Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Cold Dark

We've hit that time of the year where it's ridiculously difficult to drag myself out of bed in the morning. Somehow, the cold dark 7am of October seems 100x worse than the cold dark mornings of December/January, due the the vagaries of snow and getting used to it and daylight savings time ending and all that.

Until this summer, Beatrix was a truly crappy sleeper, waking up several times a night, and I think my body is still also used to dealing with that. It seems I don't truly fall heavily asleep until 5 or so, which is especially painful on the many mornings when Beatrix wakes up before her "sun light" comes on and she is allowed to get up. Luckily, I have a wonderfully patient husband who gets her settled at those times and then makes coffee.

Still, it doesn't stop me from fantasizing about a "morning nanny" who arrives around 6:30 and deals with Beatrix until 9:00 or something on occasion. Those sleeping-in mornings seem like someone else's life...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

That's Why They Call It "Saint Paul"

Ten years ago today, I was inventorying the bar at Jeune Lune when Sonya Berlovitz rushed in to tell me that Paul Wellstone was dead. "Don't be silly," I remember saying, "you don't die that suddenly from MS." And then I learned about the crash, and left work immediately to go to Judy McLaughlin's house, where we all mourned Paul, and Sheila, Marcia, Tom, Mary, and especially Will.

I was out of the country when Paul was elected, but when I came back, he was the first national-level politician to really affect me. Part of that was his personality — giving out cups of water to runners at the marathon, getting us all to gather around that green bus, consistently listening to people and challenging them to do more at the same time. As much as Paul meant to me personally — and I know I was lucky to have that kind of access to a truly great man — he meant even more to me as a senator who truly represented his constituency.

And his family and staff. Will was so busy working with the campaign that his stories would often get passed on through Judy. Just a few nights before, she had told me that, when they drove Will's car, Paul would consistently wave and gesture to people as they passed. He finally commented that he was so surprised they never waved back — until Will had to break it to him that the windows were tinted and that people could not see in the car.

There are many times now where I think "That never would have happened if Paul was still in the Senate." In so many ways, ten years later it still feels raw, and like it will never be the same.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Consider Yourself

Recently, Patrick and I went to a lunchtime launch event for a new product. Even before the launch, I became a big fan of the product. But I was sadly disappointed by the event itself, and I think there's a lot to learn from it.

The invitation promised a "some delicious food, followed by an overview of ---- from ----, VP of Operations, where he’ll talk about some amazing things we have up our sleeves, and how we will make a mark in the Twin Cities." It was at a lovely venue, the event sounded interesting, I support the product, and even though it's hard to get away in the middle of the day, I thought it would be worth it.

However, once we got there, it was painfully obvious that very little thought had been given to the audience. Several representatives from the company were there, and were genuinely interested in our opinions, but I could see right away that what we said was not what they expected.

Strangely for a noon event, the food was rather minimal — some raw veggies, chips and dip, lemonade and coffee — great cocktail hour food, but not exactly lunch fare. The reps sat down and continued the conversation with us, and were interesting to talk to, but it was also clear they did not know much about the Twin Cities area or market. There were far fewer attendees than apparently expected, and as such there was no presentation, so people sat around awkwardly until they finally decided it must be time to go. And there was nothing really to take away, except a gift card valid for new users only — which (almost by definition) none of the attendees were.

In short, a great new company experienced a major disconnect with their launch event, and I felt bad for them.

How do you avoid this?

1)  Make your event special. No matter how big or small the audience is, make each person feel like the sole reason you were throwing this particular event was to recognize them.

2)  Try to avoid acting surprised if what you hear is different from what you think, and realize what a valuable opportunity that is for you.

3)  Watch the clock. If your event is around a mealtime, people are likely giving up a lunch break, or dinner with their family, or whatever to attend it — make it worth their while. Or, to keep catering costs down, have it at a weird time, and feature some really special food. Had the start time been 2pm, the same raw veggies been cut in flower shapes and the lemonade pink, I guarantee you people would have been more impressed.

4)  Stick with what you tell people, but be flexible. In this situation, a quick "We're not going to do a formal presentation, so that we get more time to talk with each of you individually. But I'm ----, I'm the VP of Operations, and please, I want to get a chance to chat with you"would have given a focus to the afternoon.

5)  Give them a take-away. You don't need to give a swag bag full of liquor and t-shirts (though everyone likes those), but even some kind of brochure or chocolate with your logo or key fob or something to remind them of the event carries your impact much farther than the 90 minutes your guest spent there.

