Let’s talk about MONEY
The first evidence of the use of numbers by humans is believed to have been for the purposes of accounting. Counting grain, wine, sheep…things that have value.
The first evidence of “money” varies around the world, from cowry shells to precious stones and metal. And of course alongside money and or valued goods, comes systems of economic exchange, such as barter, gift-based economies and other ways to redistribute wealth, such as the potlatch.
Some systems have been symbolic. Cowry shells would fall into this category. One cannot eat a cowry shell nor do much else with it, besides, collect it or exchange it for goods. Other systems, such as coinage have actually been based on the value given precious metals. Although one cannot eat gold, humans do value the jewelry and or other luxury goods that can be forged with gold.
For as long as people have been counting and participating in economic systems, money has essentially retained value in a physical form. When the United States government first started printing paper money, it was linked to the gold standard. The Federal Reserve was supposed to maintain a reserve of gold equivalent to the value of money printed. However, in the last 100 years, we have seen two significant changes to our monetary systems. In much of the world, the cash-based economy is no longer linked to an actual gold standard. And, the amount of “money” in circulation is not actually the same as the amount of money that has been printed. Banks in the US for example, only need to actually have $10 in their coffers to loan out $100. So instead of having a gold standard, you could argue that we now have a debt standard.
Credit aka Debt
The system of credit essentially creates both debt and money at the same time. Despite politicians’ perpetual campaign to “reduce our debt” the growth of American and European economies is in fact based on the creation of debt. Banks make money by indebting their customers. Countries make money by exchanging their debt. Franc, for example, is not allowed to borrow from itself or it’s on federal reserve. If France wants money, it must borrow it on an international exchange. And pay interest.
You and I are told to make money by investing in businesses, buying property or playing the stock market. All risks that if done right, will theoretically allow us to pay back the banks and grow our assets. This, of course, works when we are both careful and risk takers. What?
As we have seen over the last century our economic system is built on risk and trust. We must have faith in our financial systems and our financial system must have faith in us. The risk is, of course, scarier to an individual than to a bank. Banks don’t have to feed their kids (although the people that work for them do). To alleviate this risk, individuals are advised to diversify their investments. Retirement accounts, buying property, personal savings. Emergency cash kept somewhere accessible (shoebox, mattress, personal safe).
Personal Freedom & Independence
Gold, actual cash (aka liquid money) is often preferred by those who have lived through some sort of financial crisis. I have several friends who always carry gold coins on them, a habit taught to them by their parents, because of their personal experiences as children during WWII. My mother’s family was for many years relatively conservative with their usage of banks because my grandfather’s family lost their farm and all their money in the 1920s crash.
Sometimes we study economic systems in school. Sometimes we talk about them amongst friends or family, but mostly we just pay attention to the state of our personal bank accounts. We like the convenience of credit cards and online banking. We personally use cash less and less. When politicians suggest that it would be easier for everyone to move to a purely electronic banking system, we think that might be kind of cool.
But what does this look like in reality? What would the world without cash be like? One argument in favor of electronic funds is that it is traceable, so it is harder for criminals to launder money or for people to hide income and evade taxes. Although, international companies seem pretty adept at the moving and hiding of income and funds, in a manner that would be inconceivable to an ordinary citizen.
In France, if you buy something valued at more than 300 Euros it is illegal to pay in cash (it was previously limited to 3000 Euros). And, in France, if you have a job or if you participate in any aspect of the economy, you must have a bank account. Nothing official is done by cash. Nothing. The argument against cash is that law abiding citizens have nothing to worry about; however, what happens when the banking system is hacked? What happens when your bank servers go down? What happens when a malicious president is elected?
In addition, in France, if you keep cash in your house, by law you must declare how much liquid cash you have in your possession. If you are found to keep cash that is not declared to the government, you can be arrested and your cash can be confiscated. The French used this rule a few years ago to reign in the comedian Dieudonne. They couldn’t get him on Freedom of Speech, so they confiscated his money and arrested him for having it in his home. Arrested for possession of liquid cash. Not drugs. Not prostitutes. His own money.
Implications of Electronic Money and the end of Liquid Funds
What are the consequences of our dependence on the convenience of electronic funds? And whom does it really benefit? Are individual citizens actually coming out ahead?
Banks make money every time an electronic transaction takes place. Banks don’t make money when individuals exchange cash.
