Anne On Fire

How Fire Ignites Our Lives

Playing with Fire

Welcome to Ox-Bow

Welcome to Ox-Bow

The oven felt like it was 900 degrees but Sue let me know that the two fire “holes” on either side of the main oven were at least 2300 degrees.

We were at a glass blowing workshop at Ox-Bow, the Art Institute of Chicago‘s summer program in Michigan, and at first I thought that literally ‘playing with fire’ would not be my speed.  But much to our group of seven’s surprise, we began working the glass and hot ovens within about an hour of our instructor’s tutorial in the glass studio and were making glass.

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the trade – jacks, tweezers, shears, diamond shears, wet newspaper and the blow-torch

For three days we worked almost eight-hours a day, learning the ancient art of glass blowing and skills like jacking, blocking, shearing, blowing and keeping the body relaxed as part of the craft of glass-making.  These were no small things.  Working with fire, high heat and the time pressure of cooling glass, one wrong move meant injury, burns and more significantly for our sort-of-competitive group, a broken piece.

Admittedly, Day 1 consisted mostly of making glass blobs and later, some interesting paperweights – all in the name of learning how to use the “pipes”, gather the liquified glass from the oven and begin the process of working with the material.  It also set the foundation for working in teams.  Glass work is typically not a solitary toil — a lead artist tends to direct a team, who assists with blowing the glass and other assorted tasks such as reducing the intense heat from the glass with a properly placed paddle.

When Day 2 dawned, our group felt confident despite a few minor surface burns the previous day.  I was particularly impressed with myself from Day 1 – few jitters and no burns.  Going in to the class, I worried briefly about how I’d handle the fires and my proximity to them.  Over the years, I experienced a few, mostly minor, reactions to fire ranging spontaneous heat rash to persistent sensitivity to hot and cold weather.  When I burned my leg, whatever remaining skin was left was removed through a surgical process called debridement.  New skin grafts were placed over the remaining muscle and bone, resulting in scar tissue and a fair amount of nerve damage.  It never troubled me in any meaningful way and I’ve had full and complete use of my leg all my life.  I’ve always felt that as a burn survivor, I am a lucky one.  Even with the glass blowing class, I never felt it was a challenge to overcome fire in any way — I’ve long been over that — but simply an exciting skill to learn.

And then Day 2 brought  the wadded newspaper tool.   The ” tool” consists of six to eight sheets of newspaper, literally wadded together, folded over, drenched in water and held in your hand.

The wadded newspaper tool shows the singes from use on the glass

The wadded newspaper tool shows the singes from use on the glass

As part of the glass-making process, an artisan takes a “gather” of molten glass from the main oven and begins a process called marvering on a metal table to elongate and flatten the glass.  Moving to a specially designed bench, the artisan then smooths and/or blows the glass out, using one of a variety of tools — the jack, a wooden cup or the newspaper — depending on the goals for the project.  In the day’s demonstration our instructors Jonas and MC showed up the form and approach to using the wadded newspaper.  It all seemed like a textbook approach.  I felt ready.

But when I sat in the chair, using the newspaper to guide the glass, I felt the heat sear through my hand.  My reaction was visceral.  I felt the heat not only through my hand but come up through my right foot like phantom heat.  “I can’t use the newspaper,” I blurted.  “I can’t.”  Calmly, MC the instructor responded.  “No problem.  There are always other ways to do the same thing with glass.  Let’s give it a heat in the oven and marver it again.”  I put the newspaper down and the sensation went away.  I looked at my team mates Susan and Ann and they appeared nonplussed.  Inside, my heart was racing and I felt pangs of heat shooting through my body.  I took a deep breath, walked the pipe to the oven and gave the glass a heat.

It passed.

By Day 3, I decided to pick up the newspaper tool again and used it without incident, creating two bowls, a yellow glass and a big ole, colorful  paperweight.  This was an awesome experience.  Playing with fire wasn’t so much about fire but about understanding an ancient craft, working with friends and moving behind my limits.  I am not afraid of fire in any way.  It simply ignites the work in so many dimensions.  Thank you Louise Silberman for creating this opportunity and for your support of artists and artisans at Ox-Bow.

Storytelling in Stone

People are constantly concerning themselves with what they do:  have I achieved enough, written the greatest screenplay, formed the most powerful company?  But the world will not be saved by another great novel, great movie, or a great business venture.  It will only be saved by the appearance of great people.”  Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

For a good part of the last 20 years, I’ve worked with Dave Baum to help people and organizations tell stories.  They hire us for programs called communications skills, presentation skills or doing-business-with-the-media skills, but what we really teach is the power to connect with people through stories.  I can hear Dave’s gravely voice telling people we’re a nation that has forgotten how to tell stories.  Instead, we fall back on bullet points, silly things like paradigms and word-heavy PowerPoint presentations at the expense of being great communicators.

To hear a great story is a rare and good thing.  To hear a great story about a great person is even rarer and even better.

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse Monument

Traveling through South Dakota’s Badlands last week, there were any number of good stories and great sights.  But none touched me as much as the Crazy Horse memorial, which blends a great story about two great people.  Crazy Horse was the legendary Sioux chief who defended his people and their way of life.  While at Fort Robinson, Nebraska under a flag of truce, he was stabbed in he back by an American soldier and died in 1877. When the white man asked him derisively, “Where are your lands now?”, he replied, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Some years later, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote to the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, inviting him to the Black Hills to carve Crazy Horse,  “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes also.”

