Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Fork in the Family Farm Road

The maternal side of my husband’s family (the Buchholz side of the Bailey/Buchholz family tree) owns an active farm in Melvin, Illinois, a small town about 40 miles north of Champaign-Urbana. Ron’s grandfather, Ronald Buchholz, retired some 30 years ago, and the land is sharecropped by 2 other local farmers on behalf of the estate. None of Ron’s generation are farmers and no one is planning to retire to Melvin. We’ve come to a fork in the road in regard to stewardship of the family farm, and it’s time to think about selling.

Childhood memories of family visits and countless holidays celebrated inside the walls of the old farm house make this decision a complicated and emotional one for Ron and his siblings. Generations of Buchholz have called this place home since the mid-1800’s, and family farmers and merchants were pillars of the small community. Sadly, circumstances change. A sale won’t rewrite past history, but it will irrevocably sever ongoing practical ties to Melvin – a step that will be taken with regret.

On Tuesday, Ron and I attended an auction of some nearby farm land, as observers. It was a reconnaissance mission. Our goal was to assess the level of interest in available land near Melvin, and to witness at what price it would sell. We made the two hour drive from Chicago to the Elliott AMVETS Hall (about 10 miles south of Melvin) in time to grab a cup of coffee and find a seat.

The auction began after a description of the 60 acres for sale. It was obvious that the majority of the approximately 80 locals in the room were merely interested observers, including farmers, bankers, investors, land brokers, and (I think) a few veterans just waiting for the kitchen to open for lunch. The auctioneer opened bidding at $7,000/acre, but there were no bids at that price. The first bid was made at $5,100, but with 3 bidders very quickly rose to $6,800 before the auctioneer called for a brief break. A 4th bidder jumped into the fray at $7,350. The 60 acres sold for $7,450/acre, a total of $447,000, to farmers from nearby Paxton (a man and his grown grandson). There was much handshaking and back-slapping in congratulations, as people left the hall.

Commodities (including corn and soybeans) are hot right now in the financial markets. Last year’s crop yields were high. The value of farm land has been increasing. The Buchholz acreage is desirable and will probably sell for more than the land that was auctioned Tuesday. If we decide to move forward, our next step would be to retain a broker to put together options for structuring a sale.

Selling the farm will notably enhance the financial security of the current generation. I like to think that all those practically-minded German ancestors that worked so hard and invested in the future of the family would understand and approve.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

C'mon Chicago Spring!

Snow, you can go
I’m done with you this year
Gray, you can’t stay
The skies will soon be clear

Wind, ditch the chill
You don’t need to howl and moan
Rain, you’re to blame
For my melancholy groan

Friends, share the cheer
There’s better weather out there
Spring, do your thing
I know you’re hiding somewhere

Sun, bring the fun
We need your warming grace
Heat, set the beat
Let’s dance to a livelier pace!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Loss and the Gift of Life

It’s great to have plans. I am a strong advocate for all kinds of planning, including financial/budgeting, pre-purchased tickets for sports and entertainment events, advance reservations for travel, a well-annotated schedule/calendar, and a simple to-do list. As you know from reading my prior blog entries, I am a big believer in achieving lifestyle dreams via retirement planning. Now here comes (as I like to call it) “THE BIG BUT”.

Having plans does not always protect you from a turn of events or unexpected misfortune. We can’t live our lives anticipating disaster, but sometimes we find ourselves having to face it and figure out how to move through it. Our plans may have to be modified on the fly.

We all face losses during our lives. The circle of life assures that people we love will depart this plane of existence. We could be forced to deal with the loss of a job or a home. Our health will be threatened when we face injury or serious illness. Relationships sometimes fail, leaving a hole in our psyche. Burglars may steal our belongings. Mean and greedy people take our innocence. Losses big and small test our resilience.

Living life requires a balance of planning and joyous abandon. Love your family and friends vociferously and generously. This year it may be prudent to put off buying that new car you desire, but next year you might go on that European cruise that’s been a dream for so long. We can’t PLAN so relentlessly that we never DO. Don’t put off living, because none of us know how long we will have this gift of life.

Over the past few weeks, two long-time friends passed away from cancer. Someone close to me has lost a home. Financial woes threaten the livelihood of another. It takes courage to navigate life and flexibility to forge new paths. Count your blessings and, as Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Goodbye, Sal

SALVATORE GUARINO Salvatore Frank Guarino, of Henderson, returned to our Heavenly Father March 2, 2011, at age 73, after a painful bout with pancreatic cancer. He was born March 13, 1937, in Philadelphia, and was a 15-year resident of Nevada. Sal worked in the hospitality industry for over 30 years, beginning his career as an accountant/treasurer for many hotel properties in the Philadelphia region. Sal joined the Hilton Hotels Corporation in 1974 and worked his way up in the midwest region. In the mid-80s, Sal attained the position of senior vice president for real estate and development for the corporation and was relocated to Beverly Hills, Calif. After retirement, Sal moved to the Las Vegas area with his wife to be near his children and grandchildren. Sal was a proud 4th Degree member of the Knights of Columbus at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Henderson. Sal is survived by his wife, of 50 years, Marie; his children, Marc and Marisa; his daughter-in-law, Peggy; and his granddaughters, Alexandra and Olivia, all of Las Vegas.