Banks make money when individuals deposit their money in a bank. Banks don’t make money when we keep our money in a safe at home.
Banks (and investment advisors) argue that if you keep your money in a bank it will grow, whereas keeping it in your mattress it just loses value.
This last statement was true for many years, but have you watched interest rates for the last decade? In the United States for the last 10 years, interest rates have hovered at under 1%. At the same time, inflation in the USA has consistently been over 1.6% and up to 4%, so frankly, after you pay bank fees, it is quite possible that for the time being, your money is better kept under your mattress or in a shoebox at the back of your closet.
I am out of time for the day, so I’ll just leave this last fact here for you to ponder.
If you bought $836.50 of gold in 2007, it is now worth $1060.00 in 2017.
De-Nile is a River in Egypt
This post turned out to be too much for me to bite off and finish in a single 30-minute session. The idea is not only complex to present, but it is serious and not something to be taken lightly. This is a post to read with a cup of tea and to be followed by a long moment of contemplation.
My look at the word “indigenous” is yet another look at semantics and language. At meaning and usage. Specifically, I would like to show you how I transitioned from seeing the word “indigenous” as a conscientious word to describe native peoples, to being a word that reeks of White Privilege and Colonial Imperialism. This subject has been brought to us originally by a discussion I had a few years ago with my husband. When our discussion started, I was very very lost on a long ride down the River De-Nile. My guess is that most of my readers are probably also bobbing along on a raft that is not as sturdy as they once thought…
This article has been republished on my main blog read: “Indigenous: Is their a hidden connotation in the popular usage of indigenous” behind this link.
This post has turned out to be too much for me to bite off and finish today. The idea is rather complex and I let a stomach bug get the better of my efficiency goals for most of the day. I did get some satisfying professional work in. And I did eventually manage (barely) to get three kids off to bed. The 2-year-old finally falling asleep amongst a pile of sniffles and sobs just before 10 PM. (Dad is off training this week and she doesn’t see to understand.) But now, I find myself getting in my 30 minutes of writing just before 11 PM and suddenly it is actually 12:04 AM and I have yet to finish.
And so, I will introduce the concept to you today, even if I have to finish off the meat of my discourse tomorrow. The subject is yet another look at semantics and language. At meaning and usage. My focus is the word Indigenous. And how the use of Indigenous is evidence of White Privilege/Occidentalism. This subject has been brought to us originally by a discussion I had a few years ago with my husband. As you have probably noticed by now, my husband and I are both rather opinionated individuals. We both live very value driven lives, but we have had very different life experiences. Sometimes these experiences mean that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. In other words, my white privilege led me to see the word indigenous in a very different light than my husband.
Before I get into my story and the following discussion, I want you to read an article that came through my Facebook feed several times in the previous 24 hours. This article is responsible for reminding me in the shift in my understanding of the word Indigenous and the implications behind its usage.
And so, I have cut and pasted the body of today’s writings into a template for Day 21. And instead of reading me, your assignment for today is to read this article by Ijeoma Oluo and then come back and read my discussion tomorrow.
“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.”
Sunshine and exercise
There is nothing that makes me feel better than a little sunshine and exercise. Running is for me as effective, if not more effective than hiring a personal coach or a psychologist. I think that the majority of major personal revelations and professional problems that I have solved on a run, a bike ride or a hike in the mountains is probably close to 80% over my lifetime. I am not sure why it is, but the same problems that can cause insomnia, seem to be magically resolved when my feet hit the pavement. It’s almost as if my hippocampus is powered by gears attached to my leg muscles!
Not only do I solve my problems when I exercise, the more I exercise the stronger and the happier I feel. Physical fitness contributes to mental fitness. And yet, physical fitness is one of the easiest things to let slide when the going gets a little bumpy. Sometimes it is easier to soothe (food, alcohol, Netflix on mind numbing repeats), but soothing doesn’t do much more than soothe. It doesn’t solve problems and can, in fact, lead to worse problems in the form of a food or alcohol hangover or just plain exhaustion from watching Spartacus until 2 AM…
Most of my life I have been relatively physically fit, more so at certain times than others. That said, I have never really set goals. In my early 20s, I had a membership to a rock club and that involved some goal setting. Climbing routes are based on ratings, and I knew that to be strong enough to climb outdoors, I had to get over the 8s and 9s to the 10s and 11s. The time in my life in which I was climbing, running, working out at the gym and commuting my bike were probably the fittest years of my life. I could not only climb, I could pull up and I could kick butt. This year, my goal is to be that fit, but at age 40.
