Since 1997, I've focused on assisting professional practices (doctors, dentists, veterinarians, chiropractors, et al.) financially organize their practices to make better business decisions and protect their revenue as a Certified Fraud Examiner.

I’ve written 36 books (Getting The Most Out of QuickBooks In Your Practice series), spoken nationally, consulted & investigated privately. From the beginning, I recognized the value in communicating with the masses.

Now, I have a new book, Matters Of The Heart: A Journey In Caring For Aging Loved Ones. It's based on my 16 year caregiving journey with my parents and step-grandmom.

This blog will be a culmination of other writings - some related to professional practice business, some related to caregiving and some just related to life. Check back often so you don’t miss what may be relevant to your own life!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Twenty years!

Pulling into the garage after a long weekend at a client’s practice, I still can’t believe that I love my career even more than I did when I started 20 years ago today.

I moved home to care for my parents and step-grandmother, needing a flexible job that allowed me to schedule work around their appointments, hospital stays, rehab, etc.  Little did I know then how important that flexibility was needed.  And yet, I had absolutely no idea it would be such an amazing career.

After enjoying the corporate life, it was strange to be self-employed, yet I found colleagues that make great “co-workers,” on the same team, all with the same goal, through my three professional organizations!   We became a community of tight knit, like-minded hard working speakers, consultants, and fraud examiners, who also became friends.  The healthcare industry (primarily dental) has been a great home to my business.  

I love the relationship that is cultivated with my clients.  

I had a call last month from a doctor who told me he had read my book 5 times and was now ready to use QuickBooks in his practice.  I gave him a hard time and asked him if he didn’t want to read something a little more entertaining or was it night-time snooze material.  I suggested a series of David Baldacci’s that I had just completed to which he said he would check out.

I got a message last week that he called back only to tell me thanks on two fronts – for the QuickBooks help and the Baldacci recommendation!

Or another time when BJ & I were at the ballgame, and a dentist’s spouse stood up at the beginning of the 2nd inning and proclaimed loudly for the whole section to hear, “Oh my gosh!  I know who you are.  I have your books.  I’ve taken your class.  I cannot believe you are sitting next to us!”

The feedback has served as affirmation that I am where I am to be.  It is my niche. 

Or the many times I’ve walked down a hard road with a client who has been embezzled by someone they trusted, and I am heartbroken with them.  Then, long after the investigation, after the embezzler was sentenced, to get a thank you note with a gift card, expressing their appreciation for the care they received.

Or the countless emails I receive from one of my newsletters or blog posts, like the one sent regarding what to do regarding the Equifax breach.  From a doctor:  Thank you so much for helping us deal with this mess. You are such a great resource for us.  I am one of your students, having attended your courses.”

There were times I almost quit.  Like after September 11th when the phone didn’t ring for five months.  Or after Mom passed away and I realized I could return to a “corporate-type” position.

But, I realized I truly love what I do.  

Very rarely do I take the time to attend conferences, being the one that is usually presenting in one.  But yesterday, I attended a workshop hosted by one of my professional organizations, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

I sat by a gentleman who has a high level position with a very well-known corporation.  He has been thinking about starting his own consulting business after he retires in a couple of years.  During lunch, he asked, “Now that you’ve been in business for 20 years, what advice would you give me starting out?”

Without skipping a beat, I answered, “Find a niche that aligns with your passion.  Become the expert in that niche and stay in your lane.  Don’t try to be all things to all people because that never serves your clients or you very well.  Take the slow times to repurpose your offerings, and redesign them to meet client’s pain points. Keep your marketing fresh. Never pass up an opportunity to help someone else struggling in their business without charging them.  Be open and available.  And never stop learning.”

I was surprised at how quickly I answered.  Midway through my first sentence, he rapidly began taking notes.  We even talked about what that would look like for him.  I guess I’ve learned a few things along that 20 year path.

But, wow.  Who would have thunk it?

8 employees, over 1700 clients, 37 books written with over 4000 sold, spoken at over 100 venues.  Speaking has taken me all over the US and, at the conventions, I often meet clients face to face for the first time, after having talked to them for months only by phone! 

My mission statement has been “to serve clients in providing solutions that enable the practice owners to understand the business of their practice and to protect their practice.”  More simply put, I absolutely love being a positive change catalyst.  It is a rewarding career.

Thank you to every single one of you who have made this past twenty years so fulfilling and even a possibility!  I never imagined the scope or range of possibilities.  