When he arrived in the Black Hills in 1947 to begin carving, Korczak was almost 40 and had only $174 left to his name.  Born in Boston and of Polish descent, the sculptor was orphaned at age one and grew up in foster homes.  He was completely self-taught and neer took a formal lesson in art, sculpture, architecture or engineering.  He worked on the sculpture until his death in 1982, leaving detailed plans to be used with his scale models so that the project could be completed.  Since his death, his wife Ruth with seven of their children, continue to direct the work, which is estimated to take another 50 years to complete.  When finished, it will be the world’s largest mountain carving.  The four heads of Mount Rushmore, for example, could easily fit on the side of Crazy Horse’s head.

Mostly, I have thought of stories in terms of written words.  Now, I looked out to see stone tell a remarkable story — not only of a great Indian chief but of a great white man who dedicated his life for a worthy cause.  If you go to Crazy Horse, you’ll see too that there is more than just the mountain sculpture.  Korczak’s family maintains a private non-profit foundation at the site, housing educational and cultural programming, providing a place for American Indians to create and sell arts and crafts, operating the Indian University of North America and the Indian Museum of North America.  A medical training center for American Indians is in the works.

When the course of history has been told

Let these truths here carved be known

Conscience dictates civilizations live

And duty ours to place before the world

A chronicle which will long endure

For like all things under us and beyond

Inevitably we must pass into oblivion.

Korcak Ziolowski, From a Poem to be Inscribed on the Crazy Horse Memorial

For a small donation, granite rocks from the Crazy Horse Memorial were available for the taking.

For a small donation, granite rocks from the Crazy Horse Memorial were available for the taking.

A Native American dancer at Crazy Horse tells a story through the Crow Hope dance

A Native American dancer at Crazy Horse tells a story through the Crow Hope dance

Close Up view of the Crazy Horse monument
Close Up view of the Crazy Horse monument

 

Quartz When You Least Expect It

Open roads in South Dakota

Open roads in South Dakota

Driving along I-90′s wide expanses in South Dakota, the highway meets a horizon of clouds.  Grasslands and the sky, bright green and blue merge together and stretch out as far as the eye can see.  There is a feeling of freedom there, the pressures of life falling away, thoughts turn to the beauty of nature and the stillness of the land.

We were almost 1,000 miles away from Chicago on our “girl’s road trip,” my daughter and me, along with another mom and daughter.  School ended weeks ago following a flurry of pre-teen drama for the girls.  They were exhausted and bewildered.  As their mom’s, we were both frustrated and disheartened with the situation as well, not knowing the right way to respond.  There was a big ‘let-down’ feeling as we began the trip.

Months before this developed, however we had planned our get-away.  Now, the idea had ripened well, better than we could have imagined — there would be lots of downtime driving, conversation in the car and maybe even new understandings as we moved into the long summer months.  Our goal was to drive west and reach Mount Rushmore though our plan was not particularly strict or time-sensitive.  We had a lot of ideas and only one initial hotel reservation booked in Minnesota for the first night.

Driving from Minneapolis, we spent a night in Mitchell, South Dakota, and reviewed our tour guide books.  Gassing up the Land Cruiser on Day 2 of the trip, we planned a stop at an 1880s town en route to Rushmore.  Here the girls could dress up in period costumes and dally at buildings from a reconstructed bank to a one-room schoolhouse.

After paying the admission fee, it was Ann who noticed the rocks just past the check-in gate, loaded unceremoniously in a dusty bin in the corner.  “Look at those,” she said and we sauntered over to a box of large, pink-hued rocks.  “Let’s get one before we leave,” she said and I nodded in agreement.  “If you like those rocks, then you’ll really like the big one in the town.   It’s over a ton,” Jake the ticket-taker commented.  Jake looked like a friendly old man, dressed in period costume, smiling broadly and offering us helpful tips about the town’s history and sites.  “Be sure to get to the saloon for the live music show.  It starts in 15 minutes.”  Since we were the only visitors at the time, he seemed to want to make conversation.  “The pink rocks are South Dakota’s state mineral,” he added.  “Be sure to come back.”

Rose Quartz, South Dakota's State Mineral

Rose Quartz, South Dakota’s State Mineral

Hours later, after touring the town, we returned to the box.  Ann lifted out maybe a dozen of the rocks and arranged them neatly on a table by the ticket check-in so we could examine them more closely.  They were weighty pieces, some weighing a couple of pounds, each of varying interest in their size and color.

Jake, the ticket taker, talked with us as we undertook our inspection.  “I’ve been working here about six years and I enjoy all the people,” he said.  “You know, I used to be one of those type A people and it took a couple of heart attacks for me to learn about what’s really important.  Now, I’m content, happy to focus on the simpler things in life.”

He continued, “My wife is someone who collects rocks, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve paid in extra baggage fees when she packs the big ones in her suitcase.”  He chuckled.  “But it doesn’t bother me at all, I have to say.  She enjoys it and says the rocks have something special in them.”

