River People and Goal People

fallsEarlier this week, Blogger Malcolm Bellamy wrote a post called Seven Words to Describe Yourself. Coming up with a list like that is perhaps a good beginning to answering the Really Big Question – What do you want to do or be When You Grow Up? It is interesting how some people are able to say, from an early age, what they want to be. Earl Nightingale describes these people as River People. They know their passion, usually from an early age, and they follow it over waterfalls and rapids, through backwaters and calm pools. They never abandon it, because it is who they are.

As I listened to Earl explain River people (and this was many, many years ago), I knew this wasn’t me. But he also said there are two types of Successful People. Perhaps I would see myself in the second group, (because I was sure I would be wildly successful at something, if I could just figure out what that might be).

Earl continued – the second group are the Goal People. They set a goal, follow one or more roads to get there, then set another goal.  Drat! A dusty road, not a flowing river. This was going to be harder than I thought. My children will attest to that, because they got dragged into the dreaded Goal Setting Exercises. It was part and parcel of Family Forum Night – the Car Guy, the daughters, the cat, and I would gather to discuss any important topic that impacted the whole family. At Christmas, Family Forum was Goal Setting. Each person would detail what they had done to achieve the goals they had set last year, then list the goals for the coming year. The kids wailed about not wanting to do this, but I think they learned a lot about the basics of goal setting. Which was good, because none of them indicated that they had a river they wanted to throw themselves into…

As the kids got older, their goals began to grapple with the When I Grow Up question. They looked towards their father for motivation, because for all intents and purposes they couldn’t see that their mother had made much progress in the career department. Which was fair. My goals were still mired in the trenches of the Stay at Home Mom and Chairman of the Committee of what Everybody Wants but no one Wants to Do. The Car Guy was bringing home a paycheck each month. Money – the litmus paper of career and thus success.

Much water has passed under the bridge since then, so to speak, and I’m still prowling roads, ticking off quirky little goals. I’ve decided to divert off the road to Growing Up, though. People seem to lose much of their sense of humor if they follow that road too far.

Back to the seven words to describe yourself.  I came up with curiousness, skepticism and humor which led to craftsman, writer, researcher and advisor. These are, I think, my River Words, even as I walk the dusty roads. And for now, Best Blogger within three miles of my house here in Canada is my goal. Next month, maybe I’ll expand that to a radius of five miles…

How would you describe yourself?

Here Today Gone Tomorrow Problems at Home – Computer, Health and Cars

Several days ago I sent you off to look at Cancer stories. I’m not ready to tell our Cancer story just yet, but I think it is fair to tell you that The Car Guy and I have had enough of those “I Never Saw That Coming” experiences to know that life can change in a blink of an eye.

This past week, The Car Guy experienced three “I Wasn’t Expecting That” events in three consecutive days. His identity, his body, his house and his vehicle all came under attack. It was a veritable Blitzkrieg!

The Car Guy had been complaining for a few weeks that his computer had slowed down quite a bit. I gave it a spring cleaning, and was satisfied that it was working better, but suggested that if he wanted something that ran like a Ferrari, then he should go shopping. His computer was like a 5 year old Dodge with half a million miles on it taking four Sumo wrestlers out for a drive. On Sunday he complained that his Google searches were responding funny. It was then that I realized that his computer had been hijacked. It had malware that caused Google to redirect to sites other than the intended one. Apparently it can also do other more sinister things that compromise a persons identity.  Several hours later I finally found the tool to remove it – the  Kapersky Labs TDSSKiller. The Malware that was on his computer is particularly sneaky. It can hide itself. Normal Security scans don’t find it. Since this is the first virus type thing we have ever had, I don’t know what part of our defenses it breached.

The very next day, The Car Guy experienced a pulmonary blockage that sent him to the hospital for the morning. Quite scary. But he was eventually sent home with antibiotics and anti-inflamatories, and is expected to make a full recovery.

As if the week hadn’t been stressful enough, the next day The Car Guy discovered that someone had entered his car, opened the centre console, and stolen the registration, insurance, garage door opener, a Starbucks gift card, and a few dollars in change. Whether this happened while the car was in town, or whether it was in our own rural driveway is unknown.  The thieves didn’t take the cell phone, perhaps not recognizing that a 6 year old cell phone is actually a cell phone… And they didn’t take the set of keys, which would have given them access to all the junk mail in the mail box out by the highway.

