Bring On Spring!

Here they are again, and thank goodness. The spring bulbs’ green blades poking up persistently through the ground. The tiny beginnings of a lilac cluster ready to burst forth with added warmth. Small, delicate leaves—against the odds of Michigan’s cold spring nights—have unfurled their hopeful selves as well.

There are many lessons to find in Spring: renewal, perseverance, hope. These same ideas never go out of style, of course, but sometimes their meanings resonate more at this time of year. With this shift in weather, some of us may need to also consider a shift in perspective. This is a good time to examine attitudes and actions, whether business or personal, to keep, re-shape, or let melt away like old, dirty snow. 

We all know the times we’re coming through: a pandemic most of the population has never experienced; stressed out men, women, and children; and an often divisive tone to interactions with each other, particularly where political opinions and personal beliefs come into play. Just writing that feels like hovering under a grey cloud of sorts. Negative thoughts and feelings wear us down, not only mentally, but emotionally and even physically.

And let’s not forget that we’ve just come through the winter season—the one season that seems to drag its feet the most until the sun shifts into a position bringing warmth once again. 

Enduring the slow yet gradual warming of Spring is a challenge as well, as spring weather is undoubtedly erratic. Sixty degrees one day, 30 the next, with cold rains and strong winds. The only thing to do is hang in there, wait it out. Believe the warmth will arrive, and the sun will show its shiny face all day.

While taking on some of those spring cleaning tasks like washing windows or storing away winter clothes, ask yourself what small actions could be taken or attitudes tweaked to bring more sunshine into your field of vision. What do you focus on? The rain or its cleansing quality? 

My humble suggestion is to notice all the new growth outside, the return of beauty and the power of nature to regenerate, year after year, and to be inspired by it. Feeling stuck in a rut? It’s no wonder, and we all have those times. The good thing is having the power to change, and it just takes a moment of reflection. A simple walk can offer not only the time to notice the return of blooms and greenery, but also time for reflection. Perhaps it’s time to cultivate new friends through your social groups or join a class and meet new ones. Have you been focusing too much on the bad news in the world? Stop reading the news for a few days and instead, take a moment each day to write down what is good in your life. If you admire that turquoise front door you saw while walking around the neighborhood, consider a fresh coat of paint anywhere, as it can bring a lift in mood. 

Better yet, whether you consider yourself as having a green thumb or not, purchasing one new spring plant in your favorite color can be a reminder that simple things can bring great joy. Kind of how a smile shared with someone having a gloomy day can feel like a warm ray of sunshine. 

Women’s History Month: Trailblazer Ann Wheeler Smith

There aren’t enough heroes in these challenging times, at least ones we can mutually agree upon and hold up as examples of cherished values and admirable qualities who show us how to overcome challenges.

And that’s a problem. Especially for our young people who grapple with who they are and what they strive to become.

Everyone needs a hero and one of mine was Ann Wheeler Smith.

March being Women’s History Month, a brief retrospective on this determined, dynamic and pioneering octogenarian seems appropriate.

Ann Smith—no relation by the way—grew up in Chicago with Midwestern values and became a classically-trained dancer early on. She was known around these parts, a perennial summer resident of Onekama.

Healthy living for all ages was her button and main goal. She spent over 50 years lecturing, demonstrating and writing about the need to move and stretch. Vivacious, intelligent and younger looking than her years, Ann always had one foot in the traditional world of wife, mother and homemaker, while the other foot was planted firmly as a cause-oriented entrepreneur with strong ideas and big dreams. Her aspirations and drive were atypical at the time and frowned upon by many.

Here are only a few of her stunning accomplishments:

  • Ann wrote 5 books – the first one ever written on Stretch Exercise was published in 1969
  • She wrote the book, Celebrity Exercise, featuring interviews with famous people like actress Helen Hayes, musician BB King and Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Thinking
  • She appeared on the early Oprah show and the Mike Douglas Show and on QVC…twice!
  • Ann taught stretching to the LA Rams football team
  • She taught at the National Institutes of Health in Washington DC
  • She testified on Capitol Hill in support of health and fitness programming
  • Ann went back to college at age 70 to study kinesiology and movement
  • She produced 6 videos, including one to assist women recovering from breast cancer surgery
  • Ann’s Rise and Shine DVD hit number #1 on Amazon.com for the best-selling video in the country
  • She gave a world-wide simulcast for Voice of America, giving exercise advice on a global call-in show
  • Thousands of newspapers and magazines coast to coast carried featured stories on Ann. She was in Flight magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Washington Post, NY Times, and every major paper
  • And then there were dozens of radio and television appearances
  • She gave scores of lecture/ demos at YMCAs across the country, spreading her exercise philosophy to seniors, men and women
  • Ann sold hundreds of thousands of her videos
  • And her work has helped young and old, cardiac patients, arthritis sufferers, singers, women in the trades, and those with depression and the average person—all to help them be healthier
  • Also, Ann made time for every one of them

Many of these achievements came after the age of 70!

