How To Win/Lose a Customer for Life

I’ve had some trouble getting auto service lately. Let’s compare experiences and see who you’d rather go with:

My last visit to Tires Plus:
I sat in the waiting room for three hours while they changed my oil, didn’t bother to rotate my tires because they were so worn out (apparently from not being rotated often enough) and tried to sell me on $1,200 worth of repairs. When I finally asked if my car was done, they were surprised. The car had been done for a while. They called my house and when my wife told them I was sitting in their waiting room, they disagreed with her and said I stepped out. They never checked the waiting room, where I had been sitting for three hours.

Apparently they forgot about me and gave up. While paying the bill the sales guy made a big show of walking around the counter to shake my hand. I’ve never wanted to punch somebody so badly.

Today’s visit to Pace’s Service Center:
When I left Tires Plus I vowed never to go back. I asked around and decided on the little family-owned service shop that will still pump your gas for you: Pace’s Service Center in West St. Paul. I checked out their website and a friend vouched for them.

I went in this morning and sat in one of their three chairs in the “waiting room.” They had no wifi. No TV. No coffee. But they did have a steady stream of customers who seemed to know them by name. A couple people dropped cars off with vague problems and concerns they wanted checked out before they headed out of town. No problem. The guy who drove my car into the service bay was the owner. It was like stepping into a local garage from 50 years ago, complete with an old school “City Gide” map on the wall.

An hour later my car was ready and I was impressed. I shook hands with Jim, the service manager, after we chatted about a shared interest in web design.

“We want to earn one customer at a time,” Jim said, and I assured him that he had one more.

Then I walked out to my car. It seemed clean inside. Too clean. I looked back and the leafy bits from the “tree” Lexi insisted on taking into the car were gone. The window seemed extra clear and the mirrors were real shiny. I got out of the car and went back in.

“Did you guys vacuum my car?” I asked. Jim nodded. Vacuuming the interior and washing the windows is standard practice.

“You guys rock,” I said, shaking his hand one more time.

You can take a guess where I’ll be taking my car from now on.

A Family of Five One Week On

Yeshumnesh has been home a little more than a weekWaiting for Yeshumnesh at the Airport and we’re all slowly adjusting.

It’s kind of a rollercoaster ride to suddenly be the dad of a preteen. This morning I took Yeshumnesh to get her ears pierced. We’ve borrowed a truckload of Hannah Montana from the library. Her birthday list is filled with sparkly pink items. And I think I have the awkward, dorky dad part down. At least that comes naturally.

We’ve been trying to keep busy as boredom is definitely a problem. I hate that anyone could ever be bored—there’s way too much to do in life to be bored. Growing up one my friend’s parents treated ‘bored’ like a swear word and they’d put you to work if they heard you complaining about being bored. I kind of like that. But in this case it’s understandable as Yeshumnesh is still adjusting to everything and we can’t exactly kick her out the back door and tell her to go find something to do. Abby and I are doing a lot of remembering what it was like to be home for the summer and having nothing to do.

One night we went to the Mall of America as a family. The verdict was it was too loud and overwhelming. But McDonald’s ice cream was a win. We went to church on Sunday, but that was also overwhelming. I think having all kinds of strangers come up and talk to you is a little much for anyone. The board game Sorry has been a big hit. And as dorky as we may be as parents, the movie Josie & The Pussycats was deemed cool, so I think we get some kind of points for that.

On Tuesday night we went to a wading pool to meet with another adoptive family with three kids who were from the same care center as Yeshumnesh. They all knew each other in Ethiopia and it was quite a reunion. I saw them coming and pointed them out to Yeshumnesh. She jumped up and both girls ran to each other. There was hugging, squealing and a lot of talking in Amharic. It was so cool to see. I literally applauded (see: dork).

So we’re all slowly getting used to a family of five. The car feels crammed when we all pile in to go somewhere. The house is a lot louder (though that’s all Lexi and Milo). Meals have had to be a lot more organized—somehow one more person means we need to put more effort into it. And I think Abby and I are definitely going to bed earlier. Once Yeshumnesh goes to bed I usually look at the clock and balk at staying up later.

