Today was a good day.  Even though we had iffy weather – clouds looming and storms threatening – we headed out for a few hours at the lake about an hour northwest of our home.  The lake is part of our wonderful state park system and includes playgrounds, hiking trails, picnic and camping areas, lake swimming, canoeing and for the brave among us and I don’t include myself in that, cliff jumping (when the weather is nicer and much warmer).

We took the dogs and my sister’s canoe – along with my sister and niece.  We grilled burgers and put together a lunch from things we each had in our collective kitchens.  The kids enjoyed the first bit of swimming for 2007 – how many kids get to swim just after the vernal equinox?   We all took turns taking the canoe around the lake.   We brought the dogs (we are dog sitting so we have two today) who enjoyed the fresh air, the walks along the shoreline and the new smells.  It was lovely seeing the lake so peaceful before the full blast of summer hits and the lake becomes crowded. 

Every year we purchase a state park pass for $75 and get returns on our money as we enjoy the multitudes of state parks in our area.  The park pass allows everyone in the vehicle to enter the park for no charge, when the normal rate would be $5 per person.  With just us three, the state park pass pays for itself after 5 visits.  In the past 6 months of having the pass, we have visited the parks 8 times.  We will go another 10 more before it expires in August.  That is a savings of $195!

Today was a good reminder that sometimes, the best things in life are as simple as a peaceful day by the water with a child and a good dog. 

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Riches

March 24, 2007

He who knows he has enough is rich – Lao Tzu, Taoist Proverb.  

 Today is my neighborhood’s collective garage sale.  It is one day where everyone can set out their goods, earn a little money and see them find new homes.  I love this day.  A day when I can get next to new items for a fraction of their price and a day when I can make sure something useful doesn’t end up in the landfill.  So off I went to visit homes on my block.  I found excellent deals – a set of wood bookshelves for $10.  Some games for a few dollars each.  Beautiful purses a fraction of their original price and in excellent condition.

As I found each item, I had to think “what would I do with this?”.  I really wanted those bookshelves but I couldn’t find an actual need.  We had just installed bookshelves in our front sitting room.  We put the shelves from the old playroom converted into a guest room into our son’s room.  My home office has a set  of shelves for my professional needs.  I have enough. 

It was hard passing up those deals but the truth is, I didn’t need anything and I came home empty handed.   In a few minutes I will put the $20 I did not spend into a card to send to the nurse at my doctor’s office who just sustained 4th degree burns on her hand and is recovering in the burn hospital.  

Even consuming used goods when you don’t need them is over consumption and a waste of money.  I am pleased I was able to resist the temptation of a good deal.  Now I am going to go play with my son while this garage sale day passes.   

Define Success

March 22, 2007

I am thinking about baseball again.  No surprise since it dominates our days in the spring. 

I recently had an interesting conversation with a colleague.  I explained that we were happily letting our son stay in the middle of the pack with baseball.  We opted out of special professional coaching even though our son shows some talent under his rough seven year old exterior.  He didn’t understand, really, he simply could not fathom we would encourage, in his words, for our child not to succeed.   We clearly do not see it that way.  Our son enjoys baseball, he plays enough to have a good time but not enough to feel overburdened.  He practices when he wants too, which is usually all spring before he moves on to golf in the summer and tossing the football in the fall.  By the end of the spring season he has had enough baseball.   He is done.   He is happy.  He may not be the best kid on the field but we don’t care, he is having fun.  When he wins we act like the Yankees took the World Series.  

Because he loves it so much, we have never had a problem getting him to meet his committment to team practices and games.  It is the extra practice beyond the 3 a week that I have qualms with.  Sure it would significantly improve his game but right now, playing with the neighborhood friends, practicing the piano, walking the dog, riding his bike and just hanging out significantly improve his life.

Does my colleague have a point?  Are we intentionally keeping our son second best?   If you define success and “the best” in typical American standards then I suppose the answer is yes.

Don’t get me wrong, we don’t actively push him into playing poorly.  We simply don’t strive to be “the best”.  We have a net in our back yard, we have a “swing trainer”.  We have a huge bag of balls and any time our son wants to play catch, hit balls or practice – we encourage him and help him.  We simply do not make baseball his or our life.

This conversation has been mulling in my mind for a few days because it clearly is about far more than baseball but more a metephore for life.

What does success mean?  The simple fact of the matter is that my colleague and I define success differently. My colleague is extremely competitive and he defines success in achieving the best you can and being the best you can at anything you do.   I define success in manner of happiness not in how much you achieve.  To me there is little difference in striving to be better and striving to own more stuff.   More is more, no matter what you are talking about, and we enjoy just being enough.  We don’t have to be the best.  What happens when you work and work and work to achieve the best or to be the best…. what then?  Is life richer because you know you can hit a baseball farther than any other kid?  Is life richer because you know more than anyone else?  If what you are doing is good enough and you are happy, what is the problem?   Is a sanitation worker less successful than an attorney?  What if the sanitation worker was happy and the attorney is not?  Who is successful then?