After about 15 minutes of inspection, changing our minds about which one we each wanted, we selected our stones.  Mine looked something like a pink marbled ham but I kept coming back to that particular stone, the largest of our loot.  Our raw minerals were bulky and heavy but we were pleased.  “Do we pay for these with you Jake?” I asked.  “Nope, you have to lug them over to the main gift shop check-out.  They only let me take tickets,”  he laughed.

We carried the rocks across the room to check-out and plopped them up on the counter.  “These are beautiful ones,” said the kindly woman at the cash register.  “Did they call to you?” she asked.  Ann and I laughed.  “Well, we usually are not so good at following up on our ideas but we actually came back for these so yes, I guess they called to us.  It took us a while to pick out the ones we wanted,” I answered.

“That’s how it is with rose quartz,” she said.  “They aren’t just regular stones, they touch your heart.  You picked nice ones.”

I am sure we looked puzzled.

“Do you collect rocks,” we asked.

“Why yes, yes I do,” she replied.

“Do you happen to be married to Jake, the man who takes tickets?”

She laughed.

“Yes, that’s true.  Jake is my husband and I’ll tell you, he worked a career at U.S. Steel and was a very focused man for a long, long time.  I used to work with the rose quartz to calm him down.  And one of the things I learned is that the rose quartz helps the heart, especially the heart of a hard-hearted man.  He’s a different person now.  One of the things I learned about the rose quartz is that if you feel a lack in your heart, put your hands on it and it fills you.  But definitely do not throw it at the person who is causing you the problems,”  she laughed as she said it.  “Now, let me wrap these up for you.”

Rose quartz it seems ” is all about delivering kindness, patience and gentleness to others,” among other meanings, such as opening the heart.

We packed our quartz crystals in the car and began the drive to Mount Rushmore.  I thought about the girls and their end-of-year dramas.  Maybe we could all use some rose quartz in the car.  There was something very nice about driving along the open roads with open hearts.  This was going to be a good trip.

P.S.  Ann and I did also visit the ton of Rose Quartz at the old village.  It was as Jake said, a big stone.  See below.

Sun Setting in South Dakota

Sun Setting in South Dakota

A Ton (or more) of Rose Quartz at the 1880 Village

A Ton (or more) of Rose Quartz at the 1880 Village

Dinner with Richard Dreyfuss

Dinner with Dreyfuss

“Hello,” she said to me in a thick foreign accent, when I turned around to take a peek at the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who was sitting at the table next to me.  I heard her “hello” but turned quickly back to my table companions, thinking she couldn’t possibly be talking to me.

I was out with clients in La Jolla, California following a presentation skills training session I conducted.  Our group was a mix — some in-house marketing people, me and the company’s outside agency.  They were shooting a commercial the next day so anticipation rode high among our rag-tag group of creatives, out to dinner at a restaurant on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Marine Restaurant in La Jolla, CA

Marine Restaurant in La Jolla, CA

Our table faced the ocean, waves crashing against the window before the tide receded.  “Richard Dreyfuss is at the table behind us,” my friend Anita announced quietly to our table.  I saw her told her phone low to her lap so she could take a picture of him.

“Hello,” she said to me again when I turned my neck and took another look at the table behind me.  She was blond and exotic looking, wearing a tight, sleeveless, sequined white and black dress.  I didn’t know why she was talking to me; I thought it was a mistake.  I turned back to my table companions.  By now, we had all pulled out our phones to google Richard Dreyfuss.  From the accounts we read, it appeared that his third wife was a Russian woman named Svetlana.  Was this Svetlana?

The sun began to set with its warm orange glow as we talked about our work and our connections.  Maria, the producer, lived just blocks away from me in Chicago.  Jaime, the agency head, and I realized we had met and worked together more than a decade ago and had a variety of both personal and professional friends.

And there she was again.  She was saying ‘hello’ to me.  This third time I turned to her and said, “Hello, are you talking to me?”

“Yes, I have been trying to get your attention,” she said with a heavy accent.  At first I thought she was Polish.

“Well, hello then, ” I chirped back.

“Tell me about your table,” she asked, raising an eyebrow in an intriguing way.  “I’ve been interested in your table tonight.”

“Well, we are a bunch of people from Chicago.  That’s about it,” I reported.

“Are you Republicans?” she asked.

“Well, I can’t speak for everyone but I know we all have an independent streak, which is not quite Libertarian but very individual,” I hedged, wondering why she would ask such a question

Without having to wonder, she offered, “Well, my husband Richard Dreyfuss does not like conservatives,” nodding to the white-haired man across the table from her, and confirming what we already knew.  Yes, this was Svetlana, the third wife.  “Let me introduce you to my friend,” she said, gesturing to the man sitting next to her.  “He is a doctor.”  The man nodded.  “A doctor of our muscles,” she said.

“Oh, he is a physical therapist?” I asked.

“Yes, that is exactly what he is,”  she said.

Our earnest conversation continued, and my seat-mate Bill joined in as we asked questions and got to know Svetlana.  “You ask me so many questions.  You need to know I could kill you in five ways and you would never know it,” she hissed, intimating that the heel of her Chanel shoes might indeed be one of these secret weapons.

“Did we do something to make you angry,” I asked?

“No, not yet.  You must know that I am Russian and have learned very much before coming to America.”

Just then, I felt someone move close to me.  It was Richard Dreyfuss, pausing as he walked past and whispering in my ear, “What do you think of my wife,” he asked.  “She is an interesting woman to be sure.  How long have you been married?”