It’s only been a week and it’s still summer, so things will likely get bumpier later, but so far so good.

Say Hello to Yeshumnesh

Abby & YeshumneshWe announced earlier this spring that we were pursing the adoption of an older child. We never imagined that a few short months later we’d be welcoming an 11-year-old girl into our family. But that’s what happened.

We’ve been pretty tight-lipped about this adoption, both because of the speed of the process (we got the call on June 8) and the nature of the situation. But it’s happening. So the beans get spilled.

Last week Abby and our good friend Nicole traveled to Anchorage, Alaska to meet Yeshumnesh (pronounced Ye-shem-nesh). They return today (hopefully). She’s a bright, out-going and active Ethiopian girl who will turn 11 in August. She originally came to the United States in December of 2009, but that original adoption is being disrupted (that’s adoption lingo for what happens when a child is placed with a family and it doesn’t work out). The reasons behind that disruption will remain private, but in general this family was not the right fit for Yeshumnesh.

Yeshumesh will go to school a few blocks from our house. She’s very athletic and enjoys soccer, biking, cross-country skiing and ice skating (hockey!). She likes to color and enjoys listening to stories. She loves movies, including High School Musical and Hannah Montana. She’s pretty good with her English though is still catching up. She’ll have her own bedroom across from Lexi & Milo’s that we hope we can decorate together.

This has been a pretty insane week. And I’m not in Alaska. I stayed home with the kids and tried to maintain some normalcy. This is the longest Milo has ever been away from Abby and I realized it’s also the longest I’ve been away from my wife in, well, I don’t remember how long. Definitely since we had kids, probably longer. Maybe since we got married.

And I’m sure it’s been crazier in Alaska. Welcoming an older child into your family isn’t like adopting an infant. It’s a whole new ball of wax. We’ve had a rollercoaster of a summer preparing for this and it’s finally coming together. It’s not going to be easy. Yeshumnesh needs to get used to our family—and an entirely new life—and we need to get used to her. Lexi and Milo will have their own transitions, so it could be bumpy all the way around as we get used to one another.

We’ll be leaning on a lot of folks for support, from social workers and therapists to friends and family. I’ve been leaning on them pretty hard this week and it’s just me and the little ones. I don’t know where we’d be without help—definitely not here, that’s for sure. You can’t do this kind of thing without help.

Our friends and family have been incredibly supportive of Milo’s adoption and we’re hoping to find the same love and support this time around. Any efforts to shore up our sanity are always appreciated. If you’re the praying type, we could use lots of prayer for the remaining legal issues, travel, transitions, family bonding, logistics and financial considerations.

I never imagined I’d be the father of three and rocking a mohawk at 31.

Mohawk for Charity

I’m now rocking a mohawk and a soulpatch for charity: water. Christopher Turner had the winning ( and only) donation in my ill-advised Haircut for Charity campaign. Some folks commented that sacrificing my hair for charity is kind of played out. Probably. But it’s still fun. And we gave people some clean water.

So $100 for charity: water, clean water for more people and a new ‘do for me. Everybody wins.

My wife hates it. I kinda like it.

You can donate here to support my charity: water campaign and help build a well in Ethiopia. So far we’ve raised $1,914. You can help us get to $5,000. Thanks!

Before:
Get a Haircut, Hippie!

After:
Mohawk & Soulpatch for Charity

Oh, and this is the first time in at least three years that I’ve had a real haircut.

Haircut for Charity: Make a Donation, Pick My Hairstyle

Make a Donation, Pick Kevin's Hairstyle
I need a haircut.

So here’s the situation:

  1. I need a haircut.
  2. My wife is going out of town.
  3. I need to raise $3,186 more to build a well in Ethiopia.

So here’s the plan:

  1. Pick a hairstyle. (Feel free to use this handy PDF or JPG to draw your own.)
  2. Make a donation to my charity: water campaign.
  3. Biggest donation wins. I’ll rock your selected hairstyle until my wife returns.

