Tag Archives: Holidays

Thanksgiving Again

This was the post I wrote back in 2008 around this time. Way back then I guess I hadn’t really tried to tie everything into a business theme as I do now. It’s just a reflection of how my family enjoys the routine and repetition of the day. 8 years further down the road, I realize that there is a good reason why having the same thing every year is a wonderful thing. Just about everything else I wrote about in the piece below has changed. People have moved and one has died. Houses have been sold and others have been bought. The kids are all grown now and are working and the rarity of everyone getting together has increased.

If there’s a business lesson in all of this, it just might be to appreciate the familiar moments and not to complain too loudly about routine. Rest assured that there will be enough chaos and change for everyone along the way. Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo

My family loves Thanksgiving.  For the most part, so do I.  The entire family getting together is not something that happens with great regularity anymore – grandparents winter in Florida, kids are in college or living their own lives, brothers and sisters and other relations have busy schedules too.  So when 20 or 25 of us can pile into one location, it’s special, and each gathering is unique.  Except for one thing.

Thanksgiving’s menu in my house is something that descended directly from the Pilgrims.  It is etched in two tablets made from the skin of the original bird (and we can have the discussion about whether that bird was in Plymouth or in St.Augustine another time).  Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and apricots, cranberry mold, cranberry bread, veggies, stuffing and gallons of gravy are pretty much it.

I cook every year and love to do it.  Except I can do it in my sleep at this point. I am under strict orders from all parties NOT TO FOOL (they use another word) WITH THE MENU.  The only choices I get to make are what kinds of stuffing and which veggies to serve.  But I don’t, really.

One year I caused a huge ruckus by announcing in advance (mistake) that I would be frying one of the birds (we usually have two).  The discovery of a cure for cancer would have caused less of a ruckus.  Of course, now a fried turkey is mandatory.  Another year I made four dressings – one a cornbread and andouille, one a sausage and herb, one an oyster, and one a vegetarian version that was very traditional.  Of course, only the last one was eaten up.  No more oysters (and don’t even start the discussion about that’s what the Indians ate) in the damn dressing and leave that andouille stuff south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Another year, I slow cooked the green beans with bacon.  “Darling, do you have any less cooked?  I’m not sure I know what I’m eating…”  Another year I served carrots with a tangerine glaze.  The next, I was berated for not serving carrots.

I’m writing this now because there are only two weeks to go and my Mom is asking if I’ve shopped yet (Mom is always ready well in advance).  I tell her I haven’t shopped because I haven’t planned the menu yet but who am I kidding?  The menu was done years ago.  I don’t have the heart to tell her I’m roasting the other bird in a Caja China and not an oven and that I’m seriously considering bringing back the cornbread thing.  But I’ll cook them whatever they want since having the family all together is more important to me than my exercising my chefly prerogatives.

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Making The Dream A Reality

This was the post I wrote in 2009 on Dr. King’s birthday, which we celebrate today.  It’s interesting how over the last 7 years much of what I was feeling at the time about the possibilities that were presenting themselves have yet to become a reality.  In some ways, we’ve gone backward despite some of the progress.  I’m not sure race relations in this country are at the place I recall back in the 60’s but it’s good to have a day dedicated to the man that moved us all forward so we can reflect on the topic.  The business point in the post hasn’t changed – some things, such as Dr. King’s message – are eternal.

Last week was actually Dr. King‘s birthday but since we’re celebrating it today I thought I’d add my two cents. I’m old enough to remember him and while he didn’t light the fire of the civil rights movement in the US (I’d say Rosa Parks is that hero), he certainly brought the fire to life and tended it well until his assassination (and I remember that as well – how horrible a day it was!).

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What inspired me, a young (then) white kid was his notion of bringing a dream to reality. OK, the words and delivery were pretty inspirational too, even when you read them off a page. Yesterday the Inauguration Committee had a concert on the very place where Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech to celebrate, nearly 46 years later, a big piece of that speech coming to reality. One can’t help but wonder what Dr.King would have felt and said – he certainly should still be alive – he’d just be turning 80.

Robert Kennedy said “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”  I think that’s great business advice as well, even if George Bernard Shaw had the notion before Bobby.  Mark Twain wrote that Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

So today, I celebrate Dr. King’s dreaming of a better world and making it happen.  Tomorrow, we can watch it become real.  What are you dreaming of?  Can it be real?  Why not?  Or better – why not!!