Most of us go through life wanting to leave a mark and make a positive difference. Without a doubt, Ann Smith did just that… with kindness, caring, sophistication and unbelievable determination.

Ann would want us to learn from her life and from her example:

Here is a favorite quote of Ann’s:

“What the Mind Can Conceive, Man Can Achieve.”

Ann would say:

“What the Mind Can Conceive, Man and Woman Can Achieve”

The definition of an idealist is this…

A Person Who Strives For Perfection To Make The World A Better Place.

Gone but not forgotten, my one word to describe Ann Smith is:   IDEALIST.

She made the world a healthier, kinder and more positive place.

Sharing the Love, Locally

Even small, routine interactions can be meaningful

February is undisputedly the month where love takes center stage, at least commercially. Yes, Valentine’s Day may be what some call a “Hallmark holiday,” while single people may actually revel in their solitary status on a day devoted to showing outward expressions of love through cards, flowers, and gifts.

Yet the largeness of love can reverberate in many forms and it need not be limited to romantic love. The ancient Greeks had eight words that represented different types of love, one being philia (friendship) and agape, or selfless, universal love. This includes compassion and empathy, including for strangers, as well as love for nature or God.

Considering this, and bringing the focus to the business arena, how can we show our love for others this season, and beyond? Overall, bringing patience, understanding, and kindness to the forefront in all dealings, whether in business or not, should be a constant. We never know the individual challenges others are dealing with, but then add a pandemic and accompanying anxiety-producing worries…well, let’s just say we all are dealing with a disrupted reality and some are surely struggling more than others. 

With this in mind, showing selfless compassion is indeed a type of love. Those ancient Greeks were wise indeed. I have been recognizing, and trying to show as well, patience and kind dealings when I am out on errands or seeking to fill a need. Another simple step to take is buying locally and supporting those local businesses that are run by families, friends, and neighbors, whether a clothing store or auto shop. It’s great to have the world’s products accessible from your computer, but Amazon won’t walk back to the rack to get you the proper size or offer to see if they have your size in purple too. This is simply good customer service, but it seems many have forgotten how far it can go in making people feel appreciated.

Here are a few other examples of kindness and consideration, mostly shown to me by others.

When my car’s brakes starting scraping I called Junior’s Tires and had a kind and patient man take the time to tell me how they would evaluate, estimate, and share possible needed repairs. When I asked when they opened, hoping to drop my car off after taking my son to school, about 7:45 a.m., he said they opened at 8 a.m. but if I was 15-20 minutes early, that would still be okay—people would be there and I could come in as the door would be open. This kind of accommodation and considerate customer service no doubt has engendered loyalty and repeat customers.

Another example of much appreciated kindness resulted from a hasty trip to the grocery store to buy flowers for a friend when I realized I had missed her birthday by a day. It was a brisk 12 degrees out, and though I had been driving my car for about 10-15 minutes, the heat wasn’t really making a dent in the car’s cold air. Despite knowing flowers need special care in freezing conditions, I was in a rush and therefore justified that they should be okay if I quickly dashed to my car. 

But then Louis at Family Fare rang up my blooms and took the time to grab a floral sleeve, adding a colorful and protective layer, and also tucked a bag over the flowers’ tops to protect them from the biting cold. He told me it was his thing, taking the time to properly wrap flower purchases, and that if his manager thought he took a little longer with customers than other clerks, maybe too long, well, it was something important to him to do. 

I couldn’t believe my luck! If only Louis knew the backstory and how I, a one-time floral designer, knew how vital it is to care for flowers heading out into the cold of winter. 

I told him that I truly appreciated his thoroughness, and I really wanted to acknowledge this kind man, so I paused despite feeling rushed, glanced at his name tag and said, “Thank you, Louis, I truly appreciate your efforts.” What a simple thing too, just to use a person’s name, as everyone needs to be seen and appreciated. However basic their work may seem, those assisting us—whether clerk, waiter, or auto shop worker—should not be disregarded. 

Later, I thought how interesting it was that my intention and need dovetailed with Louis’ standards and efforts. What he did truly was important to me, and no doubt others who bought flowers and were lucky enough to have Louis give them some tender loving care.

