LEGO Lesson

Sales at the 85-year-old Danish LEGO Company recently dipped 5%. Some folks conjecture children now prefer video-digital-electronic anything rather than  individual blocks that offer freedom to make whatever it is they wish to make.

It is possible the company now will re-evaluate their business approach to making LEGOs, which includes the following:

  1. Be inspired by the simple Danish phrase “Leg godt” (in English, “play well.”)
  2. Make it indestructible so buyers need not replace broken ones.
  3. Design it so each new set works very nicely with existing ones.
  4. Never disparage copycat blocks even if they are inferior.
  5. Include genius instructions so anybody can successfully build without needing to purchase how-to add ons.
  6. Do not link LEGO to any celebrity merely to cross-sell other stuff.
  7. Be a friend to little hands by making big blocks for early motor skills and adding smaller blocks later to let a child feel very smart indeed.
  8. Keep the price in the moderate range and offer enough sizes so most children can have some.
  9. Remain whimsical while adapting LEGO to developing trends (space shuttle, jungle expeditions, superheroes).
  10. Stick to the vision that…”it is not just about the products. it is about realising human possibility.”

I hope the company will not alter its business approach. I just wish they made LEGOs for grownups.


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Amazing grazing

A food store recently opened in our Chicago neighborhood. Happy news for those of us who like to eat. It is clean, well stocked and brightly lit.

And much much more. Every aspect of food consumption apparently has been analyzed and installed within its cavernous two floors, with the possible exception of slaying one’s own game or harvesting one’s own produce.

That may be coming. For now, food as art, as entertainment, as social enabler, as convenience, as status symbol, as sustenance, as pleasure, as fantasy, as family outing, as educator, is here. The sushi bar, burger bar, coffee bar, salad bar, seafood bar, wine bar and bakery bar elevate the notion of public consumption to the level of worship.

Customers respond accordingly. Speaking in hushed tones, navigating around each other politely, poking melons for ripeness with respect.

I look forward to joining the happy horde who shop here but left empty-handed on initial visit. I must prepare my pantry, appliances and family for the arrival of food that will expect to be adored.


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Small gains

The playground in our Chicago neighborhood is generally populated by three-year=olds whose primary similarity is height, about 27 inches.

Their names suggest imaginative growups to come. Lemon, Jersey, Atticus, Sparkle, Nimrod, Aspen sound like folks interesting to know.

Their colorful mix of complexions and accents suggest diversity that is real, not imagined.

Their determination to outrun their parents suggest the universal law that some things never change.

Their ability to find almost anything funny suggest that all of us are born hopeful, until we forget to play.

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Move-in ready

House hunting is more avaricious than it was during the times my husband and I bought and sold our homes, the last experience about a decade ago. Now uncluttered, neutral, staged houses define “move-in ready.”

We bought places that had been lived in and we marketed our lived-in homes. We bought one house blanketed in avocado shag, wallpaper salvaged from a circus fun house, and panelled walls the hue of wet mud. It didn’t suit our taste but it suited us. We were ready to move in.

I suspect our buyers had similar head-scratching reactions to the homes we sold. In one instance, I will concede that pink wall–to-wall, indoor pond and basement mural of a giant ocean wave might not be for everyone. But they were ready and moved right in.

A house that looks like it was never lived in offers refreshed space, suggests new beginnings, but doesn’t answer the more important buyer question : Are THEY move-in ready?




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Reason # 33 Why Folks Don’t Write

There are many reasons folks don’t write. Lack of talent isn’t one of them. UN-writing is.

Writers share lessons about PRE-writing, RE-writing, FREE-writing and those are interesting; but UN-writing is tedious, a bit like unraveling a sweater. It is boring to describe and boring to do but it’s essential so that the next writing is free to be original.

It is an emptying that happens after a writing is finished, whether is’s a novel, doctoral dissertation, letter, investigative report, presentation, speech or any other format. Whilst it is happening, it’s good to do something else. Here are three possibilities:

  1. Write lists. This isn’t creating much content but it’s writing-ish, is easy, looks substantial and quiets the fingers.
  2. Do something  easy but different. Walk if you usually drive. Drive if you usually walk.
  3.  Do something easy you are good at doing. Watching TV. Running marathons (one at a time). Lip-syncing extremely cool music.

UN-writing will happen and you can’t force it. But, you can allow it.



