I am impressed by Chefs.  They undertake one task at a time—when preparing a recipe with shrimp, they will remove all the shells before de-veining; when mincing garlic, they peel all of the cloves before chopping and so on.  Chefs make sure all ingredients are on hand before beginning a dish and they clean as they go.  Because of the pressure they work under, to make a profit and turn out quality food, chefs must be organized.

While managing a construction firm, I discovered  the profit on a job was largely determined by Planning. Essential to success was the ordering of materials; the sequencing of work and the organization of the job-site.

Remodeling homes with my brother, I learned the importance of completing one task before continuing to the next.  For example, to avoid tripping over debris, completing demolition before beginning renovations.

Today, the distractions of technology make it difficult to organize and focus. People pride themselves on being able to multitask: jumping from project to project; making decisions on the fly and talking to one person on the phone while answering an email from another—perfect opportunities to create misunderstandings and harm relationships.

Planning, organization and focus are essential to making good decisions, performing quality work and maintaining relationships.

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Alexander Graham Bell

Milk_punch

Brennan’s Brandy Milk Punch

To insure we feel good for the following day’s Milk Punch Party, we avoid going out New Year’s Eve.

The party format has remained the same for more than 50 years: for good luck, Hopp’n John—black eyed peas, cooked with ham hocks and served over rice; for good health, greens—mustard, turnip and collards; to satisfy the  appetite, spareribs; and, to raise spirits, Milk Punch.

Milk punch is a New Orleans morning after tradition.  The concoction is designed to cool a parched throat with ice cream; settle a stomach with milk and clear a muddled head with brandy or bourbon.  The combined ingredients provide a sweet, easy to drink and surprisingly potent drink.

My freshman year at FSU I was invited to my first New Year’s Day party.  I arrived  with a date several hours after the party had begun. We poured a glass of Milk Punch and sat, on the floor, in front of the television to watch football.  Turning around, I realized how potent the punch was when everyone, except my date and me, was sound asleep.

My wife Terri’s first milk punch party took place a few months after she moved to Florida.  She volunteered to help prepare the punch and I assigned her to quality control—tasting each batch of punch. Terri made an unforgettable impression on her new friends when I slung her over my shoulder to carry her home.

Years later we invited our Sunday School class to join us to celebrate the new year and enlisted my brother to make the punch.  Late in the afternoon, I noticed our Sunday school teacher was slurring her words and the punch in her glass was bourbon brown.  Having run out of ice cream, my brother adjusted the recipe by doubling the bourbon and our guests were drinking almost straight shots of whiskey.  The members of the Senior Sunday School class at Winter Park Presbyterian still talk about that party.

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Anne and John Dozier

The past few years, our friends John and Anne Dozier have hosted the annual affair. They do a great job: Anne is a gracious host and her husband John is a Milk Punch party expert.  His preparations begin days before the party: spareribs are selected; just picked greens are bought; the dried black eyed peas are culled and he acquires gallons of ice cream and milk. The result is a meal that any Southerner—including imported ones—will appreciate.

New Year’s Eve is about celebrating the passing of the current year.  New Year’s Day is about greeting the new year; and, there’s no better way to do so than enjoying food, drink and laughter with friends.

John Dozier’s Milk Punch Recipe

In a blender add:

1 cup good bourbon

1 cup ice cream (ice milk may be substituted)

1 cup milk (whole or reduced fat)

1 cup crushed ice

2 oz Cream De Cacao (Kahlua or Tia Maria may be substituted)

Blend until smooth and serve with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

I hope you have a happy, prosperous and healthy new year!

When I was ten-years old, we invited a local icon, our widowed neighbor Miss Mary, to join us for Thanksgiving. My mother was delighted with and panicked by the accepted invitation.

The preparations began a week before the holiday with my mother, cooking side dishes and desserts, declaring the kitchen off limits. When Thanksgiving arrived, the house was in perfect condition and, dressed in our best, so were my father, brother and I. After a glass of sherry, my father was dispatched to bring the turkey to the table.  As he stepped through the swinging door that led to the kitchen he tripped and the turkey tumbled to the floor.

