About Us, Personal Growth

Couch Time

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(Fair Warning: This post has more transparent and personal insight on life and marriage than most. If that’s not your thing, scroll along. If it is, enter your email on the website for a free subscription. There may be more transparency coming ; )

Now for the actual text:

There is not, for all practical purposes, a couch in the Ahlmann Family Airstream. By that I don’t mean there isn’t one, for there are in fact two. (Separated by a table at the front end, they frame the dining room, living room and bedroom, as the table sinks to form our bed.) But for practical purposes, or rather one specific purpose, a couch doesn’t exist.

I can see I will have to explain.

The purpose to which I refer is the occasional evening when a casual conversation becomes a constructive discussion. Or worse, an unconstructive one. You know, the kind of marital debate that requires private time of reflection because further exchange is going nowhere, and the passing thought appears that spending an evening on the couch, with a little distance, might be a viable and even beneficial option.

But for that specific purpose, a couch doesn’t exist. Because the couches that do exist convert to become the master bedroom, i.e. the one and only cushioned surface available for sleeping, with little opportunity for “distance.”

The décor of our Airstream thus encourages what any good marriage counselor recommends: Solve your issues before you go to bed (however long that takes.) And that length of time, interestingly, seems to be unchanged since we first got married 12 years ago. The topics of constructive discussion have evolved (we spend little time now arguing money or sex, the statistical #1 and #2 sources of marital strife), but we do occasionally spar on topics of life plans, raising children (and related coordination), and a recent category that I will call “great ideas that Christian can sell everybody in the world on, except Rachel (because she has already seen through them).”

For those evenings, when opposing views require focused verbal exchange, we are stuck to sort it out. Stuck to agree, at least, on where to cordially park the topic to be solved another day.

Christian

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About Us, Personal Growth

Guns, Deer, and the Joy of Parenting

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“Hey Dad!” said Caleb as I headed out the door. “When you get home from work, we should have a drink and talk about hunting a deer.”

I concealed a laugh, and simply told him “Sure. Sounds good son.” But Rachel, standing behind him, appeared equally amused.

For the “drink,” it turned out, he was happy with milk. But he had a very clear intention with the topic of conversation. “Dad, I need to learn how to kill deer.”

The request, and the “need,” surfaced an amusing truth: For a kid at age 6, Dad is still assumed to be the definitive resource on anything he needs to learn. It matters not that Dad has never shot a deer, or that he has shot exactly one turkey. And even that was the result of one gaggles foolishly predictable travel pattern near the office around Thanksgiving, not Dad’s impeccable turkey calling skills or any enviable outdoorsman-ship in general.

The turkey adventure had stretched into the night, with Rachel and a YouTube instructional video on the front deck to guide our plucking and cleaning process. It’s worth noting that Rachel, unlike most spouses, did not respond negatively to my call about a large bird in the back of my truck, in need of plucking.   Fortunately for the rest of us, her interest in fine food from fine sources outweighs the initial inconvenience of plucking.

And that may become the perfect match. If Caleb learns to hunt, under my guidance (or rather, via Dr. Grant Woods at www.GrowingDeer.tv as interpreted through Dad), and Rachel enjoys cooking the quail, deer and turkeys that march regularly within rock-throwing distance of the Ahlmann Family Airstream at Six Sigma Ranch, this could turn out well. (The buck pictured above is one of the local residents.)

So far we’ve sighted in uncle Michael’s air rifle for target practice. It can, according to reliable sources, also serve to take down my young protégé’s first game, including quail, as soon as he can reach around the stock and look through the scope at the same time. Stay tuned.

Christian

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Photo Credit: Bob Minenna

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Personal Growth

Life’s Not Fair

 

 

 

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Mr. Banker was by far the most unreasonable teacher at Blue Valley Middle School.  A teacher should create a fair and predictable environment, but a conversation with Mr. Banker might go like this:

Student:  “Mr. Banker, I think this test question should have been marked correct.  Liz wrote the same answer, and she got it right.”

Mr. Banker:  “Really?  Let me see.  Nope, actually Liz is wrong too.  You’re both wrong.  But I already entered the grades, so she gets to keep the point.”

Student:  “What?? That’s not fair!”

Mr. Banker:  “On THAT you’re right.  Life’s not fair.  Now please take a seat.”

