Flat Stanley is a paper puppet created by school children around the U.S...maybe internationally! The children send him out to family and friends and their goal is to get pictures and stories back from their relatives about where Flat Stanley has traveled.

Flat Stanley is a farmer

I was reminded of Flat Stanley by a tweet from Farmer, Agricultural expert and Speaker Jolene Brown who speaks to ag audiences around the world. Her tweet led me to #agchat on twitter and to a post Snow & Farm Equipment in Moorhead, Minnesota: A Flat Stanley Adventure Here is Flat Stanley helping out on the farm.

Flat Stanley is a pilot, too!


Flat Stanley helped out on an Alaska Airlines flight. The pilot appreciated his expertise and the flight went off without a hitch!

How about your kids?

Where has Flat Stanley been in your life?
I have owned sheep and mine could never pull this off. But I laugh like crazy every time I see this video. So if you are looking for insights on lending, move on. If you are ready for a short break, watch.

Full disclosure: It turns out that Samsung did quite a bit of editing to make this happen. It is still fun and funny! Now, back to your loans!
Full Disclosure: This is one of my 'all about fun' posts so read on for a mental break and a great idea for your next, and well-deserved, vacation.

A friend of mine, Nancy Mueller, is a travel writer. Oh, and she is a communication and social skills consultant and trainer if your company is in need of coaching or training. One of her strong areas of expertise is communicating in person or in front of the room with people of other backgrounds.

Here is her article...come along.

Small Ship Cruising in Alaska:
"Humpback sighting, off the starboard quarter!"

The call goes out among the passengers aboard the Island Spirit, our 128-foot ship exploring Alaska's Inside Passage. As if on cue, the humpback vaults skyward in a spellbinding display of both power and agility.


But that's just the warm-up: the whale continues breaching for twelve jumps, sparking my joy at being alive, here, now, in this moment. "Is there anything he missed?" asks Hal, a fellow passenger. "Breaching, sounding, spyhopping, lobtailing, fin waving, fin slapping. He did it all!"

Soon six, no, eight, or was that ten, porpoises join in the fun, darting alongside our ship, then back and forth across the bow, like underwater fireflies.

Is this heaven?

Heaven's Door: Few places on this planet can rival Alaska's Inside Passage for its fierce beauty and scope of size. Also known as The Alexander Archipelago, this chain of islands extends 1,000 miles along the western coastline in southeast Alaska, from Skagway in the North to the Dixon Entrance in the south.

I can't imagine a better way to enter Heaven's gate than from here, aboard a small ship cruise like ours that gets you up close and personal to nature's secret wonders. Here's why:

From the moment owner-operator, Captain Jeff Behrens, and his crew welcome us aboard, everything changes. In our cabin, the soft sound of a Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suite fills the room. My heart rate drops thirty beats.


The sturm und drang of our daily lives subside. I stop, let go of my baggage, and survey my surroundings. For the next nine days, this will be our home with front-row seats to Alaska's diverse landscape and wildlife.

As our small ship pulls out of port in Sitka, my relaxation deepens. I say "Good-bye and good riddance!" to the crazy-busy, multi-tasking self I left behind on the dock.

Cut off from cell phone and internet service for most of the cruise, our only task is to sit back, relax, and soak up the scenery floating by us. Within minutes, we're engaged in a moving meditation of exploration and discovery.

Play with Friends

Heading north, we make our way through the Olga and Neva Straits, past Pink Flamingos, where we have our first wildlife sighting, albeit plastic ones. Apparently a Coast Guard crew, out looking for a little fun, placed several high in neighboring spruce trees where ship passengers, just like us, could see them.


Ah - it's good to know the playful spirit is alive and well inside the passage. We find it on our ship, too, thanks to our poet-writing, fun-loving raconteur, Captain Jeff, who lives by the credo: "Sometimes you just have to make your own fun, you know?" We do, and he regales us at dinner's end with tales that keep us smiling and laughing far into the evening.

