Maribél the Fish Monger

I recently made a resolution to slow down and to pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells and people around me. And I am so glad I did.

It’s Lent so for us that means more frequent trips to the fish market. I usually look around at the various fish offerings, but I am always attracted to one stand in particular, usually on account of their tremendous display of  monkfish and other critters from the Cantabrian coast.

Although I had things to do, I told Maribél (featured here, and holding one of these creepy monkfish) that we were leaving Spain. She was very sad to hear the news and we were talking for a good 10 minutes about various topics related to this, primarily the goodness of what lies ahead and what the opportunity to be close to family. We both understood each other perfectly well when we realized that not having Spanish nationality and living in Spain complicates things a lot, not just with the mass of paperwork that is needed, but also with the future opportunities that not having nationality prohibits.

Maribél and a Monkfish!

Maribél herself is from the Dominican Republic and married to a Spanish man. She has been working at the fish shop for a good 3 years.

Eventually she asked what kind of fish I might want and I found some “carrilleras de bacalao,” basically cod cheeks — very tender! I asked her if she might have a recommendation on how to cook them and her eyes lit up. She told me a good length how to make them with a green sauce, including how to make the fish stock that would be used to add additional flavor.

She then asked if I had fish stock at home, (This is Spain, so it’s possible I might have) and I said that I didn’t. She told me to hang on a minute. She ran and grabbed a big fish head and started taking the giant clever and splitting it in two. She was getting me the fixings for the fish stock without me even asking! Then she offered me a huge bunch of fresh parsley to make the green sauce. This plus the 1.5 lbs of fish came to a measly €7,32. I don’t know if I have ever been so excited to boil fish heads in a pot, but that Friday I was.

We said goodbye over more conversation, and she confirmed when I was leaving, but of course, I said I would be back many times before we left and would be visiting soon. She insisted that I come back to visit when we did visit Pamplona next.

Fish heads, fish heads, rolly polly fish heads…

I had spent the last 5 days or so trying to figure out what it was that I had done to deserve such undivided, personal attention. What was it about this fish shop that allowed them to both stay in business and also provide this kind of service. A friend recently told me the exact reason, it was because I had offered her the personal gift of my time, my interest and my ears. I had been genuinely open to a human connection with this person, one that could have been fishy but ended up with a delicious meal (don’t worry the recipe is below).

When we have the opportunity to work with anyone, the genuine interest and openness that we offer them is both immediately apparent and also obvious. Otherwise we fall into the take-a-number service that we are so tired of as a culture and as a nation. This does cost us something, though, it costs us time. We think that time owns us so much of the time, when the fact is that there is always enough time for everything. It is in our own minds that we do not have enough time. It is this slavery to the clock that prevents our ability to engage each other in meaningful relationship and dialogue, and as one of Germanic and British origin I am more guilty of this than anyone.

Take time this week to be present to the sights, smells and the people around you. Look for the gifts of people’s time and attention that many freely offer, and do not turn down one of these valuable opportunities. That will lead to greater inspiration and creativity in your own life and in those around you.

Alright here is the recipe for Maribél’s Carrilleras de Bacalao


  • 1.5 lbs of cod cheeks (serves 4)
  • 1 small-medium onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup white wine.
  • 1 tbsp corn starch or 2 tbsp tapioca flour (arrowroot can also work)
  • Oil, salt, pepper, water, etc.


  1. Get some nasty bits of fish (head, spine, etc) that the fishmonger would otherwise throw away. Make sure to get a head and have him or her cut it in half (or do it yourself). Set this to a boil in a pan, and just cover with water, you wont need much. Let this lightly boil for 45 minutes.
  2. Salt and pepper the cod cheeks and set aside.
  3. In a large pot, take a diced onion and begin to carmelize (i.e. add salt) in about 3 tbsp of oil.
  4. Meanwhile, mince fresh parsley (must be fresh) to get 1/4 cup finely chopped.
  5. As the onion starts to turn brown, add a diced garlic.
  6. Make sure the fish stock is ready, then add the tappioca flour and allow it to bubble for a few seconds.
  7. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Don’t let it all evaporate.
  8. Add the parsley and stir it in. Allow the mixture to heat up and start to thicken a bit.
  9. Add the cod cheeks and let them sear just slightly (1 minute) then add enough fish stock just to cover the surface of the cheeks. Do not use too much!!!
  10. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes, then serve! Add a bit more fresh parsley as a garnish / for presentation.
Here is an excellent example of the consistency of sauce you should be aiming for. Note this isn’t carilleras but other parts of the cod and mussels in this picture.
Here is mine, I used a bit too muchstock and parsley so it looks a bit soupy.

















The Essence of Management: Right Priorities

For every man that eateth and drinketh, and seeth good of his labour, this is the gift of God.” Eccl. 3:13

Believing work is a gift can be difficult. After all, people bring with them conflicts, misunderstandings, and their own humanity. Ugh! Who wants that? Ask any business owner and the most important asset in their employees is “people skills.” What they are really saying is that they are looking for someone who can look at another with understanding and can help them overcome their fears in order to move forward. This is also the essence of management.