- Physical Fitness Goals 2017 (age 40)
- Running — this is a three-tiered goal:
- Right now I can run 5k in 30 minutes or 9.7 kph. My goal is to do 5k in 25 minutes or 12k in 60 minutes.
- To achieve this I want to run 3 days a week. Two shorter runs (Monday and Thursday) and a longer one on Saturday.
- I would like my Saturday run to consistently be 10k.
- Cross Training:
- 2 x per week: Musculation (as they say in French) or Weight Training: I need to do a weight training workout twice per week
- Daily: each month I will set a goal. For the month of April, it is 300 squats per day.
- Climbing/Bouldering: They opened a studio in Bayonne. I intend to check it out!
- Cycling: I will cycle one time per week (road or MTB).
- I want to be able to do 10 pull-ups (which means I could maybe climb a 10 or 11 route once again…)
- Yoga & Flexibility: yoga just makes me feel yummy and also a little bit like a superhero. I have done yoga off and on most of my life. My first memory of yoga is from attending classes at the North Boulder Recreation Center with my grandmother when I was off from school at around age 4. I remember that by the time I was 8 years old, I was impressed that my grandmother was more flexible than me. My first real yoga practice started at CU-Boulder when a girlfriend and I would get up twice a week for a 7 am class. Over the years I have done yoga off and on, sometimes at home, sometimes in a studio. I adore adore adore CorePower Yoga (hot yoga) back in Boulder.
- Running — this is a three-tiered goal:
When I moved to France, the first person I met and the first friend I made happened to be a yoga teacher. Zoe of Bloom Yoga is the first yoga teacher to kick my butt (very nicely). Well, actually, Zoe didn’t kick anything, but she did show me I could do things that I didn’t think I could do. From balancing on my hands/elbows in the Crow pose, to doing a headstand. I really never thought that I could do a headstand in which you use your abs to pull you up and hold you straight, but Zoe taught me how. And now, less than a year after my last son was born, and after several months of following Allison Westfahl’s Core Envy book, I can again do a headstand (will try and upload a video)!
And so, my last Physical Goal for 2017 is to make yoga part of my life as a regular home practice. I also commit to practicing yoga for at least 30 minutes 3 times per week with the goal of attending a class or extending that practice to an hour or more at least once per week. I know I will feel amazing!
As I sit here on Easter morning, I realize that it is rather appropriate to have my 40th Birthday on Easter. Particularly, in consideration of all the navel-gazing and goal setting, I have been up to for the last few weeks. Abundance. Fertility. Re-birth. Kismet.
I don’t personally ascribe to one particular religion. Growing up surrounded by a mix of freethinkers, humanists, Buddhists, Christians and Native American tradition, I have always been impressed by the symbolism and the concordance and parallelism in world religions. There are many tales of the origins of Easter and at the most pragmatic level, it makes sense that in spring, humans would celebrate rebirth and fertility.
Personally, with a strong founding in the Christian tradition, I appreciate the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and rebirth. I won’t get into my personal interpretations of the Bible, you’ll have to wait another 40 years before I write about that, but I will say that I do think the symbolism contained within, is something to be meditated upon. There is always hope. There is always a path of light through the darkness.
The idea that I like most in Christianity, is the idea of being of service to our fellow humans. Buddhism, which is the religion I know second best, also has this principle. I think that the ability to be of service to others, may, in fact, be the ultimate key to happiness. Gratitude and achievement as I have discussed already, also contribute to feelings of happiness and satisfaction, but there is something magical about the act of being of service to our fellow humans.
When we see our fellow humans fully engaged in being of service, we may say that they are being Christlike or that they are expressing the Bodhisattva within. I once had the pleasure to listen to Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh give a talk about the Bodhisattva within all of us. He pointed out that many people think that only saint like individuals, such as Mother Theresa, can be Bodhisattvas, but in fact, each and every one of us has the capacity. Indeed, when we focus on watering the good seeds, when we focus on being of service, when we take our focus off of “me” and put it out to the world, we can all experience the act of being Christlike.
