Family, friends, and pullups






Well sorry for the long post but it was a long week, and I didn’t wind up having time to write up a post half-way through, so here we go!

This week was very tiring. I found myself getting very, very tired around 9pm every night and not just because it was nearly fully dark at 4:45 (although that did not help). I spent the first few days at my parents place in Vermont, and the remainder at my house in Bolton, Massachusetts. The time was about as emotional as I had expected, and a lot more of a whirlwind than I was really expecting – I expected to have a lot more free time than I did, which turned out to be just about zero!

No surprise of course that my family and friends love and care about me. I was actually pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to explain what I do for work 100+ times (either people already understand or just don’t care about that level of detail). Obviously I also have a lot to think about. From that perspective it was good to get out of Cape Town to clear my head. I had actually forgotten just how beautiful New England is in the autumn; wow. I would say it’s about time for a 2+ hour run to clear my head but that’s not in the cards … more on that below.

So Sunday’s activities included a trip to Middlebury and then to check the construction of a bridge to New York state (the old one was declared structurally unsound and demolished last year). This was fun because we wandered way past the areas where you were supposed to go. Great security there; guess we didn’t fit the profile of terrorists. It is always interesting to me to check out construction up close.

On Monday we went up to Burlington, had a lovely lunch with my brother (he should have had the meatloaf), some good coffee at Muddy Waters, and watched the workers hang Christmas garlands. Then, we collected my mother after she had finished teaching one of her classes, and went to Frog Hollow, which is the gallery for local artisans. Middlebury still isn’t quite the same after Frog Hollow closed there: the new gallery is missing something. Shame; the ravages of an economic downturn.

Before heading home, we went by Belmont to collect my car from the mechanic. Now apparently some sort of surgery was done to the wheel wells, and the plastic barrier between the car and the wheel was not attached properly so it came unattached on my way to Whole Foods, and I was unable to pull it completely out so I did what I could to wedge it back into place. As I figured, the hardest part about adjusting to driving on the right again was shifting with the other hand – a countless number of times I would go to shift and would knock the door with my left hand. After the first two days or so that went away except when parallel parking. But to finish my story – my amateurish repair job in the dark parking lot came undone at highway speed, causing me nearly to swerve into the adjacent lane. Well, thank goodness for good reflexes. Aside from that, it was great to drive my car again – love, love, LOVE that car!

I actually found Whole Foods a bit overwhelming after 6 months or so of South African supermarkets. I was trying to figure out what sort of veggies to cook and I think I walked around in the vegetable area for about 5 minutes in complete indecision before settling on Brussels sprouts and yu choi. So many choices! A little bit surprisingly, I did not really translate prices back to rands at all. I guess it makes sense: what is a reasonable price in one country doesn’t really translate to another (hence the arbitrage of buying $30 worth of Oil of Olay SPF 15 moisturizer that would run me $60 in South Africa).

Tuesday I was sufficiently rested (and stretched – you wouldn’t believe what a toll 22 hours of travel takes on your body – now that I am used to listening to my body I can really tell the difference!) to go check out CrossFit New England in Natick (oddly enough, probably about a 10-minute drive from where I used to live). This is one of the meccas of CrossFit in the U.S., or at least so I think. Their team (2 men, 2 women) came in a very close second in the CrossFit Games this year, and the two owners Heather and Ben Bergeron are kind of celebrities. At this gym they have recently been doing one workout a week where the workouts are custom-designed to your weaknesses (since you are only as strong as your weakest link after all). So Mel who was running the workout I went to asked me what my weaknesses are and I rattled them off (starting with pullups, which I was unable to do). She took one look at me and said, ok, my workout would be 1 pullup per round and 10 wall balls. I tried not to look at her like she had three heads considering that I had just said I couldn’t do pullups, and gamely demonstrated my pullup attempt. I’ll spare the details but she told me exactly what I was doing wrong and showed me how to do it properly – so I tried and got much closer than ever before on my very next attempt, then within another 2-3 attempts I was doing pullups! My technique is still not great and sometimes I will get mostly all the way up and then have to muscle my way up the rest of the way but hey it’s an infinite improvement. Needless to say, I was pretty excited, I am not sure that grin came off my face for the rest of the day! Well, and the other thing that made me happy was that my most recent 400m time that I was so down on myself about is apparently considered quite good by CFNE fitness standards.

Tuesday lunch was at Legal Seafoods with my best friend from Babson. It was great to catch up with her, and one thing you always wonder about is how much you really have in common with ex-classmates or co-workers, once the opportunity to chat and gossip about other people, work, etc. is gone. Luckily in this case, we seem still to have a lot in common! After some quick shopping since I was already in the Burlington Mall, I went up to my old company, Exit41, in Andover. Chatted with my old boss the CEO for about maybe 45 minutes and then went on the rounds catching up with a lot of people. Sad, though, that there wasn’t really enough time to catch up with everyone in the amount of detail I would have liked!