That’s the thing about TLC, it’s easy to show and can, and should, grace all our human interactions, because we all need a little extra love these days. 

Taking Care of Business

Listen to your staff and give them latitude to make decisions.

Swimming in a world of uncertainties like never before, the bedrock of business and life has never been more important.

If asked to identify your core business values and principles and how they’ve sustained you, particularly in the past few years…what would you say?

If ever there was a time to cling to small business verities, this is it.

Of course, qualities like industriousness, honesty, smarts, emotional intelligence, personality, vision, and—in many cases—just plain luck, are among the traits responsible for our lot in business and life. And it is many of these that we rely on now.

Coping Mechanisms

A snap query of long-time business associates and clients reveals a 

few of the trusted ways these contacts are coping. They include:

• Value your staff and your customers. Appreciate and understand their needs and concerns. Listen—don’t assume! 

• Reward your employees. Show them your trust by giving them latitude to make decisions to give customers/ clients better attention and go the extra mile.

• Remain focused on your business plan and goals. Now may not be the time to make drastic changes, but consider other work-arounds and doable opportunities.

• Review your business strategies. What is working and what is not? Adjustment and tweaks can make vast improvements.

• Touch base with mentors and make new ones through networking. Sharing ideas and challenges can help them reach their goals as well as help you reach yours.

• Take care of yourself. As a business owner, community organizer, or manager, your obligation is to lead. Learn new skills and business tactics while building new mind synapses, sharpen communication modes, and exercise your brain as well as your body.

However we cope, meeting the challenges head-on is what’s needed. Reach out and reinforce what has worked while embracing the new and different.

It all starts with you…

Buckling Down…Again

It’s a venerable adage as applicable today as the first time you probably heard it…

“Sometimes, you do what you have to do to get by.”

It may not sound appealing, but today this sentiment is a reminder that what needs to be done isn’t always what we want to do. However, the underlying message is the need to do the right thing—roll with change and trust the situation will improve.

On the cusp of another school year, parents, teachers, and students are preparing for this annual transition amidst the pandemic. And as if that wasn’t enough, along with this gear shift are the additional stressors we all face.

Wearing masks will be a requirement in most local schools, with some businesses also asking they be worn by staff as well as customers. Granted, most don’t like wearing masks. It just doesn’t feel normal because it isn’t. But a worldwide pandemic is not the norm either, and most people alive today have never lived through one. Isn’t that reason enough to protect ourselves, family and others in this time like none other?

Vaccines, incredulously still a controversial preventative in some quarters, have become requisite in many companies. Despite their overwhelming efficacy, many remain skeptical and let issues of “personal rights” come before thoughts of protecting others. When did it become someone’s right to share a deadly virus?

If you are unvaccinated for whatever reason, please consider getting the vaccine for those around you, from children under 12 to the elderly, to those who have underlying conditions and need additional protection for flagging immune systems.

There is also power in numbers, and in the case of this ongoing pandemic, collaboration and the art of the golden rule is what will make the greatest difference. 

There are many things we do because we have to. We don’t necessarily like it but we do it. Paying taxes and other bills comes to mind, or even shopping for groceries when we’re tired but hungry. 

So instead of being prickly and defensive, consider taking a deep breath and moving on with grit, vision and a renewed sense of humor? Speaking of which, did you hear about the Mom who told her eavesdropping neighbor: “No, I’m not talking to myself, just having a parent-teacher conference…”

We’ll get through this together. And even though it may feel like forever, it’s not.

Better days are ahead….

Together Again

The great thing about the start of the summer season is the sense of optimism and excitement that comes with it. Though the calendar states the official start of summer is June 20, it’s Memorial Day weekend that kicks off the fun. We all know it was a trying year+, yet recently I saw several things that left me feeling that better times have arrived. I felt a renewed sense of appreciation for the many things I took for granted. Among these were seeing crowds gathering and live music drifting from open doors.

Relishing in the simple pleasure of riding my bike around town Friday evening of the holiday weekend, I was somewhat surprised to see how many people were out and about. No doubt many people had traveled to our waterfront locale from other places, and I just hope they were taking a moment or two to stand still and take in our unique natural setting. There were many small groups strolling along Front Street and lots of people were dining outside. The outdoor seating, in some places expanded and in other places new, is something I’d like to see stay as long as the warm weather allows. Eating itself is mundane yet eating out with friends or family elevates meeting that basic need into a special occasion. It is important to treat ourselves sometimes, and after the strange, abnormal time we’ve all come through, treating ourselves is more needed than ever. 