The path that I have discovered for developing these people skills is (and actually a lot more) is part of what I call “Doing the Work.” Doing the Work is an education of the heart and mind. It is the development of the ability to see ourselves and others with love, honesty, gratitude and forgiveness. Doing the Work is what leads us to truly working with our integrity, and acting within our power.Doing the Work may take many forms, that of self-help books, coaching, or even counseling. However, the first and most important aspect of  Doing the Work is a daily process of keeping our priorities in the right order.

With respect to our working relationships, this priority set looks like this:

  1. Self Care
    Most fundamental is self care. What self care does is give us the maximum control in our lives. If we are the usual combination of Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired or Stressed (HALTS) we are usually not exercising good self care. I cannot remember a time when I was any of these and also made a good decision.
  2. Key RelationshipsHierarchyofRelationships
    When our relationship with our most key relationship, usually that of our supervisor, is on track, then we are able to function well. When our relationships are not on the right track, it is nearly impossible to get anything done or to feel empowered to do th
    e work we need.
  3. The Good of the Team and Organization
    Third, is the good of our team and organization. When we keep the overall needs of the team that we are on and the organization as a whole in mind, especially before thinking of the good of the customer. This is why Richard Branson’s Virgin Airlines does well, they put the good of the employee before the good of the customer.
  4. The Good of the Customer 
    Fourth, is the needs of any customer or individual within the organization. If there is an individual who is yelling for something that they cannot have today or who is any of the hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or stressed, we cannot handle them well unless we have the first three priorities established.

I use the word “education” to describe this process because this process is scary. Education, when done well, is the exposure to scary things, events, ideas in a controlled, non-scary way. Education causes us to look more deeply at the world and ourselves, walking away more attuned to the world around us and the mind inside of ourselves. If we do not take the time to educate ourselves by doing the work, we will be unable to approach the world with any real skill.

In fact, the role of the manager is to be an educator. Her or his job is to expose us to scary ideas, perhaps the idea that there are better ways to do something, but in a safe way. This requires trust, yes, but more importantly it requires a safe way to talk about these things. Some education is organization-wide, some is team-wide, and some is very personal.

And you thought it was just people skills? Try this, ask an excellent manager what how they developed their people skills? Also ask them what makes them an effective manager in these cases. I’m sure that the answer they give will be something like this.

Lessons in Simplicity

I have this bad habit of wanting to do more than I can.

I like to keep more things than I can manage, schedule myself for more commitments than I can make, plan more grandiose plan than I can achieve, and put myself in more difficult challenges than I can manage. The root of this, unfortunately, is a lack of humility or a lack of contentment with who I am and what I can reasonably achieve.

In a world where we are always connected, slowing down and allowing ourselves time and space to breathe, enjoy life and reset our frame of mind is increasingly difficult. We are more likely to listen to a podcast than the swooshing of the dishwasher while we clean up the kitchen. We are more likely to turn on the news than fold laundry while we sing.  Yet our humanity requires a bit more time to unwind the hard work from the week.

cerco_de_artajona2c_navarra2c_espac3b1a2c_2015-01-062c_dd_10One Sunday a few friends and our family went for a picnic in Artajona (featured images from Wikipedia and tourism). It has a beautiful castle, medieval city walls and a gorgeous church. We packed a picnic with charcuterie, cheese, wine, fruit, bread and of course tortilla de patata. We spread out blankets and let our kids play in the rocks while we lay down and enjoyed the sun, the breeze and the surroundings. It was a perfect summer day. The point was not to play ultimate frisbee or do something entertaining. The point was to truly relax and allow ourselves time to reset from the week.


Finding these moments of stillness is essential, especially for families with children when noise is the status quo. While picnics are an ideal summer activity, they are not by any means the only summer activity, nor is summer the only time to find this kind of peaceful reset that we are in such deep need of.

A few suggestions:

  1. Once a week, choose 3 hours for slowing down, for doing nothing. If you do not have this, you will lose your cool.
  2. Determine places that have natural or built beauty, places that allow you to enjoy the surroundings and appreciate what you have.
  3. Bring or buy something to eat and enjoy.
  4. Don’t journal, read or have any activities planned. It’s winter and the only option is a public place, consider a beautiful art book or poetry. Simply breathe, and notice what you receive in your senses. Notice the smells, the sights, the colors and shadows, the people, the textures, the weightiness, the history, the sky, the taste of your food.  If you are at a café, drink you coffee slowly, tasting every bit on your tongue.
  5. Remember times and memories that this experience brings up, and make small acts of gratitude for what you have received.

In our world, we don’t get the opportunity to have this kind of reset every day, but we can at least aim for it once a week.

Blind Spots and Permission Marketing

What do you do when a key player doesn’t show up?

This morning I had two presenters for a session on presentation skills coaching but one of them didn’t show up, and we had a good 35 minutes to kill. Dismissing the class wasn’t an option, because I believe in giving value for the time that someone pays me for. So, I thought I would introduce them to the concepts of permission marketing.

Now this group wasn’t a group of businessmen or salespeople. They were government employees, veterinarians who oversaw the regulations for animal health and slaughterhouses, and had little to do with sales because their jobs are permanent (about 50% of the population has the equivalent to tenure in Spain). So what use would permission marketing be for this group?