Once I was able to extract myself, I headed to the bar at Dylan’s where I had spent many an evening when I worked for Exit41. There I enjoyed dinner and a couple of drinks with a couple of ex-coworkers. Absolutely love these two: they are as close as family in some ways, and that’s about all I have to say except thank you for sending me that Wendy’s audio file I had somehow managed to lose. And yes, I know the rules. Following dinner, I went down to Cambridge and got a parking spot right out front of the Muddy Charles, where I stayed for another drink or so with the BH3 “support group” before heading back home.

On Wednesday I had arranged to go up to my boarding school (St Paul’s School in Concord NH) to give a talk at lunch time. Silly me, I hadn’t thought that they would have activities arranged weeks in advance (seriously!!) so I didn’t exactly get the best time slot but I did get about 20 students, most of whom seemed really engaged. I think I wound up talking to them as much about the context of living and working in South Africa (i.e. apartheid, BEE, etc.) than about social enterprise. But I was very impressed: I asked them to define social enterprise and this one kid defined it so well I couldn’t have done it better myself! My goal for the visit was party to plant a seed in the mind of these children that there could be a way to make a living outside of the traditional things they have been thinking about their whole life, but also to start networking and see what connections I could make that would be useful to heart. There are a couple of things that may or may not pan out, so we shall see.

I was impressed with a couple I met in the admissions office who looked like stereotypical New England (actually they were probably New York, I didn’t ask, but Northeast) old money. I don’t know what my expectation is of the knowledge of most Americans about South Africa, but the father at least knew not only the President of South Africa by name but also knew of Julius Malema, so as I said I was impressed!

It’s funny, when you are told something often enough you tend to believe it: these kids are told every day that they are the crème de la crème and the world is their oyster. Now, this is true: they are by and large very intelligent and also lucky enough to come from a background with money, many of them. Well, maybe it’s time also to start thinking about what they can do for the world. If you think about all the brainpower being poured into things like behavioural psychology, advertising, financial instruments, frivolous lawsuits, making possessions we don’t really need … what would happen I wonder if people started moving in mass droves to second or third careers where they can really make a tangible difference in the world? Maybe this is already starting to happen, I am not sure – but I do know that there are a lot, a LOT of smart people out there who maybe don’t even know how to help. Even in America – I was just reading that there is something like a 14% adult illiteracy rate, and 31% of college graduates even are not proficient at basic math skills required to succeed in everyday life. I have, obviously, been thinking about social enterprise and what I am doing, and the fact of the matter is that it’s an idea whose time has come but it is much easier to do it in an environment where a) the need is so much more clear, and thanks to BEE legislation seed capital is more easily accessible than in America. So, you start where it’s easy and then you have the luxury of time, lessons learned, and capital to help you succeed where it’s harder. There is also the fact that being based in Africa, even in South Africa, is just exciting to people in the first world, and doing social enterprise is exciting to anyone with a bit of a business brain to them. I can literally see people start to light up from the inside out and get visibly excited when I talk about what I do and how they can get involved. You don’t have that opportunity every day, or every year.

Anyway. My walking reverie of the school took longer than expected so I ran a couple 200m sprints and checked out the new athletic complex. Wow. Change is hard, there was really a spirit to that old gym with the upstairs basketball court (they kept that feature, happily), and the weight room that looked like something out of the 1950s. Well, onward and upward I presume. Funny, though, the number of staff members who remembered me by name even though I hadn’t been there in literally 15 years. Apparently I stood out, actually I guess that’s no surprise around the gym, come to think of it … but yeah, I never did fit in really well there. I’m more of a chameleon now, it would actually be kind of interesting to go see how everyone has changed in 15 years. But we shall see.

I was in a bit of a hurry because I wanted to catch the 5:30pm class at CrossFit Fenway. I appreciated this gym from the get-go because they insist on only 8 people per class so that they can make sure everyone has proper form and attention. I also appreciated that our warmup involved sandbags which was new to me, and so good fun. The workout was deadlifts (5RM, for the second time in a week, file that one under constantly varied), followed by a fun workout of row 250m then do pushups to failure, and repeat (you are allowed to rest at the top of the pushup but not at the bottom, chest must touch the floor and legs must not). Your score is the max # of pushups you can do in 15 minutes. Well, this looked a lot easier on paper, I must say. Repeated muscle failure is hard! My first round I did 35, then 20, then after that it was a struggle to get between 8-12 in the last rounds. I really wanted to get to 100 and I did … barely. 101. But all in all, good fun! I was starving after all this so I went home and cooked goat chops with turnips and yu choi.

Thursday morning I went back to CrossFit New England for the workout which was clean complex. I won’t bore anyone with the details of this one because it’s pretty boring unless you’re a serious CrossFit nerd, but Ben told me to jump later than I had been jumping and that actually felt like good advice, I could feel that my form was a lot cleaner (no pun intended). Also, I feel like I should practice full cleans more because geez doing 36 of those suckers is hard when you are not used to front squats!