Additionally—and so valued by me that I stopped my bike and two friends to listen—there was live music! I heard it coming from more than one downtown establishment and felt it was long overdue, needed, and cherished. 

What else is overdue, needed, and hopefully cherished? Coming together. Even for the small things we may never have given much thought to or held in high regard before the pandemic. Coming together for a meal, on an outdoor patio, where we hear music that creates a festive atmosphere. Let’s come together even if we sit in silence to take in the view. We don’t have to agree on everything, who ever does? But it’s not a trite sentiment that what unites us is greater and more important than what may divide us. Hopefully, after being forced to distance and remain separate, we will mark this new summer season with gratefulness for the seemingly mundane—yet special—things that have returned. 

Make the Switch

What is worse than remembering your passwords? Answer: Changing your passwords.

Humbling…

Covid brain and a resurgence of kindness are two of the irrefutable outcomes of life the past 12 months has brought, as we pass the one year mark of various stages of confinement.

The ‘brain’ syndrome has been occasionally referenced by friends to describe everything from forgetting wallets or mobile phones, to turning the house inside out in search of reading glasses, even starting a Zoom meeting an hour before the prearranged time.

“Oh, that’s just my covid brain at work….” the lame excuse goes.

That said, let’s dwell on kindness.

We’ve looked for and found a heightened sense of courtesy and civility among so many, from professional office staff to small business attendants and neighbors.

The expressions are generous and heartfelt—as in, “this is a challenging time. And by treating you as we’d like to be treated, it feels good. Not only that, but in this situation like none other, it’s the right thing.”

Recently, our neighborhood staged a communal winter bonfire to provide the socialization we need and crave. Appropriately distanced, we shared refreshments and snacks, enjoyed one another’s company, and generally took stock of the blessings endemic to being able to live here while a worldwide pandemic rages.

This tonic was not only an eye-opener, it was humbling for the soul.

Here’s to times ahead full of renewed promise….

Stay well friends!

From Adversity, Opportunity….

Despite the past year’s challenges, many business owners are optimistic about the future.


The past year has wreaked more havoc than a 100-year storm on the world economy, to say nothing of what it has meant to small business owners, the hardest hit.

And though some familiar NW Michigan names and faces will no longer be around when we do emerge from the viral pandemic, it’s not all bad news for small business.

The time tested adage of “from adversity comes opportunity” is reflected among some survivors, many of whom have implemented creative business strategies that a year ago would have seemed unthinkable.

In addition, help on the national level in the form of stimulus checks for individuals, additional PPP loans and enhanced unemployment benefits, have no doubt amped the optimism.

Recent surveys have found that over 20 percent of small business owners are optimistic about what lies ahead, while another 33 percent are somewhat optimistic. And this during a worldwide pandemic, the likes of which has not been experienced since the turn of the century—along with an unstable national political environment marked by disinformation, pusillanimous legislators, and baseless election conspiracy theories.

SCORE, the nationwide (300 chapters and over 10,000 volunteer business mentors), has always been a touchstone for small business entrepreneurs seeking help.

Over the past year it has established a special “Resilence Hub” that leverages its already broad base of services and allows users ready access to a network where people can learn—-from each other and experienced business professionals. And all at no charge.

For more information the northwest’s regional SCORE office is located in Traverse City. Check out their website here: traversecity.score.org.

Making an Authentic Difference

George Kuhn with wife, Betty


Along with “our prayers and thoughts are with the family” and other expressions of sympathy at a time of loss, “making a difference” has become a staple of the grief lexicon.

Upon reading the death notice this week in the Traverse City Record-Eagle of George Kuhn, ‘making a difference’ was what immediately came to mind. 

We first met George and a van full of members of the then fledgling Traverse City Track Club in the late 70’s, as publishers of the Antrim County News, one of several community newspapers to which we were affiliated.

George showed up in support of Mancelona’s first “Nesset/Peterson” memorial/fundraiser distance run. It was clear from that initial meeting that this self-effacing aerobic exercise advocate not only had the respect of a legion of runners of all ages, but led out front by example. He invariably was among the top finishers in his age class.

Later our paths crossed again with the establishment of the White Pine Stampede, the state’s first point to point 50 km cross country ski race.

One of our writers named the event, and most Up North Publications staff had a hand in shaping and staging the event in one form or another.

The Georges (George Kuhn and his longtime ski buddy George Lombard), showed up to support the race, brought ski friends, and lent sage advice on how we could make improvements.

Over subsequent years and events our paths crossed. But we regret never telling him how much of an impact his presence and support meant.

Many of us take from life without fully subscribing to the “giving” balance of the ledger.

George Kuhn showed us how to do both…