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Listening And Leading

I started to write another post about Dr. King in celebration of his birthday.  I went back to something I had written in 2011 which in turn went back to something from 2009.  In all candor, I stopped trying to write a new one after heading out into rants on the subject of race relations today. Since we don’t do politics here I’m reposting the older screed. Maybe in honor of Dr. King you’ll go see “Selma”, as imperfect as that film is, and reflect on his message.  

Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality.  That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision.  Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real.  I think it’s applicable to business.  No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book).  Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – posses.

To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people.  For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them.  For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses.  In a word – listen.

Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, action on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.

I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King.  If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself.  As he listened to the members of the community and other clergy, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.

Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I think Dr. King, if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.

What are you listening to today?

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Timing Is Everything

Today is prep day for tomorrow’s feast.  Since I’m busy doing many other things (including praying the pending snow storm misses us), I’m reposting my Thanksgiving screed from 2008.  Not much has changed in the intervening 6 years about my approach to the task at hand.  It’s also a decent observation on the value of planning and attention to detail.  Happy Thanksgiving!

I had an assistant once who developed the concept of “the Ritter factor” when estimating time.  The basic concept was that if I said something would take a certain amount of time, that amount needed to be multiplied by 4.5 to determine the actual time required.  While not admitting to the accuracy or even existence of this factor, I can state that Thanksgiving‘s biggest challenge is time. “Time?” you’re thinking, “that’s the biggest challenge?  HA!  This idiot has really lost it!”  I’m sure you could put together a list of this week’s challenges which would contain items such as where to stash all the coats, how to fit 25 people around a table made for 12, and how to step over Uncle Elmer to get to the bathroom without waking him up.  However, as the conductor of the Thanksgiving orchestra around old Rancho Deluxe here, let me assure you that the primary challenge of the day is delivering all 39 items on the menu to the table at the same time, appropriately hot or cold as required.

The key to the entire day is a timed checklist.  Seriously.  I take enormous amount of crap from everyone who sees mine each year until they realize that the meal is being served at exactly the time requested by the Mrs. which happens to coincide nicely with halftime of the football game.  This list is created by using back timing – something TV and radio producers do all the time.  Beginning at the desired end time and factoring in the availability of necessary facilities (ovens, stove burners, etc.), you work backwards and piece together the time required for each dish until you have a road map.  Anything I can knock off ahead of time (baking, prepping all the dressings, parboiling vegetables) is done up to 24 hours in advance.  It even gets down to resting time for the turkeys before carving and the time it takes for the oil to heat up in the fryer.  In fact, we’ve started frying a turkey in part because it frees up an oven late in the process.  This sounds like a silly bit of overkill to get the meal ready, but it prevents you from leaving the soup in the refrigerator or forgetting you were serving carrots and finding a 20lb bag the next morning.

I’d be happy to share my list with you but it really would only help you a bit.  The cooking facilities here are pretty damn good although we spent the money on them instead of indoor toilets (kidding).  You have to tie your back-timed list to the menu, the facilities you have available to you, and your cooking skills.  Even though my former assistant (who comes most years for the Thanksgiving meal) thinks I’m chronologically challenged, I’ve got 25 full bellies Thursday evening that think otherwise.

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Happy President’s Day!

Today we celebrate the birthday of George Washington and of course since the government decreed this a holiday it will never occur on his actual birthday (true!).

1795 - 1823

1795 – 1823 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In many places, the holiday also celebrates Lincoln’s birthday – these two men were born on dates only 10 days apart although separated by 70 years or so.  Since today is a holiday for many of you, I thought I’d get in the “day off” spirit by reposting something from 2009 that still is good advice – Washington’s, not mine!

It’s no surprise that almost 282 years after his birth, George Washington has some business thoughts.  Now before you click to the next blog, let’s remember that this is the man who predicted the European Union a long time ago except that he called it the “United States of Europe“.  His open letter to the American People, written as he left office, raises themes that are even more true today.  He urged Americans to unite for the good of the whole country, to avoid permanent foreign alliances, particularly in Europe, and to keep morality first and foremost in government.

Turns out he had some pretty good business advice as well although I’m not sure he intended it as such.  So, let’s follow his advice to “Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive” and look briefly at a few quotes.

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.

We’ve discussed that point many times in this space.  It’s impossible to do good business while doing bad things.