When I worked for the Colorado Haiti Project, one of my mentors and my first travel partner to Petit Trou de Nippes, Don, was the first who introduced me to this idea of service from a Christian perspective. Don did not go to Haiti out of charity, he went in the spirit of service to his brothers and sisters in Haiti, and in giving service, he received in return the love and the spirit of connection to humankind. Don often said that the service provided to him by his experiences and relationships in Haiti significantly outweighed anything that he had given.
Many people think that Christ asks us to give charity and many people see giving charity simply as sending money or gifts to people who have less than they do. However; if you look at it from a perspective of Service, your experience becomes very different. Indeed, you may realize that the people to whom who wish to give charity, in fact, live very rich lives. They may have want of material needs, even food, and clean water, but they are rich. Conversely, there are those who are rich in material goods, while experiencing extreme poverty inside. And then there are those of us who are somewhere in between.
I will try to explain this another way. When Winston was a toddler, I felt like I was not an active participant in society. I spent too much time at home with just one other person, Winston. I decided I needed to get out and do something. I’d always enjoyed spending time with elderly people and after the death of my maternal grandmother, I was missing our weekly phone calls. This led me to volunteer for Meals-on-Wheels (MOW). I thought this would be a good way to help out homebound elderly people with a hot meal. This is what they advertise, but what I learned is that through just a simple interaction of even just a minute of conversation between two humans, so much could be shared. Some people see MOW as a simple act of charity, of giving food to those in need, but it is so much more. MOW provides a true service to both its clients and to its volunteers.
My regular route was just one day per week on Wednesday. I had about 14 regulars, many of whom lived in an affordable housing apartment complex for seniors. I had a young man who was a paraplegic from a car accident, but who insisted on living independently. His body may have given out, but his spirit was full of light and laughter. I had an elderly man who was a WWII veteran who dressed every day in black jeans, thick black glasses (think the 1950s), a crisp white shirt and a turquoise bolo tie. Herbert. He always had a joke and smile to share. Another was an elderly woman who had been born deaf attended Helen Keller’s school, she was thrilled that Winston and I knew a few signs, even if we couldn’t have a conversation. Yet another woman had lived her entire life Louisana, she often had a pot of collard greens simmering on her stove, but I think ordered MOWs because she was lonely. Her son had moved her to CO a few years before to be close to his family, but they worked too much and she had left all her friends behind. One house I visited was a Lafayette original. The woman’s family had been original settlers in Lafayette, her house had once stood almost alone in a neighborhood that was now surrounded by houses.
At first, I was concerned Winston coming with me would be a hindrance, but my people loved Winston. Our smiling faces at their doors brought a little bit of sunshine into lives that were primarily homebound. If it was super cold or windy and I left him in the car, sometimes they would insist that I at least roll down his window so they could blow him a kiss and a wave. When Winston started preschool, folks were seriously disappointed not to see his big blue eyes at their door each week.
In the minute it took to ring a doorbell, open a door and take a meal inside, I learned the histories the likes and dislikes, the medical problems, the dreams and stories of my clients. I learned to tell when they were feeling good or when something bad had happened. Once, I could tell that my WWII veteran was a little dazed, I called the MOW supervisor and told her he was a little off. He’d told me he was ok, but my gut knew he was different. The supervisor went and visited and called the medics to come check him out. He was in the process of suffering some kind of progressive stroke when I saw him he was just “out of it.” But, if I had not stopped by that day at noon, he would have died alone that night. Instead, he was around for a few more happy years, regaling his MOW drivers and his neighbors with stories and jokes.
In the end, I will never forget the several years I volunteered for meals-on-wheels. My heart swells every time I think of the people I met and I have so much gratitude for this program that brings not only physical nourishment to the bellies of homebound seniors (and the disabled) but most importantly spiritual nourishment. Many volunteers have been with the program for years, and if you find a moment to speak with them, their experiences will mirror mine. And they will mirror Don’s experience in Haiti. True service is a two-way street and it is much more than charity. True service is an exchange and it is the basis for genuine human connection and happiness.
And so, I invite you this Easter to find abundance through giving or sharing the act of service. If you have a need. If you are lonely. If you are sad or depressed. If you lack connection. Don’t ask for something to come to you or to take away your pain. Instead, look and see how you can be of service to another human. And in this exchange, I guarantee you will find your own suffering diminished. And, if you have a life that is already full of joy, then I ask you to spread that joy and share it through service.