So, the rest of this week has been spent tweaking things so that the thieves are back on the outside again. It isn’t a bad exercise to do now and then, is it? And in the big scheme of things, the only thing that really matters is that The Car Guy is going to be just fine. Which we won’t be able to say about the thieves if The Car Guy catches them trying to steal his car or the tools from his garage…

Spring Cleaning at my Blog and at my House

ToodadayMy apologies to all of you who subscribe, either by Email or RSS Feeds, to this blog. You are probably going to be dragged into my Spring House Cleaning. I am tidying up this blog – fixing spelling mistakes, dusting the photos, throwing out some stuff. All this activity could be recorded as an update by the Subscription Wizard, who might then insist on informing you that I have made some changes. So, if you see some posts that you have seen before, be sure to admire the spelling and marvel at the cleaned up photos, and then move on.

The Red House is also seeing a lot more of the vacuum cleaner and the duster than is normal. Normal – now isn’t that a word with immense variability? My children would tell you that Normal Housekeeping at our house was every Saturday. I made up a list (because I am a list maker) of all the chores that I thought should be done once a week. Then I split the list into four parts, and we would each take one part of the list to do. The next week the duty roster rotated, so that after one month, each person had done each chore once.

My mom had a different philosophy about chores. Only one person in the family did chores to her standards, and that was her. Children were messer uppers, not cleaners. She would send us off somewhere while she did the cleaning, and when we got home the house was spotless again. Even the top of the fridge was always clean.

I have one vague memory of a childhood rebellion that I staged because I was tired of being scooted outside to play every time mom wanted to clean. When she finally let me back in the house, I was armed with two handfuls of dirt. I told her that I was tired of her cleaning and I was tired of being outside. With that, I tossed the dirt across the kitchen floor. I think that got me another trip outside…

I like the appearance of a spotless home, but I don’t think it is a practical goal for my house. Instead, I use a bit of trickery. The front 3 inches of the top of my fridge might be clean, but the rest isn’t. The floors might look clean, but all I’ve done is gather up the dust bunnies with a quick swipe of a cloth. The whole house might smell clean, but that is just from those plug in scent things. The house might look orderly and tidy but – well, no buts here. Tidy is just something I have to do. I don’t function well in clutter.

Spring Cleaning – as close to spring as I’m going to get for another few months, I’m afraid…

Self Control and the Marshmallow Test

A Blogger by the name of Retired Syd recently talked about Marshmallows. She discussed some interesting research that was done  by Stanford University on Delayed Gratification. A  review of this was done by The New Yorker in an article titled Don’t! The Secret of Self Control. The meat (or mallow) of the research was that young children who are able to delay gratification (by not eating one marshmallow now in order to get two marshmallows later) exhibit a trait called self-control. This trait is considered to be highly advantageous because it improves a persons ability to learn.

Fast forward through life to adults planning for retirement. The Car Guy’s Dad always said that if a person saved (and carefully invested) 10% of their earnings from the day they started working to the day they quit working, they would have enough money to live on in retirement. While we didn’t follow his advice completely, we tried to:

-Never use a credit card unless we could pay it off at the end of each month.
-Aggressively pay off our mortgage.
-Never borrow money to buy goods.
-Live on one income only – bank the other.

The Car Guy took an early retirement 7 years ago, well before he reached the age of 60. We believe that delayed gratification helped us to achieve that goal. Finishing school, choosing a career, advancement in the work place, raising a family, lifestyle choices – they were all tied to the ability to think about what we wanted now and the impact that would have on where we wanted to be in the future.

The simple Marshmallow is a good example, I think, of Delayed Gratification. At least, the way we cook them is. I’m thinking of marshmallows and campfires. A bag of marshmallows can sit in my cupboard for a whole winter without seeing the light of day, but take the bag outside to a campfire in the summertime, and they are sure to disappear. But it isn’t an instant process, like whipping the paper off a candy bar, or downing a handful of nuts. There is a slow ritual involved in preparing a marshmallow.

The ideal stick has to be found, and then whittled to the exact right point. Someone has to build a fire – probably a number of someones – the paper bringers, the match finders, the log splitters, the kindling scroungers. Then there is the discussion of how best to stack the paper, wood and kindling.

Once the fire is off and running, the ritual of telling stories, adding more wood, and poking the fire with a big stick, has to take place. When the coals are just right, the marshmallow is skewered and slowly browned until it is golden on the ouside, and drippy goo on the inside. Alternately, the marshmallow can be burned to a crisp in just a few seconds.

Regardless of method, Marshmallows are still a simple and cheap way to demonstrate the value of Delayed Gratification, yes?

What Makes a Marriage Last

Marriage is not merely sharing the fettucini, but sharing the burden of finding the fettucini restaurant in the first place.
– Calvin Trillin –

The Car Guy and I recently celebrated our 41st Wedding Anniversary. Arriving shortly after Christmas, and just before New Years, our Anniversary is easily overlooked by all… even the small delegation that wished us well on our wedding day, while shaking their heads at the naive young couple who were starting life together with a single asset –  a 1958 Chev Bel Aire 4 door sedan that cost $150.

