tree of lifeWe started last weekend by picking the kids up from school Friday afternoon and heading down to Pasadena Art Night. Yan is the catalyst for these types of outings and our whole family benefits greatly because of them. Cade and Ella were excited by the general plan to eat at food trucks, walk around Pasadena, and see lots of cool art. “But what’s art?” asked Ella. I must admit I didn’t really know how to answer that question. “We’re going to use our senses to experience things people have created and then we’ll talk about what they make us think about and how they make us feel,” I responded. “But Daddy, what are senses?” And down the rabbit hole we went…

Our first stop of the evening was the Day One exhibit so we could show the kids the “Tree of Life” they’d seen at school recently. It was a cool piece inspired by local artist and Field mom Sherry Giang-Chen; the Field students wrote their dreams and wishes on red ribbons and/or marigold flowers and tied them to the tree. After we read scores of the tree’s messages, we browsed through the other exhibits in the area before heading out to the street for some sliders from the nearest food truck.

Then it was a short walk over to City Hall for more food and more exhibits. The highlights there were the John Muir High Marching Drummers which Cade and Ella followed around, mesmerized, like rodents behind the Pied Piper, and an old man I can only describe as “groovy” who was playing his own hand-made stringed instruments, the sound of which fascinated us all.

We then caught the shuttle over to PCC to see what was going on there (and to visit the Hawaiian shaved ice truck parked on campus). On the way, the driver pulled over and announced the intermediate stop “A Room to Create… anyone want to get off at A Room to Create?” Cade immediately began pleading and begging to get off the bus. I asked him what made him want to disembark here so bad and he said, “Because it sounds like there’s a room where you get to go in and create stuff!” I told him that did sound fun but it wasn’t exactly what was happening at that particular stop, despite the name. Reluctantly, he agreed to stay in his seat and continue onward.

At PCC we got our shaved ice – mmmmm! – and visited a more traditional gallery exhibit. I was very impressed and more than a little surprised by Cade. He really got into the paintings, and they were all a bit on the abstract side. He spent time studying each one and then gave Yan and I his critical interpretation before moving on to view the next canvas. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me so much. Cade has always been incredibly analytical. I was just a bit shocked – and thrilled – that art of that nature captured his interest like it did.

All in all it was a great outing. We did something out of the ordinary. We explored the deep (whether intentionally deep or not) question posed by Ella at the beginning of the excursion: what is art? We ate some good food. We laughed together. We walked arm in arm at times, holding hands at others. Cade and Ella expanded their horizons just a bit. And I hope and think this is the kind of memory they’ll keep with them throughout their lives.
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Marc with his family

Marc with his family

My wife’s maternal grandfather turned 95 on Sunday, and the whole family celebrated in epic style. There were about eighty people at the feast, the majority of whom were relatives of the guest of honor. That’s right, my wife’s grandfather and grandmother have about fifty descendants across three generations (four if you count them) all in the same room. It made me think about how just one person can not only influence, but completely change, the lives of so many others.

You see, my wife’s parents grew up in China. They were teenagers during the Cultural Revolution. Their families were each considered part of the urban bourgeois class. As such, my wife’s father and mother were taken from their homes, with many other urban “bourgeois” youth and placed in rural work camps; reassigned as proletariats. That’s where they met. And from the moment he was sent there, my father-in-law began planning his escape.

He organized a small group of people he trusted not to betray him or his plans, my mother-in-law among them. She was terrified, however, and only my father-in-law’s reassurances that he would take care of her convinced her to actually join the escape party. One night the small group slipped out of the camp with only a bit of rice, a homemade compass crafted by my father-in-law, and a rough idea of the general direction they needed to travel to get to the coast near Hong Kong.

Unbeknownst to them, the journey through the mountains to the coast would take three weeks. Their food rations quickly ran out. They were being hunted and so could only travel at night. And one night they were discovered and surrounded by communist soldiers. The soldiers began shooting, the small party scattered, and chaos ensued. My mother-in-law remembers falling down a steep ravine, landing beside the body of one of her compatriots who had been killed by the soldiers just moments before. She hid under his corpse, undiscovered, until the soldiers left the area. She had no idea what had happened to my father-in-law.

