Disappointment is the New Drive

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “______ is the new ______.”

Click over to your favorite blog, and pick out the 4th and 14th words (that aren’t “the” or “an”). Drop them into this phrase: “_____ is the new _____.” There’s your post title. Now write!

As I write this post, I am watching a live feed of the Shell icebreaker Fennica trying to get past Greenpeace activists who are hanging like trapeze artists off the St. John’s Bridge in Portland. Kayakers are scrambling to the river to block the ship. They are willing to risk life and limb for a cause they believe in. They feel the risk of drilling in the arctic warrants this action. While many of us wouldn’t be willing to put our lives on the line, we agree in spirit.

And just yesterday the internet blew up in outrage over the killing of Cecil, a favorite lion of a park in Zimbabwe. From reports I read, it seems he was lured out of the park where a dentist, who paid $55,000 for the opportunity, shot him. (People, you are paying too much for your dental work.) People are crying foul. Tens of thousands of people are showing solidarity in response to this action.

But it took an event to provoke a reaction.

Whatever your opinion on either issue, or any other issue for that matter, it seems to me that blocking the stone before it starts rolling downhill is an easier option. It just requires knowing what stones are primed to roll.

It is with a heavy heart that I watch the arctic drilling scenario occur. People who don’t live in the Pacific Northwest may not understand how much we treasure our natural areas and our fisheries. The potential for ecological disaster here is high. Many of us are not willing to sell out to big oil money, yet somehow this has been thrust upon us.

Don’t wait for things to happen. Get involved. Contact your representatives. There are people in our government who are making decisions that not only affect us, but will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren. Hold them accountable for their decisions. They work for us.

My reference is from my daughter’s blog, Growing Monteverde. She is currently traveling in Costa Rica, a country, by the way, which has rigorous environmental standards and has banned hunting. 

What Price for Happiness?

I recently answered a writing prompt that asked writers to imagine winning a billion dollars in the lottery. In reality, if I won a that much, I would probably be so stressed out by the magnitude of change in income that I would do nothing.

At least for a while.

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Beginning balance: $1,000,000,000

When the thought of winning money goes through my mind, part of me wants to be magnanimous and give some of it away. I’ve always had the dream to have the Oprah experience, pointing at people and shouting “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car” while everyone stands and applauds my generosity.

But who would I give it to? Family? I like the idea of giving everyone in the family a set amount. They would still resent me, but I would be off the hook with my own conscience. They would be on their own to figure out what to do with the money. I have a large family. Approximating 150 aunts, uncles, in-laws, siblings, children, etc., I could give each member ten thousand dollars and still have $998,500,000 left to figure out what to do with.

Remaining balance: $998,500,000

What if I were to spread it equally to everyone who is alive in the world today? The population meter is whirring upwards at breakneck speed, but at the time of this post it’s roughly 7,331,000,000. Doing my calculations, I would be able to give everyone in the world 14 cents. That’s not much, and it won’t make much of a difference even to the poorest of the world. In Afghanistan, it won’t even buy a loaf of bread. So that idea is out. How about dividing it equally among my fellow Americans? There are roughly 321,375,000 of us as of this posting. Each person would receive $3.11. Enough for a loaf of bread. On sale.

What if I decided I wanted to keep it, to become a “billionaire” and hobnob with the wealthy? I would still be snubbed by Donald Trump (but honestly, who isn’t?) whose net worth is estimated to be 4 billion. How about having lunch with Bill Gates, currently the richest man in America, who’s net worth is 79 times my new found wealth? Would he turn up his nose at me in the same way people who make over 100,000 dollars a year turn up their nose at people in poverty? The poverty level sits at about $25,000 for a family of four. That’s only a four-fold difference. Multiply that times times 20 and you’ll get the income disparity between the now-rich me and Bill Gates. Sorry, Bill, but Warren Buffet seems more approachable, and he is slightly less rich, at $72,000,000,000, although the difference between his wealth and Bill Gates is still seven times my new net worth.