Forty one years later, the Car Guy has seen many vehicles pass through the garage doors. He remembers the significant events of our life together by what he was driving at the time. The big New Yorker hauled the 16 foot Shasta trailer with wings on family camping trips. The Dodge MaxiVan ferried the family around Texas during our year of residence there. The Fargo truck still makes runs to the dump, a reminder of the days when it hauled grain from the family farm. A sleek BMW was the week-end warrior that accompanied us all around England. And today a nice little diesel Jeep ploughs through Canadian snowdrifts with impunity. There have been, are, and will be other vehicles in his life. But there is only one wife.

I remember the significant events of our life together by the house we lived in at the time. Each child was a baby in a particular house, and none of them were babies in the same house. Friends were found, trees were planted and groups were joined everywhere we moved.  The Car Guy came close to “checking out” when we lived in a compound house in the Middle East. A child was very sick here at the Red House. There have been so many houses, there will possibly be other houses. But there is only one husband.

What sticks two people together for 41 years? I wish I could say there is some magical ingredient that keeps two people bonded. But I don’t think there is. Each couple is different. For the Car Guy, maybe I am the engine that he knows he can always depend on to keep running. For me, maybe the Car Guy is the roof over my head – a roof that never blows off in a storm.  Or maybe we just signed a paper 41 years ago that said “till death us do part” and we’re both determined to outlast the other…

New Years Day – Thoughts, Not Resolutions

It’s a bit early to predict what 2011 is going to be like. But one thing I know for sure, my New Years Resolutions are not going to fail. I didn’t make any.

The QuipperyI did set myself a few tasks, though. The first one is to get my “Big Girl, All Dressed Up” Coat altered. If that proves unfeasible, I’ll send it off to Good Will. It is a nice, simple long black coat with a leather collar. Since I wore it last, a few years ago likely, it has changed. Or at least, the memory I have of the coat has changed. The once moderately padded shoulders now make me look like a football player. I seem as wide as I am tall. I will never be accused of being a fashion maven, but even I could sense that the coat and I no longer belong together.

Next – I’m going to be a bit more selective about which blogs I make comments on. Without even stating a preference for one side or the other, I have been called a peabrain in a debate between Meat Eaters and Vegetarians. I made a hasty retreat from the arena that battle was being fought in, and ambled over to the fridge for a piece of turkey and a stalk of celery…

It snowed again last night. Not enough to make driving treacherous. Just enough to do some more shoveling. Our winter, so far, has been quite cold and snowy. Last summer was chilly too – the summer that never quite happened. We could use some Global Warming out our way. Since the media switched to calling it Climate Change, our weather has gone to the dogs. When I discover a blog that debates the causes of Climate Change, I’m sure NOT going to add my comments. I don’t want to be called a peabrain again.

I don’t doubt that the climate is changing. I’m just not convinced that man made CO2 is the only cause.  I do support the idea that each and every person should be part of a movement to clean up the environment. I don’t, however, support the media’s fear mongering reports of extreme weather with claims that it supports global warming. Weather is not climate – which the Climate Change scientists are quick to point out when we have a cold winter and suggest the climate isn’t really warming at all. I also object to the way climate change supporters attack the people who question their science. The questioners have been given a blanket label of Deniers, though in reality, most of them don’t deny that the climate is changing. They just want to be part of a forum that discusses a position other than the worst case scenario.

Update New Years Day 2015:

The Stage West smorgasbord on New Years Eve – perhaps shushi and sashimi don’t appreciate the company of peking duck, shrimp and caesar salad. Or maybe rum balls and chocolate fudge torte don’t want to cozy up to members of the fish and fowl family. Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, in a large enough quantity, might not appreciate the bubbles from a glass or two of champagne. Or perhaps the whole lot of them would rest more comfortably if they weren’t shaken on the dance floor, then laid to rest about 5 hours after the host body would normally have been in bed.

The good news is, I should make a complete recovery, and I don’t doubt that the rest of 2015 should be much more pleasant than the very first day was.

Christmas Peace – Keeping the Season Simple – 2010

I’ve been reading quite a few blogs over the past few days, and the general consensus seems to be that this holiday season has become anything but peaceful. “Crazy ideas of a perfect Christmas” is how one blogger describes her preparations. “Worst traits of humanity” is how another blogger observes the shoppers. “Madness that are the weeks leading up to Christmas”  is how another blogger sums up her last week of activity.