“Ten thousand years,” he said.  Svetlana heard this and reiterated.  “Yes, ten thousand years.  Is there any question?”

We talked a little more and then Svetlana moved on to the bar, joined by all our table companions except Bill.  Richard was now sitting all alone.  “Bill, let’ move to his table,” and in an instant we were sitting across from him at his table.

The three of us talked.  We talked about life, about Richard’s career and about things.  Richard talked about the moment he knew his life was changing.  His star was ascending and he was performing in a Shakespearean production.  “I knew that if I continued, there would be no turning back.  That my life would no longer be my own.  That I would become a celebrity and everything would change,” he said.

“I did it anyway and the rest is history.  But when all is said and done, I’m just a person.  A person having a conversation with you, which is nice because I can’t have conversations with people at will, so this is very nice,” he said. Indeed it was nice.  I thought of his work —   American Graffiti, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  The list went on.  This was a unique moment.

Sun setting over the Pacific; view from the Marine Restaurant

Sun setting over the Pacific; view from our table.

Eventually a woman came to the table to let Richard know they were ready to leave when he was.  Taking the cue, he thanked us and excused himself, collecting his wife at the bar and leaving the restaurant.  We were the only patrons left and we called cars to take us back to our hotel in downtown San Diego.

Later I surfed the web, learning that Dreyfuss had been a cocaine addict in the 70s, among other many other colorful life facts.  And then there was this tidbit:

“Dreyfuss attributes much of his ability to end drug addiction to a life-altering vision experienced in hospital after a bad car crash. Under the influence of drugs while driving, Dreyfuss knew the crash was his fault. Though he was the only one injured, in his recovery state he was moved by the image of a beautiful little girl in a white dress. The girl served to remind him of the kind of innocent life he could have destroyed, and it compelled him to save his own life, he says, by confronting his drug demons.”

If only we had more time, I would have asked him about this too.  Was it a brush with the divine, a figment of his imagination or a sign that came just when he needed it?  And why did he heed it?  What made it so powerful that it made him change?   (Read Sarah Hinze’s account of this incident here.) But, for now I was satisfied — we had a moment, a very nice moment.

I thought about his comments, when he knew his life was changing, when he knew he could never go back, when he knew he would be a celebrity.  And how he brought us to his table, to talk, to discuss, to have that moment.

If we think about it, we all have moments when we know our lives are poised to change, when we can no longer go back.  These are the fires of our lives — whether it’s an actual incident like burning on a stove or a shift in our minds.  Sometimes things change forever and we don’t know it at the time.  But Richard Dreyfuss did, he saw his life moving from the precipice of rank-and-file actor to celebrity, and knew nothing would be the same again.  Imagine that moment.   Would we all take the risk ahead of us when we are fully aware of the moment?

“Starring” Anne on Fire

The Sagittarius Constellation

The Sagittarius Constellation

My friend Tina decided that Anne on Fire was a veritable star, which lead her to purchase one in the night sky via a company called Name A Star Live.  Clever!

Conveniently located in the Sagittarius constellation (which not coincidentally is my “sign”), Anne on Fire has its own celestial coordinates:

Anne on Fire Star’s Astronomical Coordinates
Catalog Number: TYC 7420-1373-1
Right Ascension: 18h 46m 42s
Magnitude: 11.1
Declination: -36° 29′ 29″

You can view the star’s location here Anne on Fire Star or here Alternative view of Anne on Fire star.

Thanks Tina for making me be a star.  I hope to return the favor.  We should all be so lucky to have friends like you.

Presenting with Heart

Presenting on Presenting in Los Angeles.  Fall 2012

Presenting on Presenting in Los Angeles. Fall 2012

In this modern world of ours, we purportedly Google each other.   Today I learned that my 12-year old daughter Googled me.

It was Gigi’s first day of summer vacation and I promised to spend the day with her.  But I had a voice audition due at noon, so while she slept in, I crept over to my recording studio, Studio X, and voiced the audition.  It wasn’t until we were driving to pick her brother up from basketball practice in the evenig that she mentioned it to me.

“Mom, you are good presenter.”

“I am?  What do you mean?”

“I saw your presentation.  It was good.  I liked it.”

“What presentation? What did you see?”

“This morning.  When you were out, I decided to Google you and your presentation is on YouTube.”

“What presentation is on YouTube?  You Googled me?  What were you doing this morning?”

“I was waiting for you so I went on your computer and Googled you.  Your presentation on presentations, on communication.  It’s on YouTube.  You know, where you say that good presentations aren’t here (she points to her head) but here (she points to her heart).  I watched the whole thing.  It’s about 15 minutes.”

Good Lord.  I knew what she was talking about.  My presentation is on YouTube?  Good Lord.

Clicking away, I found it.  Indeed she was right.  It’s posted on YouTube.

Writing this blog, writing my story these last several years made that presentation uniquely important to me because it was the first time I shared information about my burn in a public presentation to a business group.  When I received the invitation to speak at the Los Angeles Legal Marketing program last Fall, it came with a stipulation — my submission on Extremely Effective Communications was accepted but would need to be re-packaged in a “Ted Talks” format, meaning it had to be 20 minutes or less in length.  My original submission?  90 minutes.  Essentially, the format required me to completely re-jigger the presentation, re-creating it as something wholly new and different.

