Since I’m a person of faith, I believe big ideas come from God. He built each of us for a unique mission, and he planted a passion for that mission in our hearts so deep that it won’t go away. Most likely, that mission is too big to make sense. But, again because I’m a person of faith, I believe God gives us missions that are too big for our capacity on purpose, so he might empower us to do them, and prove that he is God. In fact, if the idea in your heart seems reasonable, it’s likely too small to be from God.