I’m a perfectionist to the nth degree in many things. I have the potential on any given day to detail something to death. And sometimes I do. This is balanced at Christmas, quite thankfully I must say, by the fact that I am not a shopper, and I really don’t like to cook all that much.  It has simplified the Christmas holiday immensely.

So while others are rampaging through the stores for yet another gift to add to the pile under the tree, I have placed just one. It is a power tool for my Spousal Unit. And I didn’t even have to buy it. He had been looking for this particular tool for months, and when he found it, he bought it. Then he gave it to me and said, “Put it away, and give it to me for Christmas.”

He, in turn, has placed one gift under the tree for me.  I bought it some while back because it was exactly what I wanted. I gave it to him to put away for me for Christmas.  This has become a tradition. You might think this takes a lot of the surprise out of gift giving. But some days I forget what I was heading to another room to get, so it is not hard to forget about a gift that was bought some time ago…

By the front door there is a gift for the neighbour who lives nearest to us. We aren’t close friends, but we know we can depend on each other to be there when a neighbour is exactly who you need. They always give us a box of fine chocolates. We always give them a bottle of good wine.  This is a tradition.

By the front door there is a small pile of gifts that will go to our daughters house on Christmas Eve. Two of the gifts are for the people whose names we drew in the family draw. The rest are small bits and bobs that will be put in each persons stocking. We’ll spend Christmas Eve at someones house. It varies from year to year. We always go home early, and then listen to Christmas music and watch Santa’s progress on the NORAD radar site. It’s become a tradition.

On Christmas Day we will go to our daughters house. Our children and grandchildren will be there. We might or might not have dinner with them, depending on what their plans are that year. Wherever dinner is, it won’t involve a turkey or a ham, and it won’t take very long to make. This is our Christmas Day tradition.

On Boxing Day,  we will have a large gathering at the Red House. Our parents, our children, our grandchildren, and assorted others (this part of the list changes a bit from year to year) will arrive with bowls of  food to round out the menu for this festive meal. We will cook a turkey and a ham. The turkey will always take longer to cook than I had forecast, and I will be a bit peeved at the bird for that. The Car Guy will look after the ham, which usually upstages the turkey. A son-in-law will make the gravy. It will simmer away on the stove for much of the afternoon. I will have baked row after row of gingerbread men (or maybe hedgehogs this year because the “man” cutter has gone missing).  Everyone will spend the afternoon personalizing the cookies with icing and candies. Each family will have  one little gift to give to the grandparents, usually food related. This is a tradition.

And that is it. Just enough preparations to make Christmas a special holiday. Not so much preparation that the Peaceful part is gone.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Magic in December at the British Museum – 2010

December could be a mournful month if I let it be so. Certain days certainly can be difficult. My mother died on this day (15th)  in 1987.  Every December 15th throws me a bubble off plumb all day – not half a bubble, a whole bubble off.

I had an equally bad December in 1991. That was the year cancer visited our house. My Christmas letter that year started out with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself -I lived through this horror, I can take the next thing that comes along. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  Then I talked about our child and leukemia.

Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels

The first few weeks of December 2000 weren’t great either. We had completed two years of assignment in England, and were being transferred to the Middle East. It wasn’t a move I was looking forward to. The first half of the month was consumed with packing and movers. On December 15 I locked the door of our rental house for the last time, and caught a train into London. With half a day free to do as I wanted, I started walking, and eventually found myself in front of the British Museum. I went inside, and just kept walking. I went from one display to another without any thought about where I was going, and not really paying much attention to what I was seeing. I just knew it was warmer than being outside.

That was when the Magic of December kicked in. I suddenly I found myself in the Egyptian Mummies room. Standing in front of a display of grave goods, I  remembered that it was December 15th. I  thought about how interested my mom had been in archaeology. I remembered a book she used to show me when I was a kid – Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels – which included pictures of Egypt’s pyramids.  I thought about how she had never travelled outside of North America, and never seen most of the things that she showed me in that book.

I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the British Museum through my mothers eyes.  I thought about all the foreign places I had visited – places that my mom only saw in the Complete Book of Marvels. I thought about how ironic it was that I was travelling, which I never intended to do; and she didn’t travel, which she always wanted to do.

The truly magic part of December, for me, is that it doesn’t matter what December dishes out, I still simply love the whole month. I love the music and the lights and the stories and the decorations. I love the magic thought of Santa Claus. I love the prospect of one day a year when most of the world is united in peace, just like that Christmas Day in the trenches in 1914. December is a Magic Month if you let the good bits guide your sleigh…

Free Range Kids – The Slow Erosion of Childhood Freedom

If you were a child when I was, or even when my children were, you instinctively know what a Free Range Kid is.