My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty… it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein.

Right-sizing, in other words, but also giving people responsibility and the freedom to act.  I suspect that he knew a lot about conservation and deployment of resources from his time near the Delaware.

Worry is the interest paid by those who borrow trouble.

Oh boy.  Is there a better quote to sum up all that has gone down in the housing and mortgage industries?  Don’t do bad deals and you’ll sleep better!  And finally:

Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.

For whom you work and with whom you do business say a lot about YOU!  So Happy Presidents Day and let’s remember the people behind the holiday as well as what they had to say.

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On Time And Hot

While today isn’t Foodie Friday, it is a major food day here at the world headquarters.

Thanksgiving at the Trolls

(Photo credit: martha_chapa95)

Cooking in earnest for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast begins.  With that in mind, I want to revisit a post I did almost five years ago that talks about how one gets a massive project – dinner for 20+ – completed on time with all dishes hot.  As I said at the time,  Thanksgiving‘s biggest challenge is time.

“Time?” you’re thinking, “that’s the biggest challenge?”  I’m sure you could put together a list of this week’s challenges which would contain items such as where to stash all the coats, how to fit 25 people around a table made for 12, and how to step over Uncle Elmer to get to the bathroom without waking him up.  However, as the conductor of the Thanksgiving orchestra around old Rancho Deluxe here, let me assure you that the primary challenge of the day is delivering all 39 items on the menu to the table at the same time, appropriately hot or cold as required.

The key to the entire day is a timed checklist.  Seriously.  I take an enormous amount of crap from everyone who sees mine each year until they realize that the meal is being served at exactly the time requested by the Mrs. which happens to coincide nicely with halftime of the football game.  This list is created by using back timing – something TV and radio producers do all the time.  Beginning at the desired end time and factoring in the availability of necessary facilities (ovens, stove burners, etc.), you work backwards and piece together the time required for each dish until you have a road map.  Anything I can knock off ahead of time (baking, prepping all the dressings, parboiling vegetables) is done up to 24 hours in advance.  It even gets down to resting time for the turkeys before carving and the time it takes for the oil to heat up in the fryer.  In fact, we started frying the turkeys in part because it frees up an oven late in the process.  This sounds like a silly bit of overkill to get the meal ready, but it prevents you from leaving the soup in the refrigerator or forgetting you were serving carrots and finding a 20lb bag the next morning.  Which is the business point as well.

Any project needs to start at the end and work backwards.  You take into account the resources you need along with the human resources to produce the final product.  You need to be honest about the time each step will take and once you’ve written each element down along with its appropriate time block you need to keep checking the list to be sure you’re on time every step of the way.  My list even has lunch and shower time scheduled so nothing is overlooked.

I’d be happy to share my list with you but it really would only help you with your dinner a bit.  The cooking facilities here are pretty damn good although we spent the money on them instead of indoor toilets (kidding).  As with every project, you have to tie your back-timed list to the list of desired outcomes, the facilities you have available to you, and your own skills, whether in the kitchen or in the office.

Make sense?

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Having A Dream

Today is the 50th anniversary of the “I Have A Dream speech Dr. King gave on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  I began to write about him and my memories and then I realized I had already done so in 2009.  In reading it again, the thoughts seem appropriate to today as well so here is it once more, albeit slightly edited.

I’m old enough to remember Dr. Martin Luther King and while he didn’t light the fire of the civil rights movement in the US (I’d say Rosa Parks is that hero), he certainly brought the fire to life and tended it well until his assassination (and I remember that as well – how horrible a day it was!).

Martin Luther King, Jr.

What inspired me, a young (then) white kid was his notion of bringing a dream to reality. OK, the words and delivery were pretty inspirational too, even when you read them off a page. Yesterday the Inauguration Committee had a concert on the very place where Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech to celebrate, nearly 46 years later, a big piece of that speech coming to reality. One can’t help but wonder what Dr.King would have felt and said – he certainly should still be alive – he’d just be turning 80.

Robert Kennedy said “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”  I think that’s great business advice as well, even if George Bernard Shaw had the notion before Bobby.  Mark Twain wrote that Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

So today, I celebrate Dr. King’s dreaming of a better world and making it happen.  Tomorrow, we can watch it become real.  What are you dreaming of?  Can it be real?  Why not?  Or better – why not!!

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