He wasn’t very clever either.  For each test, he allowed a handwritten notecard.  So a few hours of intense labor with a perfectly sharpened pencil made it possible to research and transcribe in great detail every possible test item!

When in life do we achieve success from simply working hard, preparing well and remembering to bring the notecard?

It got worse.

While most teachers required calm, reasonable speeches for student body president, Mr. Banker allowed (even encouraged) D.J. Whetter to juggle three balls in the air during his entire presentation.  D.J. said some nonsense about juggling many priorities (a cute reference to the flying objects), and ended the speech with a dramatic catch followed by a pointing finger at the crowd, yelling “Whetter is Better.”

When in real life does creativity, practice and showmanship get anyone anywhere?

What does such foolishness teach students about life?

A lot, actually.

Because life really isn’t fair.  And there isn’t some limited number of points available to make the grade.  In life, we get to make our own assignments, as many as we want.  And as long as we serve enough people, we’re in for high marks.

Come to think of it, nobody read the notecards during the test.  After all that research and useless repetition, we knew the material by heart.

Christian

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Marketing, Personal Growth

Double Sales in 12 Months

Pancake - Crepes with berries, mint and honey

That’s a hoax, right? It depends.

Consider this.

The art of making crêpes in our family has evolved over years. Our kids love them, and Sunday morning breakfast at the Ahlmann house is often an event.

Until recently, my crêpe-making technique was pretty good. I used a recipe from allrecipes.com, tips from friends, and crêpe-specific pans. The result was a good product, baked two minutes on one side and one minute on the other, on medium-low heat, with occasional additions of butter to the pan.

Then Rachel discovered the crêpe section in the masterpiece cookbook by Julia Childs. Julia, a legend for her translation of French cuisine to the American kitchen, spent decades learning her craft in France. Based on her wisdom, we made the following improvements:

By using sunflower oil with a higher burning point than butter, we can increase the temperature of the pan to medium-high. Oil is applied to the pan before each crêpe using a paintbrush. The result is better surface texture, and crêpes that finish in a minute and a half instead of three. That’s no big deal on one crêpe, but adds up on 40. In fact, it means one hour cooking time instead of two, with a better product.

Had you suggested I could double production while increasing quality, I would have doubted it. I had worked on the craft for years, and what else was there to learn?

So, can you double sales in 12 months? It depends. But I know that a few hard-earned, easily-transferred tips from a pro can double the rate of crêpe production in ten minutes.

Christian

Ps. Chet Holmes did not, as far as I know, have any interest in crepes. But he did write a book on the 12 steps he used to double sales at hundreds of companies. It’s called The Ultimate Sales Machine, and it’s available at Amazon.com.
Pps. If you don’t already follow this blog by email, you can subscribe on the website when the box pops up. Then you won’t miss a thing! (Or, if the box is too confusing, just email us so we can add you to the list: Christian@SixSigmaRanch.com)

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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.

Christian

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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.

Christian

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.

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Entrepreneurship, Personal Growth

Children, Garlic, and NVA’s

thWhen it comes to kids, three is more than two. Not just one more, but a lot more. I expected that Isabella, born in February, would change the game because Rachel and I are now outnumbered, but that’s not the main factor. The game changed because the older kids are now in preschool, kindergarten and baseball, while the little one eats 7 times per day and sleeps (or should sleep) 18 hours out of 24. That all takes a lot of time, especially when adding occasional attempts at grown-up conversations and gainful employment.

I share this as a segue to a time-saving epiphany, a “chef tip” I stumbled upon in a cookbook. “Tip # 7: Don’t peel the garlic before pressing.”

Say what?? You mean all the time I spend fumbling to extract those suckers from papery peel is wasted? You mean I can save several minutes and endless frustration on every spaghetti Bolognese and guacamole batch for the rest of my life? “Yes,” whispered the book at my disbelief. And, sure enough, it works. Just jam the cloves into the press and give it a squeeze.

The gurus of Six Sigma process improvement call this concept (a step that adds no value) Non-Value Adding, or NVA. (They are business gurus and not poets for a reason.) NVA’s haunt life and business alike, and often go unnoticed. The garlic epiphany, and life with an 8-week-old, makes me wonder which other NVA’s are lurking in the shadows.

Christian

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