I watched an inspiring TED Talk by Bob Davids titled “The Rarest Commodity is Leadership Without Ego” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQrPVmcgJJk ) Mr. Davids discussed why there is a difference between Leadership – and Management.

Management relates to the interaction off three things: quality, time and money. When you sacrifice one of those three – the others suffer. Quality products or services is a goal of many companies. Investment in time and money is the price to be paid for quality. But leadership he said is a rare commodity on our planet. Because leaders – lead people. Dwight D. Eisenhower said that the art of leadership is getting someone to do what you want done because he wants to do it.

Mr. Davids then referenced Robert Townsend’s classic work Up the Organization – first published in 1970. Bob Townsend was the CEO of Avis – who led his company up the ladder to “number two.” Up the Organization has for the last fifty years been number one on the Wharton School of Business “must read” list. I still have my heavily-underlined copy from 1970. And I’m now reading it again. It’s never too late. . . .

The Lincoln Curtain

On or about January 30, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was getting ready for his trip to Washington — to become the 16th President of the United States of America. He and Mary would leave their home at Eight and Jackson Streets in Springfield destined for a new life in the White House. In anticipation of this transition, the Lincolns held a yard sale of furniture, china, stoves, carpets and other belongings which they couldn’t take to Washington.

Harry Wilton, a neighbor and local United States Marshall, bought an assortment of the Lincoln’s possessions. Included in the lot was a magnificent 96 inch burgundy curtain – stitched with gold thread. This drape had hung in the parlor on the first floor. The Wilton family retained ownership of the curtain until 1933 when Dr. Charles Olsen purchased the drapery at Chicago’s Century of Progress. Dr. Olsen was noted for his magnificent – and complete – collection of original letters and documents of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

On February 18, 1984, I acquired this magnificent historical item from Dr. Olsen’s daughter. And months later, I donated the item to the Lincoln Home Historic Site – along with the original letters detailing the provenance of the drapery. In the 120 years between the yard sale and my acquisition, the curtain had been torn in one corner. So I snipped off a piece – which I still have. Along with copies of the letters of provenance. Much like an original letter signed by Abraham Lincoln, it’s very special to know that Number 16 probably handled this curtain with frequency (“Hey Mary – mind if I open the curtains . . . . “).


In my post of November 11, 2011, I mentioned an occasion when I was asked by a friend “what is your favorite day?”  I replied “Thanksgiving.”   It’s a long weekend.  Family time.  Great food (stuffing – my favorite).  The Detroit Lions on t.v. (this year versus the Buffalo Bills).  And Christmas is on the way.   Christmas??  YIKES!!  So I asked my friend his favorite day.  “December 21st” he responded.  The day of the winter solstice — when the days begin to get longer.  I can relate. . . . .     

Well, it’s another November.   Eleven years later.  Wow!  The days are often slow.  And arduous.  But the years go quickly.  Faster it seems every year.    

I hope that Thanksgiving is a favorite day for you.  But Thanksgiving is more than just a day.  It can be an attitude as well.  An every day attitude.  Of gratitude.   My best wishes to you for a wonderful, happy and blessed Thanksgiving weekend.   

Our Neighbor’s Faith

[A repeat from March 14, 2013] When Donna and I joined a Lutheran Church in Northfield in 1977, the Pastor asked if I would help lead the Adult Forum for the coming year (which up to that point had been a Bible study – averaging a few people each Sunday).  I reluctantly agreed — on the condition that I decide on the program for the year.  The Pastor reluctantly agreed on the condition that he know what kind of program I contemplated.

So I picked a topic.  For the ensuing September – May, the Adult Forum series of our Church was titled “Our Neighbor’s Faith.”  Each week (or two) we would focus on a different faith traditions.  I brought in two Mormon couples, a Jewish rabbi, a Jesuit priest, two Jehovah’s Witnesses couples, a Salvation Army officer and so on.  All – coming in to tell us about their religious beliefs. 

By the time the year ended, average weekly attendance zoomed to 30 to 40 people.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses (I still have an audiotape – somewhere) drew more than 50.  Talk about interesting!  An abbondonza of questions, comments and and pointed observations.   For one group of visitors, I had to gently draw the line between proselytizing and informing.  I declined to take on the responsibility the following year (it was exhausting!) so the Church recruited a professor from the Lutheran School of Theology to lead the Adult Forum for the year.   I guess “Our Neighbor’s Faith” was a tough act to follow.  🙂    I continue to be interested (“fascinated” is probably a better word) in religion.  I have previously posted (January 30, 2012) on how the Archangel Gabriel has ministered to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons and Bahai.   The uber messenger.   To all of the children of Abraham.  Yet religion continues to unite — and divide — so many of us. 

Make Your Bed

[A repeat from April 20, 2017] I read a Wall Street Journal review of a new book — Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven.  Then I saw Admiral McRaven interviewed on television about his new book.  Which prompted me to check the Amazon reviews.  94% of readers give his book 5 stars.  Pretty impressive.  The book quickly became a best seller.  I figured if the book is so good, I gotta have one.  And maybe a few more to pass around.  So I ordered three copies.  And read one.  Gave away two.  Today, I just ordered four more copies. To give away. . . .  

In 125 pages, Admiral McRaven shares with readers the “little things that can change your life . . . . and maybe the world.”  

