Category Archives: Family

A visit to Costco France…was it worth the almost 4 hour drive?

School vacations in France.  A time to unplug and get out of town for a few days before jumping back into school and work with both feet!  We had only been in France for about 5 weeks so we weren’t ready for an epic trip and we were missing some American staples (Mexican food, bagels, …) so why not take a trip to Paris and explore the American food scene there?

The day before our trip, the fine folks at the SNCF (French Rail) decided to strike so our planned train trip became a car trip.  A bit of a bummer BUT, we could use that as a reason to visit the American amusement park just outside of Paris known for its special brand and ability to bring people in from all around every weekend.  That’s right, we were heading to Costco!

Ahhh…a slice of America in view!

We were at the Greenville, SC Costco at least every 2 weeks to buy milk, Nesquik, giant bags of chips, and gas.  Since the trip to Costco France was long and we were still waiting on our container (and our Yeti), there were some things we couldn’t easily buy (looking at you refrigerated items…).  However, we were excited to check out the store and see if it was worth a return trip once we were in our permanent apartment.

As soon as we pulled around the traffic circle and saw the enormous building, it was clear that we were ‘home’.  Work was underway to put in a gas station but no timeline was available. 

After parking (in the massive, American sized, parking lot) we got a cart.  Not just any old European cart that takes a Euro to get it and you can’t steer worth crap.  No, a real cart with back wheels that only move in a straight line!  Yes!

One important difference to note before we got inside. Our dear Costco on Woodruff Road took about 10 minutes and cost us less than 50 cents in gas to visit (not including the membership fee – a gift from Michelin). The Costco in France…

  • ~75 Euros in gas
  • 75.60 EUR in tolls
  • 3h 45 min in the car
  • …and that was before we bought a thing!

Thanks to our friends at the SNCF, those were sunk costs for us but still, something to consider before making a visit.

Do you hear the angels singing?

A few of the ‘Costco standards’ that we saw throughout the store:

  • Person at the front door in a red vest with a clicker to track the number of guests
  • Bunch o’ deals and TVs just after the front door
  • Samples!
  • Massive quantities of chocolate chips, toilet paper, and real American peanut butter
  • Cash registers galore

There were certainly some things that we were hoping to find that we couldn’t – Log Cabin syrup (but they did have 100% maple syrup), Kind and/or Lara bars and skim milk are a few examples.  That being said, we were pretty excited with lots of the things we DID find!

Christmas decorations? They’ve got you covered
  • Boxed Mac and Cheese (not Kraft but still…)
  • Bacon (we’re coming back for you)
  • Mozzarella sticks (coming back for you too…)
  • Brownie Mixes
  • Tortilla Chips
  • Pancake Mix

After the shopping was over, it was time for a visit to the food court for some real, honest to goodness Costco pizza!  They had Pepsi (just like in the US) but they continued the French tradition of ensuring you don’t drink too much sugar by limiting you to one serving of Pepsi.  Come on French government, if you’re going to allow people to smoke everywhere like chimneys, let the rest of us drink as much Coke as we want!

As we were walking out, there was a standard display of Michelin tires greeting you followed by the classic Costco receipt checker (unfortunately, our kids are too old to solicit the smiley faces any more).  After loading up the car, it was time to head home but fear not outpost of amazing, American sized stuff in the middle of France, we’ll be back!

Is it raining cats and dogs? No, that’s a storm of change and it’s heading your way!

Our family recently relocated from the US to France and has been experiencing A LOT of change!

  • Live out of suitcases for 58 days and counting? Check.
  • Two first days of school in two different countries? Check.
  • 10 different cars in 4 months? Check.

In the middle of all of this change, I read this interesting article on our bandwidth to handle change and was shocked by these two sentences:

photo credit: pixabay

“Consider a leading global wealth manager whose employees, we recently found, had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year. These included operating model changes; new leadership structures; new productivity procedures in areas such as travel booking, digitized financial planning, and HR; new enterprise resource systems; agile ways of working such as sprints; and new legal and risk requirements and compliance procedures.

Holy smokes, 250 changes per year!  I bet that’s true for most of us.  Just take a minute to think about it… benefits changes, staffing changes, position responsibility changes, organizational changes IT systems, physical moves, etc.  The article doesn’t clearly state this but I would guess their research doesn’t account for changes outside of work like kids moving grades, aging parents, new neighbors, etc.