So I’ll give up on the idea of entering the social realm of the über rich. I’m not really that into excess, anyway.

There’s the nagging feeling that I should invest at least some of it. I could invest $990,000,000 and still live very comfortably on my remaining 8,500,000. (Remember, I gave some to family.) I won’t even go into the stress of trying to figure the investment scenario out. I would have to use some of my remaining money on spa treatments and retreats just to recover.

Remaining balance: $8,500,000 (and that’s just because I cheated by shelving 99% of the cash.)

How many of us, when presented with the idea of coming into large sums of money, say they would like to travel? I am not alone in this desire. Yet my idea of travel is to experience the place as authentically as possible. That being said, my one change would be to upgrade those darn airline seats! First class, baby. No more being the last one on the plane, cramming my carry-on in the remaining space and my legs in the “space” between seats. In fact, I could probably buy my own plane and have an excellent pilot on retainer. (My immune system might suffer without having to exercise itself against all of those recirculated airplane germs.)

As far as location goes, I see no reason to travel if you go somewhere to experience the same things you would at home. I like to mingle with the locals, try the mom and pop eateries, and strengthen the local economy by taking home-grown tours. No all-inclusives for me. No high rise resort, gated-community living. To me that takes the richness out of life, and what’s the point of monetary riches if the emotional and psychological living becomes bland? You can only play so much tennis and drink so many mai-tais in an infinity pool. Every smile you are greeted with as you interact within a community creates an imprint on the heart and mind. Everyone you meet as a fellow traveler experiencing the world on a shoestring budget, all of the comparing and contrasting the local life to life at home, all of the ideologies mixed at local pubs and all of the shared experiences challenge long held beliefs and cause us to grow and change. These things are what strengthen our world and what create compassion for other people’s struggles and commonality with their joys. So I would travel the same way I travel now, but more often. I could budget $12,000 a year for the next ten years to travel and be completely satisfied. (Without the private plane.)

Remaining balance: $8,380,000 

I would give some of it away. Is there anyone who wouldn’t? I would support the Nature Conservancy in their efforts to shore up important ecological areas around the world. I would add to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest and their important reforestation efforts in the cloud forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Emergency response organizations and children’s hospitals could always do with an influx of cash, so they would get a slice of the pie. I would create scholarships for highly motivated high school students to attend college. Honestly, the power to give back would be the greatest gift of so much money. If I gave 150 charities $10,000 each, I would still have an unimaginable amount of money in my pocket. Remember the bulk of the money is still tied up in investments, assuming my financial planner hasn’t run off with it. I’m just whittling down my measly budget of $8,500,000.

Remaining balance: $6,880,000

I would pay off my parents’ mortgage and make sure their health care needs were taken care of. I would like to say I would provide homes for my kids, but the struggle to create a home has such value that I don’t want to deprive them of that. I would make sure they had access to a top-notch education. Top private universities cost about $60,000 a year including room and board. I have 4 kids. That’s $960,000 total for undergraduate studies. If they want to go to grad school, that’s another $45,000 per year. I still have a little of my mad money to spend.

Remaining balance: $5,435,000 

When you are used to living on a shoestring budget, spending money like this doesn’t come easy.

For myself and my comfort level, I would buy a nice, modest-size, quality house in a nice location by the water in the Pacific Northwest. I would make sure it’s equipped with the latest environmentally friendly upgrades, like solar power and a wind turbine. (It gets windy up here.) I could get something on the water in the San Juan Islands for around a million. (But then I’d probably need a boat.)

Remaining balance: $4,435,000

I could go on and on, trying to spend the remaining one percent of my billion dollars, but you’ve probably already stopped reading. What this exercise points out is what an incredible amount one billion actually is. While it’s fun to play “what if,” it’s sobering to think that some people actually have their hands on this kind of money. Some will use it for good, creating foundations and supporting community building. Some will use it for themselves, walling themselves off from the commoners like you and me. Some will use it to promote themselves and their agenda, which to me is the most frightening use of money of all, because then we all become pawns in their private game of power.