Traumatized as she was, my mother-in-law somehow made it the rest of the way to the coast. The last obstacle between her and freedom was an all night swim through shark infested waters to the island of Hong Kong. She had a makeshift floatation device with her but early in the swim a patrol boat, looking for people attempting to escape to Hong Kong, approached her in the water and she let go of the floaty to dive out of sight. Only through sheer determination did she manage to keep swimming and make it the shore of Hong Kong many hours later.

My father-in-law took a different path. During the encounter with the soldiers he had been captured. Bound and thrown into the back of a truck, not knowing what horrible fate he was being driven to, he leapt from the truck to escape. He was captured again – only to escape again. Finally, on his third attempt he was able to evade capture and reach the coast for that same terrifying swim my mother-in-law had already survived. Many of those who entered the water were never heard from again. But my father-in-law emerged wet and cold … and free … on the shore of the British colony too.

After a short time searching for each other (not knowing if the other had made it or perished), my wife’s parents were reunited. They got married soon after, had a daughter (Yan!) and then another before immigrating to the United States a few years later. They came to America, just as so many others have, to provide a better life and more opportunities for their children.

They are indeed the quintessential American story. They came to this country, literally, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a few hundred dollars in their pockets. That was it. They didn’t know a soul here. They didn’t ask for any handouts. They found jobs, worked hard, lived frugally, and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Eventually they saved enough to bring their parents over, then their siblings, nieces, and nephews, too. All of them came for a shot at a better life. And all of them received that opportunity because of a brave young man who refused to let his freedom be taken from him, and the brave young woman who believed in him when he promised to take care of her.

None of the people who were in that room Sunday night celebrating a 95 year old man’s birthday – myself included – would have been there if it weren’t for my wife’s father and mother. They are truly amazing. Few people I’ve met are as courageous, as hard-working, and as generous as I know them to be. They have changed the lives of everyone in their extended family. They have changed my life, too. I would not have met my wife if not for their desire to give their girls a better life. I would not have Cade and Ella if I had not met and married Yan. I would not be who I am today.

All it takes is one person with a dream and the determination to do whatever it takes to turn that dream into reality. That one person can change the lives of so many. I saw a testament to that Sunday night. It is a source of pride to know my wife and children come from such strong stock, and it is an honor to be a part of such an amazing heritage.
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Marc with his family

Marc with his family

A couple of weeks ago while Yan and I were killing time at Sierra Madre Music during Cade’s and Ella’s piano lessons, Yan said to me, “We should take music lessons, too, since we’re here anyway… what would you like to play?” I played trumpet when I was a kid but the thought of learning a new instrument sounded fun and challenging. “Harmonica,” I replied. “That way if I’m ever in prison I’ll be able to entertain the other guys in the cellblock.” Yan frowned and stated unequivocally, “Okay, I’m signing you up for guitar.” So on the plus side, at least she feigned interest in my input…

Fast forward to this weekend and my third guitar lesson. Boy, those steel strings sure are hard on the fingers! There’s nothing natural about playing guitar – at least for me – and it is difficult. But I’ve already learned the simple riff for Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and I’m now tackling the intro for Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” My kids are excited, too. Ella requested “Black Bird” by the Beatles the very first day I brought my new guitar home (and every day since). She loves that song because I sang it to her every night as a lullaby for the first several years of her life — I’m working my way up to that one, baby girl!

I’m not a natural, at all, but I’m having a blast trying to imitate my favorite guitar riffs. I don’t have dreams (illusions?) about being a rock star, but I do like the idea of being an integral part of bringing more music into our home. So it’s a cool family thing. It’s also a cool personal thing. Opportunities to push my boundaries and stretch my comfort zone are always worth exploring – even when those “opportunities” come in the form of assignments from my wife! And I’m actually glad she championed the guitar. As I said, I’m finding it very challenging -and even downright painful. But of course most worthwhile things in life are both of those things.