I know it’s true that I fail to account for the ‘other’ changes going on when I am pushing ‘my’ change effort. With this newfound understanding, I want to start thinking about capacity for change like a bucket of water. When the bucket is full, it doesn’t matter how much effort we put into a great communication plan or training module, there’s just no room!

How full is your bucket? What about the bucket of the people you are working with?

Outsourcing Manhood

After seeing the results of several rounds of outsourcing, it’s clear that a successful outsourcing requires a significant investment by both the outsourcer and the company.  Often, the company that is outsourcing their system or organization underestimates the amount of work needed to kick off and maintain the relationship.  This leads to frustration that the outsourcer “just doesn’t get it” when, in fact, they aren’t getting paid to be mind readers!

Outsourcing...it's one way but not the only way!

That analogy came to mind recently when I tried to outsource part of the journey to manhood of my two sons.  I didn’t approach it intentionally, in fact, it took a couple of years before I realized what I was doing.  It helped that my wife stayed close enough to the situation so I didn’t shoot myself in the foot!

I spent my childhood and most of my young adult years in a Christian scouting organization.  When my older son was old enough to join, we went to a local church that offered the same program (even though it wasn’t ours).  He never seemed to love the program like I did and his younger brother wasn’t a fan either so we went ‘shopping’ for a better option…or should I say a better outsourcer.  We looked at several alternatives and ended up participating in a group at our local YMCA called Adventure Guides.  After the first event, all I did was complain that it didn’t meet my (unexpressed and not well understood) expectations.  I was guilty of many of the same errors first time outsourcers make and I didn’t even know I was in the market!

I’ve come to the realization that I need to be the main supplier of experiences on my sons’ journey if I want to ensure that they arrive when and where I think they should.  If I want to entrust that responsibility to anyone else, I’ll need to be almost as involved as I would be if I did it myself.  And it makes me wonder, what other areas of my life am I unintentionally outsourcing.

How about you?  Are there any areas in your life that you’ve been unintentionally outsourcing?  Let’s talk about what you can do to be more engaged there in the comments section below!

Photo Credit: https://www.workhoppers.com/blog/6-steps-for-successfully-outsourcing-your-project/

Heroism Takes Practice

As a father, I want to raise my sons in Hero Training School whether they realize it or not.  I certainly hope that my actions and words have an impact on the man, husband, and father they want to be.  But, at the same time, if I want them to be ready when called upon, they need hero practice.

Heroes In Training @ Paris Mountain State Park - April 2014

Heroes In Training @ Paris Mountain State Park – April 2014

My sons naturally want to ‘play’ hero as they will often emerge dressed as Spider-Man, a Sheriff, or Peyton Manning.  However, there are (at least) two types of opportunities that I have to help them develop ‘personal heroism’:

1) Unplanned events – those teachable moments when you help them understand that making fun of others is not acceptable or how to be patient when learning a new skill (like tying their shoes).  My biggest enemy to success in unplanned events is just that…they’re unplanned.  I’m a big planner.  Most days in my life have a high level plan (go here, do this, etc.) and those plans don’t usually include taking an extra five minutes before we leave to review (insert your choice of skill or character quality here).  Those 5 minute delays don’t have an earth-shattering impact on my plan but they just might on my kids.

2) Planned events – times when you know the activity is going to be hard but you intentionally schedule it.  It could be anything from learning to ride a bike to rock climbing.  It doesn’t even have to be something you have personally mastered.  I know one dad who learned to kayak with his son…showing that Dad doesn’t have it all figured out either.  The challenge to these events is planning them.  Can you sacrifice one Saturday of errands or one week night of personal time to help your child accomplish something?  It’s all about intentionality.

I’m making a commitment to join ‘Hero Training School’ as an intentional instructor not a reluctant replacement.  How about you?

Hero Training School – The Softer Side

I recently wrote about how I had the opportunity to attend Hero Training School as a result of my father’s example which was influenced by his father’s example.  For several reasons, I need to take a minute to recognize my mother’s contribution to my ‘Hero Training School’ experience as well.  Why?