So how Free Range was I? I lived in a small town – a triangular shaped suburb whose borders were defined by “Our” city with a population of 235,000 people, a major river, and the Trans-Canada highway. Before we were even in our early teens, we knew every street and alley in town. We’d crossed the river at the bridge, and headed up and downstream for miles. We’d sprinted across the highway, and visited the horses that lived on the bordering farms.

Compared to my parents, I barely traveled anywhere. My dad, by his early teens, was riding his bicycle all around “Our” city, and out into the country to nearby towns. At that time, the city was 85,000 people.

I don’t know how Free Range my grandfather was in “Our” city  – when it was only 44,000 people. But suffice it to say that he was a Free Range  soldier in the trenches in France by the time he was 19.

62-cabin-trailMy children were as Free Range as I was. Their childhood was spent in a small town where they also had a river valley to explore. Their teen years saw them living in, and exploring “Our” city, which had grown to 600,000 people.

Now “Our” city is just over 1,000,000 people, and my grandchildren’s lives are much more confined. The wide open spaces that their ancestors explored has been gobbled up by housing and shopping malls.

Urban sprawl. The car is king. In my grandfathers time, there were about 20,000 vehicles registered in the whole province. Today, there are 834,000 registered vehicles in just our city. There aren’t just more cars per capita  – our homes, streets, shopping, and entertainment are all designed around the family car. This focus on vehicles often sacrifices walking and bike riding as alternate forms of transportation.

Our society today is also obsessed with safety. I won’t go into all the ways that people try to protect their kids from real or perceived “danger”. But in “Our” city, I wasn’t able to volunteer in my grandsons classroom until I had provided the school with a police report saying I was not a criminal. The fact that my daughter was on the parent teacher council and volunteered in the school, and could speak to my character, was not enough. I had to have a police report made out by an officer who had never met me before…

I was concerned enough about what my grandchildren were missing by living in the city, that I convinced the Spousal Unit that we should buy a cabin where kids could stalk frogs in the swamp, and bushwack through the woods, and ride  bikes all over the neighbourhood.  It is fun to see them get so excited about such simple pleasures.

Value of the Stay-at-Home Workforce

Cartoon © Phillip Martin

My lifelong career has been a “Stay-at-Home Mom”. This came about for two reasons. The first was that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. The second was that my spousal unit and I decided that one of us would be home for the children. He had a better idea of what he was going to be, and what the potential was for his earning power. So he got to be the “Go-to-Work Dad”.

Staying at home would have been an easier choice if I had been living in my moms generation. But my generation was convinced that the road to liberation didn’t stop in a bungalow in suburbia. My generation wanted to be in the workforce. Many of them weren’t all that complimentary to the few of us who stayed “behind”. I was often asked by women what my career was. When I told them, their response was usually, “Oh, you don’t work.”

If I didn’t work, then what was I doing all day? Caring, cooking, cleaning, driving, advising, managing… well the list goes on and on. If I had been doing this work for someone else, I would have had  a job and I would have been paid. But because I worked for my family, I didn’t work.

If I wasn’t working, was I playing? By definition, work is a trade, profession, or other means of livelihood. Play is an activity that exists only for its own sake. It is absorbing, voluntary, and pleasurable. It does not have goals or compulsions. No, I wasn’t playing all day long. Perhaps what I was doing was a Hobby. A Hobby is an activity done in spare time for pleasure and relaxation. A hobby can have goals and compulsions. No, I wasn’t doing hobbies all the time either. In reality, it was a combination of all three things, done in small blocks of time, in no predictable order. I didn’t always realize how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to have such a flexible definition of what was work, play and hobby.

My husbands career was a mobile one. We have moved 15 times and lived in 4 countries. I unpacked our belongings all 15 times. Some people hire someone to unpack their stuff, and someone else to put it where it looks best. When I unpacked, it was like a big game of hide and seek. Then it became an interesting exercise to put things where they would work to the best of their abilities in a house that was nothing like the one it had been bought for.  Turning a house into a home… and then a patch of dirt into my yard – it was hard work, but not always work, if you know what I mean.

Apparently someone keeps track of what a stay-at-home mom would earn for her work, if she got paid for it. MSN reports that Salary.com calculated that in 2007, mom would have earned $138,095 for doing the typical tasks that a mom might do in a day:  housekeeper, day care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, CEO and psychologist. (Feel free to substitute stay-at-home dad here, because more and more men are taking on this role.)

I’m glad no one has figured out a way to actually pay stay-at-home moms what they are worth.  The federal government would just figure out a way to tax it…