It made me think.  A lot.

I know when I got burned, I learned how to “compartmentalized” like an expert.  How to put things that hurt into a file folder in my head and make them go away.  How I could download them at will, if and when I wanted to.  How life made me understand that living in your head all the time wasn’t really living at all.  How the best way to live was with your heart, and that when you did that, even the bad hurts weren’t so bad.  How the best way to connect with people in business (or life) was when you were doing so with heart, with passion, with yourself sort of out there.

I worked on that Los Angeles presentation for a long time because I wanted to incorporate what I’d learned about great communication and being an effective presenter.  I worked on that presentation for a long time because it had to be 20 minutes or less, which was no small feat.  I worked on that presentation for a long time because I wanted to share a little bit of my experience, a little bit of my heart.  I had never done that before.

In the months since that presentation, I haven’t thought much about it.  But today, my daughter Googled me.

Here it is if you would like to see it.  LMA Presentation — Extremely Essential Skills.

Tinkerbell Returns

Tinkerbell Returns

Tinkerbell Returns

“We remember what we understand; we understand only what we pay attention to; we pay attention to what we want.” - Edward Bolles

In The Return of the Little Men, I was “reunited” with some miniature Disney characters given to me as a gift when I was burned.

It’s hard to describe my utter glee upon seeing what I endearingly called the ‘little men’. The thrill wasn’t based on the fact of the toys themselves but the reality that they not only existed but that I remembered them from childhood.

When you have a hazy memory and are not sure if it’s real or imagined, there is real joy in things that confirm you are not a crazy person, making up silly memories or doing what therapists call ‘creative reimagination‘.  For me, the trauma of being burned was like a bad dream sequence — foggy, missing pieces, unreal, as if I am holding my breath.  When I can connect with something real from the experience, I can breathe.   I am sure there is a psychological theory to explain why this is important to me but I don’t know what it is.  It is important and that’s enough for me.

I was so happy to reconnect with the little men that it didn’t even cross my mind whether all the pieces in the set had in fact ‘come home’.

“Oh, I found Tinkerbell,” was what Susie said to me, some time after she’d given me the set of little men.

Tinkerbell?  It had no context.

“I was looking in my old high school jewelry box for my claddagh ring and there she was.  Tinkerbell.  Right in that jewelry box.”

Tinkerbell?  Yes, Tinkerbell — she was the jewel of the set!  As a three year-old girl, Tinkerbell was my particular favorite.  For months as I was immobile, re-learning how to walk, I remember sitting on my bed and playing with all the little men.

When I went to collect Tinkerbell from Susie’s house, it was shocking how small she was.  She stood less than an inch tall, even with her blue wings fully extended.

I’m amazed at what turns up when you open the door to your memories.  Forty years later, Tinkerbell and her entourage of little men return from long-ago packed-up things and jewelry boxes from high school.  I keep them on my desk at home.  When you ask, you can receive.  The key is being open to what chooses to return.

The Fire of an MBA

Jim Gallagher graduates with honors with an MBA from Marquette.  Pictured here with the Dean of the Graduate School of Management

Jim Gallagher graduates with honors with an MBA from Marquette. Pictured here with the Dean of the Graduate School of Management

Founded in 1871 as a steel-making center, Birmingham exploded almost overnight, quickly growing into Alabama’s largest city and earning the nickname “The Magic City.”   When I got the call that my brother was injured in a serious motorcycle accident there, mostly  I saw the medical center not the burgeoning culture.  Jim is a motorcycle aficionado with  more bikes than I imagined — Harley, Ducati and who knows what other brands — who did track days and raced at speeds that made me nervous.   That he wiped out on the Birmingham track didn’t completely surprise me but scared me.  At the emergency room, they cut his leathers off to tend to his broken elbow, ankle and assorted other injuries.  It must have been an ugly scene because his wife called me that day to tell me she needed my help.  It was a Monday night and I was watching a Packer-Bear game.  I booked my ticked to Alabama at half-time.

When I reached the medical center in Birmingham, Jim was hooked up to a variety of tubes, his elbow and ankle immobilized.  He was angry I was there, which didn’t make it easier.  “I didn’t ask for you to come,” he hissed.  “Go away.”  Within a couple of days of my arrival, his boss called and fired him.

I talked to the doctors and nurses about his situation.  As a diabetic, Jim was experiencing swelling that prevented some of the surgeries he needed.  They advised me that the best course of action was to get him back to his home in Milwaukee and conduct the surgeries there.  Medical transport to Milwaukee was crazy expensive.  So I did what any sister would do.  I called my other brother Michael.  “Get down here.  I need you,” I  begged.  Mike and I rented a mini-van and retrofitted it to carry our patient home.  The drive was about 18 hours and we traded time at the wheel to drive straight-through.

Injured.  Unemployed.  In a precarious marriage.  Jim’s life had been unceremoniously stripped from him.

And then, little by little I stood by him as he reclaimed it.  He applied for his dream job at Harley Davidson.  He got it.  He bade his bad marriage goodbye and I served as counsel to him and his divorce attorney.  He recovered from his injuries, slowly.  I went to his house and helped him clean it out.  He applied to Marquette University‘s Graduate School of Business for an MBA, accepted on academic probation.  He went to school on nights and weekends, while working a full-time job and traveling the world for work.

