Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Adventures of a Mile High Thespian

It began with a ‘hard knock life’ and ended with ‘tomorrow.’  However, Maya has never been a hard knock life and tomorrow is just a metaphor for something more to do.  The youngest actress in our extended family just added another play to her acting resume. Now in addition to skiing black diamonds, double black diamonds and, last season, extreme black diamonds, third-grader Maya Charlotte LaComb can add budding thespian to her growing list of accomplishments.

Now, making her bed every morning…yeah, not so much.

This was my eldest granddaughter’s third theatrical performance in as many years.  In the first two she was just wallpaper but didn’t seem to mind. This season Maya really wanted a speaking role but once again just ended up an orphan. Mind you, a singing, dancing, animated orphan but mute none-the-less. By third grade Maya was disappointed with no speaking part…I didn’t speak in public until high school. Go figure!

I’m sensing that Maya’s acting chops are getting sharper with each season’s cache of plays to perform. Truth be told, the roar of the greasepaint seems to be getting louder with each of her performances.  Papa couldn’t be prouder.

Not because I think the theater is in her future…nor performing on stage in a room full of envious soccer moms and wiggling siblings.  Instead it’s in Maya’s own projected animation when she speaks about performing that I find her bubbling enthusiasm most contagious.

I’ve seen that same fire in the eyes and hunger in the belly of my own children when they talked about subjects they were interested in.  You can’t implant passion or focus or drive in a kid. They have to find it within themselves. All an adult can do is lead their child in as many directions as possible and see which path they choose to follow.

I want Maya to find her own way in the world.  And hopefully not be distracted by those wizards behind the curtain whose focused packaging of American girls, vanilla princesses, frozen pre-teens and cable channel sub-par stars only exist to promote the latest (manufactured) and (profitable) teen trends.

We had a chance to see this young woman in action when she came back to Minnesota with us after our visit to Colorado.  Her week-long whirlwind visit to Minnesota was complete with: 

Visiting the Eagle Center in Wabasha where she traced the pages for her new book on eagles and rode the carousel at Lark Toys.

 On the way home we stopped by the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder. One adventurous young woman following in the footsteps of her favorite author. She also learned how to make a quilt with Nana.

Brennan and Charlotte insisted on seeing their cousin as much as possible.  To celebrate her birthday early at their house and then again at our place where they played an energetic game of tag.

Now Maya can also add budding wordsmith to her list of accomplishments. She researched and created a book on the Cheyenne Indians for a school project. Then at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha she traced a number of images for a book on eagles. Papa typed out the text as Maya dictated it.

While I can’t match Maya on the ski slopes perhaps we can challenge each other as authors as we collectively try to capture those fleeting thoughts, ideas and images swirling around in our respective  heads. Not a bad way to dance with someone so young and talented.

So in the end Maya left Minnesota with a lot of wonderful memories. And Nana and Papa got to see our precocious eight-year-old on the cusp of some very interesting first steps. Perhaps it started with ‘Clifford’ long ago but Maya is certainly racing forward with a lot of imagination today.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Picking Your Poison

Picking your poison is never an easy task. The right blend can paint a bright horizon ahead with limitless opportunities. The wrong combination might cause you to choke on financial ruin. I’m talking about choosing investment opportunities if you are fortunate enough to have a few extra dollars to invest. Only after you’ve swallowed your choice of investment do the real repercussions and results start to bubble up to the surface.

Financial advice always runs rampant whenever someone else’s money is involved. Advising others on which investment path to follow is rich fodder for money magazines, books, cable television shows, lectures, classes and a moldy assortment of financial gurus eager to answer all the questions you didn’t know enough to ask. The most slippery eels are those who come in with the latest and greatest scheme to help you separate from your savings. We’ve seen and heard from many of them throughout the years.

The most audacious are those charlatans who promise quick profits with no money down and even less effort on your part. ‘Trust me’ seems to be their siren call and disaster on the rocks their only results. ‘Something for nothing’ still results in nothing.

My wife and I were encouraged to invest in everything from gold and silver to diamonds and antiquities. There were penny stock opportunities and Australian currency markets to enter. Fortunately we declined those wonderful opportunities to lose our money. We did stumble a couple of times but never embarrassed ourselves when we should have known better.

In the beginning we escaped unscathed simply because caution and suspicion are my middle name. The key for us was recognizing our need for control and the hunger pangs I’d felt all my life. My own business, Sharden Productions, Inc., proved that I could manage resources and finances. It seemed to me that small apartment buildings weren’t that far behind.

I choose residential properties and management because I could be the one in charge of my own destiny. Despite the fact that as an introvert I had to deal with people this area of real estate seemed to suit my personality. But passive…it was not!

What I learned over the years was that to manage your investments you need to be at the top of your game and constantly vigilant to the ever-changing market conditions. But even before that stage you must establish a relationship with your tenants (I preferred to call them residents) that is fair and considerate.

Be firm but fair.

Another big part of that vigilance was understanding your residents and their daily lives. It’s like a tantalizing game of up skirt but with permission. You get to look into the lives of other people whether you want to or not. Snooping becomes an occupation like a dorm mother, RA, councilor or teacher. It became my insurance. A kind of early warning system in case any of my residents lost or found another job, got fired, were getting married or moving in together, having a kid, etc.