Wow.  Twenty years.   

Hang on - I am certainly not finished yet!  I do love what I do.  And there’s a few more books to write!

Want to know more about what I do?  Check out my website:  www.SusanGunnSolutions.com.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Equifax Breach Part Two - Updated Information

After the Equifax post this past week, many of you had further questions.  Allow me to address them now.

Equifax's Trusted ID program validation email took a few days to arrive in my Inbox.  Be patient.  Free to those who have been breached or not, I do believe you should take advantage of this offer regardless.  Locking the credit does require a few more steps, including adding your social security number.  They need the number to know whose credit to lock down.  If you still need to check and see if your information was compromised, click here.  [Depending on your computer or browser security, you may or may not be able to click on the link.  Copy and paste this in your browser:  www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.]

TransUnion's True Identity program is free and allows you to lock your credit instantly.  It was very easy to sign in and instantly lock.  Take advantage of this offer.

Experian is offering a free service that allows you to see if any of your personal information has been compromised on the dark web.  However, until their recent website update, it appeared they only offered a monthly monitoring service, that included freezing your credit.  I searched their website for over an hour for other options but only came up with the monthly service.  I was very disappointed in them.  Now, with their website update, the average user can locate the information but they are still the only one that charges for the service, if the state allows them to do so.  The fee varies by state but Texas was $10.83 to freeze my credit.
[Update:  See links below to freeze your credit - thank you Malwarebytes!]

Yes, I know there is a fourth very small credit bureau, Innovis.  It was founded in 1970 but has never grown to the capacity of the other three major bureaus.  For instance, Innovis receives some information from lenders but not all of them report their information to Innovis, nor seek their information.  However...

Should you discount them?  As the scope of this breach has become greater, no.  I completed a Security Freeze Request Online with Innovis.   Always better to be safe, than very very very sorry.  I recommend you do the same.  Innovis.

Yes, if you will not be needing credit any time soon, lock your credit.  Assume your information has been compromised.  But again, that only pertains to new credit.  

Monitor your credit card transactions.  That is a great habit I teach to business owners anyway.  Download those credit card transactions to an accounting software. Now, it is even more vitally important that you do so. 
I use QuickBooks to download my business credit card transactions and Quicken to download my personal credit cards.  I recommend downloading them weekly to stay on top of the transactions.

Lifelock has several plans.  The premier plan is $29.95 a month.  I have the standard $9.95 a month membership. They will monitor the black market for any personal information, as well as give an opportunity to review what personal information is available online within a few keystrokes.  Remember, if you own a business that you use your own personal social security number to gain credit or loan approval, you could be affected.  Choosing a service like Lifelock could help protect your personal information.

Today I reviewed all the private details that Lifelock found on the internet, and all family members were listed in various degrees and even a couple of friends.  Some were high privacy threats that would include my birthdate, email, phone numbers and even court records, which there are none.  Though I have searched some of these same websites hoping to gain information on embezzlement subjects, it is a little disconcerting when it is your own information. 

Privacy Monitoring is one of the aspects of preventing identity theft.  With so much "private" information online, it truly is only one more small step to stealing your identity.  I have actually opted out in the past but it has been many years, and I had become complacent.  Life Lock’s Privacy Monitoring makes it easy to perform this check and stay on top of it.  By the way, the word "private" and the internet are not congruent.

Again, assume your personal information was compromised.  Similar to hurricanes, you need to be prepared.  Take an hour (or two) to do these four tangible tasks to protect your credit:
  1. Assume your personal information has been compromised and there will be attempts to obtain credit based on your personal information that would greatly damage your credit. [sometimes people need a worse case scenario....]
  2. Lock your credit if you will not be in search of credit or a loan in the near future.  You can always unlock your credit in case of an emergency.  At the least, place a Fraud Alert on your credit.
  3. Monitor all your credit card transactions to ensure their validity.  I keep receipts until I see the transaction on the download in my accounting software.  That makes it easier to validate those small $$ amount transactions at out of the norm places.  Understand too, other vulnerabilities exist due to this breach, such as tax returns, insurance, benefits, etc.  Long term monitoring is required - do not become complacent.
  4. Do a privacy monitoring check either through Lifelock, who makes that an easy task, or by searching your name.  Fill out and opt out when you find yourself listed online.  This will need to be done monthly, so if you do it manually, bookmark the website addresses.
Please feel free to share the blog links or follow any of the future blogs that will be forth coming.  Later this week, if there is one thing we can take away from the Equifax Breach, it is Why Updating Your Software IS Vital...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Equifax Data Breach - What you need to know and what you need to do

"Equifax. Wow," I muttered to no one in particular as I listened to the news. The headlines were dampened by a couple of catastrophic hurricanes and an earthquake, but now the severity of the Equifax breach is soaking in.

