John Y’s Musings from the Middle: In praise of Goldilocks and the Golden Mean

jyb_musingsThis holiday season be Goldilocks-esque and seek that desireable middle point between two extremes.

Don’t eat too much nor eat too little.

Don’t talk too much nor talk too little

Don’t expect too much of yourself but don’t expect too little.

Don’t expect too much of others but don’t expect too little of them either.

Don’t sleep too much but don’t sleep too little.

Don’t buy too much but don’t buy too little.

Don’t feel too much but be sure to not feel too little.

Don’t think too much nor think too little.

Don’t act too old but don’t act too young.

Don’t love too mucb but be sure not to love too litle.

Don’t eat anything too hot and don’t eat anything too cold. Only eat things at the temperature that is “just right.”

Make sure your bed isn’t too soft or too hard –but “just right”

And don’t try to be too good but don’t be too bad either. Strive instesd to be “just right.”

Erica and Matt Chua: The Love Saga of Sapa

 

The saga of Sapa begins in the small hill tribe villages, whose civilizations have yet to reap the benefits of modernization.  They have recently been inundated with tourists, however many of the traditions of the Black H’mong and Red Dao people persist.  In particular the traditions that dictate love hold strong and the courtships of very young villagers are short and arranged, but I learned from our young trekking guide Coo that it is a little more complicated than that.

At first glance Coo looked like the twelve year old daughter of one of the travelers in her bright pink, rhinestone studded jacket talking on her cell phone.  Upon closer examination I could here that she was clearly speaking in a foreign tongue, wearing a traditional skirt and had long, silky black hair to her knees.  As we began our trek I hurriedly caught up to Coo as I had lots of questions for her, much to my pleasure she was happy to chat and eager to share her life with me.  We became fast friends.

She was only sixteen years old, but clearly wise beyond her years.  She had gone to school up until high school as her family could no longer afford to send her and she could contribute more by supporting her family as a trekking guide.  It was clear that her dreams lie in Hanoi where she could get a proper education and have some independence before she married at 25 rather than fourteen like many of her peers that by sixteen already had one or two children.  She was rare in the villages surrounding Sapa with her hopes of delaying marriage and going to school, but the constant Western influence of trekking tourists surely swayed her opinions.

As told by Coo the traditional path to marriage in many of the small villages surrounding Sapa started with a “kidnapping” of the fourteen year old soon-to-be-wife to their future husbands home to meet his family and gain their approval.  A dowry was arranged for the girl, which often included a combination of money, animals and textiles.  The steps that followed were quick, starting with the new wife taking up residence in her husband’s family’s home and then quickly moving into child bearing and child rearing. Love may or may not ever be part of the equation at any step in the process.  Her feelings on the subject were clear, fourteen was much too young to marry.

The more we talked the more complex it got; for those of her friends that didn’t have a traditional path to marriage they risked being kidnapped and sold just over the border into China.  With China’s strict laws on having just one child, many people abandon girls in hopes of having a boy.  This has created an abundance of boys with no prospects for marriage.  Girls in Sapa may also be considered a burden or embarrassment to their families because they were not married off.  All of this is slowly changing and Coo is an example of that, but she was still saddened when she spoke of friends that had disappeared, presumably to China.

All of this sixteen year old drama was interrupted frequently by her cell phone buzzing, which indicated another incoming text message.  One from a Singaporean she had guided on a trek a few months ago and another from a local boy telling her he loved her and wanted to get married.  All of this made me a little more suspicious of her dramatic love stories, she may be wise beyond her years, but she is still “sweet sixteen.”  All of my conversatios with Coo led to one clear conclusion, village love is certainly much different from courtships and weddings at home.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: A Wife’s Apology?

jyb_musingsIt looked like it was about to really happen. That rare and unnatural act that violates the most deeply entrenched parts of our genetic code: A wife apologizing to her husband.

There we were. Standing in my home office. Rebecca had initiated the conversation to bring resolution to the issue of who was most to blame for us going to bed sulking last night that led to 5 consecutive hours this morning of short matter-of-fact sentences, no ‘love’ or even ‘L’ at the end of text messages, pained pouting and the inability to smile at one another –although admittedly Rebecca had tried breaking the tension with a smile at around 10am but I stopped her “c’mon, let’s get over this silly thing smile” with a stern look that said,”Not this time. An example needs to be made. That was my favorite show last night you kept me from watching. And this cannot stand.”

Rebecca read me loud and clear and dropped all pretense of believing a casual reconciliation for last night’s transgressions were within reach.