With accommodations limited to 32 passengers, it's easy to feel at home among friends. We're a diverse lot that includes a retired forester, a former army nurse of President Eisenhower, a chef, naval architect, ship designer, and healthcare administrator among others. Before long, we're sharing life stories and favorite travel tales, together with the captain and crew.

Find Peace and Tranquility

We spend our first night tucked inside St. John the Baptist Bay, a small, hidden cove, invisible on my map. The ship's engines are turned off, as they are every night of our cruise. The only sounds are of silence.

Captain Jeff

I have no thoughts, only awareness and wonder of being present in the moment, buoyed by the sublime beauty surrounding me. John Muir had it right: here is "so holy a wilderness." My gratitude for this one night alone is boundless, like the vast expanse of sea before me.

The next day I wake early, eager to see what daylight brings. Already the decks are bathed in morning sun. Straight ahead steep mountains of the Tongass National Forest, rise from the water's edge.

Covering 16.8 million acres, Tongass is the largest national forest in the nation. Before day's end, the temperature will rise to a balmy 74 degrees. With no hint of wind, it's just another day in Paradise.

What would Paradise be without accompanying ambrosia? Fortunately, we don't have to find out. With meals prepared by Chef Lindsay MacNail and Pastry Chef, Jake, we're both pampered and well-fed.

Thumbnail image for Glacier.JPG

By the end of our cruise, we'll have savored quinoa and spring greens salads, roasted cornish game hens, prosciutto-wrapped halibut fillets, biscuits topped with macerated strawberries and crème Chantilly, and orange ricotta cheesecake. Mmm . . .

After a breakfast of scrambled eggs, applewood smoked bacon, hash browns, and blueberry muffins, I head for the ship's lounge. Captain Jeff advises us that the day's schedules will be weather and wildlife-driven, setting the stage for a leisurely, meandering journey. It's no surprise to find Sterling Hayden's book, Wanderer, on a nearby bookshelf, along with a collection of DVDs that include, Master and Commander, North to Alaska, Russia House, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Bucket List.

Learn as You Go

Before long the ship's naturalist-in-residence, Richard Tanner, throws out today's vocabulary lifeline: "isostatic rebound," a process by which land mass rises as its glacier cover recedes. Under Richard's tutelage, we'll have earned our own naturalist's certificate by the end of our journey, using words like, "nunataks," "katabatic wind," "storis-blue," "calving glaciers," and "glacial erratics" with aplomb.


Ahead of us lie Poison Cove, Deadman Beach and Peril Straits. Gee. I wonder if there's anything the crew wants to tell us, like the real reason they're all trained in CPR? Not to worry. Richard assures us that each location was named for early Russian traders who had consumed shellfish here during a red tide.

Now we know better, i.e. that an overabundance of algae contaminates the water in certain weather conditions, causing toxins in shellfish, clams, and mussels, among other marine animals that feed on microscopic plankton. Thankfully, there's no red tide today so we can have our seafood chowder and eat it, too.

Get on a First-name Basis with Wildlife

We move through Fish Bay, named for the abundance of shellfish, mussels and sea urchins that thrive here, at least for now. A raft of very happy sea otters floats by, hoping to take a sizeable chunk out of the fish population before moving on to their next feeding spot.

Thumbnail image for Lions.JPG

On the tip of our turn into Peril Straits, at Otstoia Island, we score multiple wildlife sightings in one panoramic scene: a brown bear grazes the beach, while sea lions romp and play offshore, a humpback breaching just beyond, an eagle flying overhead. Just when you think it can't possibly get better than this, it does, time and again over the course of our nine-day journey.

Go Kayaking

A new day brings the promise of kayaking the calm inland waters. Our safety comes first with captain and crew who ensure that even first-timers like me are well-equipped and have the confidence we need to set forth. A nifty loading platform makes it easy to get ourselves into our kayaks and we're off.