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Open concept

The 1950s ranch home that witnessed the growing up of my two brothers and I was an open concept design decades before the term defined what a house should be.

The living room was for playing the piano or listening to Mom play the piano. It was for watching television. It was for playing the stereo. It was for sitting on a sofa. It was for looking out of two large picture windows to see who might be looking in at us while we did our living.

The dining room was open, too. Picture windows ran the full length of one wall. Its table-china-cabinet-buffet were big and left only a narrow walkway of space so we pretty much moved through it rather than occupy it, to get to the kitchen, where we looked out more windows as we walked to the back door. One of our three bedrooms had a door at each end so we walked through it, too.

Thus, we generally kept meeting up with each other and kept watching people outside watch us inside. I think each one of us would occasionally have liked less open concept and more private space but at least it can be noted we were ahead of our time.

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Power of people

It would be good if we made three distinctions so we don’t get mixed up when we create, receive, critique, share and respond to information.

Media is a collective word to describe tools that deliver information to people.

Format is a collective word to describe in what form information is delivered.

Ethics is a collective word to describe values that direct how people act and react.

Some examples of media are tweets, text, television, radio, blog, newpaper, cinema, books, ads, broadcasts, pamplets, theater, magazines, Webcast, presentarion, report, letter, facebook, Web sites, marketing material, press conference, sermon, speech, debate, among others.

Some examples of format are newscast, opinion, critique, observation, rebuttal, feature, alert, analysis, satire, monologue, commentary, rant, synthesis, elegy, travelogue, review, essay, song, poem, novel, memo, propoganda, ode, argument, screenplay, myth, epic, investigation, comedy, sitcom, announcement, among others.

Some examples of values are integrity, duty, fairness, responsibility, courtesy, honesty, kindness, loyalty, respect, generosity, courage, strength, humility, acceptance, discretion, dignity, justice, discernment, self-control, open-mindedness, ambition, perseverance, competition, prosperity, among others.

No media, no form of expression and no ethical value can be an enemy. Only we the people can do that.



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Observing Observation

Mark Twain  was onto something when he distinguished in an essay between travelers who observe and travelers who absorb. He didn’t have much patience with observers because their minds stayed where they were before their trip and their subsequent opinions about a new place, culture or atmosphere were boring, and just generally dumb.

He liked absorbers, though, because those folks allowed a new place, culture or atmosphere to shake them up and reveal something about themselves they didn’t know before their trip.

This presidential election seems dominated by observers who decided what to think long before the race unfolded, before the debates were held, before the voting began.

As a journalist, this makes me sad because it means my profession isn’t doing its job of providing the impartial context that welcomes readers to absorb what they observe, to consider the outcome of their choice, to travel to that new country our votes will take us.



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Counter productive

My uncle was a snug fit at the soda fountain of Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Elmhurst, IL because it was built in 1966 to maximize the number of customers who sat there to order ice cream. His manly frame was built for something more substantial.

He found a way to board a stool, with care, like a spacecraft’s tricky docking with the mother ship. He reached a hand to escort my petite auntie onto her stool and smiled his best uncle smile at me on the first day of my first summer job as a waitress.

My uniform with fruit-of-the-month corsage (strawberries) stopped itching. My feet didn’t pinch, much. I owned this. I was smooth. Passed menus resembling stone tablets. Narrated daily specials (strawberries figured prominantly). Set napkins and utensils. Flipped order pad. Took order. Something with strawberries. Fetched two waters.

The next moment showed me that love is not earned but given for free. I plunked the supersize water glass with such a show of fake competence, it tsunami-ed  onto my uncle’s lap, a lap so tightly tucked under the counter, escape was futile.

He didn’t glance down. He didn’t flinch. His uncle smile didn’t dim.

Not one bit.


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Writer, actor, producer and director Garry Marshall passed away and took with him one precious example of entertainment’s best quality: sentimentality.

He was sheepish about the sentimentality of Happy Days, The Odd Couple, Pretty Woman, Princess Diaries, Laverne & Shirley, among others but he was not apologetic.

Why is it that sweet, sappy, naive, gentle, kind behaviors in art are perceived less valuable than harsh, skeptical, slick, angry and mean behaviors in music, books, television and film? Why is sentimentality maligned? It seems a perfectly nice emotion.

If art imitates life, and a good number of smart people believe it does, there is plenty of room for those sentimental moments of wonder, foolish hope and happy endings.

Alas, without Mr. Marshall, they will be a little harder to find.





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