God Bless. Namaste.
I love you. Go in peace.
Hello, Dear Readers!
You know you are living big if sometimes you drop a ball. Friday, I certainly got in my 30 minutes of writing, but it was client work. Saturday, I took a day of rest.
Please enjoy my post for the 16th instead. I spent an hour on it. 😉
Goals and Stepping out of your Comfort Zone
I had some interesting feedback on my post yesterday, from friends and family that have seen me as a goal setter and a goal getter. Inspiring even in my ability to do so. It is true, I can talk a good talk. And I have had a vision. I have always had a fairly good sense of the direction that I should be going. And I have an idea of what I need to do to get there…
You will note that I put “should” in italics. Why? Because should is not really a real goal. It is fulfilling someone else’s expectation. As a young person, I went to University because it was what I should be doing. I studied anthropology because I’d heard “do you what you love and you will find success.”
Growing up my family was comfortable. We had a nice home in the mountains outside of Boulder, my father had built much of it with his own hands. My mother had a secure life and work at the University. My grandparents were never far (Boulder and Steamboat). I had a small extended family, an older brother than always came bearing gifts (watermelons, ice cream, and truck stop oddities) and I never wanted for anything. I never knew hunger or poverty, except in tales. I saw divorce, but I never witnessed it personally. I saw death, but with older family (grand and great-grandparents) it was a natural progression for loved ones who had lived good lives and been loved.
And so, I have moved my life in a direction, a safe direction. And I have met with relative success, in the relative security of a life lived on the hard work of my ancestors and my fellow Americans. I have been lucky and blessed.
It takes more than intentions to breakout…
As I wrote about in my piece on Turning Points a few weeks ago, after a time, I found myself content, but secure. I started to be more intentional with my life. And, I suppose this in a sense has been an introduction to the satisfaction of goal setting and finding both happiness and success. However, I have to confess that despite setting intentions, my actions have still often been more “go with the flow” than visualizing and following the actual steps to achieve a certain goal. I have followed more of a “what if” and a “what the hell” method than a first I need to do A, then B, then C to achieve X.
I realize a lot of what I am talking about here may just sound like a bunch of semantics and plays on words, but words and semantics are important. There is a difference between making a decision and making a choice. A decision is final. A choice can be changed. If I decide that I like strawberry ice cream, I will always order strawberry ice cream. If I make a choice to order strawberry ice cream today, maybe tomorrow I will order chocolate.
Goals vs Intentions
To me, a goal is something that I want to achieve, whereas an intention aligns with my values. When I divorced in 2011, I decided that I valued my happiness and that I need to break out of my comfort zone and start to stepping into things that caused me fear and uncertainty. This has indeed brought me great happiness. It has also opened up the possibility for me to experience great and abundant gratitude. I think that those who have watched me and who have been inspired by my actions have watched me step into my fears and out of my comfort zone.
However, you have not yet seen me set specific goals. This is truly a new ground for me. Let me tell you a story that shows the distinction between living in comfort and stepping out of your comfort zone. A distinction that I have learned with the help of my husband.
The tale of two children: one Malagasy and one American
I’ll continue with my story that I started above. I grew up in a comfortable family. Living in Colorado we were outdoorsy and naturally a bit athletic. I adored going to watch the games of my older cousin who was a local basketball champion and I’d grown up shooting baskets on my patio. When I was 12 I decided to join the basketball team and my junior high school. At first, I was pretty good because I was naturally tall and I was an accurate shot, but as the years passed (only three to be precise), the other girls started by passing me in skill and I spent more time on the bench. I was frustrated that I was not very good at dribbling. How did I address this challenge? I didn’t decide to practice more at home or ask for coaching with my dribbling. Nope, I just gave up. I quit.
Just around the time that I quit, a few oceans and time zones away there was a boy. By the time he had reached his teenage years, he had experienced several nationwide famines, times in which the only things his family had to eat were rice or vegetables his mother had grown in their garden. He shared his table with not only his brothers and sisters (there were six of them in total), but also cousins, and other extended family. His parents were fortunate to have good work, so he generally had food and shoes, but many people he knew did not. His mother always set an extra seat at the dinner table, even when guests were not expected that she called “a seat for Jesus,” because you never knew when someone might come by and certainly they would need to eat.