As we paddle around Kelp Bay, it's comforting to know that a crew member is keeping an eye on us through binoculars, just in case. But after only a few moments in the water, I'm hooked. I want to keep moving, exploring, going around the next bend, the next beach, to see what lies beyond. The space, solitude and serenity have centered me, and almost paradoxically, unleashed my wild heart, one ready for play and adventure.

Soak in Hot Springs

I'm in luck, because we're about to move on to the day's main attraction: Baranof Lake and Hot Springs in Warm Springs Bay. When we arrive in the small community, we have our choice of soaking in one of three separate tubs in the public bathhouse, or opting for a longer climb up to the hot springs. We decide to head for the springs.

Since we're in bear country, our group makes sure to talk really loud while we walk on. The hot springs look so appealing that I can't wait to hop in. YEOW!! @#*! I can't print the first words out of my mouth as my feet hit the water, nor can I get my feet out fast enough. Let's just say that the water, at nearly 105 degrees, was hot enough to curl my toes. Some things require easing into, and Baranof Hot Springs is one of them.

Visit Remote Communities

Our small ship allows us to go boldly where big ships fear to go. You have to love a small community where the posted census includes the number and names of dogs as well as their masters; a place where the proprietor of the closed general store opens up shop when you come to town.


This is Tenakee Springs, idyllically located on Chicagof Island, home to fewer than 100 residents who are nearly outnumbered by their dogs. A resident stops to chat with us, describing the surprise visit of a hungry bear earlier this year. Though the bear never made it inside the house, it left its calling card in deep scratch grooves on the front door, reminding us we're never too far away from nature's wildlife.

Watch Calving Glaciers

As we approach our final major destination, Fords Terror, I pause again at the nomenclature. "Are you sure that's where we want to go?" I ask. Captain Jeff reassures me: "Trust me. You want to go there." He's right, of course, because here is where we discover "Mr. Ford," a large brown bear, and friends, foraging among the rocks on shore. Hopping into one of the ship's inflatable crafts, we make eye contact, while keeping a respectful distance.


Still ahead in the Endicott Arm fjord is the pièce de la résistance: Dawes Glacier. Even after everything we've seen in the last eight days, this natural wonder is a stunner. Wow. We watch as large chunks of iridescent blue ice break off from their towering mother ship and splash into the water amazingly close to us.

Come Back Again

Tennyson claimed: "I am part of all that I have met." While none of us want to leave the Inside Passage heartland, we do so knowing we take with us the many gifts we've received in the last nine days. As we depart, a rainbow crests over the harbor.

We all nod in agreement when fellow passenger Sue Wolff sighs: "I don't think I've ever had a more relaxing vacation, at least not since I was a kid at the beach when all I had to do was show up, eat and play." The good news is Captain Jeff says we're welcome back any time.

NancyLifeJacket.JPG Nancy Mueller is a freelance travel writer from Seattle. She has taught a course in travel writing there for many years and is the author of the book, Work Worldwide: International Career Strategies for the Adventurous Job Seeker. Visit her website.

[Linda's Note: I really enjoyed that vicarious cruise with Nancy. I am ready to go! You too? Okay, I'll save you the trouble of the search-engine work to find what you need!]

Helpful Links:

Group outing off Alaska's coast. Group outing off Alaska's coast.
For more information, contact: www.smallalaskaship.com

2011 Itineraries & Pricing:

  • Northbound Extended Expedition Cruise (15 Days, 14 Nights) - Cruise departs from Seattle, Washington and ends in Sitka, Alaska - $5995pp/dbl; $4995/single
  • Southbound Alaska Cruise (9 Days, 8 Nights) -Cruise departs from Sitka, Alaska and ends in Petersburg, Alaska - $4495pp/dbl; $4995/single
  • Northbound Alaska Cruise (9 Days, 8 Nights) -Cruise departs from Petersburg, Alaska and ends in Sitka, Alaska - $4495pp/dbl; $4995/single
  • Wilderness Cruise (9 Days, 8 Nights) - Cruise departs from Juneau, Alaska and ends in Sitka, Alaska - $3995pp/dbl; $4995/single
Fantasy Cruises
1121 Northwest 45th St., Seattle, WA 98107
Toll-Free: 800-234-3861; Local: 206-328-4145; E-mail: fancruz@rockisland.com

Now it's personal! This is just for you and really has nothing to do with business and lending. Ready to prepare your 2009 tax returns (or gather your info for your preparer)?