So we had a fully packed weekend, as usual, but the biggest event had to have been Sunday night’s lunar eclipse. I have a high-powered Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope we take out on the roof quite often. We can see the moon, the planets, the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, and even distant galaxies all in stunning detail, right from our rooftop. I have always been awed and amazed by what’s out there. I love seeing that same sense of wonder and awe in my children. I think it’s important they know how big and spectacular our solar system really is, and that our sun is just one of billions of starts in our galaxy, and that the milky way is just one of billions of galaxies in the universe. The vastness of what we’re a part of is truly mind-boggling.

It means that even though the challenges may be great, the possibilities are limitless. Literally. I love sharing that message with my children. We have a great classroom right up on our roof, looking out at the cosmos through a telescope. And I am thrilled, as are they, when rare and spectacular lessons present themselves like Sunday night’s super blood moon eclipse. And then there are also the more subtle lessons like learning piano, or guitar, or violin (as is Yan, but that’s a story for another day). I hope my kids always reach for the stars and relish taking on whatever challenges appear on their horizons.

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Marc with his family

Marc with his family

Recently I had someone tell me, “In your newsletter, you present your life as perfect and your family as idyllic.” I can’t imagine that person has been a regular reader, but hearing that made me feel sheepish and uncomfortable all the same. I don’t want to be disingenuous with what I write. At all. In fact, my personal notes in each newsletter come from my blog which is part of the legacy I’m preserving for my children, and honesty is an integral part of that legacy. I believe in real, true relationships with my children – and my clients. The only way that works is if there’s complete honesty and integrity on each side.

So let me be frank. Being a husband is hard. Being a father is hard. The reality is, those are the two biggest challenges of my life. By far. I do write about much of the success I feel in those roles because of the incredible depth of joy I experience both as a husband and as a father. Absolutely. However I also try to write about my struggles and failures in each role, too. Because they are just as real as the joy, happen just as often (if not more so), and they are just as important. Without them I would not have the opportunity for growth.

To tell you the truth, I rarely know what I’m going to write about before I sit down at the computer. My heart just sort of guides my fingers and then there it is. And even when I think I know what I’m going to write about beforehand, I often turn out wrong. I don’t try to hide anything. I do probably tend to focus more on the positive than the negative, both in my blog and in life (besides, you’re not going to keep reading if all I do is whine!) but I certainly don’t try to portray myself as anything other than what I am: an imperfect man who makes lots of mistakes, doesn’t have all the answers (in fact, sometimes I feel as if I don’t have ANY answers), and just improvises as best I can along the way.

My marriage isn’t perfect. Far from it. I am not a perfect father. Not even close. I am an imperfect human being. But it’s my very humanity which my life – and my legacy – is all about. And it’s what YOUR legacy is all about, too. I just had a couple shoot their legacy video last week (legacy videos are a part of every trust plan I offer to clients) and I got a little misty eyed, as I often do during those videos. They opened up their humanity in front of me. It was genuine. It was real. It was powerful. I am awed and inspired by every client who shoots a legacy video for their loved ones. And I really do work with some amazing clients. I learn something from each of them: how they approach their marriages and their spouses, how they lead their families and parent their children.

Newer readers of my blog may not have the full picture. I have been writing for most of this year and I’ve written about my struggles as a father, as a husband, as a human. I’ve also written about my triumphs. I don’t feel the need to spin any of it. The interesting part for me – and I hope the meaningful part for my children – is that I am preserving the micro ebbs and flows of this part of my life. The hardest part of my life. The most amazing part of my life. Drama. Suspense. Romance. Comedy. It has it all. And I really couldn’t ask for a better – and more challenging – role to play.
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Community Outreach 91024Yesterday I left the office early to pick up Ella right after school so I could take her to the doctor. She hadn’t been feeling well over the weekend and had just recovered from an infected lymph node under her left ear. She was now complaining of pain under her right ear and Yan and I didn’t want to wait until a full blown infection developed before having her seen this time. I decided to take Cade with us so the doctor could check his ears (he had just recovered from an ear infection). Yes, that’s the big game in the Garlett household – infection bingo!