Admiral McRaven’s book is based upon a commencement address he delivered to the University of Texas in 2014.  If you want to watch an inspiring 19 minute call to action – check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxBQLFLei70   

I don’t need to distill Admiral McRaven’s offering for you since if you get this book – you will be able to read it in a few hours.  At least you can get an idea if you invest 19 minutes to watch the video.  Is it worth it?  Yes.  Is it inspiring?  Yes.   Will it help you to change the world?   I believe it could.  But the “change” part is really up to you. . . . 

“Coming to America”

Axel Larsen was my dad’s mother’s brother. He was born in Denmark on December 12, 1880. Around the year 1905, Axel decided he wanted to come to America. So he packed a couple of suitcases, bid his family adieu and headed on down to the docks of Copenhagen. What happened next is conjecture. But based on my father’s recollection, Axel declared that he wanted to go to “America” and was directed to ships parked in the harbor. America.

Axel boarded a ship and took off. For America. It was a five to six day crossing at that time. And then there was land off in the distance. I suspect Axel was excited, emotional, scared – and dealing with a constellation of emotions as the land drew closer. Soon the ship began moving down a narrowing corridor of water until at last the ship docked. In America. . . .

As Axel gathered his things and debarked the ship – he noticed that people were speaking Spanish. And soon it became apparent that the ship – and he – had landed in South America. Indeed the ship had docked in Buenos Aires – the capital of Argentina. I have no clue as to why – or how – this happened other than a major error on communication of destination.

We know that Axel did not have enough money at the time to immediately set sail for North America. So he got a job – working as a gaucho in a nearby area. He stayed in Argentina until he saved enough to sail – North. . . .

Axel ended up in Chicago and married Anna – who I wrote about on October 15, 2022 (“3 Star Hennessy”). From my earliest days, to me they were Grandma and Grandpa Larsen. Grandpa Larsen passed away in 1969. One regret I have is that I never asked any questions about his special time in South America. The recollections recounted here are based on memories shared by my father. I wish he’d kept a diary. . . . .

Dark Side of the Moon

[A repeat from July 19, 2018] One of the most poignant song lyrics comes from Pink Floyd’s classic album “The Dark Side of the Moon.”  Pink Floyd’s “Time” offers the quintessential lament over the irretrievable passage of time:
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. . . . .
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.                            No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”  See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJQnzmH6jgc  

The subtle message.  What will I accomplish today?  Will it be of value?  Time wasted?  Have I missed the starting gun?  We all share similar questions about life.   And its unstoppable passing.  We are on this earth for a reason.  We want to have a positive impact.  Live up to our potential.  Provide value.  Make a contribution.  Yet every day, the sun goes down.  The past is prologue.  And the new dawn begins the first day of the rest of your – and my – life.  And so it is.     

Goethe’s challenges us in a couplet from Faust’s “Prelude at the Theatre” (which has hung for years in my office):   “Whatever you can do, or dream you can. . . . . begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”   

Burning Leaves

(An Autumn repeat – first posted on September 11, 2016)

For millennia, folks have been burning garbage and “stuff” with relative impunity.  The smoke was often choking.  And sometimes toxic.  Now – thankfully – there are limitations on such activity.  

But. . . . as a kid, I remember my father – and other men in the neighborhood – raking leaves in the fall.  And ushering them out to the street – at the curb – and lighting them up.  Saturdays and Sundays in October were the optimal days for raking, gathering and burning leaves.  And the distinct smell of burning leaves was overpowering.  And – from my recollection – not so unpleasant.  Everyone burned their leaves.  I mean what were families supposed to do with them?  My dad would stand – smoking his pipe – and talking with the other men.  As the leaves burned. . . . .   

I tend to think it would be nice if for a few hours in the fall, everyone could spoon some dead leaves out to the street.  And burn them.  Like the “good old days” (did I really say that?).    I don’t need a “bad for the environment” speech.  Or “think of what it does to your lungs.”  Or “aren’t there regulations?”  Just think about sharing an indelible olfactory moment of an autumn afternoon long ago . . . . .

My Workbench

[A repeat from December 7, 2017] I have a workbench in the basement.   I never use it but I’ve got one.  Complete with a vice, two drawers full of tools and two toolboxes sitting on top.  Then there’s a little drawer thingee full of nails and screws.  If I am called on to change a light bulb or hang a picture, I even have a tool belt and a hardhat to wear (you can never be too careful).   We handymen are semper paratis (see post of June 1, 2012).

However tools don’t do much good sitting in the basement gathering dust on my workbench. Soooooo, I keep a lot of stuff in the back of my two cars.  My cars are “rolling workbenches.”  You never know when tools might come in handy.   I have a fire axe, an E.T. (“entrenching tool“), a crowbar, an air pump (I mean what good does that do sitting in the garage?) and a Heinz 57 assortment of hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches in each car. And I have the obligatory jumper cables and a couple of road flares.  I could probably build a house with the stuff in my trunk.  Over the years, these things have been selectively (and once urgently) useful (“gosh Scott, I’m sure glad you have that quarter inch hex wrench with the double bend . . .” ).  For the most part, my rolling workbenches rarely sees the light of day.    But the tools are there.  If I need them in the house.  Or on the road . . . . .