  1. She beat the crap out of cancer almost 20 years ago
  2. She retired early so she could take care of my dying grandmother for almost 3 years
  3. My wife makes it clear that I am more like her than I would care to admit.  (That little voice in my head worrying about how people perceive me?  Pure Mom.)
  4.  She reads my blog! 🙂

Three generations, November 2012

Three generations, November 2012

How does a mother contribute to her son’s ‘Hero Training School’? One big thing she can do is to let him know how special he is.  My Mom has been a personal cheerleader through life.  Through choices and changes, she’s stayed amazingly positive (even if us moving to France soon after having the first grandchild was hard for her to take…).

I see my wife taking the same cheerleader role for our sons.  She constantly reminds our older son that he’s ‘strong, smart, and studly’, even as he assures us that he feels anything but that.  Moms, don’t forget that your children (sons especially) need someone to support them throughout life’s changes.

Death of a Teenager : Houston, You Have No More Problems

In November, my family suffered a shocking loss.  My cousin, Houston St. John, died at 17 years old.  Houston’s Dad and my Mom are 2 of 13 siblings born to Rev. E.C. and Lovell St. John.  With such a large extended family, we’ve seen our share of drama, divorce, and distance but not much death…especially this young.

HoustonStJohn

As the oldest grandchild, I honestly didn’t spend much time with Houston as he was 21 years younger than me and lived half a country away.  However, I do have a few strong memories to share:

Cleveland, Tennessee – It was Christmas time in 1999 or 2000 and Houston was 3 or 4 years old.  We were at our Grandmother’s house and Houston had recently discovered the Christian singer Carman.  His parents (and, I assume, very patient brother) had endured the whole trip from Kansas to Tennessee watching a ‘live’ concert movie .  Houston spent most of the holiday running between rooms expertly mimicking Carman’s moves.  At the time, it was good for laughs but we had no idea that it was a precursor to…

Clermont-Ferrand, France – It was my turn to have a small child in the house.  Houston had moved from Carmen to Elvis and had recently staged a show at his church where he performed songs and danced.  My older son watched that movie over and over from around age 2 to age 5, impressed with a performer that he didn’t know was a relative.

Cleveland, Tennessee – In June of 2011, we came together as a family to celebrate the life of our matriarch, Lovell St. John.  Houston and I hadn’t seen each other many times since the ‘Carmen Christmas’ but we enjoyed catching up and sharing our high school choral experiences (his a little more recent than mine).  At Lovell’s funeral, we sang What a Lovely Name which, for reasons only understood by preacher’s kids who grew up moving between Virginia and Kentucky understand, is the ‘official’ St. John song.  Houston was an excellent singer but he was a little frustrated because he didn’t know all of the words.  I assured him that he needed to learn it as we would be singing it at many future family gatherings.  How little did I know…

Greenville, South Carolina – On the evening of November 5 my wife was getting one last run in before I left for 10 days and I was getting dinner on the table for our kids.  My Mom called with the news that Houston had died that afternoon in a car accident.  What a shock.  It took a few minutes for me to process it and then tell my sons.  It was pretty hard for them to grasp…much as it was for me when my Great Grandfather and Great Uncle died when I was near their age.  Several days after the event, I was still asking myself, “Is he really dead?”

Houston had a relatively short life, but a big impact.  Over 1300 people attended his memorial service and there are over 10,000 hits on his memorial page.  2014 will be a year of difficult ‘firsts’ for Houston’s family but I think everyone who knew him can take comfort in both the great memories he left and the “huge family reunion with the Master” that we believe Houston will one day be attending.

My Fantastic Wife

A few months ago, the facility where my wife has worked 12 of the past 15 years had a family day.   After all the hot dogs, chips, popcorn, sno cones, sugary beverages and inflatables we could handle, it was time to head for the gates.  As we neared the exit, my wife ran into a guy she used to work with.  After a few seconds of conversation the guy stopped to introduce my wife to and I quote “his fantastic wife.”

Wow.

My wife is fantastic too, I thought to myself.  In fact my wife is not only fantastic, she’s amazing!  But does she know I feel that way?

Listens to all of my frustrations – amazing
Super patient with our sons – amazing
Respected by seemingly everyone she works with – amazing
Caring and sympathetic – amazing
Beautiful, great cook, keeps our home running smoothly…all amazing.

Today, I vow to tell my wife how amazing she really is in my eyes.  Happy 14th Anniversary, Kelly!