When he asked me to help him write a speech as the prospective graduation speaker, I did.  “Graduating from Marquette was my dream as a boy but it took my becoming a man to realize it,” he wrote.  He made it to the top three finalists.  Another guy was selected as the graduation speaker but when I heard him, I knew Jim’s speech was better.    But of course I was biased.

He wrote:

“I was not a good student growing up.  You might  have called me complacent because I didn’t apply myself academically.  There were number of other challenges in my life – being diagnosed with diabetes in my late teens, addressing my father’s long and debilitating illness and ultimately his death when I was in my 20s, followed by my mother’s untimely death, and the challenge of handling my strong drive for success but not knowing how to execute it. You might say I had my hands full.  But it was the critical time when I realized how much I needed guiding principles in my life.  I just couldn’t find them then. You see, when I graduated with my undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee more than 20 years ago, I thought that was enough for me.  Of course it wasn’t and I began to understand that the quest for knowledge lives hand-in-hand with the desire for excellence.  We are all given gifts, but sometimes we can’t see them clearly even when we need them most and so we explore different paths  until we finally understand what these gifts are and how we can use them to our advantage.”

There we were.  At Jim’s MBA graduation on Sunday.  Tears flowed down my face.  I felt like I was watching a miracle.  I was watching a miracle.  I saw a man’s transformation and I was part of it.

Our Aunt Mary — my deceased mother’s only sister — hosted a private lunch following graduation.  Jim had written of her in his speech, “Over the years, I learned to have faith in myself.  More importantly, I realized that to truly succeed,  I needed to embrace the faith others had in me.  My fellow alum Aunt Mary provided this foundation for me and I feel partially responsible for her recent knee replacement procedure – Aunt Mary – I know  you have worn out your rosary beads and bruised your knees praying for me through St. Jude.  Thank you for your unwavering belief in me, and your love and guidance.  Through your example, you have been one of many people who taught me the meaning of faith, service and leadership.  Not just once but over many years of always believing in me.  You embody the excellence of Marquette every day.  At 85 years old, I know that is no small feat.

It was a good day.  I write about fire and how it shapes our lives.  I had just watched the fire develop in my own brother.  It was a good day.  It is there for all of us.

I Believe and the Story of the Seed – Virtual Book Tour

I Believe:  When What You Believe Matters!

I Believe: When What You Believe Matters!

Today I am taking part in a ‘blog tour’ – an event where bloggers post a book review of a particular author on a particular day, sort-of-a virtual book tour.

Today that author is Eldon Taylor and he has just released the paperback version of his book, I Believe:  When What You Believe Matters.   Now, admittedly some days I just don’t feel like believing but I wanted to give Eldon the benefit of the doubt.  If you click on this link, you’ll find information about the book and can register for some bonus gifts. The book is a compilation of stories and statistics about the mind’s powerful influence in living a successful life.  If you don’t believe in the power of your thoughts, this book can help you understand why you should – and if you do believe, then you’ll find it a sweet refresher.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.
If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him.
. . . If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness
follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”
B u d d h a

One of my favorite parts of the book is the Story of the Seeds, a little something uplifting and inspiration that highlights the importance of integrity.  It will give you a flavor for Eldon’s book and hopefully make you want to read more.  It’s a little long but worth the read:

The Story o f the Seeds
Author Unknown 
A successful businessman was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business. But instead of choosing one of his directors or his children, he decided to do something different. He called together all the young executives in his company.  He said, “It’s time for me to step down and choose the next CEO.  I’ve decided to choose one of you.”

The young executives were shocked, but the boss continued. “I’m going to give each one of you a seed today— one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what  you’ve grown from the seed I’ve just given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO.”

A man named Jim was there that day; and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil, and compost; and he planted the seed. Everyday, he watered it and watched to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to sprout. Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, then five weeks went by, but still nothing grew. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim still didn’t have anything, and he felt like a failure.

Six months went by—still there was nothing in Jim’s pot. He just knew he’d killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Jim didn’t say anything to his colleagues, however. He just kept watering and fertilizing the soil. He so wanted the seed to grow.

A year finally had passed, and all the young executives of the company took their plants to the CEO for inspection. Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot, but she asked him to be honest about what happened. Jim felt sick to his stomach. It was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right. He took his empty pot to the boardroom.

When Jim arrived, he was amazed by the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Jim put his empty pot on the floor, and many of his colleagues laughed, although a few felt sorry for him. When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives, while Jim just tried to hide in the back.

“My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you’ve grown,” said the CEO. “Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!” All of a sudden, the boss spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered the financial director to bring Jim to the front. Jim was terrified. He thought, The CEO knows I’m a failure! Maybe he’ll have me fired!

When Jim got to the front, the boss asked what had happened to his seed, so Jim told him the story. The CEO then asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at the young man and then announced to the other executives, “Behold your next chief executive officer. His name is Jim!”

Jim couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t even grow a seed. “How could he be the one?” the others asked. Then the CEO said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds—they were dead. It wasn’t possible
for them to grow. All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seeds wouldn’t grow, you substituted new ones. Jim was the only person with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he’s the one who will be the new CEO ”

If you plant honesty, you’ll reap trust.
If you plant goodness, you’ll reap friends.
If you plant humility, you’ll reap greatness.
If you plant perseverance, you’ll reap contentment.
If you plant consideration, you’ll reap perspective.
If you plant hard work, you’ll reap success.
If you plant forgiveness, you’ll reap reconciliation.
So, be careful what you plant now—it will determine what you’ll reap later.