Since my corporate background included working for a major competitor of Equifax, I felt I should address this to my current industry, both from the stand-point of business but also personal.

Who is Equifax?

Based in Atlanta, Equifax is one of three major consumer data information bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). They are the access point for which creditors look to on whether to give you credit, whether the credit is for a home, car, revolving credit, line of credit, etc. Anything and everything lending-wise depends on your information residing at the bureaus.

It is nothing that you can simply stop or un-enroll. You don't pay for it and never signed up for it but when you gained credit, your personal information, credit lenders and credit history was enlisted in their data files. Your credit rating itself depends on the bureau's accuracy.

What happened?

This breach is significant and should be taken every bit as serious as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. It is estimated that at least half the population of the United States is at risk, with estimates greater than 143 million Americans. But the breach was not limited to Americans, by the way. Some limited information was obtained of UK and Canadian residents.

A weakness in Equifax's server security was hacked from mid-May through July, exposing names, addresses, social security numbers, birth dates and some driver's license numbers. PLUS credit card numbers for over 209,000.

Who did it?  No clue and if they knew, they aren't going to tell us.  But, I believe we can assume that whoever did this hack did it to use the information they gained not to our benefit. 

Are you affected?

Equifax has created an online registry to check. But, you should proceed as if you were hacked. It is safe to assume that if you have credit, you were breached.

Will it affect my businesses credit rating?

Since most of my clients are small business owners, allow me to address from that perspective. If you gain credit (loans, credit cards, LOC, etc) based on your own personal credit rating, then yes, it will affect you. This includes most small businesses.

If you were me, what would you do?

Exactly what I have done.

I checked Equifax online and, yes, they believe my information is one of the millions hacked. There is nothing like seeing that on the screen to cause a little angst. Being passive about this information will cause greater issues in the future, so here is my plan.

First, I enrolled in the credit monitoring program provided by Equifax for a year free after determining I am at risk. This monitors all bureaus, allows me to lock my Equifax credit report and gives me a copy of my existing report to review. In addition, should my identity be stolen, they provide up to $1m in insurance.

Because I travel extensively, I also use LifeLock and have for a number of years. I recommend this product, even when there are no breaches. Understand please - this breach will not suddenly go away within a year. The repercussions and your information will be sold way beyond into the future. At this time, the monitoring by Equifax is only a year.

Second, I downloaded all my business credit card accounts into QuickBooks and personal credit card accounts into Quicken. I will continue to do so weekly for this next year. One of my business cards does not have a chip so I requested a replacement card that has a chip. 

One of my credit card information was recently stolen locally. The card company called immediately due to the number of transactions used at non-chip reading machines. Chips matter. Basic credit information can be replicated on magnetic strips, as in this case, but chips cannot be reproduced. My credit card numbers and security code were probably stolen at a restaurant. They could reproduce a fake card with a magnetic strip but they could not reproduce the chip.

I have begun requesting retail outlets I shop at to have chip machines - it truly does prevent retail theft. Those businesses the thieves used my card at were not paid for their products. The theme I have heard in businesses that are not utilizing chip reading machines is that they don't want to pay to replace.

Seriously? The thieves were able to steal over $900 of products from 4 different stores and mine was just one card. I think the front end is not paying attention to the back end financially.

Third, I am in the process of locking down my credit at the bureaus. It is worth whatever few dollars it cost because the cost is incrementally less than identity theft. Freezing your credit with each of the bureaus blocks anyone from opening any kind of account with your credit. However, if you are in the market for a new home or new car or apply for a new credit card, you will need to then unfreeze your credit PRIOR to purchasing. Yes, it may cost $0 to $15 to freeze your credit at the bureau(s). In this case, it's worth it.

One of my mom's doctors had his identity stolen and the thieves were purchasing a home in Chicago. He lives here in Texas.  The only reason it was caught was that the underwriter called to verify he would be at the closing of the home. He did not make it to the closing but the police did!  He froze his accounts immediately.