It’s pretty simple. A haircut for clean water, and you get to pick the style (or lack thereof). Have fun, be stupid and give generously. Remember you can always support the well simply by buying a copy of my book. I’m only doing this because my wife will be out of town and I can get away with it. Plus I need a haircut and I’d rather see some good come out of that, like clean water. All in good, clean fun.

Bald Kevin: A blank canvas for you to work with.
Draw your own hairstyle!

To Enter:

  • Make a donation to my charity: water campaign by 1 p.m. CT on Friday, July 23.
  • Note in the comments of the donation what hairstyle you’d like me to rock.
  • Send me your proposed hairstyle and I’ll post them here (post the image somewhere and send me a link or e-mail the image to me).

Rules:

Make a Donation, Pick Kevin's Hairstyle
Plenty to work with.
  • Facial hair is in play. Eyebrows are not. No razor blades (i.e., I’ll cut it clippers short, but I’m not shaving it with a razor short—wife vetoed that).
  • Donations must be made between Monday, July 19 and Friday, July 23 at 1 p.m. Central Time.
  • I’ll get the haircut on Friday afternoon/evening and it will last until Monday, July 26.
  • It has to be a haircut a barber shop can actually do simply by cutting my hair (no extensions, no dye jobs, nothing the fine people at Great Clips can’t manage).
  • I promise to conduct business as usual with the winning haircut (i.e., no hiding out at home). I’m thinking about hitting up the Middle Eastern Festival (camel rides!) on Friday, the Red Bull Flugtag on Saturday and I will attend church on Sunday (I’d pitch sporting the winning ‘do at work, but the whole work-at-home thing makes that kind of boring).
  • Nothing inappropriate can be shaved into my head.
  • I reserve the right to donate myself and trump lame-o entries (i.e., if the winning donation turns out to be a paltry $20 for a mullet, I’ll donate $25 myself and pick something better). In a nutshell, if I’m going to look like an idiot in public for three days, it has to be worth it. So if you want me to look  like an idiot, better donate more than I likely would.

Let’s build that well in Ethiopia! Thanks.

Embracing the Inner Cheapskate

I’ve been writing a “statement of need” for an adoption grant application and been trying to explain how poor we are. Not poor enough that we can’t handle the adoption of course, but poor enough that we need help. Which raises the question of what’s “poor enough”? After all, who doesn’t need help, especially these days?

It’s been an interesting exercise. At any rate, I found myself trying to describe our family as financially responsible and frugal and trying to give realistic examples to back it up. I kept wondering what other people do to be cheap. After all, one person’s frugal is another person’s extravagance. One person’s necessity is another person’s luxury.

I want to share a few areas where I think my family is being cheap—not to brag, but to share some thrifty ideas. I hope you’ll share your thrifty ideas in the comments. It’s kind of a touchy subject because everyone has different values (cable TV may seem like an extravagance, but if it’s your only entertainment expense and you never go to the movies or buy DVDs that might be pretty economical), but I hope maybe we can learn something from how others have done it. Saving money is always good, but especially in this economy.

Continue reading Embracing the Inner Cheapskate

Head-Spinning Summer

This summer was supposed to be relaxing. Abby would be home from school and we’d have some free time. We had a lot packed into the summer, but it was summer and it was going to be nice and slow.

Instead the past month has been pretty head-spinning. Our slow, leisurely adoption plan that likely wouldn’t have seen a child join our family until next summer went into overdrive with a single phone call we received about 30 days ago. Since then that relaxing summer plan has gone completely out the window. The best-laid plans, huh?