Tax Guide from Journal of Accountancy
is a short and sweet brochure with the highlights.
Don't worry, it is for the general public.

Want a bit more?

I created one of my eCourse presentations covering the 2009 Tax Update and put the link on my home page. Just for fun. Really has nothing to do with lending. Here is the link to the presentation:

Just for you! 2009 Personal Tax Update new

Enjoy! With the next blog post I'll get back to business and lending!
In the mood to be inspired? Read on. Not in the mood, scroll to the bottom of the post for some 'cost' definitions and why they are important.

If you have not yet presented a Junior Achievement class to school kids, you have been missing out. I was struck as I read an article aimed at business start-ups at how well the 7 year old kids had these concepts down.The article made the case for clearly understanding start-up costs versus continuing costs.

Wants or Needs

Picture this...
The first question:

Is this puppy a need or a want?

Most of the kids held up the 'want' card, but one held up the 'need' card. I had already explained that every answer was right, but I was curious.
Linda: "Joseph, you are right, of course. But I wonder why you chose 'need'?"
Joseph: "If I was blind and that was a seeing-eye puppy, it would be a need."

Just in case you think Joseph was a precocious child and unusual in his wisdom, let me adjust your assumptions. The next picture was a winter coat.
WinterCoat.pngThis time it was Amber who held up the 'want' card when everyone else selected 'need'.
Linda: "So, Amber, why would a winter coat be a want instead of a need?"
Amber: "Because I already have one. I needed the first one but I do not need a second one."

Start-up or ongoing costs...

I held up the 'puppy' poster again and asked what they thought they might need to budget to buy and keep this puppy. I explained start-up costs and ongoing costs.

Again, pretty sharp answers. In addition to what she could see in the poster, Sheila suggested we budget for veterinary bills. The students were pretty much in agreement until we came to the collar.

Most said it was start-up, but Jason pointed out that the puppy would grow and it would be too tight soon. Same for the 'puppy-house'.

7 year old kids get it...how costs behave.

How costs behave is critical to budgeting...for a puppy or for a business.
  • Whether they are start-up or ongoing
  • Whether they are variable or fixed
  • Whether they are a need or a want

Are your business borrowers smarter than a 1st grader?

I'd settle for 'as smart'!

Cost definitions and why they matter

Here are a few cost analysis definitions and uses for your review:

  • Variable costs vary with activity level. Inventory, supplies, and contracted labor are good examples.
  • Fixed costs do not vary with activity level. Lease of space is a good example as long as the company does not get so big they need additional space. Because of that 'as long as', we talk about fixed costs in the relevant range...the likely activity range the business will encounter in the period we are considering.
  • Mixed costs have some of each. For example, at some shopping malls the lease amount is a fixed portion plus a percentage of revenue. If your borrower uses temporary help, then labor costs include the fixed portion for their regular employee wages plus the variable portion for the temp workers.
  • Cost of goods sold is the cost of items held for sale. That includes work-in-progress and raw materials if a manufacturing concern.
  • Gross margin is revenue minus cost of goods sold. The gross margin (sometimes called gross profit) is the amount left over after those direct costs available to cover general and operating costs and provide profit to the owners.
  • Contribution margin is revenue minus variable costs. It is not shown on a typical financial statement. The concept is critical, however, because if the price per item is dropped to spur sales activity, but dropped below the contribution margin, the business will lose money on each item sold. They may do this as a loss leader on purpose. But if they do this because they don't know any better, I think the 7 year old kids could help explain it.
When your borrower is projecting future growth, or a return to profitability after the 'great recession', steer your conversation towards a discussion of costs to get a feel for whether they understand how their business costs behave. The better they understand this, the more likely their projections will make sense.

