Friday, March 28, 2008

Time flies when you're having fun.

One of my original A-team scoopers stopped in the shop the other day. Usually around Spring break, I'll get an email or a visit from last summer's crew, checking in to let me know their plans for the coming summer. Since I'm now in year five, it only makes mathematical sense that some of those same crew members would be graduating college and getting 'real jobs'. Sure enough, my first hire 'Allison', pictured above in the middle, is graduating from Bentley in May. She's already got the first grown-up job offer in hand and is ready to conquer the working world.

All I know is the past four years flew by for me. Safe to say, they flew by for Allison too. My parting advice for her four years ago when she turned in her scoop, packed up mom's Subaru, and headed off to college was this - enjoy it because it goes by fast. College is a truly great slice of life. Certainly, you're meant to study hard, get good grades, figure out what you want to do with your professional life (at least to start), graduate with honors, and get the killer first job. I think that's pretty much understood. But as Mark Twain said, 'Don't let schoolin' interfere with your education.'

I can't say I yearn to be a college kid again, although I certainly missed college when I was forced to graduate and become a 'grown-up'. I think I missed it for about a decade before Labor Days finally stopped filling me with longing to do nothing but go to classes, study a little, and hang out with a giant bunch of buddies all the time. I got a tasty little reminder of those 'glory days' this week when one of my old college buddies emailed around some old photos from more years back than I'd care to count. It's from one of the couple of crazy spring breaks I partook in back in my days at Umass Amherst. Apologies in advance for the inappropriate hand gestures of some of my old cohorts. I think you'll recognize me in the front row. Or maybe you won't, it was quite a few years ago now.

I think the line in that now famous graduation speech by Mary Schmich from the Chicago Tribune sums it up pretty well. You may remember her speech 'Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)' as the cheesy song by Baz Luhrmann a few years back. I've spared you the downbeat...

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

Sure enough.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cottage Street.

A few years ago, a friend from a neighbor business gave me a whole stack of cool old postcards from Easthampton. This is one of my favorites. Cottage Street, Easthampton, MA circa early 1900's (sorry I can't get more specific than that). I think my shop space (far right in the white building) housed a dry goods store at this slice in time. You could buy buttons, fabric, etc. for making clothes. I don't know the name of that store. A number of businesses have occupied this space since. Welch's Cleaners was here for 57 years. A funeral parlor. A sign shop. I'm sure there have been more. If you know any history of this building, be cool to hear about it. And if anyone has an old photo of the place, inside or out, that would be even better.

As you can see in the photo, there was another brick building right next to our white brick one. That one burned to the ground many years ago. How this building was spared, I have no idea.

It always fascinates me to think that we were riding around in horse-drawn carriages merely one generation ago. Makes you wonder what the next generation will think when they look back at us in our gas-powered Honda Civics.

I'll try to post more old postcards over the next few days...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy Easter to you & yours.

I realize it feels more like Christmas out there today, with wind chills in the teens, but it actually is almost Easter. Chocolate bunny-making operations are in full force and Easter bunny basket provisioning sales hope to be equally as brisk. It looks like the candy section is going to have to pull its weight to get us through this winter that won't let go. Warmer weather can't be too far around the corner...

In the meantime, stay warm and enjoy your holiday festivities.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Marshmallow Peeps, kicked up a notch.

Yes, it's that time of year once again. With due respect to all otherwise religious significance this time of year, I'd like to quickly mention another tradition that may have slipped under your Easter Bunny radar. As if a marshmallow peep wasn't decadent enough, I give you the chocolate-dipped marshmallow peep. Does any more need be said?

And if that's just too darn sweet for your basket, feel free to defer to the more traditional 'speckled malted milk eggs', solid chocolate bunnies, Jelly Belly jellybeans, and the rest of the candy gang.

Happy Easter to you and yours.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

How about a pint of cream.

Just made a fresh batch of Mt. Tom's very own Guiness Ice Cream, with real Guinness, malt, a hint of coffee, and a few other secret ingredients. Just in time for your St. Paddy's Day festivities. Stop in for a pint today... I know you're intrigued...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Tao of Small Biz Success.

I came across an article recently by one of my favorite self-help guru's, Dr. Wayne Dyer. His latest book, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao, is the end result of what he learned during the year he spent deciphering, studying, and meditating on the Tao Te Ching, a guide to life written nearly 2500 years ago by the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tsu. The Tao Te Ching consists of 81 verses chock full o' timeless life lessons. Among them, I thought the 44th, as cited by Dr. D. was intriguing.

"He who knows when to stop is preserved from peril, only thus can you endure long."

In these times of 'what have you done for me lately', stock market rises and crashes triggered sometimes by the seemingly most insignificant piece of prognostication, there's just so much pressure to grow. How much did you grow earnings from last year? Top line? Bottom Line? Net Worth? How much is your stock price going to rise this year? To which, Lao-tsu responds (or would respond if he hadn't been dead for a couple thousand years), how can anyone expect to find peace under that kind of pressure. Instead, he suggests we not focus so much on making the future better, but to concentrate on the one thing you can have a direct and immediate impact on, this moment. By doing whatever it is you do to the best of your ability in this moment, then we will get better at what it is we do, and with such improvement ultimately comes success.

Wayne interprets the verse as the following: 'a small business owner should not focus on 'finding new customers' rather on 'doing the very best job you can for the customer you are working for right now.' By consistently being in that moment, you will please your customers, they will return (with others), and you will enjoy a happier life at the same time.

I'm not sure Lao-tzu or Dr. D. would recommend completely throwing out your business plan or nixing sales projections or skipping those advance tax payments, but it is hard to argue that focusing on the customer at hand isn't sound advice.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fix of Spring.