As it turns out, quite a lot. The core of what this group needed was influence. While many farmers complied with their requests, many also did not, presenting the entire region with a vulnerability for animal health, and potentially spreading diseases to humans. In addition, they often felt that their attempts to educate were thwarted by people’s disinterest or even distrust. However, when we started talking about permission marketing in terms of the influence that they might have and giving them the practical tools that they would need in order to earn that permission, their ears perked up and they became fascinated.

The group started to see how mandates from the government were entirely useless unless they were accompanied by a relationship. They started to understand why they shop at one grocery store or another, why they buy meat from a specialist butcher with whom they have a personal connection as opposed to the supermarket, why they chose one dentist or another. Once they started to see the permission web working in their own lives, they began to contemplate how they might use it in their workspace and how they might earn the trust and confidence of both their superiors, government officials, and the region as a whole.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the concepts in permission marketing can be applied to even the most obscure parts of our world. The humbling fact for me is that it took someone not showing up in order to have me introduce the material. And I own this as my fault for not introduce permission marketing earlier. I speak for myself and perhaps many of us when I say that I have a blind spot as to who would benefit from this material and that many more are in need of it than I ever realized.

Who do you think would least benefit from this material? What would it look like if you were wrong?


The European Dream

On our block is the pharmacy, a pastry shop, a clothing shop my wife loves, two baby stores, a place that sells groceries, a chocolate shop, and the affectionately termed “chino,” with everything from party balloons to women’s nylons. One block away are some of our favorite cafés, our favorite grocery store, our bank, another pastry shop, another chino, a dry cleaning place, another handful of cafés and restaurants, our favorite baby supply shop, the home of one of my English students, a beautiful park and playground several bus stops, and a few gyms.

For many Americans, the European dream consists in precisely this: that what you want / need is close by and you don’t have to drive 15-20 minutes in order to get it. Contrast this to the American dream of everyone owning their own car, single-family home and having the whole world a car ride away.

Add to this European dream a life in the street. Families with children, couples, grandparents, and disabled all regularly go outside for a paseo, a leisurely stroll along the main pedestrian thoroughfare and say hello to each other as they walk along the street. People put on their latest purchases, and enjoy being in public. They stop at a café in the middle of the road and have a long conversation over a coffee or beer and then continue walking. The paseo is a ritual that deepens the already interconnected society Spanish society.

Contrast this with the American dream where every man´s home is his castle.

We Americans have become a “backyard” society, as opposed to the front yard.


I’m not who I thought I was…

I used to think I was more security focused and less idea focused, less creative and more production oriented, less relationship oriented and more detail/numbers oriented, not as good with people and better in an office by myself. Yesterday I realized that I am not who I thought I was. In particular I am referring to my personality style.

For years I I am often surprised when I ask a company, “What kind of personality style metrics do you guys use?” Usually they respond that they don’t have any. This is surprising because it seems like such a basic organizational tool. How someone usually operates in transactions with others seems like a powerful tool to use in managing people and getting to their fundamental motivations.

There are several personality styles tests out there, some of which are better than others. Many of us have heard of DISC profiles, but my favorite personality style is Market Force ( They have a phenomenal approach to personality styles that is more about fundamental fears and motivations than general personality styles. Unfortunately the majority of the business world has yet to hear about the glories of Market Force. Perhaps for lack of a better option, they will have contracted with a very expensive company the rights to rent the intellectual property of a large 300-question quiz that is as painful to take as it is to view the results.

Often you are prepped with a few disclaimers, “think of how you usually behave in a business environment.” Great, well the business environments that I am usually in are not always the most healthy or high functioning. Another is”there are no right or wrong answers,” oh really? So if I put down that I am “very unlikely” to be well organized and am “very likely” to lie to bend the rules because I want to that’s not going to raise a red flag?

The fundamental issue with tests of these kinds is that people have a lot of fear going into them, and that shapes our responses in one way or another. To be honest, I am not terribly organized, but I don’t want anyone to know that. I also like to think that I am honest, though I am likely to take a few quarters out of our grocery money to buy myself a coffee. But what makes a personality test effective is when we realize that all of us have a shared set of fears that no personality type has a monopoly on. What are these common fears.

  1. Fear of rejection. You know, good sales people don’t necessarily need to be any specific personality type. Even the most gregarious and perhaps pushy people might have a greater fear or rejection than an accountant.
  2. Fear of risk/failure. Each of us has a different appetite for risk and failure at any given moment in our lives. This can depend on a wide number of external factors (sleep, sickness in family, loss of a relationship or loved one). Yes an engineer can love to take risks or they can hate it. A flamboyant marketer can also be petrified of doing something that hasn’t been done before.
  3. Fear of punishment. This has more to do with our internal parent-child psychology than anything else. If we are afraid for being hurt for being anything other than who we really are, then we are putting an undue burden on ourselves.

So, when you are about to take a personality test, first, make sure you clear your mind of these fears, otherwise your test will likely come out having put you in the wrong category. You will sabotage the meaningful information that you might otherwise have.