If you do not want to freeze your accounts, put a fraud alert on your accounts. This will alert creditors to validate the identity of the one attempting to gain credit with your information. Typically, they will call the phone number to verify it is truly you. You can even get an extended fraud alert which is good for seven years.
It is less effective because there is no guarantee of follow-through with the creditor but it is still an option.

How to freeze?   Notify each of the bureaus you want to place a freeze:  Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They will issue you a pin in the event you wish to unfreeze your account. Be sure you keep the pin secure. And, it may cost to unfreeze the account then refreeze again. Sounds like trouble but if you have ever experienced identity theft, you know this is no trouble at all.

Remember - if your information was stolen, a credit freeze only prevents new credit lines from being opened. Your existing account information may have already been stolen. You must attentively monitor these accounts for years or get new credit card numbers AND freeze your accounts.

Fourth, file next year's tax return as soon as allowed. Though this is a few months away, since they have your social security numbers, consider filing your tax return sooner than later. Start preparing now and then the end of year will not be nearly as chaotic. If you are not using accounting software, now is the time to consider it. I love the convenience and quickness of available reports. Downloading all my bank and credit card information is a breeze! 

Lastly, be aware of potential phishing emails that will arise out of this breach. They will want to you click on a link to verify a credit card or a transaction or did you ask for new credit or blah blah blah.  NEVER EVER click on a link in an emailNEVER EVER. The link may lead you to what looks like a valid site but it is not. ALWAYS validate the source and if you do not know, do not do anything. Call the creditor's telephone number on the back of your credit card or on your statement if you are concerned. Consider all those types of emails invalid. Again, particularly vulnerable are our senior citizens. Have a conversation with yours about this breach and online security as well.

Truth be known, some of these steps we should have been doing all along.  This was a wake up call as we have become complacent in protecting our credit information. If you have any questions, please feel free to email.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Why do scams exist?

Why do scams exist?  

Because for some reason, we want to believe we can get something for nothing.  We believe we deserve it, are entitled for it.  The number of existing scams is mind boggling.  Has our society truly dumbed down to the point that scammers are encouraged to ramp up their efforts?

I am so weary of the live phone calls, robocalls, emails, and snail mail trying to part my hard earned money from my possession via their deceptive means.

I received a somewhat official looking document from "The National Travel and Tourism Association."  Being involved in the Arlington Conventions and Visitors Bureau here in Arlington, I at the least opened it up.

I knew it was a scam the second I read the first sentence.  My Dad was the one that taught me there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Why do people believe there is a "free lunch?"
They want it to be true?
It must feed a vulnerable need.

I was curious what others have said about the NTTA scam so I "Googled" it.

I found this article by Neal Rubin of the Detroit News.  He penned it well so there is no need for me to drag it on.  Read his article.

Particularly vulnerable are the aging.  Please please please have conversations with all your aging loved ones about the growing scams and that they are not to give under any circumstances their credit card, bank information or home address to anyone via the telephone or email.

And to not click on any links to verify their passwords.  Walk them through the dangers of doing so that they may understand the necessity and urgency.

And to not believe what they receive in the mail without validating it with others.

In the meantime, remember:

Microsoft will not call you about a computer having a virus.
The IRS will not call you requesting payment for outstanding taxes.
The county will not call you threatening you with an arrest for failure to appear for jury duty.
There is no Nigerian prince or any other country for that matter who died and you can inherit his money.
None of your friends will call you from overseas wanting you to wire them money for their surgery, or bail, or anything.
The NTTA does not want to give you airfare and hotel free without many many strings attached.

The only free lunch you will get is if you are with friends eating out and they pick up the tab.  AND, PLEASE validate and verify everything before sharing or posting anything.

This misled recipients that they were receiving a gift from someone.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A 45 year memory - Horacio Pina

I was a pretty naïve Texas gal the summer after my sophomore year in 1972. All I knew and loved was tennis and softball, neither of which I was encouraged to play being a young lady from the south. I began working that summer at an Arlington, Texas city owned theme park called Seven Seas but soon quit in order to join my church’s youth mission trip to Mexico.

Very long story short, five high school kids and two adults drove through winding roads in a van, with various hysterical experiences and very little known Spanish, to work for five days in Toluca, a town west of Mexico City, nestled against an inactive volcano. We saw more of the interior of Mexico on that trip than I have since.

