The cost of avoiding the unknown

A long time ago, I received a pair of fuzzy pajama pants as a secret santa gift.

I remember at the time being so annoyed when I opened them. I’m naturally a very warm-natured person. Additionally, I live in the south. The combination of those things meant that I was pretty much guaranteed to never have an opportunity to wear those pants. It seemed like a waste of a gift, a thoughtless last-minute purchase that didn’t take into account me or my needs at all.

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A better way to make new year’s resolutions – part 2

Reviewing and reflecting on last year are important. Most people want to skip reflection and jump right into their goals. I understand. I’m the same way. Who has the time to think about the past when there are so many things to be done in the future?

As they say, however, haste makes waste. It’s important to set a good foundation before you begin building your house. On Monday I gave some tips for creating that foundation by thinking about the good, the bad, and the ugly of last year. Now that that’s done, let’s go full steam ahead on designing a roadmap for achieving our goals!

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Lessons learned from birthday disappointments

My birthday is tomorrow. For a full-grown adult, I still get embarrassingly excited about celebrating my birthday. For the past few years, I’ve tried to do something special to commemorate the occasion. It’s ranged from playing Whirly Ball, to going skiing in Colorado, to visiting the Christmas lights in Centennial Park. I just really enjoy celebrating with people I love.

It hasn’t always been that simple, though.

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Evelyn and Gilles – Create your opportunities

This month’s Story of Significance comes from a lovely older French couple who stayed with us for about a week. We enjoyed many wonderful hours of laughter and conversation with them as they shared their wisdom and observations on almost everything under the sun. Read on to hear more.

My first impression of Evelyn and Gilles was that they had many strong opinions.

In our very first conversation with them, Evelyn was constantly saying that things were “real problems.”  Taxes in France, crime rates in the United States, health care systems, terrorism, obesity rates…all of these things were, in Evelyn’s opinion, “a real problem.”

My second impression of them, following quickly on the heels of the first, is that this was a wonderful, open, and incredibly fun-loving couple.

Although they are both grandparents, they have a zest for life that few people half their age can claim.  They’ve travelled the world together, learning new languages and experiencing new foods and cultures in the process.  Most recently, they’ve started their own business, which means that they are now just beginning to learn the vagaries of social media marketing, well into their fifties.

“It’s hard sometimes,” said Evelyn, “because we’re in our 50’s and having to learn so many new things, living out of a suitcase for months on end.  But it’s an adventure!

It was too difficult working inside company politics – we had no energy left for life.  We’re too old for that.  So now we mix business with pleasure.  That’s why we do it.  It’s not that we have no stress – but they are different stresses.”

Gilles admitted, though, that he gets more frustrated than his wife does.  He gets nervous around technology and pushing random buttons.  He used to have a bad habit of throwing his computers in frustration – he’s broken 4 since they started their business!  Apparently, that’s why she now has a mac and he has a PC.

“But now I’ve calmed down,” he assured us.  “When I get angry I just say, ‘baby, take it!’” as he mimicked giving his imaginary computer to his wife.  “And of course, even though she makes me nervous sometimes, I’ve never broken my wife!”

“Ha!  Try it!” scoffed Evelyn.  I think I could break you!”

I asked them if it was ever difficult to be married and work so closely together.  Gilles speaks first.  “Oh it’s well….I need more wine.  Give me the bottle!”  He’s obviously joking though, and we all burst into laughter at his unexpected comment.

Their ability to poke fun at themselves made them instantly likable.

Although they spoke very good English, it was with a thick accent, and there were some words that they found very difficult to pronounce.  We all enjoyed a good laugh as they tried to say southern towns like Chattanooga and Charleston.  This of course was a natural progression to other common English words that give non-native speakers trouble, like chip and ship or beach and b*tch.  “Speaking English is like talking with chewing gum in your mouth!” said Evelyn, as she mimicked that very action.

A linguaphile myself, the subject soon shifted to French words that I’ve struggled with during my study of the language.  Words like écureuil (squirrel) and heureux (happy).  Those darn French “r’s” will be the death of me someday.

