The milestone you’ve waited for: your Propane Birthday

For the guy that has it all: propane and propane accessories.

For the guy that has it all: propane and propane accessories.

Jewish boys become bar mitzvah on their 13th birthday, with Jewish girls becoming bat mitzvah on their 12th.

We’re accustomed to the “sweet sixteen” celebration when an American girl reaches age 16.

Your Golden or Grand Birthday is when your age matches the day of the month on which you were born – my birthday is Sept. 29, so I celebrated my Golden Birthday when I turned 29.

With our growing Hispanic population, we are becoming accustomed to the quinceanera, a celebration marking a girl’s 15th birthday.

I am hereby declaring that a man’s 58th birthday is his Propane Birthday, when his family ceremoniously presents him with a second, backup propane tank so that they are not embarrassed when this man’s lone tank runs out of fuel while he’s gas-grilling a special meal.

I expect Hallmark to come out with the appropriate greeting card any day now.

Your Monday motivation: Hang a left at the next star system, please

Voyager 1 entering interstellar space. (Artist's image, courtesy of NASA)

Voyager 1 entering interstellar space. (Artist’s image, courtesy of NASA)

I’m pretty proud that my well-worn car is approaching 170,000 miles and still running well.

But that’s nothing compared to NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is now the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space, or about 12 billion miles from our sun. Now, that’s great mileage!

There seems to be some debate over exactly when Voyager 1 broke into this space between the stars, with “Now!” being proclaimed every few months over the past year. NASA made the official announcement earlier this month, after studying copious amounts of data.

It’s not the “when” that wows me, however. It’s the fact that a man-made object launched in 1977 keeps traveling, traveling, traveling. And it’s still sending data back home, though the signals are now at about 23 watts, according to NASA. That’s about the power of a refrigerator light bulb. Its twin, Voyager 2, is not very far behind.

We have created something almost unimaginable – a spacecraft that continues to explore, well beyond our own star system (depending on how you define our star system, of course).

Well done, little spacecraft. Well done.

For a stronger community: Face time more than Facebook

The Optimist Club is an example of local citizens building social capital.

The Optimist Club is an example of local citizens building social capital.

The Internet has brought a world of knowledge to our fingertips, but it’s no substitute for fellowship and human contact. Which is why civic organizations, schools, and churches – and the interpersonal relationships they weave – are the critical threads that make our community fabric strong.

I was reminded about that last evening, when the Eden Prairie Optimist Club celebrated its 35th anniversary with a dinner and program at a local restaurant.

If you live in Eden Prairie, you may have read about the Optimists’ work – mostly youth-related projects – in the local newspapers. But my guess is this organization is probably off most residents’ radars. It often works behind the scenes, with a small membership and little fanfare, raising money for such things as the school drug-education program known as CounterAct.

And it’s done these types of things for 35 years!

Our communities are chock full of organizations like this – Rotary, Lions, Lionesses, Women of Today, chambers of commerce, Jaycees, and more. We take them for granted. But they are developing leaders, funding critical programs, filling community needs, and generally adding to our city’s quality of life.

We know that networking and personal connections are what count when job-seeking. In the same way, networking and personal connections made through civic involvement help communities generate ideas, information, influence, and resources. It’s called “social capital,” and when a community improves its social capital – its level of citizen involvement – it makes good things happen.

The Optimists and members of other local organizations deserve our thanks and respect. I hope they are able to continue their community service for many years to come. Because, after all, they accomplish community-building goals that no single person is able to accomplish while at the computer, surfing the Internet.

Your Monday motivation: Fall is here

The fall color is coming! The fall color is coming!

The fall color is coming! The fall color is coming!

Welcome to “Monday Motivation,” a new feature I’m adding to my blog to help you get through the work week.

Today we are celebrating our first full day of fall, which in Minnesota is a fabulous time of year.

What’s so great about it? Well, GPS for the Soul asked readers to chime in on what makes fall such a wondrous time on the calendar, and the responses are part of this article on Huffington Post.

You are about to witness some of the most beautiful weather and wondrous landscapes of 2013. Enjoy every minute of it!

What to do when an anniversary comes around

The author and the lovely young woman who would become his wife.

The author and the lovely young woman who would become his wife.

You might be surprised to learn that one of the easiest and most effective way to say thanks to your employees has to do with the old and well-worn photo you see here.

The photo is from 1974 or ’75, and it was taken at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minn. It shows yours truly and Roma Given in the early throes of our courtship, which would lead to marriage on Sept. 16, 1978. We are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary on this very day.

Happy anniversary, dear.

Today I am 99 percent focused on my mate, leaving 1 percent for this brief advice on how an anniversary can make you a better manager.

When you are managing employees, you would do well to record the dates on which they started employment with the company. Entering the employees’ names and their start dates on your Google Calendar or similar calendar offering works nicely.

When an employee’s anniversary date rolls around, thank them sincerely for their service, and do it in a way that’s obvious to other employees, so that they too congratulate the colleague for his or her milestone.