Let’s recap the last 30 days:

  • We skipped an all-church camp weekend in Northern Wisconsin due to sickness (failed plans is going to be a recurring theme).
  • Lexi started weekly swim lessons.
  • I pitched my book to the Social Media Breakfast crowd and raised some extra money for charity: water (proving once again how much I hate and am terrible at public speaking).
  • We celebrated a birthday and Father’s Day.
  • Abby had an entire week of day-long conferences.
  • We had a major article appear in the local paper hyping my book (still getting comments about that one—so cool).
  • I spent the night and a separate evening at church.
  • I skipped out on the week-long youth group missions trip to Chicago I was supposed to chaperone because things were too crazy.
  • A brand new niece came into the world (and I’ve lost count of how many people are pregnant right now).
  • We moved Milo from his crib into a real bed.
  • We switched Lexi and Milo into a new bedroom.
  • We installed a new cabinet in the bathroom and somehow acquired three large pieces of furniture.
  • Both sets of grandparents visited on the same weekend.
  • We averaged 4-5 meetings, playdates or non-standard commitments every week. In a normal week we maybe average one.
  • We’ve had a total of 12 meetings or scheduled conference calls regarding the adoption. When I added them all up I was actually surprised it wasn’t more.
  • Tomorrow we attend the massive Summer Mehaber, a picnic for Ethiopian families, and my book will have its own booth (thankfully I hired a couple guys to run the booth for me).
  • The only reason I have time to write this post is because Lexi is sick and we’re staying home from today’s massive zoo trip with Ethiopian families in town for the picnic.

Continue reading Head-Spinning Summer

Fourth of July Perspective

Native American pastor Jeff Yellow Owl shares a helpful perspective for the Fourth of July. He recalls attending a church service on July 4 and the pastor spoke about “the great sacrifice of the forefathers who established this country.”

“I was so angry,” Jeff admits. “I felt like a cold knife was plunged through my heart. All I could think of was, what about my forefathers and the blood of my people that has been spilled on this land?”

That’s a sentiment I’ve often felt as church worship strays from Creator to country. The freedom we have in America is worth celebrating, but it becomes dangerous when we whitewash our history in a red, white and blue frenzy. It becomes too easy to swell with pride and forget our failures. That kind of blind celebration becomes a slap in the face to those who endured injustice. As we celebrate our freedom we should remember our failures and steal ourselves to correct current and future failures.

The Fourth of July isn’t just an excuse to blow stuff up. It’s a chance to celebrate and move forward, towards a more perfect Union.

Jeff Yellow Owl eventually found the strength to do just that:

But forgiving the past was “a process and didn’t happen all at once,” he says. “That kind of forgiveness has to be supernatural.” …

He prayed: “I want to be healed from my anger. I don’t want this feeling in my heart anymore.”

Operation Moses: Rescuing Ethiopian Jews

I’ve been reading a lot of Ethiopia-themed books lately (I was pleasantly surprised at how well stocked our library was for kids’ books), as I’m trying to thoroughly embrace our family’s new heritage. One of the books I came across is called The Return by Sonia Levitin and it tells the incredible story of Operation Moses.

Operation Moses was a covert evacuation of Ethiopian Jews (also known as Beta Israel) in 1984. Facing religious persecution and famine in Ethiopia under the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, some 13,000 Jews escaped Ethiopia on foot and made for Sudan. Israel then airlifted the refugees to safety with the secret cooperation of the Sudanese government. It’s estimated that 4,000 died on the way trek to Sudan and another 1,000 were left behind when operation became public and other Arab nations pressured Sudan to stop the secret evacuations.

Many of those left behind in Sudan were later brought to Israel as part of the U.S.-lead follow-up mission, Operation Joshua, in 1985.

The situation didn’t change until 1991 and the Ethiopian revolution when Israel took advantage of the political instability to evacuate the remaining Ethiopian Jews as part of Operation Solomon. More than 14,000 were evacuated in a 36-hour period on 34 different flights. Today there are still several thousand Ethiopian Jews remaining in Ethiopia.

It’s an incredible story and bit of history you don’t really hear about. The Return tells the story from the perspective of a teenage girl who evacuates Ethiopia. The book gives a pretty detailed portrayal of the life of a rural Ethiopian Jew. You actually don’t get much of sense of what was actually happening with Operation Moses until the very end, which for me just prompted more research (and I’d love to do more beyond Wikipedia and a few random articles).

It’s another layer to the incredible history and people of Ethiopia.