The Blog

cowIn an interview for Darrell’s farm show, Michigan blueberry farmer Barbara Norman talked about teaching gardening to 4-H kids. She sells them, for a quarter, a parcel of land that’s about as big as a kitchen table. They use the land to plant tomatoes. Then they take those tomatoes to church and give them to (you guessed it) church ladies.

The second or third time it happens, the church ladies start giving them quarters.

At the end of the harvest Barbara tries to buy the land back for a quarter from those five-year-olds. “Not so fast!” they’ll say. They know it’s worth much more than that -- not only multiples of quarters, but tasty tomatoes and especially friends.

The children learn how to create wealth. Which is, you know, priceless.

Once upon a time I let a colleague talk me into carpooling with him. This gentleman wasn’t a pal. I didn’t like anything about him, and working with him was enough of a challenge. Yet here I was, sharing a vehicle with him during the only part of my workday I really enjoyed -- the commute.

Suddenly I hated how every day began, and ended.

We weren’t carpool buddies for long, and I’ve never forgotten the lesson. I need time by myself in the morning. When I met Darrell and we had Katie, that meant getting up earlier than they did to work it in. Worth it!

I wish I could’ve warned Darrell about something else. I need time by myself in the evenings, too. Especially now that we work together. We spend much of the day inches from each other. Enough.

It took me twenty-five years to fill him in, because it took me twenty-five years to realize that myself. I thought being married meant loving pillow talk. And maybe it does, depending. When I hit the pillow I want to sleep.

If you don’t carve out time for yourself you aren’t doing your sweethearts any favors, because it’s in that time you slowly realize what you most need.

It’s so much easier to get your needs met if you know what they are.

Ever had a relationship wind down so gradually and with so much mutual respect the two of you were able to reflect on a few things before that final goodbye?

Neither have I.

That’s one reason I found a friend’s report so enchanting. Her soon-to-be ex reminded her what she’d warned him about early on, that she needed her space.

“You know what?” he told her. “You were right!”

There was nothing mean-spirited about the comment, if memory serves. Bittersweet, granted -- but maybe more sweet than bitter. To be able to reflect on what you’ve learned with the person who helped you learn it? That’s quite the parting gift.

Next up, what I would’ve warned Darrell about me -- had I had the slightest clue myself.

For the first ten years of the talk show we booked a different guest every week. In all those hundreds of hours of radio there were only a couple of conversations so boring I couldn’t bear to listen to them again after we finished recording. I couldn’t tell you who the guests were at this point. I blocked them out, probably.

Otherwise? I’ve listened to every word of every program at least once more -- if not two or three times -- in addition to the hour I spent on the phone with that person. I’m noting how to do a better job at life, of course (“doing what works” and all), but I’m also monitoring my side of those conversations for filler words.

“Um.” “You know.” “Whatever!” As vigilant as I am, there are still far too many of them for my taste. Darrell’s amused by this. “Do you even pay attention to the network people?” he’ll ask. Well, no. “You’re fine,” he’ll promise. I’m not going for fine. I’m going for perfect. If I shoot for perfect there’s a possibility I’ll end up at fine.

Right?

lawnFiller words are like weeds. You have to stay on top of them.

When you do? Oh! Think of how soothing it is to listen to someone who’s well-spoken. It’s bare feet on a lush lawn. I get all tingly just thinking about it.

I’m not necessarily the most successful person you’ll ever meet -- ! -- but I’ve interviewed a lot of them on the radio. One thing I’ve noticed? They make a habit of tackling the most important work of the day first.

The more I emulate that habit, the more traction I get.

I love how Seth puts it: “No points for busy.”

“You want to get better at life? Take an improv class.” I’d heard that suggestion so often from various guests on the talk show I did what I always do when I’m at least mildly interested. I put it on a list. I’ve apparently lingered on that particular item frequently enough that an opportunity to take an improv class -- of sorts -- dropped in my lap.

It came a year ago in the form of a question from acting and life coach Jane Brody about whether I’d be interested in doing a show with her.

Well, sure.

If my goal is to be more useful, to step into bigger roles, why not start working with an acting teacher once a week? Jane’s all about improv. If you spend any amount of time with her, let alone the hour a week I’m privileged to, I guarantee your improvisational skills will improve.

Funny how life works, isn’t it? You get serious enough about a goal to write it down, and then you forget about it. And before you know it, out of seemingly nowhere: “Here you go!” It’s like giving your brain a problem to chew on before you go for a run, take a shower, or drift off to sleep. By the time you’re cooling down, drying off, waking up? “There’s your solution!”

Sometimes I wonder if we make things more difficult than they need to be.

Mr. Incredible works at Menards in Fargo. He fetched a miter saw -- one of those big, heavy, oh-so-bulky miter saws -- from a top shelf with his bare hands. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t used a ladder, asked Darrell for help, or broken the saw. But he did it.

I was so impressed. As we followed him down the aisle for help finding a sharper blade it made sense, though. “Look!” I whispered to Darrell. “He’s Mr. Incredible! For real.” Darrell cracked up, because I was right. From the front? Just some guy. But from the back? His build, his posture, all of it. Suddenly the blue vest and his jeans looked wrong. Wouldn’t red tights and black boots be more appropriate?

“Anything else?” he asked Darrell after they’d settled on the perfect blade. “I better not,” Darrell said, smiling. However many hundreds of dollars on this trip was enough. “No kidding!” I thought. “We’re going to Sephora next,” I told them.

It’s been weeks, and I can still hear the guy’s laughter. Which delights me. For as helpful as he was he was also a bit gruff, definitely detached. I’d been cutting up (so to speak) for a while at that point, but he wasn’t having it. Until I invoked Sephora. Now we were free to go. Darrell had his saw, I got my laughter, and we headed for the checkouts.

That’s what I was thinking about the other day when Jane had this report for me on the show: “It’s all about fun with you, isn’t it?”

Uncharacteristically I felt no need to apologize. Why should I? Think of any job you’ve ever had. Don’t the people who most consistently make you laugh make it easier to be at work? You're probably nicer to your sweethearts when you get home, and those ripples keep spreading.

AWhen I was in high school, trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life, it was important I not enjoy it too much.

Yep.

That’s because by then I’d learned that anyone who did was a little bit of a goofball.

Years later, when that approach hadn’t worked and I got the chance to start over, I wished for a class on how to make a life transition. Imagine my surprise when I (1) found it, and (2) discovered the theme was: “If you’re not having fun you’re not doing it right.”

Upending my worldview was an easy sell, considering the spectacular wasteland my life had become. Now? Katie says she hopes to be as silly as me one day, which is the best report card I can imagine. Next up, one that came really close.