This boy was the youngest of his brothers and sisters. He was also the smallest and he had learned to fight for what he wanted. He saw things, he set goals and he achieved. He also loved basketball. By the time he was 16 he was the youngest on the regional team that made it to the champions. And then during their big game, he got clobbered by a guy who could slam dunk. He could have quit. He could have said, I am too skinny, too short, there is no way I will ever be able to slam dunk… But no, he decided that he would beat this guy. He would not only be able to slam dunk, he would be able to jump so high his head could hit the basket.
And so, he took to training: he did squats, he ran, he lifted weights and he practiced jumping. Two years later at the next match up, not only could he slam-dunk he could out play the big dude. And, if I started to list off the challenges he has faced and overcome through serious goal setting, from the time he was born to the time he arrived in France in 2000 with less than 200 French francs in his pocket, you would be seriously impressed. This young man, is now my husband. His inspiration and success have shown me what you can do if you set a goal, visualize it, figure out your plan of action, and set-it in motion.
So look out world, because now we are a team.
Achieving goals and setting goals is not easy. First you need to be honest with your current situation. Next you need to know what you want to achieve and you need to be able to visualize how you are going to get where you want to be. It takes more than simple intention to achieve big. It takes goal setting, strategy, follow through, and intention. Achieving goals requires one to step out of your comfort zone and risk failure, but also risk success. Real success and satisfaction come from hard earned goals. Or as they say, nothing worth having is easy to get.
Do you set goals?
I will confess that I have never been much of a goal setter. My husband is just the opposite. He is, in fact, the one that pointed this out to me quite recently. At the time I vehemently denied his accusation.
Doesn’t everyone set goals? How could I not set goals?
The reality is that I have set intentions, but the practice of setting rock hard, concrete and specific goals seems to have evaded me over the years. I am not sure if this is an issue of nature versus nurture or perhaps just a unique personality quirk.
My mom may have noticed this when I was younger, as I do recall her sharing with me a template that she used with her graduate students. The template laid out how to set and achieve short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. It was an excellent template. Not only did it ask you to layout your goals, it also asked you to list who could help you achieve your goals and to think about who or what could negatively impact your ability to achieve your goals.
I completed the worksheet because I like worksheets. I also like tests and questionnaires. I like to fill things out. I like information and writing and feeling like I have accomplished something. And so, I completed my mom’s worksheet. I felt like I accomplished something. And then I went on my merry way. I didn’t commit to achieving the goals that I had set…maybe I didn’t actually complete the worksheet. To be honest, it is all a bit fuzzy.
There is something about turning 40 that does cause one to look back and assess, to gaze at the navel a bit more than usual. As I mentioned in another post, one mistake that I have made in my life is not doing things because of a fear of failing. Another miscalculation that I believe I have made, is not understanding the relationship between setting goals and having a sense of achieving success.
As someone that appreciates metrics and measures of success in the world, this is a little bit embarrassing to confess. How exactly, did I think I could measure my success if I didn’t have a starting point and an ending point by which to measure it? How can I measure my success or failure in achieving a goal, if I haven’t exactly HAD a goal?
Although I have done many interesting things, learned many interesting things, created friends, won influence, achieved good grades, and so on…I have lacked the feeling of being successful. At first, when I started to study the practice of gratitude, I thought that perhaps my lack of successfulness was related to a lack of self-gratitude. I now realize it is in fact due to a lack of setting goals. By vaguely moving forward based on my interests and desires, I have certainly done a lot; however, without knowing if I have achieved or missed the mark when it comes to specific goals, I have not had a personal metric by which to measure my own success. Oops.
And so, my intention for my 40th year is not just to “set intentions,” such as stepping into my fear but to actually set GOALs. Clear concrete goals. Goals that I can visualize and imagine achieving. Goals that can be used to actually measure success or failure. Or that can be reassessed and modified based on lessons learned. This is quite exciting.
Lost in Translation
Traveling overseas or to areas that are geographically and culturally distinct can be both exciting and surprising. I mentioned a few days ago that what I found most surprising when I studied abroad in Madagascar, was that the Malagasy were just like me. In other words, their ultimate, basic human curiosities, interests, etc. were the same. Cultural traditions, taught value systems, religious traditions, celebrations and so on are, as we know, often quite distinct.