I don’t discourage working hard to do something well.  You should always do things well.  I simply challenge the notion of being the best to be successful. 

I work in a very personally competitive field.  It is a field of appearances, influence, and power.  It is no surprise that this same colleague (he really is a good friend) has often sent me information about new job openings that pay far more than my current position.  It baffles him why I remain.   I remain because money and the typical definition of success don’t mean anything to me.   I choose to stay in my position because it gives me the one thing that, to me, defines success – happiness.   I do challenging, interesting work.  I am able to work from home approximately 80% of my time and I work far fewer hours than most of my colleagues because my company cannot pay me more. 

I don’t argue with people like my colleague about why my way is better.  I don’t know if it is although recently studies have shown that Americans are the most unhappy people in the world despite our first nation status, despite our ability to buy anything we want whenever we want, and despite our “success”. 

I will continue to encourage my son to play well and most importantly – ENJOY playing when he is out on the baseball field and to keep baseball in perspective of life, remembering that there are other equally important enjoyments.  He has an out clause.  When he stops enjoying it, he can stop playing.  Until that time, I will avoid the coach when time to sign up for professional coaching sessions at the local baseball camp and stop telling my colleagues about my son’s baseball program. They already think I am weird, why make it any worse?  Fortunately, this particular colleague likes me well enough  – we are really good friends as well as colleagues – who just happen to have different life views…..and that is okay.

Exercise

March 14, 2007

I hate it.  I am trying to learn to love it.  I admit, over the past 5 years I have gained weight and have gotten lazy.  Things hurt that shouldn’t hurt – I pretend it is because I am getting older, but the truth is that I am simply out of shape.

Last year, I decided to walk/run a half marathon.  I did it.  I am a type a, goal obsessive person.  I could exercise while thinking of that cool Tiffany’s finisher’s necklace and 4 days in San Francisco as well as the race route around the edge of the city.  I also raised $5000.oo for cancer research during that quest by training with Team in Training.  It was amazing.  The finisher’s necklace was the least of my worries when I finally crossed the finish line.  Don’t get me wrong, having a Tiffany’s necklace was wonderful but what was more wonderful was crossing that finish line after 13.1 miles on foot, having taken myself there. 

This year there is no marathon and therefore no exercise.  Until this year, I have used every excuse in the book.  I am too busy, I am working mother for goodness sakes.  I not only have a job but it is a fairly high profile career.  I have to cook dinner every night, I need to help my son with his homework, then there is baseball practice and visits with friends and family.  I have volunteer schedules and commitments with people, I don’t have time to exercise.

I have no more excuses. 

I have shifted my schedule to part-time and basically job-share with my one other colleague.  Even then most of my work is done out of my home via the email.  I have limited my outside commitments.  I no longer volunteer for everything that comes along. In essence, I have simplified my life to the point that the only thing standing in my way to a trim and healthy body is my laziness. 

I have run out of excuses not to do the thing I hate most….exercise.  I have to find a way to, if not love it, tolerate its presence in my life like I do those horrid annual gynecological exams.  It isn’t something I want to do, but to stay healthy I drag myself down for utter humiliation on an annual basis.  So I suppose to beat back adult diabetes, cancer and other nasties, I will drag myself out of the house to move around quickly and sweat on a regular basis.

Maybe this simplified life is overrated.  😉 

Jury Duty

March 14, 2007

That thing which strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of citizens across the country…. interrupting your busy lives for….. jury duty.

I have been summoned.   I work with about 2000 lawyers, surely one of them can get me out of this.  But I won’t.  I will rearrange childcare situations, leave work early, and carry my summons to the impanelling meeting.

This is the benefit of a simple life or maybe some would call it the downside ;).  There really isn’t much I have to rearrange since I have already shifted my work schedule to part-time and job share with a colleague, have a friend pick up my son from school every other week, and have limited my outside commitments. 

I hope it is an interesting trial! 

Gardening out of nothing

March 14, 2007

I love making something out of nothing and I like gardening so gardening out of nothing is right up my ally.  I think everyone should try gardening.  The simple pleasure of seeing something through to the finish, of planting a seed and watching it grow into a vegetable you will enjoy later, digging in the dirt like a child, is pure cathartic.

I read recently that you can grow onions from onions that you purchase in the grocery store.  Simply cut the root end about two inches up and bury roots down. In the spirit of recycling I tried it in my own square foot garden.  Sure enough within a week I had onion greens poking through the soil. 

Apparently, you can also plant garlic, beans, black-eyed peas (also known as southern or cow peas), potatoes and other things right off your organic grocery shelves. Although I have not yet tried these other items, I am sure it can be done. Afterall, plants regenerate from each other.  However, you must be careful because some plants, like many tomato and pepper plants, are hybrids designed to be sterile. 