There we stood. At that quiet and serious marital face-off. Who would blink first? More often than not, it is me (that is to say about 99.7% of the time). But not today. And Rebecca knew it. She could tell we were standing in the middle of one of those rarified historic moments like when Cicadas return or Haley’s Comet passes. There was a cosmic tinge in the air that made one feel like the universe was about to crack.

Rebecca slowly opened her mouth and sighed, “I…” She faltered momentarily as she struggled to form the sound of a soft “a” that begins the word “apoligize.” But she got it out. Then seemed to recover as she finished the entire sentence, “I….apologize….that you got angry with me last night.”

Rebecca exhaled. Relieved it was finally over. Or so she thought.

“What?” I blurted. “You…you are sorry for my bad reaction? That’s not an apology. That doesn’t count,” I reasoned. “You can’t, technically, apologize for someone else’s bad reaction to something you do. I mean…You can only apologize for you say or do” I paused for effect. “You see what I am saying?”

Rebecca knew she had missed the mark…and was willing to try tried again. Digging deeper into her guilty conscience than maybe ever before from an argument involving watching television together, the apology began tumbling out . “I apologize…for making you angry” I vigorously started shaking my head “no” but Rebecca rebounded with “and my part in causing that.”

Oh my Gosh. O!M!G! I ….I was completely overwhelmed! And touched! And touched deeply enough that at that exact moment everything seemed right in the world again. And it seemed crystal clear to me that God not only was real…but was standing somewhere behind me in my home office –where he was mouthing the words for Rebecca to repeat so that my over-sized hurt from my super-sized overly-sensitive feelings could be suaved over –finally. Like a mommy who realizes her 5 year old crying son just skinned his knee and almost broke the skin and that she has to pretend like it might require a trip to the emergency room to pacify the son and make him feel loved. Except instead of the son being 5 he is 51.

And God worked His magic. His grace. All was right again. I was able to forgive Rebecca even though she feel asleep during my favorite show last night and was snippy when I kept asking her if she was still awake (even though I already knew she wasn’t because I held my hand in front of her face for over 30 second and she never said anything).

She doesn’t know it yet. But at the end of my next text message to Rebecca, I plan on ending it with a capital ‘L.’ For love.

Heck I may just spell out the whole entire word ‘Love.’ I feel like after Rebecca’s soul-searching apology for last night’s TV debacle, it is the least I can do. And that, all things considered, I am a pretty darned lucky guy.

Saul Kaplan: Thankful Innovation Junkie

photo-saulI love Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday. What’s not to love? Food, family, and football are three of my favorite things. The prodromal smells of homemade cooking pervade the house which means turkey and pecan pie are only days away. Smiling is easy this week while making sure everything is perfect for the welcome cacophony of our kids and grandkids returning home to our empty nest for a holiday visit. Thanksgiving spirit warms the soul.

The best part of Thanksgiving is taking time to reflect on the things we’re most thankful for. It’s a strange tumultuous time and yet it seems as if there is more to be thankful for than usual. Perhaps it’s during trying times, with so many people suffering around us, that we are grateful for things we otherwise would take for granted. I am thankful for many things and thought if I shared them openly perhaps others would share what they are thankful for too. Who knows, maybe the Thanksgiving spirit will catch on.

Here are eleven things I am particularly thankful for:

1) A wife who is my best friend and the love of my life. I met her 40 years ago on December 7th, a day that will live on in infamy! She is a saint for tolerating this innovation junkie.

2) Three great children who despite our parenting have made us proud by becoming incredible young adults. They learned their lessons in irreverence well and are all exceeding my one expectation, to be interesting. (I should say four great children, including our son-in-law who makes us a better family and fires well on the aforementioned irreverence and interest dimensions.)

3) Incredible twin granddaughters, now three years old, who light up everything and everyone around them and give me incredible hope for the future. Being a ‘Papa’ is the best.

4) The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) team who keeps me young and continues to stick by me while I keep reinventing myself. I learn by hanging around them every day and I intend to stick by them. Together we are catalyzing an inspiring movement to transform our important social systems. I can’t believe we just celebrated our tenth anniversary together.

5) A growing network of smart and passionate people that remind me every day that social isn’t something you bolt on to the way your life currently works but an entirely new way of living. Connections seem an impersonal way to describe it. More like friends and fellow innovation travelers.

6) Living in a time when so much innovation is possible. We are blessed with the tools to enable purposeful networks to work on the real social system challenges of education, health care, and government. Transformation seems within our reach.

7) The temperament to thrive on steep learning curves and the confidence to realize how much I have to learn. The goal is to get better faster.

8) The blessing of time to write and for a network of innovators who encourage me to write more.

9) Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Google, and Apple for enabling this free agent to punch above his fight weight. Self-organizing is no longer an oxymoron.

10) Being surrounded by people with an incredible sense of humor who make me laugh every day.

11) The opportunity to do what I love and to love what I do. Passion really is the secret sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving. What are you thankful for?

John Y. Brown, III: Thanksgiving Leftovers

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A Citizen’s Morning Weather and Trafffic Report (with a few more observations)

It’s quiet and cold outside. The city seems sleepy but eager (eager for something like a day of rest with a lot of good food — and a side of family time).

I only saw one car accident and it was’t really an accident. Just a flat tire. And a police car stopped to help.

There was a mid-sized car with antlers placed on the backseat windows and two men inside laughing about something that was probably nothing in particular.

A couple, probably in their 70’s, were getting gas. Both were outside the car helping pump gas and clear ice off the windshield. They appeared to be preparing for a long drive and got back on the road without incident.

The manager of the gas station seemed in an especially helpful and pleasant mood. The ATM machine inside worked fine and the pastries are fresh and taste good.

Stores are closed but hearts seem mostly open. People who normally wouldn’t speak to one another are saying hello as they pass. Hitchikers who are genuinely down on their luck are more likely to hitch a ride today.

A man parked at a Starbucks parking lot texted his wife to see if she wanted a coffee and she texted back that she was already in line at another Starbucks and could get him a coffee and meet him at home. He texted her back thanking her and added a capital “L” at the end of his text for “love.” And so did she.

All in all, it is a pretty good morning for a Thanksgiving.

===

Thanksgiving is an under-achiever as holidays go.

Halloween has costumes and all the candy you can eat. Easter has a magic bunny who travels the world leaving gift baskets for children. Heck, even Groundhog Day has Punxsutawney Phil who predicts future weather for the country.

Thanksgiving doesn’t offer up a magic turkey with a name like Phil or provide gift baskets with bunny shaped candy. We don’t even get to dress up in funny costumes.

For Thanksgiving we just dress in our nice cloths, spend time with family and give thanks for all the abudance we have in our lives.

That just doesn’t seem like enough. But maybe somehow in a weird way it really is. If we have the right attitude. And a turkey.

===

Starbucks new holiday special “Turkey and Gravy Latte” is surprisingly good.

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Thanksgiving Dating Tips

27 years ago this week Rebecca and I had been dating for just over 6 months and Thanksgiving was just around the corner.

We were having dinner at a nice restaurant in Lexington and Rebecca told me one of the things she liked about dating me was going to nicer restaurants. She said with other guys she had dated every meal she ordered came with french fries.

I took that as a compliment and talked about how the Dinner Card I had bought was a good deal and then Rebecca segued into a new topic.

“So, do you have any plans for Thanksgiving?”

I answered reflexively, ” Yeah. Probably just the usual — go to my grandmother’s in Central City on Thursday and my Dad’s in Lexington on Friday. How about you? Any big Thanksgiving plans?”

Rebecca looked down and mumbled, “Nothing big. That’s for sure.” She stabbed hard at her entree before adding, “Just the usual, too, I guess.”

“What’s wrong? Do you not like your dinner?” I asked.

“It’s fine.” Rebecca answered.

“You want some of mine?” I offered. ” You sure something isn’t wrong with your dinner?”

Rebecca paused and explained, “My friends are having Thanksgiving together with their boyfriends.”

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “Are we at a point in our relationship where we are supposed to go to Thanksgiving dinners together? I didn’t know. I have never had a serious girlfriend for this long.”

Rebecca said, “I don’t know. I guess it depends on how serious they are.”

“Well, come on then! Go with me. Or I can go with you. Or whatever or however it is supposed to be done. Was just totally over my head. I didn’t know about the Thanksgiving dating rules but now that I do I want to get it right for sure!”

Rebecca said OK and her dinner seemed to taste a lot better after that.

And I learned a valuable dating lesson and my future wife learned to give an absent-minded boyfriend the benefit of the doubt when you really are convinced your absent-minded boyfriend is a good guy but genuinely clueless.

I am a very lucky man. And I am inviting Rebecca again this year –for the 27th year in a row– to spend Thanksgiving with me. And our family.

Liz Roach: Thanksgiving Sides

Liz RoachThanksgiving is about more than just food.  Family, gratitude, fighting over ancient resentments…it all plays a role.  When a bunch of people (whether related or not) gather together over a holiday, there will be quirks.  And possibly arguments.  But, mercifully, there will always be food.  Lots of delicious, button-popping food. And while life may be as unpredictable as your Aunt Suzy’s newest hair color, you can always depend on your favorite stuffing.