I’m not a billionaire, but I’ve always believed the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword, or, in this case, the pocketbook. Money drives forces. It gets things done in the world. It greases palms. It buys elections. It subsidizes media, and filters the news on both sides of the spectrum. Critical thinking skills can not be purchased, but they can be snuffed out with the creation of enough mindless television shows and time wasting games. I won’t ever win even a million dollars in the lottery. I have more chance of being struck by lightning, dying in a plane crash (must rethink the whole travel thing), or hitting a deer while driving in Hawaii. I do have a real chance of having my country taken over by people who have the money to purchase air time, to manipulate the media, and to promote their agendas, most of which do not match mine. What power remains for us, the non-billionaires, is the power of the vote, and that power only works if people are educated enough not to be swayed by propaganda.


I originally wrote this when I first started blogging 8 months ago. It was an interesting exercise in financial relativity.

 

 

We’re depending on you

Read. Please.

Present Tense

Head in HandsWhat the HELL is going on in the world? What is wrong with people? We could turn those phrases into a drinking game this week and we’d all be drunker than skunks if you took a shot every time those words were spoken.

It’s crazy right now, but the interesting thing is that even though we do have some common pains and worries, we don’t really have common solutions. Another mass shooting: one side calls for stricter gun laws, another for looser ones. Another instance of alleged police misconduct resulting in a civilian death: one side says police have a hard job and we should always respect that, while the other side says that the police are the enemy.

And the frustrating thing for me is that these issues seem to always divide along party lines. If you’re in one party, you must believe this, which will of course, be…

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A Light in the Night

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Shoulda Woulda Coulda.” Tell us about something you know you should do . . . but don’t.

In the dark, it flashes. I look up. The clock screams, “It’s midnight. You should be sleeping.”

I look at my smartphone, charging on my bedside table. It begs for my attention. It’s a needy beast, constantly interrupting me. It has no sense of manners. It pays no attention to the people I’m speaking to at the moment, or in this case, the fact that I’m sleeping.

“Hey, you!” The light flashes its visual Morse code.

“Look at me!”

I groan and check.

“Hey! It’s Esme’s birthday today, don’t you know?” the phone says. It’s perky and bright.

I set it to vibrate, turn it face down and roll over. I can almost hear its muffled plea for interaction.

My phone has no concept of time.

I make a mental note to wish Esme a happy birthday in the morning.

And another mental note to smash my phone.

Think Hard About Accepting that Visa Offer

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Well, I Never….”

All paths lead to the road I’m on.

Accepting mistakes and learning from them is a part of life. Most of the things we do temper and steel us to be the people we ultimately become. Our challenge is in using those mistakes, those irritating, often embarrassing moments, as growth material. There is no better fertilizer than bullshit, after all.

If I could, and I wish I could, I would discourage everyone I know from building credit card debt.

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As Americans, we are raised to be consumers. We are plied with images of happy families in their big, suburban houses driving shiny new cars. We see commercials for Disneyland and feel like terrible parents if we don’t make the trip at least once. Even the kids need a toy to go with a meal to make them happy. We need new bikes, new shoes, different shoes for road and trail. We need fancy watches for running. We need gadgets and more gadgets, and when they become obsolete in just a year, we trade them in for new ones. And life is short, so why not take that vacation to the Bahamas. Just put it on the Visa and worry about it later. And the next thing you know, we wake up from our dream life and our Visa is maxed out, the minimum payment on the clothing store card is less than the interest, and we have nowhere to turn. We have imprisoned ourselves in a world of debt.

We lived this life, minus the trip to the Bahamas. We got a Visa when we first got married. At first we used it for “emergencies”, although now not a single real emergency comes to mind. We started adding to it, fulfilling our desires for stuff, and little by little, shovelful by shovelful, we dug ourselves into a deep, deep hole. We were lucky. A family member came to our rescue and paid the debt, but we spent the next 10 years paying him back.