As I said, it's en exciting company and I'll continue to be a fan. But as I walked away this afternoon, I thought of how much more of an event it could have been for all of us.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kiva

I've long wanted to try Kiva, because I think the idea of community micro-loans is fascinating. I got a push towards it today, though, after having lunch with Nick from the Minneapolis Foundation and really thinking about leveraging resources.

Tonight, when Beatrix got home, we scanned the pages of loan opportunities. We chose the Philippines, because my friend Merv's family is there, and they were incredibly generous about taking us around when we visited there in the late 1990s. In fact, of all the places I've been, the Philippines remains one of the most fascinating.

Then the debate. Help people buy products for their store? Plant rice? Fish? But as soon a Beatrix saw Sunde, who needed funds to help raise her pigs, we were hooked.

Sunde only needed $125, and I think by now, just a few hours later, she is set. But there are a lot of other people, all over the world, who could use a little help towards their dreams. I am already thinking of loans to several other people in several other countries (Beatrix and I tend to lean towards women, and cute animals).

Want to try yourself? You get your first $25 loan free (and I think I get a credit) with this link:
http://www.kiva.org/invitedby/bethany4204



Saturday, October 20, 2012

Shop Local - Because The Service is Better

Over ten days ago, despondent at the pathetic mom-ness of my closet, I finally called J. Crew to schedule one of their free stylist sessions. The sales assistant who answered the phone gushed "Lauren is the best. She'll call or email you right away to schedule."

I'm still waiting.

Meanwhile, I stopped with Beatrix at Victoria Crossing today because she requested a cookie from Bread and Chocolate after circus class. While she ate an m&m cookie as big as her head, I browsed the racks at Hot Mama. After I had had a few moments to look around, a lovely young lady came over, introduced herself as the manager of the store, complimented my daughter, and asked if I needed any help. When I related my closet woes, she immediately said "Can I pull some things for you to try?"

Since Beatrix was with me, I didn't have time, but she asked my sizes, gave me her name, mentioned another employee that could also help, told me the best times to come in, and wrote it all down on a card for me. She encouraged me to call ahead, so they can pull some things for me and have it all waiting.

Will I likely buy anything at J. Crew soon? I don't think so. Will I likely make a splurge at Hot Mama? Chances are also good. Will that money stay in mainly my community, with a local shop owner who obviously trains her employees to be very sensitive to customer's wishes? Definitely.

I often tout the wonders of shop local here, but I am also rather cheap frugal, and I can easily get seduced by lower prices or "free services" at larger places. What I was reminded of today is that the actual rewards of shopping in a place with service, where I can spend a little more money on a much more distinctive style that truly suits me, is an extremely worthwhile investment.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

3 Weeks From Today

It's the time of the year (and especially every 4th year) where things start to get really exciting. My labor union client is abuzz with energy. Lawn signs give a snapshot of the view of the residents. The majority of the calls on the land line are polls (or sometimes push-polls). I always mean to skip the debates and get sucked in instead.

I know some people hate this. Several of my Facebook friends inevitably make multiple posts about how much they hate the election period, choosing to focus on its divisiveness, its inherent challenge, its conflicts.

But me? I love it. I love seeing friends post about the things they are doing to affirm their beliefs and try to make the world a better place — volunteering on campaigns and at phone banks, participating in GOTV efforts, holding fundraisers, and giving, giving, giving of time, of money, of expertise, of opinion.

There's a lot of things I dislike about the current state of this country, and a lot of things I am disappointed in. I especially hate it that so much money gets spent on marketing politics, when those funds, put into programs, could solve many of the problems of this country in an instant. But if there's one slogan that I truly and passionately believe, it's that "There's nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed with what's right with America."

So please, you've got three weeks. Have that discussion. Go out and make the change you want to see in this world. And tell me about it.

(oh, and if you need voting advice? NO, and NO, and then Yes if you live in Saint Paul)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Invisible City

Yesterday afternoon, Patrick and I took 90 minutes out of our day to have one of the coolest, most incredible experiences I have had in recent memory.

We were some of the first to try out the Invisible City project. A virtual public art event, guided by smartphone and leading you through the North Loop area of Minneapolis, Invisible City sends you on an interactive mission through a city that you never knew existed — even if you know that neighborhood well.

Seriously, we're still talking about it. We're analyzing the experience, re-living it, virtually retracing our steps.

Go here, follow the instructions to the letter (after all, laser-accuracy is important to a mission like this and more importantly will keep you from fubar-ing your phone settings and getting lost in the middle), and go have this experience.

To tell you anything more about it would take away from the experience. Trust me.

I guarantee it will change your life.