While I’m a big supporter of experimenting with food and beverages, there are times when tradition reigns supreme. It can be fun to try eccentric twists like apple cider risotto or curried carrots, but ultimately, many of us crave the classic sides that filled our childhood plates this time of year.

That’s why I turned to Kahlil Arnold, the chef of Arnold’s Country Kitchen based in Nashville, Tennessee, for several of his signature creations.  Arnold’s is a mainstay of Nashville, known for its meat and three, country-style cooking and warm atmosphere.  Patrons range from politicians and lawyers to construction workers, who return again and again for dishes like squash casserole and banana pudding.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, Kahlil shared recipes for several of his most beloved side dishes: southern greens, mac and cheese, and sweet potato casserole. If you prepare these for your gathering, get ready to become the family legend, the keeper of the Thanksgiving flame. Or at the very least, up for consideration of graduating from the kids’ table.

Arnold’s Southern Greens

Ingredients:

2 pieces of applewood smoked bacon, chopped

3 tablespoons margarine or rendered bacon fat

1 turnip bulb, chopped

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 (8 to 12-ounce) ham hock

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons prepared horseradish

4 tablespoons ham base

6-10 cups water

1 tablespoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar

1 pound collard greens, washed, stemmed and chopped

1 pound turnip greens, washed, stemmed and chopped

Directions:

In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, add the margarine, onion, bacon and ham hock. Sauté until onions seem translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients with six cups of water, except the greens, and whisk together. Add the greens and cook on medium heat, partially covered until tender, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes-1 hour. If necessary, add more water. The longer you cook the greens down, the more flavor the greens will have. Taste to see if more salt and pepper is needed. When the greens and turnips are tender, it’s time to eat.

Arnold’s Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons margarine

2 cups milk

2 1/2 cups shredded American cheese

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon ground mustard seed

2 cups of macaroni noodles

2 tablespoons of canola oil

Pinch of salt

Paprika

8 cups water

Directions:

In a medium pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of canola oil and 2 cups of noodles. Cook for 20 minutes, or until noodles swell and are soft. Drain in colander. Meanwhile in a double broiler, melt 2 tablespoons of margarine. When melted, stir in flour and cook for a few minutes until browned. Slowly add milk, whisking vigorously. Next add 2 cups of shredded cheese and stir until melted. Whisk in black pepper, mustard, and parmesan cheese.  Taste, to see if a pinch of salt is needed. In a small casserole dish, add noodles and stir in cheese sauce. Sprinkle ½ cup of shredded cheese in top. Lightly sprinkle paprika on top. Put in preheated oven at 325 degrees. Cook for 30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling around edges.

 

Arnold’s Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients:

6 pounds sweet potatoes

2-3 cups sugar

2/3 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup (4 tablespoons) butter, melted

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

 

For the pecan topping:

1 cup packed brown sugar

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

1 cup chopped or whole pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

For the filling: Roast the sweet potatoes on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet for approximately one hour, or until tender. Cut the sweet potatoes in half and cool until able to touch. Peel and mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or potato masher. (This should yield approximately 8 cups.)

In a large bowl, combine the mashed sweet potatoes, sugar, cream, butter, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Spoon the sweet potatoes into a lightly greased 2 quart – 4 quart casserole dish.

For the pecan topping: In a medium bowl combine the brown sugar and flour. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut the butter into the brown sugar mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the pecans. Sprinkle the pecan topping over the sweet potato mixture. Bake the casserole until the topping is golden brown and bubbling, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Cook’s Note: The sweet potato casserole can be assembled the day before and kept in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Sibling Rivalry

jyb_musingsSibling rivalry couldn’t possibly exist after 50, right?

Of course not.

Our mom has been under the weather the past few days but is now, thankfully, fully on the mend.

My sister, Sissy, in Lexington called me yesterday and asked for a progress report. I reassured her that Mom was doing great now and I copied and pasted a text our mom had just sent me.
(With one minor humorous edit I couldn’t resist adding.)

“Sis, Mom wrote this earlier today to me. Here it is …. ‘So happy to be feeling better today! Still tired & not a lot of stamina yet but feeling so much better. By the way, John, I always liked you more than Sandy and Sissy. Love to all Mom'”

Most importantly it got a good laugh out of Mom as well as all three of us.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Wise Things My Grandfather Said

jyb_musingsI was just reminded of an interview my grandfather Brown did with the wonderful Sue Wylie when he was 84 years old.

After explaining all of the political races he had lost, Sue tried to offer a softball question to distract from the awkwardness and wrap up everything on a pleasant and hopeful note.