Living in France I have gained further insight into the differences between cultures that often arise from distinct languages and cultural traditions. The first is that after spending some quality time with a different country’s bureaucracy and daily life, you learn that many “rules” and cultural certitudes are simply arbitrary. The second is that there are certain ideas and phrases that do not have direct translations from one language to another. Even something as simple as sugar can be quite confusing!
I am not a big fan of sweets. Most sweet things are in fact “too sweet” for my tastes. However, I love to bake. And real baking requires sugar. The first time I went to the store to buy some sugar to bake a cake, I was stumped. Despite France’s reputation for pastries and sweet delights the grocery store only seemed to sell bags and bags of powdered sugar and raw sugar. I was a bit confused, as I’d never before considered whether the French used the same kind of sugars as Americans to bake.
I decided to buy a bag of each. It turns out the “sucre de poudre” is what an American would likely call table or baking sugar. Powdered sugar that we’d use for icing or special recipes is “sucre de glace” or “ice sugar.” Cassonade is brown sugar, but it is generally sold with bigger crystals, similar to raw sugar in the US. I’ve been told that American style brown sugar can be found in some health food stores, but I haven’t yet done the research.
The French also sell quite a bit of sugar in cube form to put in their coffee and tea. British take their tea with milk. The French take it with sugar. Sugar cubes can be found in white sugar and also in raw sugar form or “sucre roux.” This one is confusing to me as the word “roux” is generally translated to the color red, and raw sugar is not red… Caster sugar is “sucre de semoule,” a fact I learned looking up the recipe for making real French Macaroons. Corn syrup doesn’t exist in France, although you can find “sucre inverti” and “sucre liquid,” either for making candy or alcoholic drinks, like a mojito or rum punch.
One thing that is consistent across all cultures, is that children love sugar. And children that have eaten sugar are sticky. I’ve tested this.
And lastly, one of the most amusing aspects of sugar shopping in France, is that one of the main brands of sugar is called “Daddy.” So, if you are looking for a “Sugar Daddy,” you may not need to go any farther than the baking aisle of a French supermarket.
Today the “Grey Mountain,” also known as my uncle or just simply “John” traveled over to the other side. My dad always called John by his last name. In my head when I heard this, I always translated the German to English. I have no idea if anyone else ever did this or if it is my own unique idiosyncrasy. I actually technically don’t know if the translation is correct.
John came into my life when I was about 11 or 12. He was a high school principal, which is a bit of an intimidating title for a kid. However, upon meeting John, I soon learned that despite the reputation of school principals, John was in it because he loved kids and life in general. He was one of the gold standard educators that understood that if you expect the best from kids, you get the best from kids. And it is clear from the stories that I have heard over the years that both his staff and his students loved and respected him.
I never saw John at work, but I was always impressed that when I did see him, he was never afraid to speak up for his beliefs. He was firm and strong where he stood. He also had an admirable sense of humor. At family dinners (Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July) John and my dad always managed to swap stories and crack jokes, sometimes appropriate. Sometimes not so appropriate. My mom and my aunt would roll their eyes and scold them. The rest of us would laugh.
John was also a rabid Broncos fan. Watching a game with both John and my dad in the room could be explosive. Positive excitement if the Broncs won, PG13 ratings on their language if they were losing…or had lost a game they should have won!
I was most impressed by John the day he met my first son. Winston was probably only a week old at the time. He was tiny and fussing. John picked him up in the palm of his hand and cuddled him on his shoulder just like he was meant to be. Winston curled up in the little fetal position newborns love and slept. It was an amazing site to see. Some people say that you can tell a good man (or person) by their appreciation and like for household pets — cats or dogs — I say you can see a heart of gold, a confident and calm soul, when a man can hold and calm a baby the way John did that day.
John has also been a second father figure to my cousins and a best friend to my Aunt. I am so very saddened for their loss, as well as, that of his kids, grandchildren and everyone else he touched. Old age may be inevitable, but illness and death are still terribly sad. And there is always someone for whom it just doesn’t seem fair. John and his family suffered much in the last year as his health deteriorated and this experience is one that certainly doesn’t seem fair. But it is done.
I will certainly miss the sparkle in his blue eyes, his wit, his intelligence, and his calm presence. I will remember him for the good he did. I will honor him, by living my life intentionally and doing what I can to serve others and make the world a better place.