Eldon Taylor has spent over 25 years researching the power of the mind and developing scientifically proven methods to use this power to enhance the quality of your life. I Believe is a book that will not only inspire you, but will highlight the kinds of beliefs you hold that may be causing you to fail. In the process, it will provide you with the opportunity to choose the beliefs for your life.

“God Always Loves a Singer” – A Tribute to the Green Bay Boys Choir

St. John's Welcomes the Boys Choir

St. John’s Church Welcomes the Boys Choir on April 14, 2013 for a Mass of Celebration

When it came time for the final goodbye party for the Green Bay Boys Choir on Sunday, April 14th, I and all of my siblings — Kathleen, Susan, Jim and Michael — found their way to Green Bay to take part in it.  Our dad had been gone for nearly 20 years and it was hard not to feel grateful that a group of “boys” thought enough of him (and my mother) to invite us to participate.  There is a power that endures when good men stand together.

While it is true that None of Us Live the Life That He Had Imagined, there are times when an actual event surpasses all of your expectations.  The Compass, the official newspaper of the Green Bay Catholic Diocese, asked our family for an article about the event.  Here is a summary of that article:

The Original Green Bay Boys Choir:  40 Years of Song, Friendship and Fellowship

By Anne Gallagher

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,

Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.

  • A favorite song of The Original Green Bay Boys Choir

In the beginning, they came together to sing.  In the end, they created a legacy of enduring friendship and fellowship.

It was 1972 and Green Bay stockbroker Bob Gallagher organized about 50 middle-aged men under the name, “The St. John’s Boys Choir” to sing at the 5:00 p.m. mass at St. John the Evangelist Church, located  in downtown Green Bay  and  the oldest continuous parish in Wisconsin.  Accompanied by organ or piano, they often punctuated songs like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,”,  “Oh Lord I am not Worthy,” and “God Bless America,” with the big sounds of cymbals and drums, which added both interest and drama to their singing.

“We’re a group of good guys who came together to sing, but mostly it was about the fellowship.  The choir became the way to cement our friendships,” said Ron DeLain, for 19 years the Choir’s final director with and formerly Green Bay City Clerk.  “We were really something special for our generation.”

Ron DeLain Leads the Boys Choir in their final song

Ron DeLain Leads the Boys Choir in their final song, “Let Their Be Peace on Earth” (Photo by Jim Gallagher)

After 40 years of singing together, the “boys” – now mostly in their 70s and 80s – formally retired in 2012.  Originally singing only at St. John’s, the Choir’s popularity grew and took the group to no less than 10 surrounding counties for performances at masses, weddings, funerals, anniversaries and Christmas programs.  To reflect their new-found growth, they changed their name to “The Original Green Bay Boys Choir.” They sang at veteran’s homes, nursing homes and Our Lady of Good Help Chapel.  As they tell the story, in the early days Bob Gallagher would rent a school bus for their out-of-town transportation and contract with the prisoners at the Green Bay Correctional Institute to create bus signage and banners.  With the blessing of the warden, Bob paid them in cigarettes, as was the custom in those days.

By the time they retired, 112 “boys” had filled the various choir lofts, garnering the attention of Green Bay’s Bishop, David L. Ricken.  “I am deeply humbled that so many of you participated in this choir over the forty-year period.  How wonderful that so many senior members of the Catholic Church continued to sing at the Masses throughout the years.  The sounds of hymns coming from the choir certainly brought much joy to each Mass,” wrote  Bishop Ricken in a tribute letter to the Choir, as they prepared to celebrate one last Mass together on April 14th, 2012 at St. John’s.

———————————————————————————————————————————————

“We offer our music to our God, our family and all who hear us.”

From the invitation to the Boys Choir Celebration Mass on April 14, 2013

_______________________________________________________________________

Forty or so men arrived that day at St. John’s, each dressed in a blue blazer with a red rose in his lapel.  They sat together at the front rows of church, sang the last hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and presided over the dedication of a framed commemorative plaque telling their story of service.  The plaque will hang in the parish hall.  With friends and family, they gathered after mass at the Rite Place at Bellevue Street and Allouez Avenue for lunch and friendship.

“You know, I had an affinity for choirs when I joined the group in 1993 or 1994.  I met my wife one day when I was singing in the Cathedral choir so I thought it might be fun to join this group,” said Norb Kalinoski, who served as Choir Director for about a year and was a high school principal during much of his working career. He heard of the choir when it formed in 1972 but had just accepted a job in Shiocton.  When he returned to Green Bay years later, one of his first orders of business was joining up with the Choir. “The driving force of the group was social.  We were not the world’s greatest singers by the way, but we got by.  When you sing, you are happy.”

Liturgical and classical musician Lester Bleser Jr. joined the Choir as its accompanist (organ and piano) about 20 years ago.  “The choir did the music I enjoyed and at the time there was an opening for an accompanist,” he recalls.  The group’s only female member – an organist – was moving to another parish.  Les joined in a heartbeat.  “I enjoyed the camaraderie.  We got together once or twice a month to socialize and I liked the all-male environment.  Plus we were a unique group – there are very few all-male choirs.  We were really one of a kind for our time.”