Sue queried, “But Mr Brown if you could live your life over would you have done anything differently?”

After a confused pause my grandfather responded, “Well, Honey, of course I would. I would have done a whole lot of things differently. Look, it’s a little silly to get to the end of your life and say you wouldn’t have done anything differently …if you could do everything over again.”

And he stopped. I loved it. And I never forgot the leason that when you are asked a question and aren’t sure how to answer it, you can’t go wrong going with raw candor. And then stopping.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Intersex Communication

jyb_musingsGetting advice from my wife on the differences in how men and women communicate.

Rebecca suggests if you are mad at someone to just to ignore them. But I worry that the other person (the person you are mad at and ignoring) isn’t aware that my silence means I am mad at them.

I asked if it was possible to follow up with an email explaining my anger strategy.

Rebecca said only if it is a guy you are mad at.

I prefer communicating like a male. It keeps me from having to track down old email addresses, if nothing else.

===

t’s your loss, Honey.

My wife is working on something in our bedroom and asked me if I had time to help by doing her a favor….. I explained that I had a pile of busywork to finish and couldn’t help right now. Rebecca understood and I went back to my office in our home.

But before getting down to work, I saw I had left a basketball in the office from earlier. Feeling fidgety, I picked up the ball and tried to spin it on my finger, like I used to as a boy. I was a little rusty at first… but by the third try it was the ball spinning equivalent of riding a bicycle. You don’t forget how to do it. 

This was exciting to me.

So I took the ball and walked into our bedroom where Rebecca was working away and I started tossing the ball up and down while pacing casually and trying to think of how to bring up the topic most naturally, “Would you like to see me spin a basketball on my finger?”

But before I could ask anything, Rebecca looked up at me and said, “What are you doing in here? I am busy now and I thought you told me you had work to do.”

“I do.” I said. “Have work to do.” I paused and acted like I had been working and was confused how I ended up back in our bedroom holding a basketball. I looked at her and thought one last time about asking her if she wanted to see me spin the basketball on my finger.

“What do you want?” Rebecca asked. “Seriously? Are you just going to stand there? I really have a lot to do now.”

I just shrugged and said, “I have a lot to do too.” And mumbled under my breath “Probably even more than you” as I slinked out of the room with my basketball.

And back in my office I made a decision. I am never showing Rebecca how I can spin a basketball on my finger. Never. Ever. Even if she begs me to.

Unless she begs a whole lot. Over and over and over again. Then maybe.

But tonight, it’s her loss.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Reunions

jyb_musingsReconsidering my high school highlights reel

As I drove to Rebecca’s 30th high school reunion last night I passed the low bridge on River Road and was reminded that one of my most thrilling accomplishments that made me feel my high school class was clearly more awesome than Rebecca’s involved that bridge — and I hadn’t thought about that night for a very long time.

It was the night that me and two other guys from my high school class stripped down to our underwear and jumped off the low bridge into the icy cold water below. As I smugly recollected that awesome night 33 years ago from the perspective of a non-17 year old, it occurred to me I may have over-estimated the raw awesomeness I had attached to that evening for all these years. Somehow, from the perspective of a modestly mature 51 year old adult, that high school highlight seemed to drop form a “10” to about a “6” on a scale of 1-10. I heard that voice in my head that says things to me like, “That was a bad choice..” In fact, I even began to worry that reassessing my high school highlight reel, so to speak, may lead me to conclude that my high school graduating class wasn’t superior to my wife’s. Especially after I spotted three guys at Rebecca’s reunion who looked like they may have jumped off that same bridge in their underwear on multiple occasions.

Reconsidering my youthful delusions is never an easy thing. So I did the only prudent thing to do in this situation and decided to just table the whole issue of whether my or my wife’s high school class was more awesome –until my wife’s 35th high school reunion.

===

Attending your spouse’s 30th high school reunion makes you realize that almost all high school graduating classes have the same stock characters and only a few minor diferemces in the supporting cast and cameo roles.

And for the first time in over 30 years you are forced to entertain the possibility that your high school graduating class may not have been the baddest, coolest, most epic high school graduating class in the history of the universe (excluding the senior class in Fast Times at Ridgemont High but they weren’t real).

And that your 1981 Central High School graduating class may only have been a slightly above average graduating class compared to other high schools in your school distict in 1981.

And then you begin to wonder if you have made any other warped presumptions about yourself and the world in other areas of your life. But calm yourself by being certain there was never a greater, hipper kindergarten class in the history of the universe than yours. But are especially grateful your spouse doesn’t have any kindergarten reunions to challenge your belief.

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