The Blog

I love Hondas because my college boyfriend had one. It was a little orange Civic, a stick, and he taught me to drive it.

I skew skittish. That’s how I was about to describe myself, when I looked up the meaning of skittish -- just in case. Here it is: “A term used to describe something that is moving in a quick, jumpy fashion.”

Skittish it is!

Steve didn’t need much in the way of material to go off on a riff that would make you hurt from laughing -- and I gave him plenty of material during those driving lessons. That’s why Hondas, to me, spell fun.

Over the years, though, everyone I met who was even slightly mechanically inclined raved about them. I gave a ride to a colleague soon after buying a Prelude and as we sat there idling at a stoplight he said, “Listen.” I couldn’t hear anything. “Exactly,” he said. “That’s how you know you have a good car, when it’s idling so quietly you can’t even hear it.”

I’ve never met a mechanic who didn’t rave about Hondas -- especially Accords. “Buy one new and run it into the ground,” one of them suggested. “Mile for mile there’s no more cost-effective way to drive.”

Another reason I love Hondas is what happens when you go to the dealer for your next one. There’s no dickering on price.

“You want the new Accord? Here’s how much it costs. The end.”

Give me your best deal, and give it to me up front. I’ll either go for it or I won’t, but either way we can get on with our lives.

Advice for car shopping, advice for life.

Someone we cross paths with fairly often thinks he’s hilarious, but he isn’t. Not to me.

If we knew him better we’d just laugh about how not hilarious he is. But we don’t. And somewhere between a total stranger and a close friend is a lot of awkward silence. I’m tired of sitting that out.

Now what?

I posed the question to an expert on milking life for more silly, Ron Culberson. I’m surprised he had a suggestion, which was to just lean on the guy for ideas. “What would you like me to do,” Ron said I could ask, “when I don’t think something you say is funny?”

It doesn’t sound like anything that would roll off my tongue, but neither is anything else where this person is concerned -- and I’m bored.

Sold!

Once upon a time a now former business partner wasn’t paying us the money he owed, so we got the lawyers involved. Our attorney was so direct at our first meeting -- so willing to tell us the mistakes we’d made -- Darrell was fried.

I found that fascinating. Darrell rarely assumes anything but the best about people. It sometimes takes him years to realize he’s been burned, longer still to put a stop to it. He made quite the exception in this case.

More fascinating was my reaction to the guy, especially in light of Darrell’s. I appreciated his willingness to tell us the truth. I happened to agree with it, but that was beside the point. We weren’t paying him to sugarcoat things -- and if there’s anything worse needing help from an attorney, I reasoned, it was paying him extra for making that truth go down easier.

It took a while to admit it, but I liked the guy. He never laughed to be polite. He never even smiled to be polite. So when he’d crack up at something I said, more often as we got to know each other, it felt like I’d won an Academy Award.

He was a challenge. He’s great at what he does, and he makes a very good living at it. I admire him. I knew right away I could learn a lot from him, and I did.

I’d like to think the minute or two he occasionally spent with me as we exchanged the latest paperwork wasn’t the worst part of his day, either.

You can be the judge.

A friend whose daughter was only about two was lamenting how often someone noticed how shy the little girl was. “Do they think pointing that out is going to make her less shy?” she wondered.

It reminded me what I’d starting hearing about then, that labels limit -- even the good ones. I made a note to let Katie decide how talented and beautiful she is.

It didn’t come easily. Darrell and I are still tempted to slather on the superlatives when it comes to this kid. We’re in awe.

I do make a point, though, to congratulate Kate on her effort and her attitude -- two things within her control. When I notice how focused she is on learning something new, I congratulate her for stretching herself. When I’m tempted to tell her how proud Darrell and I are of her I tell her instead -- or at least add -- I bet she’s really proud of herself.

We’re not grooming Katie. We’re getting to know her.

I adored the math teacher I had in the ninth grade. He thought I was pretty special, too. No wonder I adored him! One day he asked if I thought I could do anything. “If I work hard enough,” I said.

He thought that was a great answer.

The enthusiasm with which he told me made me think working hard was the secret to life.

When I applied for my first job a few months later the person who hired me perked up when he found out I was the oldest of eight kids. Why? “Because kids from big families know how to work,” he said.