A major disaster. No one spoke until my mother said, “Jack, pick up the turkey; we’ll serve the other bird.” My father placed the turkey on the platter and accompanied by my mother, retreated to the kitchen. In a few minutes, they reappeared with a beautifully plated turkey. As I opened my mouth to comment on this amazing occurrence, I caught a look on my mother’s face that persuaded I had better be quiet. Later, I learned there had only been one turkey and it had been dusted off, placed on the platter and served.

My wife, Terri’s first Thanksgiving after moving to Florida was her first away from her family. Our family’s traditional menu never changed: turkey, green beans, sweet potatoes, rice, dressing and dessert.  We ignored Terri’s request for mashed potatoes until she started to cry. My brother realized how homesick she was, rushed to the store, bought a bag of potatoes and assigned Terri the task of preparing them.

After she washed, peeled and boiled the potatoes, she placed them in a bowl, added a pound of butter, a cup of milk and asked where the electric mixer was stored. I explained that Southerners liked lumpy mashed potatoes, so we used a potato mashers. She responded that it wasn’t her problem that we didn’t know how to properly mash potatoes—she needed a mixer.

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Randolph and Terri

My brother produced the electric mixer, Terri turned it to high speed and plunged the beaters into the potatoes. There was an explosion of potatoes: on the walls, floor, even the ceiling. The only sound was Terri’s sobbing. Suddenly my brother started laughing; not just laughing but rolling on the floor, uncontrollable, howling. At that moment, Terri and my brother became close friends and we had something else to be thankful about.

Thanksgiving was my brother’s favorite holiday; one he loved to share.  Before the holiday, he would canvass his friends to identify people who had no place to celebrate the big day. I can remember years when there were  40 or 50 people—a few of whom we never identified.

On Thanksgiving eve he would begin his preparations. He provided the turkey and two kinds of stuffing: cornbread, made from a store mix and an oyster dressing that caused more than one family dispute. His main contribution was the Thanksgiving punch.

After preparing his dressings and seasoning the turkey, joined by friends and family he would begin mixing the punch. The punch was cross between southern sweet tea and kickapoo joy juice.  To insure perfection, it would be tasted, and tasted again. After midnight, those still standing, would declare the punch ready.

Thanksgiving morning the punch would be poured into a ceramic crock, the turkey placed in the oven and the guests would arrive hours before lunch.  My brother loved singing. Before dinner was served, everyone held hands and with Kate Smith’s version blasting from the stereo, join in singing God Bless America followed by an a cappella Thank You For The World So Sweet, a prayer in a song.

In the mid-1980’s, Terri and I invited her sister, brother-in-law and their two children to join us for Thanksgiving. I told them that the temperature would be in the mid 70’s and be sure to bring shorts.

Thanksgiving morning the temperature was in the upper 30’s, with rain and a howling wind.  Forty people had accepted the invitation for lunch; including Terri’s freezing family, who hadn’t packed so much as a sweater. We planned to serve lunch on the front porch and lawn. However, with the wind and rain that was out of the question, so we decided to move to the garage.

My brother, into the Thanksgiving punch, was no help, so it was up to me to find chairs.  With the rental stores closed, I turned to our undertaker friend “Digger” Hiers.  He had plenty of folding chairs and was glad to loan them to us but we had to pick them up. Until you have done it,  you don’t know how many trips it takes in a four-door car to retrieve forty folding chairs.  We celebrated that memorable Thanksgiving sitting on chairs marked “Hiers Funeral Home,” in a garage, with a storm howling outside.

Thanksgiving is set aside for us to reflect upon and give thanks for the blessings we have been freely given. My wish for all: a bountiful feast, a wonderful time with family and friends and time to consider how blessed we are. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank You For The World So Sweet

Thank you for the world so sweet
Thank you for the food we eat
Thank you for the bird’s that sing
Thank you Lord for everything

Thanksgiving Punch

This is my brother’s recipe; so, the amounts need to be tested.  “1” indicates equal amounts—probably, 2 pints each.  Depending upon how many samples were tasted, some Thanksgivings there would be more rum and others an ingredient would be left out.