When school let out for the day I intercepted Cade and Ella before they joined their after school programs and loaded them into my car, a 2011 Hyundai Sonata (which has a 5-star crash test rating – that’s important!). I travelled down Sierra Madre Blvd. and merged onto the 210 freeway for the short trip to the doctor’s office just southwest of Old Town Pasadena. I merged directly in front of an eighteen wheeler – a situation which I normally try to avoid, but traffic was bumper to bumper and I had little choice. Just as I merged, the traffic in front of me braked to a stop and so I did, too. The truck behind me, however, did not.

Luckily, in the stop and go traffic, the rate of travel for the truck was only about 5 miles per hour so the impact wasn’t violent. But the huge semi bumper completely demolished the back end of my car, and then he pushed me for a couple of seconds before finally stopping, nearly sandwiching me between himself and the car ahead of me. Ella was really scared and immediately began crying. Cade was really brave and immediately began comforting Ella. I made sure they were both uninjured and got out of the car to deal with the situation.

The truck driver jumped out of his cab screaming and swearing and pulled a piece of my car off his bumper which he then slammed to the ground. At first I thought he was just angry he had hit me. Then it dawned on me that his anger was directed at me. I said, “Wait a minute… are you upset at me!?” He shouted, “Expletive, expletive, I had the expletive right of way!!” After he hit me, as he was pushing me, I wondered why it was taking him so long to stop and now the emotion and volatility he was exhibiting on the freeway shoulder made me begin to think he may have hit me, and then pushed me, on purpose. Rage flashed through me as I thought of my two children strapped into the back seat, only a few feet from where his truck had torn into my car.

But confronting him was out of the question at that point. My only priority was Cade’s and Ella’s safety. I got back into my car, locked the doors, and called the police. I worked to get Ella calmed down and to keep Cade buckled into his car seat when every fiber of his being wanted to break free, check out the damage, and watch the police arrive. I gave the highway patrol officer my statement and called Yan to let her know what had happened. I was shaken at what had occurred and even more so by what did not occur, but might have. I am so thankful neither of my children were hurt. But the event reminded me of just how fragile things really are and how life can completely change, literally, in the blink of an eye.
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Marc with his family

Marc with his family

I love new beginnings and they seem to be all around me just now.

We passed final inspection last week on our K-town property and held an open house this weekend. There was a great turnout and I am thrilled and relieved. Relieved the project is winding down and that people seemed to really like the units we remodeled and made available for rent. Thrilled we’re going to able to get the amount of rent we hoped for, despite several people “in the know” telling us we never would. And our hunch on Koreatown has proved right: it is indeed a hip and happening L.A. neighborhood; great for investing.

School is back in session this week and Cade is entering second grade. After a tough 1st grade year, primarily – we think – because of Cade’s recently diagnosed far sightedness, he now gets a fresh start with refreshed eyes. He and I just got back from picking up his brand new glasses. He didn’t want to go get them. He didn’t want to put them on. He doesn’t want to keep them on. But he’s also realizing they’re making a difference. He keeps saying, “Daddy, you look taller through my glasses!” Hmmm. How can I convince everyone else I know to get a pair, too?

Ella Luree begins Kindergarten this week and is super excited. So am I. She gets to join Cade and me for school drop off and pick up every day. I’ll get to pop in and have lunch with her occasionally like I’ve done with Cade over the last two years (Field Elementary is just down the street from my office). She is ready, eager, and willing to learn. And she is thrilled to be back at the same school with Cade (which hasn’t happened since they were both in preschool at Pacific Friends together).

Yan and I just fell into a new “tradition” this weekend (if just twice in a row can actually be called a tradition). For the second consecutive Friday night we made the kids dinner, sat them in front of the TV in the living room, then had a nice candle light dinner for ourselves in the dining room. Just that little break, for that short amount of time, has been so nice. It’s enabled us to just relax, focus on each other – with only occasional interruptions – and reconnect at the end of the preceding fast and furious week. I’m already looking forward to doing it again this Friday night.
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Yan088Last week was a tough one for my favorite little boy in the world (Cade, of course!). First of all, he had a double ear infection. Cade has allergies which often cause his ears to fill up with fluid and occasionally get infected. Last week’s infection was particularly bad. He had a fever the whole time, wasn’t sleeping well at night, and generally felt lousy every day. I took him to the doctor midweek and while there, also asked them to check his eyes because Cade recently said the letters were getting a little fuzzy during our nightly reading sessions together.