Toluca was a beautiful village town, with lots of friendly people and we soon became the talk of it. We painted walls of the local church and various other tasks those five days, while living in church owned rooms. The church members cooked food in their homes for us at night and it was a sacrifice for many of them. We would walk to the local bakery or market, often several times a day. Some of the youth from the church painted alongside us.

And I became smitten with one of those young men whose name was Job. We conversed in broken English and Spanish, laughing and connecting as kids do. He was a true gentleman, behaving in a manner that was not bestowed upon the young men in my own town! I truly enjoyed his company and the time with he and his friends was all too soon at an end.

We continued our communication through letters. The only problem was that we didn’t understand each other’s language. He wrote in Spanish and I wrote back in English, not able to respond to anything he said in his letters.

There was this new major league baseball team in town that year and after returning, my new summer job was selling cokes to the fans in the outfield. The first year, there were only two or three fans in the outfield. It was a very different time than now. One of those fans was regular customer of mine, requesting that when I saw him, to bring him a Coke and a bag of peanuts.

We always talked when I saw him. It wasn’t like I had a lot of customers in the outfield, especially in the Texas heat on the hot outfield benches. I told him about my trip and the new “love” of my life back in Mexico. I had just received a letter from Job and had told him about my dilemma, as I was gazing over the pitchers warming up close to us. I showed him the letter in my pocket, at the same time I saw one of the pitchers looked Hispanic.

“Hey,” I yelled. “Do you read and write Spanish?”

Don’t judge me – I was 15 year old damsel in desperate in need of a solution.

He smirked as he replied, “yes?”

“So I got these letters from my boyfriend in Mexico but they are in Spanish. Can you translate them for me?”

He stared at me for at least a minute. I’m sure he was thinking what an idiot I was and he couldn’t believe he was the pitcher of a major league baseball team and here was an outfield Coke pusher asking him to translate her love letters from some guy in Mexico.

I could almost hear the “Seriously?” through the look on his face. But I waited patiently for his answer.

Deep sigh, “okay. Meet me at the player’s guard gate after the game.”

Thus began a long relationship (the rest of the season) with Horacio Pina. He would check the outfield for me and I would wave an envelope or just wave back. The guard would just wave me through when he saw me and I would sit on a nearby wall waiting for Horacio after the game.

Horacio was a good man, with a heart like a big brother. I really enjoyed our talks and I’m sure through the years, my memory has embellished the details of them. But I do hold them close.

Near the end of the season, after one particular letter, Horacio had a serious look on his face. And he was being really quiet. Remember I was naïve. Guardedly, Horacio warned me that it would be dangerous for Job to try to come see me. I did not understand. He then told me about the hardships of Mexico and that many come across the borders illegally to find work. Some make it and some did not.

I sat in stunned silence. I had no idea. Me going to Mexico was not difficult. I thought it would be just as easy for him. Horacio knew first hand of the difficulties – he was from Matamoras, Mexico.

We sat and talked on the wall for a long time that evening as he helped me carefully word my last letter to Job.

Now I was a damsel in depress but I knew I had done the right thing. I did not want Job to get hurt.

The season ended and Horacio was traded to the Oakland A’s before the 1973 season. I lost touch of him as my life moved on as well.

Fast forward to five years ago. I am now a season ticket holder and was attending the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame luncheon. When I saw another 1972 Texas Ranger pitcher, I asked him if he knew how Horacio Pina was doing? I have truly wanted to thank him for all those wall talks.

He had lost touch with Horacio, knew he moved back to Matamoras after playing but he was now concerned about Horacio’s safety. With a curious look on his face, he asked why? When I explained, he exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, you are the girl on the wall! We gave him grief about you!”

Some people have pin-ups. I was a wall girl.

I have never been able to reach Horacio but hope he knows how much I appreciated his heart felt kindness, care and concern that summer. I am truly grateful for his translation services but mostly his brotherly advice to this naïve teenager.

Horacio played ten years as a relief pitcher in major league baseball. Wikipedia summarizes Horacio’s most productive season “came in 1972 with the last-place Rangers, when he posted career-numbers in saves (15), strikeouts (60) and games pitched (60).” So, I guess my bugging him didn’t affect his game too much after all!

And Job? He contacted me on Facebook last year - it was such a joy to hear from him! He is safe and sound in Toluca, with forty-five year old memories of some American teenager.

So what is the point of this blog? I am sure Horacio had no idea the impact he made on me through his willingness to help. Forty-five years later, I still hold him dear.