Writing a book on apartment management actually came relatively easy for me. I simply wrote down my experiences and many of the lessons learned over thirty years in the business. There were a fair number of stumbles and as many quiet success stories that overall made it an interesting business for all those years. I wanted to share those insights with anyone else who might be tempted to go down the same investment path as I did.

It takes disciplined entrepreneurship to build and grow a real estate business.  That happens through the proper execution of management strategies that really work.  You will be building a business to last while adding value to your holdings.  You will learn to avoid making costly mistakes while waking up your creative potential.
It’s about using your emotional intelligence as well as financial and managerial intelligence to best utilize your own strategic set of guidelines for managing your properties.  As an owner, you want to become an effective manager of buildings so that you can harness the power of thinking without thinking about it.  Your pattern of success will then become a regimen you follow automatically.  By doing so you will avoid critical mistakes that can be costly to your bottom line and might drive residents away.

It’s all about working smarter - not harder or longer.  It’s about using data to help you process information and create sustainability for energy usage in each property.  It’s about making the most of your time and being productive with the tools you will learn to use in my guide.
Most books on managing residential property are one part truth, one part fiction and one part mechanical.  They miss the most important point… the most important ingredient in successfully managing your apartments - the tenants or as I called them ‘my residents.’

During those thirty years in the business I never owned rental property.  I owned apartment buildings, single-family homes and resort property which people rented. Those renters were proud of their homes and I was proud to be providing that housing stock for them to live in.

The one truth I learned from the business of real estate is that the more I could do for my residents they more they felt inclined to do for themselves.  Simply stated, you do right by doing good.  Once my residents knew I cared, they cared…it was as simple as that.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chick Magnet at Seventy

Joel and I at Prom

Being a bon-vivant was never a moniker I wore as a younger man.  Awkward and clueless were probably more apt descriptions of that confusing period in my life.  Just ask my girlfriend in high school or the one in college.  Over the years, I haven’t gotten much better.  Even at seventy-two, navigating that sometimes-treacherous landscape called male-female communications can still be a formidable challenge.

Saguaro Pool Party

It’s not that I live in a monastery here in Palm Springs.  The whole Coachella Valley is one fertile field for straight guys who are standing prone and self-supporting.  If they were cheetahs the valley would be a field of gazelles.  But sadly when it comes to finding a man, the single women are all quick to attest that “most of the inventory here is either gay, gray or leaving Tuesday.” (That’s a direct quote I’ve heard on more than one occasion.)

For those of us happily attached another issue can sometimes arise.  Communications between the sexes can sometimes be made more difficult because of the strange environment we all live in here in the desert.  It’s not the normal ‘work all day and rest at night’ routine.  Nor is it permanent vacation time.  Snowbirds, natives or part-timers; it doesn’t seem to matter.  We all still have to talk to one another.

Despite their occasional grousing about their spouse, I think most of the married women here are happy with their state in life.  What it really comes down to is the universal dichotomy between men and women.  Perhaps it’s the age-old survival of the fittest or in this case the smartest.  EI verses FA; emotional intelligence verses financial acumen.  Even if those obstacles are overcome, there is yet another challenge for us men folk here in the desert.

Coda Gallery

Trina Turk Building

Case in point, the Coachella Valley is fertile ground for shopping.  From the plush designer shops on El Paseo Drive to numerous consignment stories, shopping seems to be an addiction that affects many women here.  For their spouses, not so much.  I’m a clear example of that.

I hate to shop…more clearly stated…I loathe the simple process of walking into a store…any store…for any reason.  Shopping is antithesis to my very being.  Even driving by a shopping mall can make my skin crawl…OK, I exaggerate a bit here but I don’t even like to be within any proximity to goods and services I’m not interested in.

Believe it or not, female clerks love helping me in this painful process.  I’m probably on their radar as soon as I stumble into their store.  ‘Helpless male in the building’ and all that.  I believe both parties win in the end.  I get the assistance I sorely need and they get to help a male in desperate straits.

A friend recently told me that we all have to be nimble, flexible and live everyday as if it were our last.  He said we’re all dying slowly…or put another way we’re all growing older.  So why not live a little faster.  Is playing this role of mine a bit mischievous on my part? Probably.  Is it dishonest?  I don’t think so.  I just want to savor life every day on my own terms.  Shopping is not part of that equation.

In my new incarnation as a storyteller I want to continue living vicariously into old age.  I want to ride out west or help a young developer in Palm Springs.  I want to give a few suggestions on real estate investments and participate again in the fall of Singapore.  I want to bike across the country with a new lady-friend and participate in a musical celebration at the wake of a lost companion.  I want to charm the ladies with every page I create in my minds eye and on the computer screen.  

Female clerks tend to think I’m cute …but still clueless.  It works for me.  Only my wife knows the truth and she just shrugs her shoulders and is happy I’ve found an illusion to cling to.  The only females who don’t buy into my act are a trio of strong-willed women ages four, six and nine.

It’s my granddaughters who don’t cut me a lot of slack.  They have expectations that I’d like to fulfill and assumptions that I know what I’m talking about.  My granddaughters have other male role models in their young lives.  But I get to fill the role of family elder.  

So if I’m going to grow old anyway I might as well relish the young lives around me.

My role as husband, father, grandfather, writer, explorer and romantic (in my writings) will be all the richer for it.