In fact, Cade struggled throughout first grade with reading and Yan and I think his ears filling up with fluid so often probably contributed to it. I wanted to see if his eyes might be playing a role in his difficulties as well. The pediatrician’s eye chart test was inconclusive (as it had been in the past) so we decided to take him to a specialist over the weekend. And lo and behold, the eye doctor’s tests were inconclusive, too! The doctor said Cade’s eyes were straining and trying to compensate for something but he wouldn’t be able to determine exactly what without dilating his pupils.

Cade was horrified (and inconsolable) at the thought of having drops put in his eyes. After 20 full minutes of begging, pleading, promising, bribing, cajoling, and even putting drops in my own eyes to show him there was nothing to be scared of, I finally had no option but to hold him down while the doctor administered the drops. The sheer terror in his screams interwoven with his soulful sobs were difficult for me to bear and I nearly called the whole thing off.

But we got the drops in, got Cade calmed back down (relatively speaking, at least), and eventually got on with the eye test. The doctor was able to determine that Cade is actually quite a bit far sighted – a condition which had gone undetected in previous school and pediatric eye chart tests. So now one hurdle overcome, the next one squarely in front: “But I don’t want to wear glasses!!” The torture Cade experienced with the eye drops was quickly replaced by his new panic at the thought of showing up for second grade – which starts next week – with spectacles on his face.

Of course Yan and I told him it didn’t matter if anyone made fun of him, that it’s what he has on the inside that counts, that we too both wore glasses when we were kids, etc … what he heard was “blah, blah, blah, blah, GLASSES, blah, blah, blah.” But after letting him pick out his own frames he seemed to be doing okay with everything. Of course when we receive the finished glasses next weekend, the battle is likely to pick right back up where it left off. We’re steeling ourselves for that fight but are hopeful this will all be a character building experience for him, enable him to focus less on what others think of him (and more on being comfortable with himself), and most of all-help him in school and with reading!
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Yan088Last Friday evening after returning home from work, Yan and I decided to have an impromptu date night. We made the kids dinner and sat them down in the living room in front of a movie. We then made dinner for ourselves and sat in the dining room for a little peace and romance (complete with candlelight and wine). It was fantastic! Ella came in about half-way through our dinner, saw the candles and asked, “are you guys having a date?” When she realized that’s exactly what we were doing she insisted on waiting on us for the rest of the meal, periodically checking in on us to see if we needed anything. She was so cute.

Saturday started early and was filled with swimming lessons at Waterworks Aquatics in Sierra Madre, Piano lessons at Sierra Madre Music, software class and gaming at UCode in La Cañada, then out to Rowland Heights so Cade and Ella could have a sleep over with their cousins at Poh poh and Gung gung’s house. So Yan and I had our nearly unprecedented – at least since we’ve had kids – second date night in the same weekend. We went to King Crawfish and stuffed ourselves on shrimp, crab legs, fries, corn on the cob, and a bucket of beers to wash it all down. Mmmmmmmmm.

Sunday morning started early, too. The brood of kids all went to dim sum with their poh poh and gung gung while Yan and I headed to Atwater Village to attend a development (or rather, anti-development) meeting regarding a proposed project along the LA River, adjacent to a rental property we own. Atwater Village is one of our absolute favorite little nooks in Los Angeles so we decided to have brunch there after the meeting. We went to Thank You For Coming where I had probably the best French toast I’ve ever had. Ever. Mmmmmmmmmm.

Then it was over to Koreatown to work on the triplex for the afternoon. Finally, we headed back to Rowland Heights to get Cade and Ella so they could celebrate their grandfather’s birthday with him. He requested Korean BBQ so rather than driving all the way back out to Koreatown we decided to meet my folks in Arcadia at Young Dong Garden – gotta love that name. We stuffed ourselves (Mmmmmmmmmmm) and then finally headed back home to Altadena where we called it a night and checked off another full weekend for the Garlett family. Whew!
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Marc, Cade, Ella, & YanFrom the movie Inside Out

Anger: [seeing slices of pizza with only broccoli on top] “Congratulations San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians, and now YOU!”