Boys Choir Members Sing from the front rows under Ron DeLain's direction

Boys Choir members sing from the front rows under Ron DeLain’s direction.  Traditionally, they sang from the choir loft at the back of church. (Photo by Judy Lepak)

Choir members came from all walks of life.  There were educators and social workers, doctors and lawyers and judges, public officials and business owners.  At one time, the local sheriff – Norb Froelich – served as the Choir organist.  “It didn’t matter what you did.  We came together for a common purpose and shared a love of God, Church and family,” said Dr. Jim Falk, the Choir’s final president and a member for 40 years.

“Oh, they came together to give praise and glory to God with their voices and wasn’t that a good enough reason to be together!” added Gwen Falk, Jim’s wife of many years and the mother of their 15 children.  “Plus, the truth is that Bob Gallagher made it fun to be a Catholic.”

If there was one story about Bob Gallagher at the Choir’s luncheon, there were 100.  Bob, the original Choir director, died after a lengthy illness in 1993.  “If you ask me my favorite memory of the Choir, it is Bob Gallagher.  My life changed dramatically because of that man.  He had the ability to join us together and make us do things we never would have done otherwise,” said Jack Smith, now retired but for many years a parole and probation officer at the local Green Bay prison.  “You know, I’m not even a Catholic and when I joined this Choir I wasn’t the only non-Catholic.  Bob brought us all together as friends.”

He told the story of Bob Gallagher’s run for an officer position at Green Bay’s Junior Chamber of Commerce, or JC’s.  With a hand-lettered sign, “Vote Gallagher – Don’t be a Chicken,” Bob gave an election speech, and then released about a dozen live chickens into the crowd.  “Well, people were howling with laughter.  Bob just had a way with people and a way of creating fun.  I owe that man so much,” Jack Smith said, explaining that he wasn’t really a singer but with Bob’s urging, regularly sang before as many as 400 people.

As Bob’s illness progressed in the late 1980s, Jack said Bob developed a great difficulty with speech.  “It was hard to understand him at times, you really had to work at it,” he said.  “But you know, we would take Bob up to the choir loft in his wheelchair and when he sang, every word came out clear as a bell.”

As Choir members and their families finished their meals, Ron DeLain rose to say a formal goodbye. “It was so great to be part of this group because of what we represented and who we are.  I hate to say goodbye.  I don’t want to say that we are finished.  So until we meet again, we’ll see you all again soon,” he said.

Jim Falk stood beside him and said, “God always loves a singer.  If we have an encore, that’s going to be up to the Holy Spirit.”

Some of the remaining members of the Boys Choir pose for a photo at St. John's Church

Some of the remaining members of the Boys Choir pose for a photo at St. John’s Church on April 14, 2013 (Photo by Jim Gallagher)

ORIGINAL GREEN BAY BOYS CHOIR MEMBERSHIP 1972-2012

FOUNDER

Bob Gallagher

DIRECTORS

Ron DeLain

Bob Gallagher

Norb Kalinoski

Rollie Macco

Bernie Schlafke

ORGANISTS

Lester Blaser, Jr.

Norb Froelich

Ms. Val Niraz

Mert Mueller

David Seering

MEMBERS

Jim Baenen

Don Bailey

Arnie Beimborn

Dick Bender

Ron Benzschaewl

Ray Berker

Milt Besanson

Dan Boettge

Jim Brawner

Carl Burkel

Keith Campbell

Jerry Chapman

Tom Coe

Harry Cygan

Larry De Groot

Jim De France

Bob Delacensarie

Bernie Delwiche

Steve Deneys

Gary Des Jardins

John Dolan

Dan Drossart

Steve Everson

Jim Falk

John Finco

Bob Flatley

Tony Frederichs

Bill Galvin

Ray Gantenbein

Larry Goeben

John Harrington

Dick Heardon

Leon Herlache

Cal Hirn

Gil Hoffman

Brian Holloway

Bud Huebner

Ralph Jenquin

Chuck Jones

Ray Josephs

Bob Juley

John Kafka

Dick Kalishek

Ed Kaufman

Tom Kiedinger

Peter Kiefer

Jeff Klarkowski

Rick Knaus

Larry Kust

Jerry Lemere

Carl Lewis

Chet Lewicki

Ron Liebergen

John Loritz

Tom Lukas

Joe Mader

John Mancheski

Ardo Mariucci

Ken Martin

Ken Mathys

Don Melberg

Bill Mielke

Tom Mielke

Francis Moes

Mark Monfort

Dean Mraz

Roland Murphy

Roger Navarre

Jim Neuser

Leo Nikowitz

Ivan Nowak

Ken Payette

Fred Pergande

Bill Phillips

John Prosser

Bud Pytlak

Pat Reed

Bill Ricker

Maury Robinson

Bob Rockstroh

Pat Sands

Jim Schiebel

Greg Schmitt

Ken Schuldes

Urban Schumacher

Bob Seering

Al Siudzinski

Del Skelton

Jack Smith

John Smits

Ron Spielbauer

John Thornton

Bernie Van Camp

John Van Rens

Jim Vande Walle

Don Van Straten

Earl Verheyden

Paul Wagner

Len Walczyk

Tom Washienko

Mike Wichowski

Larry Younk

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 673 other followers