Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving, Tenors, and Tech

DSC01661 (1300x975)Thanksgiving dinner was a delight, the house crowded with people, lots of new faces to meet, good catch-up with familiar friends.  My cranberries set, my stuffing was tasty, and the Dutch cheeses and fig breads were well received.  The other Americans brought pumpkin pies and champagne and did their best imitation o the US event.

One of the guests was a professional tenor who has performed in several West End plays: he was kind enough to sing a selection of Italian and Theater classic between courses.  Everyone agreed it made the evening Amazing.

There was lots of good reminiscing about the best domestic and expat Thanksgivings.  I particularly remembered dinner at my grandparents and the family ‘do’ in Maastricht a few years back.  And the evening my son and I shared Thanksgiving together, just the two of us, the day after my daughter was born.

DSC01656 (1300x938)DSC01650 (1300x945)DSC01659 (1300x975)

We cleaned up tables and dishes for an hour after everyone drifted home, rolled to bed late, slept soundly, early to work (and laundry) today.  I woke to find that the Dutch had lost their AAA credit rating from S&P, a hangover of the housing bubble, high unemployment, and lax consumer spending.

DSC01647 (1300x975)I’m trying a much more measured, paced, focused, communicative approach to work this month, a few key goals and whack them daily until they are resolved.  It’s gotten a number of knotty issues under control, so I’m encouraged.  Samples appear to be drying closer to schedule, incorporation issues are resolving, 2012 taxes are almost paid.  And I’ve got a lovely weekend ahead: Het leven is goed tijdelijk, maar hopelijk op een dag blijvend.…

And the tech?

1)  The Babraham Institute has posted a promotional video of the pitch event that I participated in: I appear briefly at 1:15.

and, embarrassingly, practicing my pitch in the background behind another interviewee at 1:21…

2) Who knew that the new etiquette was to put a period onto a sentence when you want to express disagreement?

At least it gives me a way to distinguish the positive ‘I don’t mind’ from the negative ’I don’t mind.’ when dealing with the British.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

‘tis the night before Thanksgiving

DSC01633 (1300x973)…and the cooking is well underway.

There are 22 people coming together for dinner at 7 tomorrow.  I was assigned the stuffing, cranberries, and Dutch cheese plate: I’m on turkey duty (24 lb) tomorrow: we’re guessing five hours to cook which means the bird goes in at noon.  I got a meat thermometer so that I can check whether it’s done through; several friends have weighed in with suggestions for keeping it moist. 

DSC01634 (1274x1300)I made a quick double batch of my cranberry relish recipe: it has never failed to set.  I added a bit of lemon juice / zest to tart it up and used British brandy in place of  cranberry liqueur: one has to make accommodations for place.  Tiny taste tests suggest we nailed local tastes.

DSC01637 (1300x843)The stuffing is trickier.  We always used my grandfather’s recipe, but it has failed to set for man years after he passed away.  Then Saveur published a ‘classic recipe’ that was virtually identical, so I decided to give it another go.  Finally, the night before cooking, the gang voted for an alternative ‘low carb’ stuffing for the bird, so I made the Classic on the side. This may be good or it may be awful: I can’t judge from the outside.

DSC01636 (1300x873)Both the Times and the Economist have featured good stories this week about expat Thanksgiving experiences, worth reading if you feel nostalgic for home.

And remember, in the end, it’s about the people, not the DSC01638 (1300x1017)food.  Bottom line: make guests feel welcome, appreciated and a little special: good advice from the NY Times.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thoughts on mental toughness

DSC01631 (1300x996)The competitive advantages the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected, and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are and negotiating multiple priorities as she makes useful decisions without angst. Flexible in the face of change, resilient in the face of confusion.

And all of these attributes are choices, not talents….

  -- Seth Godin, on entrepreneurship

Two key traits required to succeed as an expat, partner, and entrepreneur are to make good choices and execute well on them.   In a world swimming with opportunities and options, this requires a degree of resilience in the midst of unfamiliar and changing circumstances. 

This abstract idea became a more concrete discussion as I read a recent Lifehacker article suggesting that healthy “mental toughness” requires attention to 13 positive attributes:

1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves
2. They Don’t Give Away Their Power
3. They Don’t Shy Away from Change
4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control
5. They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone
6. They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks
7. They Don’t Dwell on the Past
8. They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over
9. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success
10. They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure
11. They Don’t Fear Alone Time
12. They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything
13. They Don’t Expect Immediate Results

DSC01627 (1300x775)I’ve been tossing this one around with friends, and we differ on which are important and which we possess.  The list really should be cast as a test, similar to the “How Cambridge Are You” quiz making the rounds (and upon which I only scored 51%).

But, from the subjective discussions, I believe (and, I admit, others differ) that I practice most of these qualities in daily life.  But I know that I fall down badly on at least four: 2, 4, 5, and 7.

Tolerance and congeniality are beneficial traits in corporate and expatriate environments.   Good results flow from listening and learning, deferring to different cultural beliefs and social perspectives, making friends and encouraging networks of supplier, advisors, and customers.  Bu sometimes it degenerates to needless people-pleasing, sometimes through power exchanges, that are counterproductive in the long term.  To run my business successfully, there are times when I have to say No, fight the fight, and hold others accountable.  It doesn’t always come naturally.

Similarly, I’m a reflective person by nature and look at past events asking Why did this happen the way it did? and How could I have done better?.    Especially in the past five months, I’ve talked a lot out with others and made many changes that reflect hard lessons learned throughout 2013.  But the process still, too often, leads to If only and I can still fix this wargaming, replaying scenarios that are no longer relevant or even desirable.   I need to consciously force myself to accept that my past was imperfect, though well-intentioned, to face forward, to focus on new opportunities.  It doesn’t always come naturally.

Still, I consider myself a happy and, potentially, a successful person (in 2014 and beyond).  At the very least, I avoid all of Lifehacker’s corresponding qualities of unhappy people:

  • People are either good or bad
  • Anyone different/unknown is weird
  • Believing in myself requires me to block out other opinions
  • I have to feel whatever my thoughts tell me to
  • Control is a part of love
  • More is better
  • The worst things always happen to me

DSC01630 (1300x969)

The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.     --  Ulrich Tolle

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.   -- Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sampling the Christmas Markets

DSC01493 (1300x955) DSC01511 (1300x937)

I took the train across the Channel over the weekend and decorations bloomed everywhere.  They ranged from ornaments strung over the tracks in Maastricht to the tree in Brussels’ Grand Place and evergreen garland in Waterloo Station.

DSC01496 Stitch (1300x668)

Last year, Brussels skipped having a real tree in favour of an abstract sculpture of a tree, all green cubes and synchronized lighting.  It was ghastly and roundly criticised, and the city fathers have wisely reverted to tradition for 2013 with a towering tree anchoring the square.  The cabins are lined up along the streets and holiday chocolates fill the store windows.

DSC01507 (1300x935) DSC01505 (1300x899)

In London,the Christmas Market has returned to Southbank, with carousels, pulled pork sandwiches, and mulled wine.  It feels much improved over last year, larger and more varied, with a lot of interesting gifts and good foods to browse through.

DSC01534 (1300x899) DSC01560 (1300x975)DSC01580 (961x1300) DSC01536 (1300x933)DSC01543 (1300x976) DSC01532 (1300x945)

The concurrent Jazz Festival and good company with the w.wezen doubtless contributed to the enhanced feelings this year.

And it was nice to arrive back in Poole to find the elves had been hard at work throughout the house as well as across the lands.

DSC01583 (1300x975) DSC01582 (1300x975)