Working hard for something doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it. Having a good attitude about that work doesn’t guarantee you’ll get along with everybody.

But is there a better recipe for success?

Here’s one thing I’ve noticed about myself. I don’t expect something for nothing. I don’t expect to be healthy without eating well, working out consistently, and managing stress. I don’t relish the difficult conversations with people I love, but darned if they don’t make me fall in love with them all over again. I’m adding a menu item to my combo platter career, and -- while it terrifies me because I’ll probably suck at it for a while -- I realize there’s no such thing as a free lunch in business, either.

Working hard and great fun are not mutually exclusive. The two hours a week we spend recording the show is about as much fun as work gets -- but they’re exhausting. Listening, which is really my job as the host, is hard work.

It’s also exhilarating, because I’m learning something.

What do a billionaire, former Indiana men’s basketball coach Bobby Knight, and the guy who sold us Katie’s MacBook have in common?

They’ve all written me a thank-you note for my thank-you note.

An etiquette expert would probably tell you that’s in bad form.

The etiquette experts can suck it.

Anyone who takes the time to put pen to paper to let me know they appreciate something I’ve done, even if that’s just expressing appreciation to begin with, shoots right to the top of my list of favorite people. I don’t save much, but what’s on that stationery from the billionaire and on that letterhead from Indiana University are among my most cherished possessions.

I waited five months to thank the Apple salesperson for the best customer service we’ve ever had. Do you think it meant less to him that so much time had passed between then and now? Are you kidding? It meant more.

I wrote Katie what amounted to a thank-you note for gracing Darrell and me with her presence every school day from the beginning of kindergarten to the end of elementary school. I haven’t looked at those lately, and neither has she. But can you imagine the fun we’ll have, reading hundreds of letters that describe what we were most excited about as she grew up?

I’m proud to call it a hobby, I guess.

Noticing the bounty, and making the appropriate gesture of appreciation.

That smile Darrell gives me from the office in the morning! As if to say, “You’re kidding. Another day with this woman? Sign me up!”

It’s the same smile Katie gave me every morning for eighteen years. Well except for the dozens of mornings she was coming off way too little sleep for the brutal day she had ahead of her. But you know what I mean.

When Katie was a baby I thought she’d levitate out of her crib she was so excited to see us. That isn’t unusual, I realize. What’s unusual is that after eighteen years of life -- or twenty years of marriage -- we’re still looking at each other that way.

I heard myself admit on the show recently that there really wasn’t much in it for me to marry Darrell, except for this: I could imagine talking with him for the rest of my life and never getting bored.

“I might be making another mistake,” I told a friend. “But at least it’s a different one.” That’s how Darrell got the nickname Mr. Step in the Right Direction.

It wasn’t a mistake.

Before I met Darrell all my dreams were on a to-do list somewhere -- and I often think that without his encouragement, that’s where they might have stayed.

Find someone who believes in you. Marry him, and don’t take him for granted -- not for one minute.

Dream of the best friend you could ever imagine, and make sure she knows how much you appreciate her from the moment she’s born.

The conductor Benjamin Zander says his job is to awaken possibility in other people. If their eyes are shining, he’s doing it.

I’ve had way more than my share of shining eyes in my orbit. Every day is another attempt to be worthy of those.

A summer breeze floats into an auditorium on a college campus in Omaha. I’m old enough to have driven myself there, but young enough to be in awe of the setting. I’m wearing an orange cotton dress. I feel beautiful, even though orange isn’t really my color and feeling beautiful isn’t really my style.

There’s a grand piano on the stage, and someone’s practicing for the big event. I descend the stairs to my seat as a few other early arrivals do the same. I’m breathless with anticipation.

That’s it. That’s the extent of my memory.

It lingers because all of life spread out before me then. It felt sacred. Classical music dancing on a summer breeze? It became the soundtrack for the work of art I hoped my life would be.

Many years later I was at the library when a woman who lives a couple of houses down from ours told me how much she’d enjoyed hearing Katie practicing piano the night before.

Really? The sound carried that far?

Uncharacteristically I felt no urge to apologize. All I could think of was that summer evening I just told you about, long before I knew there’d be a Katie.

Someone once described a child as a love letter to a future we cannot see.

Something tells me that future’s going to be pretty cool.