Whose life are you affecting so, that in forty-five more years, they will still hold you dear?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Han Chen

Music has always been an integral part of our family, woven into our very genes. My granddad and his brothers were known as the Gunn Gospel Quartet. Every one of my siblings and I sang in choirs and still sing. My mom was very proficient at playing the piano. My siblings and I all learned to play the piano, in varying degrees. My oldest brother never learned to read music but could play a piece completely by ear. My sister still actively enjoys playing her piano.

My mom’s 1902 grand piano proudly sits in my living room. I can sit at the piano bench quite well. I can even curve my fingers properly on the keyboard, but play well I cannot. Because I was truly not good, I was not inspired to continue playing.  #saysalladultswhotookpianolessons Now when I stroke the piano keys, the cats run and the dog looks at me like I am sick. Otherwise, the piano lid makes a great place to display family photos.

Spotify and Pandora playlists include classical and modern piano recordings of which I greatly admire. Music Appreciation class was not lost on me. I appreciate how easy they make playing a difficult piece sound. We grew up with family favorites. When Claire de Lune begins, all work ceases as I close my eyes and hear my mom’s favorite piece transpose even the most chaotic day into calm.

Imagine then my thrill at being invited to my neighbor’s home for a private piano concert. The audience was mesmerized as Han Chen, now competing in The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, played with immense emotion and passionate depth.

Moving between Rachmaninoff to Haydn is like moving from Lynyrd Skynyrd to James Taylor but Han made it look effortless and flawless. As he stroked the keys in rapid succession, he drew us in to the notes and phrases of the composition itself. Captivated and hypnotized we listened. Full but wanting more, we were heartbroken when the last note was played.

What an evening!

The Van Cliburn competition brings the world’s best rising stars to Fort Worth. The world. Han is from Taiwan, but others are from Russia, South Korea, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, Romania, Austria, Croatia, Poland, Canada, China, and yes, the United States. Though a predominantly male field, there are nine females competing this year. Out of the 290 applications the Van Cliburn received this year, 146 were invited to audition live in seven world locations: London, Hannover, Budapest, Moscow, Seoul, New York, and Fort Worth.

From the audition, 30 were chosen to compete in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition’s Preliminary Round in Fort Worth. In the first round, the pianists chose their compositions to play plus a Van Cliburn Competition commissioned piece they did see nor hear until February. They have up to 45 minutes to perform these pieces.

In the next round, the Quarterfinals, 20 competitors are play pieces, again of their choosing, for up to 45 minutes. The Semifinal Round is 12 competitors that will perform in two phases. The first phase is a recital of compositions chosen by the pianist for up to 60 minutes. The second phase is a Mozart piano concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

The Final Round is 6 competitors in two phases. The first phase is a quintet with the Brentano String Quartet and the pianists chose from a list provided by the Van Cliburn Competition. The second phase is a concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, where the pianists may choose any work scored for piano and symphony, but must be approved by the Van Cliburn Competition.

The competitors choose, learn, and perfect 16 pieces that can be played with passion, sensation and eloquence, like no other competitors. Han keeps a journal of his practice on each piece, and could count the hours he spent learning the commissioned piece in three months.

Beginning piano lessons at age 4 in Taiwan, Han has been in the United States for seven years studying at The Julliard in New York City and now at the New England Conservatory. It is an understatement to say piano is his life.

Like any fine-tuned athlete, Han’s days are filled with perfecting his trade. He is meticulous in the evaluation of his playing. He is precise and exacting in how he approaches learning a composition.

He lives with music playing in his head 24/7 – melody sequencing, passionate phrasing, and rapid scaling. I asked him what he thought about before he went to sleep at night, and he replied, “Whatever I was practicing before I went to bed.” And, he wakes up thinking about the same.

Han’s favorite composition is Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor, composed in 1849 and completed in 1853. It takes 30 minutes to perform and is of extreme difficulty. That is why he loves it – it challenges him and provides a great variety in a single composition. It has four movements with a common melody. He is performing this at 5:15pm today during the Quarterfinal Competitions, which can be viewed online.

One evening, we talked about the comparisons between a pianist and ice skater. It was an intriguing comparison. As the ice skater builds their program to draw the audience in to their skating, so does the pianist. As the ice skater must tackle difficult programs to demonstrate their skill and proficiency, so must the pianist. Both perform in front of audiences with huge potential distractions – a cough, a physical movement, a cell phone, etc. Both must stay in shape, eat right, rest well, and be mentally tough.