You’d be surprised how much they appreciate that you remembered and thanked them for their contributions.

And, if you can resurrect a photo from earlier years, well, all the better.

Three Twins baseball stories you’ve probably never heard

The cover of "Twins at the Met," by Bob Showers

The cover of “Twins at the Met,” by Bob Showers

A Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer pummeling a teammate? The unsavory side of a Campers Weekend promotion? A prank that almost had the Twins leaving the ballpark before playing the game?

If you closely followed the Minnesota Twins during their first two decades, which roughly matched their stay at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, you know some of the classic stories associated with that rather non-descript sports stadium.

You know that cows grazed just beyond its boundaries. You know The Beatles played one of their infamous concerts there. You know that in 1965 the ballpark hosted both the baseball All-Star Game and the World Series. And you know it provided a tremendous late-season, home-field advantage to the Minnesota Vikings football team.

But there are some lesser known but still fabulous stories about that skeletal structure and the baseball team that called it home from 1961 to 1981.

I recently heard several Twins-related baseball yarns – new to me, and new to you too, I’ll bet – from Bloomington resident Bob Showers, who has authored a new book, “The Twins at the Met,” after he recounted the ups and downs of another Minnesota sports team in a previous work, “Minnesota North Stars: History and Memories with Lou Nanne.”

Showers was able to unearth some new stories about the early Twins in part because of his impressive access to a treasure trove of player and stadium photographs housed by the ball club. The author pledged to contribute to the Twins Community Fund via book sales, and so he was given keys to the Fort Knox of Twins historical archives.

Once he spread old photos in front of the many early Twins players, managers, and staff he interviewed, the stories just kept coming, Showers said.

Without spilling all the beans – hey, Showers is trying to sell a book or two, you know – here are a few diamond gems from the author:

  • Rod Carew once took offense at teammate and pitcher Dave LaRoche’s attitude during a team meeting, and the two stepped into a utility close and duked it out, says Showers. (Arrow-straight Rod Carew? Really?)
  • Former Twin and brand-new Texas Ranger Bert Blyleven pranked the Twins when, during spotty showers before a Met Stadium game, he called the home-team dugout, impersonated the head umpire, and told the Twins the game had been called off because of the weather. According to Showers, Twins ballplayers were dressed and practically out the door before Twins skipper Gene Mauch smelled a rat and set things right.
  • And finally, the Twins had a popular promotion called Campers Weekend, reserving a corner of the Twins parking lot for campers and RV’s coming from far and wide to camp and watch baseball … until, that is, the sheriff department asked the team to stop holding the event. It seems that a few of the male patrons visiting the big city for a little baseball, rest, and relaxation might have also been enjoying some female companionship, says the author.

Showers can sure tell a story, and the photos included in “The Twin at the Met” are a real treat. You can find out more about the book at www.twinsatthemet.com.

Boomer suicide: a discussion that can’t wait

Ripped from the headlines: baby boomer suicides are up sharply in Minnesota.

Ripped from the headlines: baby boomer suicides are up sharply in Minnesota.

More Minnesotans in their fifties and sixties are committing suicide, and it’s got to stop.

It’s a difficult subject; no one wants to admit they’re at risk, let alone get professional help. So it’s up to the rest of us to elevate the discussion.

It’s critical to do so because of the numbers. New data for Minnesota, released Aug. 30, show that suicides rose 13 percent from 2010 to 2011, to 684. That’s 12.4 suicides per 100,000 residents but the highest rate in Minnesota since the early 1990s and, put in perspective, much higher than the 368 traffic deaths recorded the same year.

The largest increases, by category, were for men ages 55-59 and seniors older than 65, which experts say may be a reflection of economic worries brought on by the Great Recession and the uncertainty of retirement. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were other contributing issues, including the growing number of baby boomers who are caring for aged parents.

I know boomers who have lost their jobs, or who suddenly realized that retirement is a lot farther off than they once expected. The worry and concern gnaw at them. Suddenly, the standard of living they obtained or simply wished for is slipping away.

So, for their sake, and ours, we need to talk about depression, suicide, and all the associated warning signs.

That’s what has been missing from the discussion, it seems to me. The higher rate of suicide among Minnesota baby boomers has made recent headlines, but too little of the media coverage has included the how-to-help advice we all need to hear.

To that end, what follows are the warning signs of suicide and what you should do if a loved one exhibits those signs. Watch your friends and family carefully. Let’s get help to those who need it. And, to hell with being stoic – this is a topic that needs to be discussed. Resolve to do so now.

THE SIGNS

The following 11 warning signs of suicide come via the Minnesota Department of Health. The more of these a person exhibits, the greater the risk.

  • Talking about wanting to die.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

WHAT TO DO

If you are concerned about a friend or loved one:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Remove firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

A better economy, but not equally better

for hire sign_editedThings are looking up, right?

Labor Day 2013 is upon us, and Minnesota’s economy is slow improving. Home sales and home prices are rebounding, and the state is on its best financial footing in years, revenue-wise.