Evelyn and Gilles are living proof against the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Despite their age, they are eager to learn.  They asked us so many questions while we sat around our dining room table.  They asked us questions about the types of food and supermarkets we have in America.  About our methods of cooking.  About where we buy our clothes from.  About where they should go to find new vendors for their business.  About methods of preventing financial fraud.  About the system of parallel currencies that exists in France.  About the nuanced difference in English between good and bad teasing.  After learning this, Gilles quickly stood up and tried to charge us for the home-cooked meal he had just prepared for us.  Evelyn laughed and assured us, “He’s teasing you.  Every time we have guests in France, it’s the same joke!”

Nearly every night for a solid week, we sat at our dinner table with Evelyn and Gilles, laughing and talking about everything under the sun.  Both wine and conversation flowed in abundance.  I quickly discovered that wine is considered a staple food for French people.  When I asked them about French wedding traditions, they looked at each other for a split second, and then Gilles responded by simply saying, “we drink.”  He then clarified: “I mean we always drink, but at weddings we drink more.”

With a twinkle in his eye, he continued.  “My doctor told me I can’t drink water.  So I drink wine instead.”  He seemed so sincere that it was only through Evelyn’s quick laugh and reassurances that he was teasing that I knew he wasn’t serious.

But there were times when he was very serious indeed.

For a long time they discussed the challenges of legally running a business across international borders.  There are tax requirements, import/export laws, and all sorts of other regulations that they have to be careful to abide by.  They expressed their frustration at how difficult it is to find quality products, both for personal consumption and their business.  With the rise of cheap labor and cheap products flooding the markets from huge exporters like China, it’s becoming harder and harder to find items that are produced with quality in mind instead of quantity.

In France too, they’ve begun to see an influx of cheap imports from abroad.  While the prices may be appealing, often the products quickly break or fall apart.  A particularly sore spot for Evelyn was cheap imported toys which quickly fall apart, making them a nuisance at best and a safety hazard for children at worst.

“In France we have a proverb,” said Evelyn.  “The least expensive is too expensive.”  In other words, the cost that these cheap imports extract from society is far more than the actual market price of them.  Oh, I wish that more people would adopt this philosophy!

Evelyn and Gilles shared their experiences as freely as they sought ours.

They talked about the prevalence of horsemeat and real butchers in France (and the lack of thrift stores) as compared to the United States.  The wonder of getting tailored clothes in Vietnam the day after they were ordered. The gypsy population in France.  Their favorite American cities (San Francisco and Charleston, because they like the view of the ocean).

They introduced me to my first taste of anchovy.  Although I’m usually quite open to trying new foods, for some reason anchovies have always turned my stomach.  When guests who have paid to stay with you make you dinner with anchovies in it, however, you’re pretty much required to at least try it.  And what do you know – it wasn’t bad!

Gilles did his best to recreate a classic French meal – potatoes au gratin, pork tenderloin, and salade niçoise.  The salad has a mixture of hard boiled eggs, onions, anchovies, and “real” dijon mustard (they are so particular about their mustard that they bring a jar of it on the plane with them from France!).

While I thought everything was delicious, Gilles was disappointed at how the potatoes had turned out.  “American potatoes are too watery,” he said with a frown.  “I spent a long time at the store trying to choose the best potatoes, but this still doesn’t taste right.”  I guess we’ll just have to go visit them in France to get the real deal.

One of my favorite tidbits that I picked up was a French joke.

Several times, Evelyn would state a number, and then follow it with “without taxes.”  Finally, after hearing this 3 or 4 times, I asked her about it.  “Oh, that’s a joke we say in France,” she explained.  “Because taxes are so expensive – often 30% or more – if you want to say a smaller number than the truth, you say ‘without taxes.’  So I am 37 without taxes!”  (Quite a difference, considering her true age of 57.)

Many people in their late 50’s would think that the adventures of their lives were over by that point.  It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re too old to start something new, too old to learn new things, too old to acquire a new language.  Evelyn and Gilles showed me differently.  As Evelyn said, “la roue tourne.”  The wheel turns.  Life keeps on happening, whether you are ready for it or not.  The key is to make the most of every opportunity that’s given to you.  And if you don’t like the opportunities that are presenting themselves…get out there and make your own!

Some of my favorite Christmas traditions

I was born in Pennsylvania, a state with significantly more annual snowfall than my current residence of Georgia.

When I was little, my dad used to climb on the roof on Christmas eve. He always made a point to bang around and make lots of noise. The next day, he’d bring me and my older brother outside to see the footprints on the rooftop, as “proof” that Santa had been there the previous night.

It’s a silly little story, but one that makes me smile every time I recount it.

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