Knock, knock.

Who's there?


Economist who?

E-cono-mist predicting the recession. I'll try to do better next time.

If that did not make sense...read that last line more slowly.

I laughed...I really did!
Do these sensations feel familiar? 

  • Upside down.
  • Under water.
  • In the dark.
  • Can't see clearly.
  • Running out of air. 
Many banks, many lenders, many businesses, and many business owners have felt that way at least once in the last two years. Some of you...once a month!

In kayaking we call that a capsize.

We plan for it. We train for it. We have the equipment to recover from a capsize. We assign roles in rough water. We dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. We can rescue ourselves if need be. We paddle with others to improve our chance of survival and success.

SlimKayakCaricaturev02Smaller.JPGA professional association gave me the caricature above as a thank you. And yes, those are dollar bills in the water!

You likely know me for consulting financial institutions on guidelines and intensive, hands-on training for lenders in tax return and financial statement analysis. Did you know I also speak at conferences?

Plan to Capsize! Seven Steps to Survival and Success

This speech for banking and business associations is a funny look at a serious subject.  I take the lessons from my kayaking experience and interpret them to improve your survival and success in banking or in business. 

Do you belong to a banking or business association with state or national meetings?

Let me help make your next conference even more relevant and even more interesting.
  • Call and ask why the Certified Speaking Professional designation I hold reduces the risk of hiring me as a speaker
  • Contact your association and recommend this topic
  • Oh, and don't forget to recommend me to present it! '-)
What other steps do you think are crucial to survival and success?
In the September 2009 edition of his economic newsletter, Tea Leaf, Jeff Thredgold shares a lot of good news.
a_smalltealeaf.gifIn fact, over 40 bullet points of things to celebrate from 2008 and 2009 covering the gamet from crime reduction, health improvement, productivity, charitable giving...the works!

Read the list and I promise you'll be feeling better by the end.

One of my favorites:
Men's contribution to housework has doubled over the past 40 years, while their time spent on child care has tripled

Housework.jpgMy inner skeptic immediately wondered how much they were helping in 1969. Does doubling that much amount to much? Sorry, guys, just wondering. '-)

BTW...Jeff is one of the two economists I follow regularly. Plain talk. Makes sense.

So, what is your good news!

Thanks to the blog at Universal Funding (a Spokane-WA based company focused on factoring and other business alternatives to loans) for sharing this video!

Before you play the video, answer the question. BTW...I got it wrong although I did not try real hard before I watched the video. (That is my excuse and I am sticking to it!)

How Many Millions are in a Trillion? from Econ4U on Vimeo.

Okay, I suppose saying 'yes' to every loan request would be a delight. And in this environment would really be a surprise!

I discovered that a friend and colleague, Simon T. Bailey of the Brilliance Institute, is on an assignment with Sterling Savings. Formerly with Walt Disney World Resort and the author of
Release Your Brilliance: The 4 Steps to Transforming Your Life and Revealing Your Genius to the World.

It seems that 'surprise and delight' is a great tactic for strengthening borrower relationships so I gave him a call.

Listen to this 12 minute podcast to find out how and why:
Linda Keith CPA Interviews Simon T Bailey of the Brilliance Institute Mar 09.mp3

Let's have a contest! Share in the comments a great idea to  'Surprise & Delight'  your borrowers. We'll have a drawing after we get at least ten of them, so make sure your friends and colleagues play, too! If you win you'll receive a set of our hot-off-the-presses tax return analysis manuals with the updated 2008 forms!

WOW...that is a $390 value! Did I type that out loud??? You do not, however, get the banana!

Enter your ideas below...