Lunch was Sichuan Gourmet (as paleo as we were able to make it). Gingu fish fillets are a lot spicier than I recall! My poor taste buds are not used to it, but the whole experience was very enjoyable. After that, Rob and I took off for a quick trip to Maine which consisted more of hitting up the outlet stores than sight-seeing but in our defense it was really, really cold! Lobster dinner and down to Cambridge Common for drinks night. This was really awesome: actually quite a few people couldn’t make it and either apologized before or after (or, in one case, apparently forgot completely until it was too late!), but a lot of people did make it, and most of my favorites. So, that was really just wonderful. It’s funny, it’s been months but in a lot of ways it could practically have been two weeks since the last time we all met up at Cambridge Common.

Now, despite not drinking too much I was still very tired the next morning (this, apparently, is what happens when you don’t drink frequently enough!). Dragged myself out of bed and to the dentist, then walked around taking pictures. Oddly enough I ran into someone I had met in South Africa (a Boston native) when I was on my way to grab some coffee at Starbucks. Talk about a small world! After grabbing a quick lunch in Harvard Square, I walked over to Harvard Business School where I had a meeting with the woman who runs the Social Enterprise Initiative (they define social enterprise much more broadly than we do … another of the challenges of an emerging sector!), and the woman who runs the incubator HBS is starting up. This meeting as well was to explore potential collaborations, and I think we have some ideas for how to do this. Directly following this meeting, I headed a bit further into Allston-Brighton to meet with a high-tech company there about potentially forming a joint venture, or in some other way helping us get kick-started with replicating a modified version of their business model in South Africa. Both of these meetings were notable for as I described above literally being able to see people light up with excitement, even while we’re all trying to be realistic about expectations. Collaboration is easy when you figure out how to make it both a win-win, and something that either both parties can do without a lot of extra lift, or, in cases like this, where there is an asymmetry for one party to do a lot of the legwork and just rely on the other for talent, or money, or technology. Of course, everything is easy in theory … it’s where you need to execute that the rubber really meets the road.

After these meetings I hit up CrossFit Southie, which is a new gym. I will just say: don’t bother. I knew more about proper form on the push press than the co-owner who was running the class. Cool logo though. So Friday night dinner was salmon (you can’t get wild salmon in SA, and the farm-raised Norwegian stuff is expensive and as we all know only to be eaten rarely because it’s awful for you), and I spent a good amount of time prepping for the Thanksgiving -1 party the next day (this is a pre- or post-Thanksgiving potluck, this year I was making roasted vegetables and paleo stuffing – fruit & nut, it was really good!).

Saturday! I must have been tired because I overslept and barely made it to CrossFit New England for the 9:30 workout. Yes, if it’s a day ending in y there are cult activities to be had … this day’s workout was 7 rounds of 5 handstand pushups, 10 deadlifts @60kgs, 10 chest-to-bar pullups, and 20 double-unders. Since I am new to pullups I subbed 5 normal pullups for the 10 chest-to-bar, and that was sufficiently difficult for me. I also managed to completely tear up both my palms, so although I may be like a kid who has found a new toy in pullups, those soft hands are killing me.

After eating lunch, Rob and I scouted trail for the hash he was supposed to hare (set trail for) but couldn’t because his knee hurt. I think it’s a sprain and that he should see someone, and I now am even more convinced it’s a sprain because after running the second half of trail then laying trail (did I mention running like the fear of God was in me because my flour didn’t arrive at the beer check until the pack did so I didn’t have much of a head start on the second 2-mile leg), I noticed that my sprained knee was hurting a bit too. So these things can flare up if you don’t rest them!

The rest of the evening involved a smoked turkey, a fried turkey, a TON of food, Sierra Nevada beer, fish oil in leaves (don’t ask…) and seeing just why Four Loco has been outlawed. My goodness I have never seen anyone go from fine to hilariously messed up so quickly! This was also a great party because I got to see a lot of other people I hadn’t seen all trip. But, unfortunately despite the fact that I didn’t actually go crazy eating too much I ate something that disagreed with me and had to go to bed relatively early. Still, I had a great time!

Sunday was also a bit hectic … a lot of last-minute errands, followed by the 100th Boston Moon hash (which was fantastic fun, despite the fact that I had to run really easy due to my knee starting to hurt). Really nice job by the hares, only problem was that it was extremely cold, like 40 F, and I was really cold (did I mention how cold it was) so by the end I just wanted it to end so we could get inside. Inside we went, to Doyle’s in JP where I got a few people to join me in the bar area so we could get a better view of the Pats/Colts game. And what a game!! Pats were up by I think 17 points at one point but the Colts came back to within 3 and the game ended with a Pats interception on the Colts 6 yard line with like 30 seconds left. That game totally could have gone the other way. But it didn’t. So then I didn’t realize my ride was leaving until they were and had a couple of hurried and emotional goodbyes (no fair trying to make me cry … you know who you are!!).

Speaking of emotional, I was also very sad this morning to leave. As I write this now from Heathrow Terminal 5 (oooh, the excitement), I can only say that I enjoyed my trip, I’m excited to be going back to Cape Town, and as Thanksgiving approaches I can only give thanks for all the unconditional love and support from my family and friends.

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