If you’re a regular reader of my newsletter, you know Yan and I recently purchased a triplex in Koreatown. And if you’ve ever taken on a fixer-upper yourself, you also know what a daunting project we’ve undertaken. We spend a good portion of each weekend working on the property and one of our main goals this past weekend was to pull up all the old carpet to get to the hardwood floors below. And thanks to Cade and Ella, we accomplished that mission!

They are both usually disappointed (to say the least) when we head over to the property as a family, but this time we promised that if we could get our work done before it was too late we’d take them to see the new Disney movie, Inside Out. Well, before we knew it they were donning dust masks, picking up shovels and brooms (the old carpet padding had disintegrated into a huge mess) and pitching in. I have never seen my kids work harder or better together as a team.

At one point Ella asked, “how much longer is this going to take?” Cade replied, “it’ll take however long it takes and we’re not going to stop until the job’s done.” Ella agreed heartily. Wow. The work ethic Yan and I hope to impart to our children is already alive and well in them. They didn’t complain; they didn’t fight; they didn’t quit. They kept at it, tirelessly, enthusiastically, and determinedly. Yan and I couldn’t have been prouder. In fact, we were more than just proud. We were awed.

So we all cleaned up and headed back to Pasadena to grab dinner before catching an evening showing of Inside Out. The movie was really good. It was thought provoking, emotionally stimulating, and absolutely hilarious. About half way through, though, I became concerned my kids would lose interest because the plot was so cerebral. But Cade was completely engrossed and despite being really, really tired by that point, Ella remained entertained throughout.

As I carried my sagging daughter from the theater after the show’s end, walking behind my wife and son who were hand in hand, I felt incredibly content (even if more than a little sore from the day’s labor). I saw a depth in my children I hadn’t seen before and it delighted me. Our Koreatown “project” seems to finally be over the hump and beginning to come together. And on top of all that, I got to spend lots of quality time with the people I love most in the world. Life is good.

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Marc, Cade, Ella, & Yan“That’s the funny thing about marriage, you fall in love with this extraordinary person and over time they begin to seem ordinary. I think it’s all the nagging.” –Phil Dunphy, Modern Family

Yan and I were watching a Modern Family rerun last week when this line made us both laugh so hard we had to pause the show. Then we had one of those moments–

Yan: “Wait, why are you laughing?”

Me: “Wait, why are YOU laughing?”

It was Yan’s birthday this weekend so we dropped the kids off with her sister for a sleepover with their cousins (thanks Matt and Wan!) and I surprised her with a Saturday night stay at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. I had booked the room online and included a short note about it being my wife’s birthday and thanking them in advance for helping me make it special for her. And from the moment we walked in, we did indeed feel special.

When we checked in we were told we’d been upgraded to the club level – the one where you have to use your room key just to get the elevator to go to that floor. Nice! There was a great lounge up there with complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres available all evening which we took full advantage of before heading out to dinner. There was a complimentary breakfast served in the lounge the next morning, and soft drinks and candy available throughout the day.

The upgrade and the perks it included were fantastic but that was only part of the experience. Every single hotel staff member we interacted with approached us with an attitude of service that felt genuine and sincere. I was so impressed with the staff and even more so, the fact that each one of them seemed to have as their primary mission, ensuring our satisfaction and enjoyment. It really did make the 24 hours I was able to get Yan away from it all very special for her. And I very much appreciate the Omni for making me Yan’s hero. In just one day, they converted me from a simple customer into a raving fan.

I love businesses that understand what service is really all about. I appreciate the fact that my staff (Kathy, my Client Services Director, Laney, my Plan Coordinator, and Bari, my Funding Coordinator) all understand and share my desire to offer exceptional service to our clients, as well. It really doesn’t take all that much effort to transcend the ordinary and reach extraordinary. But being on the receiving end of that effort makes a world of difference, as it did for Yan and me over the weekend. And I can also tell you as someone who strives to provide that level of service to my clients, being on the giving end feels pretty darn good, too.