Uncategorized

Lake County… Join My Soap Box

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(This article originally published in the Lake County Record Bee.)

I startled the woman at a local hospitality establishment. She made some comment that business was difficult, hinting that it should be expected because this is, after all “just Lake County.” She expected me to join in, lamenting about the challenges of doing business in a depressed rural economy.

I didn’t.

In short, I told her that any depression in our rural economy is caused by people like her.

You see, more than 3,000 people came to our little winery last year.  They drove over a mountain to get here, and down a rustic road. But they came smiling, with high expectations, based on what their friends had told them.  Some had read a glowing review in the San Francisco Chronicle, or Sunset Magazine, or Wine Enthusiast, all of which have published substantial pieces on our region in the past few months.

The moment they got here, they started to look for an answer to the question: Do I dare recommend this place to my friends? Many of them did dare, because many that came were friends of friends.

What the woman I first introduced doesn’t realize is that she creates the story that guests see when they get here.  If she tells people that this is, after all, “just Lake County,” the people that visit believe it. But if she tells them about the incredible hike up Mt. Konocti, or the world-class bass fishing on Clearlake, or the outstanding guest experience at one of the many wineries or local hotels, or even the resilient nature of our community following fires, those are the stories guests tell their friends, and locals tell each other.

Now, does Lake County have challenges? Of course it does. We have homeless people, and we have an extraordinary climate for growing cannabis, which competes with what some consider to be more noble crops.  But do other great regions of the world have challenges? Are there homeless people in New York and San Francisco? Sure there are. Yet those places foster a great sense of local pride, a sense that is beginning to take charge in Lake County too.

One club member at our winery is a young woman who works in the tech industry. She lives in a beautiful home on Cobb Mountain and works remotely. She lives here because she wants to,  and makes a fine living that pays taxes into our local economy.

Let’s imagine her first visit to Lake County, before she decided to move here.  I assume that it was a positive experience, or she wouldn’t have bothered, right?   But she did bother, and she brings up friends from the bay area, and her presence here improves the experience of the region as a whole.

What if that bitter woman behind the counter had ruined her first visit? She wouldn’t have come. And thus the woman’s message is a self fulfilling prophecy. If she tells people that this is a discouraging region, it becomes just that. But if she shares the beauty of the region with enthusiastic people who come here expecting to see great things, it becomes a beautiful region with a focus on great things.

If the bitter woman wants to improve this region, the best thing she can do is leave! Or even better, pretend it never happened, and change her tune immediately.  Talk about the great things that surround us, and we will see more great things.

Let’s call out the negative, magnify the positive, and harvest the result of a beautiful place to live, shall we?

Christian

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Uncategorized

Full Time Airstream Life

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So we did it. We sold the house and moved into the 31 ft. 1983 Airstream Excella.

The move has become a conversation topic beyond expectations, with inquiries from 3 distinctive camps.

Most who ask about our Airstream move are encouraging, albeit confused about our motivation.

Another camp comes charging, seemingly offended on a personal level, as if our defiance of the cultural order they have in mind is a personal attack on their own status within that order. This group surprised me, especially when I realized that the questions to us come following a series of conversations they’ve had already with others about our living situation. I’m honored, I suppose, that they care enough about our family home to discuss it to the point of personal offense.

And the last camp is my favorite. Often married to the personally-offended camp is someone at a level beyond encouragement. As their spouse drills us on the practicalities of space and laundry, this person becomes increasingly starry eyed, finally confessing that tiny home living for them would be a dream-come-true. The couple wanders off to begin what might become a defining conversation of their marriage about hopes, dreams and expectations for life.

Meanwhile, we’re enjoying the vineyard view and simplicity of life on the hill above Six Sigma Ranch. In the first week, we’ve had the mechanical challenges one would expect from a coach built 2 months before I was born. And we’re still running a constant dialogue on topics like “hey, if we move the chocolate powder from the pantry to the tea drawer, we won’t have to unload the baking supplies to make the kids a drink.”

The space is small, and requires constant thinking. But it also takes just 20 minutes to clean, and makes life feel like a constant vacation.

Most amusingly, we towed the rig to stay with my brother this weekend. Instead of packing, we spent 20 minutes getting hitched and securing the cabin for takeoff. Several times during the trip, we had that jolt of “hey, did you pack the…” each followed by an “oh yeah, we’re pulling our house. If we own it, we packed it.”

Christian

 

 

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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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Uncategorized

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).

She:

  • 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.

-Rachel

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Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Strategy

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

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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.

Christian

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