But do the economic improvements help close the persistent gap between the haves and have-nots, a gap between high- and low-wage Minnesotans that’s been growing for more than 30 years?

Not according to an August study from the Minnesota Budget Project, an initiative of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

According to the research, part of a report titled “In the Shadow of the Great Recession: The State of Working Minnesota 2013”:

  • Low-wage workers are seeing much slower wage growth than high-wage workers.
  • More people are unemployed for longer periods of time, which can have a large impact on a person’s finances, career prospects, and family.
  • Many workers are underemployed, and still need jobs with more hours that match their skills.
  • Many are accepting part-time work because they cannot find full-time jobs.
  • And fewer Minnesotans are working or looking for work, as the recovery has not yet created enough jobs.

Between 1979 and 2012, according to the study, high-wage workers saw their wages increase by 26 percent, but the wages of low-wage workers only increased by 5 percent and middle-income workers’ wages increased by 12 percent.

In 1979, the median wage of high-wage workers in Minnesota was 3.1 times higher than the median wage of low-wage workers. As of 2012, it had grown to 3.7 times higher.

The research indicates that a sizable gap between men’s and women’s wages continues, and that people of color are much more likely to be underemployed.

On this Labor Day, it’s important to remember that, just as the Great Recession didn’t equally affect all income levels, races, and genders, neither is the economic recovery providing uniform benefits across the board. There’s a lot of catch-up to be done, my friends.

Running: It’s just not that complicated

This blog's author in his first competitive 5K running race.

This blog’s author in his first competitive 5K running race.

I like to think of running as the Great Equalizer. Unlike golf, tennis, and many other activities considered to be lifelong sports, running doesn’t need a course, court or other venue, and it doesn’t require a lot of expensive gear.

Really, all you need are four S-words: Shorts, Shirt, Shoes, and a little Stamina. (OK, you might want to throw in a fifth S-word, Socks, for good measure and healthier feet.)

Could it possibly be any more Simple? (OK, done with the S-words. Promise!)

I know running has its drawbacks. It can be hard on the knees. Some say it’s boring. But as individual sports go, there are few other things that can be learned as quickly, can be done almost any time, and – if you’re the competitive sort – give you the same satisfaction.

This was brought home to me again recently by Malcolm Gladwell, the New York Times best-selling author (including “Blink,” “The Tipping Point,” and “Outliers”) who was interviewed for the September 2013 issue of Runner’s World magazine.

Gladwell, who began running in middle school, was asked what it is about the sport that has kept him interested for so long. I love the author’s response:

“I just like the purity of it. I like the fact that it doesn’t have the rules and refs, the owners and teams, fancy uniforms and equipment, and all the other things that have weighed down so much modern sport.”

He goes on to say:

“Increasingly, there are so many impediments to people doing the things they want to do. In running there really is no impediment. Some kid in the highlands of Kenya can run on an even playing field with some kid in Orange County, California. That’s fantastic and rare. I find that very beautiful, and it makes the sport more powerful.”

After all, it’s just putting one foot in front of the other, quickly. And almost everyone is capable of that.

If you’re lucky, your hometown preserves its history

The peony garden at the historical Cummins, Phipps, Grill house.

The peony garden at the historic Cummins, Phipps, Grill house.

If you live in a community long enough, it usually becomes your “hometown.” It doesn’t matter if you were born there, schooled there, or raised children there. At some point, you put down roots. To you, it’s home.

I’m not an Eden Prairie native, but I’ve lived there nearly 30 years. That’s much longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, so when people ask me about my hometown, I naturally mention Eden Prairie.

One of the many things I like about Eden Prairie is that there’s a pretty healthy respect for history. There aren’t a ton of historic sites – remember, Eden Prairie was never what you’d call a traditional small town, having evolved directly from a farming township to a metropolitan suburb. But much of what’s left has been more or less preserved.

I say “more or less” because it’s difficult for any community to save everything that’s old and significant. Historic homes and sites are expensive to purchase and maintain, and only rarely do they generate a fair amount of revenue. Eden Prairie has done as well as most suburbs its size, I would say.

The photo you see here is from the peony garden of the historic Cummins, Phipps, Grill House along Pioneer Trail in Eden Prairie. The brick home was built in 1879 and ’80, and the enormous peony garden that still thrives was planted on the home’s east side about 1920.

While I cannot argue that there are economic benefits to historic preservation of this type, I will assert there are at least three cultural or educational reasons for communities to have amenities like the Cummins, Phipps, Grill House and peony garden, and why their residents – young and old alike – should know about and visit them:

  1. Historic places provide character to a community, especially in cities like Eden Prairie, which would be Any Suburb, U.S.A. if not for the occasional quirkiness offered by a historic site.
  2. They provide an educational opportunity, a chance to learn about one’s place in time relative to Native Americans, pioneers, and others.
  3. And they provide a means of community engagement, as venues where local citizens congregate to repair, enhance, or celebrate.

Perhaps more than anything, it just makes sense to hang on to something that’s meaningful, distinctive, and nostalgic.