I will enjoy chopping these onions this summer knowing they were simply leftovers.  And you can bet I will chop off the roots of the newly grown onions and plant them in my garden – who knows how many generations I will get off this one $.59 investment 😉   That is simple and sustainable.

Speaking of getting something for nothing and recycling, I also want to talk compost.  For years I tossed my vegetable peels, coffee grounds and egg shells down the garbage disposal.  What a waste.  So, learning about composting, I decided to search for a compost bin.  HOLY SMOKES, those things are expensive and confusing.   Did you know that composters come in all shapes and sizes; small and compact for apartment dwellers or large and bulky for those with yards?  Furthermore, apparently you can compost in a bin with earthworms, without earthworms or just throw everything in a pile and let nature take its course.  

Being somewhat cheap – a badge I wear proudly – I figured a plastic trashcan would work just as easily as a $500 compost bin.  I bought two heavy duty plastic Rubbermaid trash cans.   I drilled half inch holes all around the cans and on the bottom for aeration.  Occasionally I remember to turn the compost but more often than not I just forget about it except when I throw my weekly kitchen scraps into the cans.  When one fills up I switch to the other.  When that one fills up, I open the lid to the first bin to find that half of it has mysteriously disappeared.  Either something is raiding my transh can bins or my theory of neglect is true, this stuff will rot with or without your attentions!

With spring in the air and garden prep on my mind this week, I emptied both cans on a slab of cardboard to check the progress of my first year composting.  To my delight over 90% of my kitchen waste and yard clippings from the past year had broken down into dark, rich soil worthy of big bucks.   I picked out the big pieces and returned them to one of the cans and spread the rest over my garden to give it a good immune boost with nutrient packed soil.

I also felt great knowing I didn’t purchase anything for either my new onion sets or my fertilizer, but used what I already had.

Overscheduled

March 12, 2007

It is baseball season so over-scheduling is a part of my life these days.  Or at least it feels that way to me because our normal schedule of  enjoying lazy Saturdays is innundated with a practice, game schedules, snack schedules and volunteer hours. 

My son loves to play baseball and we fully support him.   Unfortunately he loves to play in a very competitive little league close to our home.  This little league group is volunteer; he doesn’t have to play and we do not encourage their over-competitiveness but we do support him.  This league holds four practices a week plus games.   They recommend, beyond the regular practices, special professional coaching.  Perhaps recommend isn’t the right word.  Strongly encourage is more like it. – and no, we have never thought it necessary to give our son professional coaching at 7.  In fact, we think it down right ludicrous. 

After the season, they have All-Star teams that last all summer long – practice every day and double and triple header games on the weekend, even down to the four year old t-ballers. All parents are pushing and trying and working to get their kid chosen for the All-Stars.    When summer is over, the kids register for fall ball.  Which is a “relaxed” and fun season of one practice and one game a week.  At the end of fall ball, coaches pull together select teams to play all winter. 

And this isn’t their only sport.  Most kids we meet at the field play football, soccer and basketball.  Staying busy every weekend from January to December, with a few weekends off for holidays if they are lucky.

What are we losing in this process?  I am no psychologist but it seems to me that with so little interaction, we might be losing the most important relationships of our lives; that with our children.   And how can children grow up to be good giving adults if all they learn is that the world revolves around their interests?   The entire family takes vacations for their games or forgoes spending time together because of their tournaments.  When do they learn that life isn’t all about them and that other people matter?

Don’t get me wrong, I love sports and I think sports is an excellent way to build self confidence.  But it shouldn’t push out everything else including and most importantly relationships and time to be bored and to think. 

It is moments like this that I realize children have become just one more possession.  We want bragging rights of doing more, being better, playing more, having the best kid.  I am not immune, I feel behind every spring and start planning workout sessions with my son so he can be competitive (in 7 year old baseball!).   Only in my tranquil home does the value of simplicity reign.  We have to compete with others outside this house and sometimes it is hard not to place our value in how we measure up to others rather than how we measure up to ourselves.

We will keep to the allowance of one scheduled interest.  Baseball is what our son likes.  He isn’t the best, he could definitely be better with special coaching and working daily with him and if he played more often than just the spring season…. but why?  On the remote chance that he will fall into the 1% that makes it to the major leagues?  What about everything else he can accomplish in the meantime?  Most importantly, driving it daily, in and out, will just kill the joy.  I wonder how many kids experience burnout before puberty.

I hope someday to see a return to normalcy.  A return to valuing time spent together.  I hope someday we can teach our children the true joy of sitting patiently and watching the butterfly land on a flower, take the pollen and leave in search of more harvest.  I hope that some day, kids learn the joy of watching a baseball fly through the air and not worry about it if they just miss it.