1 – Cranberry Juice Cocktail
1 – Orange Juice
1 – Apple Juice
1 – Tea
1 – Pineapple Juice
To taste add nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon
750 ml dark rum

Mix in a punch bowl.  Before serving add a frozen cranberry juice ice ring (freeze in a bunt cake pan) and 12 oz of 7-up.

Annually, we would gather at a local restaurant for a holiday celebration that resembled a wake.  Over drinks, our boss would recount the terrible year coming to an end and how he believed our company would not survive another.  The current year ended in defeat and we faced the coming one with dread.

As director of marketing, I was challenged to keep our salespeople motivated.  A tough task with the fear we weren’t going to make it.  Our boss’s answer to falling sales was to retreat: lay people off and cut expenses. We were spiraling down the drain as our ever-worsening level of service drove customers away.

Overwhelmed, our boss  resigned his position and took a job delivering phone books—not as much pay but a lot less stress. In contrast to our Ivy League educated former boss, his successor had only a high school education and little experience in our business.

His first day, he gathered the staff and announced we were going to upgrade our computer system.  A new computer system!  Why would you make a major investment with the company going out of business? Maybe, things were not as bad as we thought.

He presented a positive view of the future and employee morale soared, as did productivity and sales.

More important than a college diploma, he possessed a can-do attitude.  He provided hope, while setting an example of hard work and resistance to adversity.  He was a leader rather than a retreater and the company prospered under his guidance.

When the confederate army surged through a gap in the union line during the Civil War battle of Chickamauga, the northern troops and their officers panicked and ran.

General George Thomas wasn’t running.  He assembled a defense line that held long enough for the retreating army to make it to safety.  Thomas saved he Army of the Cumberland and became forever known as the “Rock of Chickamauga.”

George Thomas was a leader.  In the midst of panic he rallied his troops and held his ground.  In contrast, a retreater is prone to retreat.  At the first sign of trouble he or she gives up the fight, runs for safety. As the leader goes, so go the troops and all hope of success.

In advance of a Japanese victory, general Douglas McArthur was ordered to flee the Philippine Islands. A pragmatist, he knew the battle was lost but he was determined to win the war.   When he arrived in Australia, he made a short but positive statement that rallied resistance and offered hope for the future: “I shall return.”

Like McArthur, a leader is a realist.  He or she understands retreat is sometimes necessary; but when required, it is an organized withdrawal, giving way while maintaining morale and setting forth a vision of success.

Even when facing failure, leaders continue to lead: presenting a positive view of the future; standing firm in the face of adversity; and offering hope.

I have learned there can be a world of difference between what I say and what someone hears.

When installing the heating and air conditioning systems in three elementary schools, my construction firm suffered numerous problems.

At the completion of the jobs, I made the decision to terminate the manager of our heating and air conditioning department. Determined to let him down easy, one Friday afternoon I spent an hour explaining my dissatisfaction with his performance and my decision to let him go. I was surprised and pleased at how well he took the news.

The following Monday, I arrived early at my office and found the guy I had fired sitting at his desk. When I asked what he was doing, he responded that he was so fired-up by my pep talk he could not wait to get back to work. Obviously, what I said and what he heard were two different things.

Another miscommunication took place when our roofing department manager dispatched a crew to a job on Newberry Avenue.  About an hour after the crew should have arrived, an angry contractor called to complain his job wasn’t being manned.  An hour later the department manager accepted a collect call from a confused foreman who had been driving around Newberry, Florida looking for the job site.

Words do matter. Taking time to make sure what you say is understood, can save headaches, heartaches and money. The following are communication techniques I try to practice:

  •  Put distractions on hold and focus on the person you are talking with; make sure you have established eye contact and he or she is paying attention to what you are saying.  By doing so, you will increase the chance to be understood and send the message that what you are communicating and whom you are communicating it to are important
  • Encourage questions, by patiently speaking in a non-threatening way
  • Don’t rush. The time you take ensuring you are understood, will save even more time in the long run
  • Ask questions

If I had practiced the preceding I wouldn’t have had to fire the manager twice—believe me, second time he knew he was fired.