It may not feel like Springtime out there yet, we just can't seem to break the low 40's in any consistent way yet, but it's plenty warm and springy inside the Smith College greenhouses right now. Yep, it's time for the annual Smith College Bulb Show. If you haven't been, it actually is pretty cool. And it definitely looks, feels, and smells like Spring in there. The event is basically free (one dollar donation is suggested as you walk through the lobby) and there are hundreds of blooming flowers to see, from daffodils to rare orchids. Once you shuffle through the main bulb exhibit area, you're free to wander though the other greenhouse rooms. There's a tropical room, full of exotic Australian trees and rainforest furns. The desert cactus room is a bit drier and hotter, but no less cool.

And if you live in California or just can't break away, you can visit it virtually, thanks to their bulb show webcam. (it seems to work better if you're using Firefox and not Internet Explorer).

Click here to go to the show (sorry but you're going to miss the aromas and the warm mist on your face if you only check it out here).

I went yesterday and took a bunch of photos, thinking about putting them together for the next ArtWalkEasthampton show. Will keep you posted on that.

In the meantime, enjoy the sunshine, but don't put away the winter jacket just yet.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Introducing Mary Ellen (aka Mi-Mi).

Jumping into the fold this week, Mary Ellen, who goes by the nick Mi-Mi. She just moved to Easthampton from Westfield. She's active in theater, gets mostly A's, is very outgoing, and is always smiling. Give her a hearty welcome next time you see her at your favorite ice cream shop.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Just Seven Years Ago.

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” - Nelson Mandela

One night last week I snuck away from the rigors of small biz life to pay a short visit to my old life. I nearly spent more time in my truck than the actual rekindling part with my buddies, but the trip was worth its weight in gold (or gas if you will). To explain the significance of my little drinking buddy reunion, I should first paint a little picture of the lives we all shared just seven years ago. Hard to encapsulate in a couple sentences, but in the interest of blog attention span, I'll give it my best shot.

We were all working at big companies, ala the old days of multi-year big company employment and something now reserved for history books called ‘pensions’. We mountain-biked after work. We drank a beer or two on a Friday night at places with names that sound like drinking buddies…Rosi O'Shea's, Michael's, The Grog. We used to sit around our buddy Mark’s downtown apartment and listen to David Gray and Talk-Talk and talk-talk about life. This was a tasty slice of life for all of us, like the covered bridge you walk into on one side, travel through shielded from elements that might do you harm, and emerge on the other side in a new place, with a fresh resolve, and a new direction. The time in that bridge was a blast. Healing. Safe. Comfortable. At some point, though, comfort started feeling like complacent. It was nice to have the steady paycheck and be settled into a predictable routine, but an air of change began to blanket us like morning fog. I was first to shake things up. I jettisoned myself from the mother ship for a high powered job at a startup. Shortly after that, my buddy Mark jumped to a similar startup scenario and pointed his loaded-up jeep for New Brunswick, New Jersey. Next was Ken. He and his wife grabbed early retirement packages, sold their big old farmhouse in Newburyport, and were off to live in Spain for a year. Our German buddy, Joerg, bought a cool house near the beach, and more significantly, became an American citizen. Finally, our other drinking bud, Caroline, the ink still drying on her new MBA, liquidated most of her illiquid assets, packed what was left into her Honda, and moved to San Francisco.

It seems once the key to the engine of change has been put into the ignition, you never know where you may end up. For me, it was one failed start-up, two amazing years of wanderlust through the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, culminating in the conception, birth, and rearing of one small ice cream shop in western Massachusetts. Kenny would spend one life-altering year in Spain with his family and enjoy countless adventures through Europe. Caroline would settle into a sweet downtown flat in San Fran and enjoy four years of fun and new friendships before returning to her roots in Boston. Mark would meet his mate in Jersey, get married in Key West, become father to two beautiful little girls, and move into a killer house in an upscale family neighborhood in the burbs of Atlanta.

So here we were, sitting around a long oak table at one of the favorite old watering holes. Seven years later. We’d met each other under similar circumstances, hung out and grew up a little bit, then sailed off into our own new horizons. We laughed and kidded each other like there'd only been a week since the last time we’d all been together. That’s how it felt. We caught each other up on each other’s new lives. We collectively soaked in the hot tub of change that had brought us each to very different places. It left me soothed, relaxed, and satisfied.

Over burgers and beers, talk of our new lives quickly dissolved into that of the old, finally settling comfortably into just the moment. As we each savored that moment, the nearly forgotten pace of banter spiced with hearty laughter we had enjoyed on a regular basis returned. Mark talked about what it’s like to be a father. I shared snippets of life as a small-biz owner in a cool small town. Ken talked about the post and beam he’s building out here in Sunderland. The conversation fluttered between our old lives and the new. To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot of what we talked about. What I do remember vividly is one moment while sitting in my buddy Joerg’s living room after our makeshift pub crawl. We’re listening to tunes from Mark’s Ipod, lounging around, sipping a good local Porter, just talking. Mid-conversation I blurt out, ‘this is what I miss the most’. Just sitting around with people you’re totally comfortable with, the one’s you know you can count on for a beer to bail money and everything in between. Friends like that are four-leaf clovers, hard to find, and meant to be kept for a long time. Five hours of driving was just a trip around the block for a fresh taste of that.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Got my vote.

How often do you drive by your local town hall and see someone snow blowing, plowing, or shoveling the walks or the lot? Ok, that's probably fairly common. Let me ask you this, though, how often is that guy doing the work the town's mayor? Sure enough, (apologies for the poor image quality...was trying to be all clandestine and James Bond-ey as I shuffled by on my morning photo snow walk), there's the mayor, pushing his snow blower through the town hall's walkways. On a Saturday morning no less. I'm fairly certain it's not in his job description, but there he was, getting it done. You gotta respect that.