Sal Guarino was the man who hired me out of a hotel and into the Chicago regional office for Hilton’s franchise division. In 1980 I was 25 years old; a graduate of Northwestern University, with four years of hotel operations experience. I wanted the job of Regional Training Coordinator so desperately that I accepted a pay cut (from slave wages of $14K/year to $13.5K) for the opportunity. During the interview, Sal tried to talk me into taking a job as his Administrative Assistant instead, but I declined – insisting that I didn’t type well enough. The Training Coordinator position was mine, and I started my career with Hilton Hotels Corporation.

Sal became my mentor for the next two and a half years. Our office was small (nine people in all); a tightly-knit team that really did feel like a family. It was a different work climate 30+ years ago. We all wore suits every day – no casual Fridays. It was unheard of to work from home – you commuted into the office if you weren’t traveling on business. Our offices were in the Hilton Chicago the first year, and connected to the Palmer House after that. One of our perks was a “free” lunch in the hotel. Those couple of years with Sal and his staff were special to me.

Some specific memories:
• From the very beginning, Sal told me that I was an executive for Hilton, and he expected me to act accordingly. This was an important mindset for me (the chick making $13.5K at the bottom of the totem pole).
• I once lamented that I didn’t have enough money for out-of-pocket travel expenses. Instead of offering me an advance on my expense account, Sal said, “Well, I guess that you can’t travel this week.” So much for whining.
• Sal yelled at me for a high expense account once, demanding to know who I treated to an expensive dinner in a Hilton in Cincinnati. He didn’t believe me at first when I insisted that it was only my meal, “You can’t have eaten that much!” I was a scrawny young thing at the time.
• Sal yelled at me again for an expense account that was too low! I had treated two trainees from South Dakota to dinner at the famed Pump Room. The bill was appalling, so I submitted only half the charge on my expense account, intending to absorb the rest of the cost. I was told to re-submit the entire charge, but not to go to the Pump Room again.
• I was treated to a First Class flight on my orientation trip to L.A. with Sal. We were on a 747 and sat in the “upstairs” lounge having cocktails most of the way. Quite an experience.
• We enjoyed several lovely holiday dinners hosted by Sal, accompanied by spouses/significant others. (Those days are gone, aren’t they?)
• Once, the entire team was once invited to Sal and Marie’s suburban home in Westmont, IL for a summer cookout. I’ve never had another boss who has done that.
• Because of Sal, I was invited to cocktails at the home of EVP Lloyd Farwell in Woodland Hills, CA, We had a lovely visit with Lloyd and his wife, Grace. Then the four of us went out to dinner. That relationship with the Farwells proved to be important to my career.

In 1982, I accepted a promotion and transfer to Dallas. Sal was very supportive of the move. Over the years, we stayed in touch. The last time I saw Sal and Marie was in the late 90’s, when we all lived in Las Vegas at the same time. Once again, they were the consummate hosts, and this time Ron and I were able to reciprocate at our home.

I will never forget the life lessons learned from Sal, and the experiences provided. My heart hurts for Marie and the rest of Sal’s family. He will always be in my memory.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Comfort in Routine

As the world turns and living creates turmoil beyond our control, I find comfort in personal routine. For example, eating is a necessary routine and “Comfort Food” is virtual transportation back to simpler times, when Mommy fed me favorite foods that made me warm and happy. I love mom’s Meatloaf, and various Greek dishes that evoke the memories of the fellowship at our church. When I have those foods now, they simply make me happy on a soulful level.

Retired now, and able to shield ourselves from much of the chaos around us, we have discovered a few things. We don’t much care for having our routine involuntarily interrupted. Our tolerance for personal drama has withered. The new life we have orchestrated puts a high value on calm, relaxation, and pleasure. Perceived attacks on that stress-free lifestyle are defended. There certainly will be life events that disrupt the peace – accident, illness, family misfortune – but we will deal with those as they occur, without artificially creating or anticipating disaster.

The day begins when I make a pot of coffee, open the window shades, and check in on my friends online. Before showering and dressing, I make the bed (it’s a rule). I try to work out 5 days a week, but I have to admit that’s not a routine quite yet, and my exercise often takes different forms (elliptical or treadmill/crunches/weights, or a round of golf, a hike in Prescott or a long walk in the city) at different times of day.

When I’m tired and ready for bed, the routines are short and sweet. I wash my face and brush my teeth, and turn down the bed. My feet get a luxurious treatment with a lavender-scented shea butter crème, before they slide between the sheets. I usually fall asleep easily, with the smell of lavender on my hands.

These little routines create normalcy that simply grounds my day. When my schedule was more hectic, many things fell by the wayside as stress and time pressures caused me to foolishly deprive myself of the simple pleasures of finding comfort in routine. No more. I deserve this.