Continuing our ice skating comparison, I asked him if certain piano compositions were graded higher due to their complexity, such as Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor, which would give the pianist a higher score. Han explained that the pieces were not judged on their complexity but that the judges want to see the greatest capability of every piece played, to the fullest potential of that particular composition, regardless of the complexity.

What is different between playing in an 8’ ceiling home versus the Bass Hall? It takes longer for sound to reach the ceiling then travel to the back of the room. Where it feels like he is playing slower, he said, he is actually playing faster because it takes longer for the sound to go up and out. He said all pianists learn to adjust how they are playing for this phenomenon.

One of my excuses for not continuing to play the piano was because of my short fingers. I was shamed when comparing the size of our hands, for Han’s fingers were not that much longer but the stretch of his hands was much broader. His love of the piano, plus passion, determination and perseverance has brought him to such a proficiency to be invited to compete. Han Chen is definitely my Audience Choice - he was a good sport to answer all my questions.

Speaking with Han was truly a pleasure. Listening to Han play the piano? My fingers are curved on my computer keyboard waiting for the appropriate heartfelt response to type out. Listening to Han stunned my ears to a higher existence. He is amazingly gifted. And, I am at a loss of words to describe the depth of joy I felt in listening to him.  I do not doubt he is quickly becoming a world renowned pianist.
A great thanks to Cliburn.org who not only hosts this competition annually but also broadcasts the competition live. It has been a pleasure to listen and watch.  And, be sure to vote for Han Chen as the Audience Favorite!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Life Investments

More often, we don’t have such an obvious heads up for when we can make a difference or impact someone else’s life.

A typical warm greeting can turn into a much needed respite to a recipient. A smile and a hug could make another’s day. A truly mindless gesture on a giver could mean a lifesaving gift to the heart of the other.

We so often plow through our day without giving it much thought. I try to be kind to everyone I meet, known and unknown. I love talking with people I don’t know and hearing their story. I have kept a list of the countries my taxi cab drivers were from for years. And, I have heard some very interesting political viewpoints from them, as well as some heart wrenching stories of war-torn countries and loved ones lost or left behind. Each of those encounters has made me grateful for who I am and where I live, and grateful they are in a much better situation, as well.

I had close friends visiting from out of town recently. We were doing a trip over to a Fort Worth restaurant known for their amazing margaritas and decided to call an Uber for the ride. Sandra soon picked us up and we were on our way!

“Well, hi Sandra. How long have you been driving for Uber? Where are you from? How long have you been in town? Where do you live then? Seriously – why did you move to Grand Prairie when you could have lived in Arlington?” [Local friends will laugh] “Why did you move to Texas? What do you want to do?”

As I am typing all the questions we asked, I would now like to apologize to all the prior cab drivers that have picked me up. But I do have an insatiable amount of curiosity and truly do believe everyone has a cool story.

Sandra has a cool story. The ride to Fort Worth was not nearly long enough but long enough to know that Sandra and I would meet again, as I gave her my card and instructed to her to call me soon! And she did.

Sandra received her Masters in Accounting then worked for the Nigerian government doing fraud audits. She is studying to sit for her CPA exam and she got excited when she heard what I did for work. Now, to be honest, not too many people get excited when they find out what I do for work. They are intrigued. They are curious. They may even be a little scared. But few are excited.

I recognized that smile - Sandra is a geek like me.

This was confirmed yesterday over coffee at Starbucks.

Born in Nigeria, but raised in the United States, she is exceptionally bright, has a thirst for learning and is strategizing her future. We covered a variety of topics in the two hours we met.

Right now, she is looking for a full time job in accounting. She had a really great interview with a company she was truly interested in but we brainstormed ideas as a backup in case.

Her husband is a builder in Nigeria who is now working on some major projects. He sounds amazing and I can't wait to meet his someday!  She is an honest, hard-worker, who blessed my day by sharing her life.

The time flew by and when we got up to leave, we felt the Starbuck's portrait on the wall said it all!

And to think I might have missed an opportunity to know Sandra if we had not asked all those thousands of questions while Ubering. Neither Sandra nor myself believes our encounter was by chance.

Because, did I mention, Sandra really does have a cool story AND is a really cool person!

Now that’s my kind of investing!