Our air conditioning department manager convinced me to bid the heating and air conditioning work on three school additions. I was nervous about bidding the jobs because the specifications called for chilled water air conditioning—systems we had little experience installing. However, he convinced me he knew what he was doing and if we got the jobs, we could perform the work. We won the bid, installed the systems and they did not operate.

The problem resulted from chilled water not moving through the system at a high enough volume. At first we believed the lack of flow resulted from entrapped air—so we hooked garden hoses to the piping and ran the pumps continuously to remove the air. Sure enough, with the nozzle of the hose in a bucket of water, you could see huge bubbles of air belching from the pipes; but the air conditioning units still didn’t work.

The architect decided the systems were was clogged by dirt from unclean piping.  When they reported this, the school authorities threatened our contractor customers, who contacted our bonding company—the situation was getting worse.

Not understanding the intricacies of chilled water-cooling, I was afraid we had done something wrong. Day after day, I spent hours at each job site, running the pumps in hope the systems would purge themselves. During school board meetings I defended our work and avoided answering questions from the local media. We were spending thousands of dollars trying to make the systems work; we were not getting paid and our reputation was being ruined.

At my wit’s end, I decided to hire a consulting engineer to review the plans, specifications and our installation. I forwarded the documentation to the engineer and arranged for him to tour the jobs. A couple of days later he called and told me there was no need to inspect our work; that upon reviewing the plans he had determined the pumps were too small to maintain the required water flow. I forwarded his written report to our customers and the problem was solved—in fact, we were paid to change out the pumps. I made a serious error by undertaking a job that I did not understand and I compounded that error by being afraid to be wrong.

The fear of being wrong, can lead to not being able to uncover the cause of a problem and make it worse.  A decision based upon incorrect facts is bound to be an incorrect decision—before determining a course of action, make sure you have all the facts.

 Problems

It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.” – William Arthur Ward

It is not a matter of being fearless. The fear is sometimes constant, but it’s about moving forward regardless of the fear. Courage means feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” -Gillian Anderson

Every Halloween one of my favorite videos is shown on television. Dressed as a scarecrow, a man sits on his front porch, in a rocking chair, next to a box containing trick or treat candy. When someone reached for the candy, the costumed man jumped to his feet scaring the unsuspecting trick-or-treater. The joke worked until a large man reacted by delivering a punch knocking the scarecrow to the floor.

The “Fight or Flight” syndrome describes how someone reacts when they are unexpectedly frightened.

My wife Terri and I came across a neighbor’s yard sale. The man hosting the sale told Terri he had a special memento she might be interested in. She watched as he slowly opened a box—suddenly, without warning a fake squirrel was propelled out of the box. I grabbed her arm as she began a swing at the guy’s nose. “Fight or Flight,” Terri’s instinct is to fight.

In a magazine survey, respondents were asked which golf shot they feared most. I expected the number one answer to be out of a sand trap, over water or an attempt out of deep rough. Surprisingly, the top reply was “The first shot off of the number 1 tee.”  The fear of failing in front of  people waiting to tee off gave rise the response.

The fear of failing in front of others is responsible for one of people’s greatest terrors, the fear of public speaking. The trepidation engendered from speaking in public is not limited to addressing a large audience; it prevents people from expressing their opinions in small meetings. I have  heard people say, “I wanted to speak but I was afraid someone would find my opinion to be stupid.”

I am convinced you never truly overcome a deep-seated dread. I do believe you can learn to harness and use it to drive a favorable outcome. When you recognize and accept a fear you can take actions overcome it: golf lessons, Toastmasters, the list goes on.  By working to conquer a fear, a person gains confidence that he or she will not fail.  This confidence, coupled with the adrenaline caused by the fear, creates a focus and determination that can lead to success.