I can’t tell you the toll this has taken on our family. What began as hope soon spiraled into money problems, arguments, and worry. We have spent years trying to get our feet back under us. We have missed out on many opportunities because during the time our children were small, we were busy trying to get out of the mess we caused.

The ability to delay gratification creates peace of mind.

There is a well known Stanford experiment involving children and marshmallows. In it, researchers put a marshmallow in front of a preschool child, then tell the child they have to leave, but if the marshmallow is still there when the researcher gets back, the child will get two marshmallows instead of one. The researchers found that kids who are able to delay gratification (not eat the marshmallow) were more successful in life, had better grades and were more likely to attend university. Those who weren’t able to resist suffered poor school performance. It’s likely these kids go on to build credit debt because they don’t develop the self discipline that is required to say no to the immediate pleasure the object will supply.

Marshmallow test redux

I’m afraid we fell into that category, but the good news is that we learned from our mistake. Twenty-five years later we can have a credit card, chosen by us, and with a low credit limit that we know we can pay off monthly. It has come in handy, but we use it with the specter of past mistakes looming over our shoulder. The instant gratification that our Visa allowed us is superficial. It’s a quick pick-me-up that very quickly dissipates into stress and worry, not to mention clutter. Living with a budget requires considering your decisions, and creates a peace of mind that is both deep and meaningful. It doesn’t mean going without, but it does mean figuring out what really matters to you.

So, friend, next time that credit card offer shows up in the mail, do yourself a favor and burn it.

Sometimes You Have to Lose to Win

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Perfect Game.”

We lined up the life size chess pieces in the brutal sun, and I thought to myself how much of life was strategy. This was just the latest of a series of many failed attempts to connect with my teenage son during our latest family camping vacation. I had picked a campsite with as many amenities as possible for the teen set – boat rentals, wi-fi (though limited), swimming, and games, like the one we were attempting now. Yet he had thwarted my attempts at conversation and had spent much of his time camped out in front of the little campground store, sucking energy and wi-fi off the campground grid. He refused to sit around the campfire and talk, preferring online chatting with his friends back home. He grudgingly hiked with us, quickly leaving us in his younger, more agile dust. Even when I suggested a game, he simply stated that his brother wouldn’t want to play. When I emphasized that I meant with me, he paused, then reluctantly accepted.

Once the pieces were laid out on the lawn. He indicated for me to begin with a somber nod of the head. I looked at my son, once a smiling, curly-headed boy who used to cuddle up on the couch with me to watch a movie, who used to lay out on a blanket under the tree as I read to him. Here he stood, tall and strong, confident in the knowledge that he would surely beat me. I half rolled, half picked up the heavy pawn and moved it two spaces forward. He quickly made his move. I scanned the board. I made another move, followed quickly by his. This pattern continued, and I managed to hold him off for a while, but soon he began to take out my key pieces. First my knight was lugged off the board, followed by a bishop. I managed to keep my king and queen safe for quite some time. At some point in the game, a preschool girl approached with her mom and started putting pieces back on the board. He was unfazed, and continued his assault as I removed them. Her mom lovingly distracted her into a new investigation, and our game continued.

I thought how odd it was to play chess with such a large board, and with such large pieces. The perspective was different, skewing the strategy. Playing on a table-top board gives you a good vantage point to see what’s coming, allowing you to plan for the next move. This life-size game was throwing me. Parenting this stranger was throwing me. Like chess, everything was much easier on a smaller scale.

My son started closing in. He lined up his bishop, but I thwarted his move. He grabbed his heavy rook and lined it up as well. I maneuvered my remaining bishop into a defensive position. I could tell my options were quickly becoming limited. I had my remaining pawns arranged to take out his key pieces should they make an attempt, but he was one step ahead of me, lining up his flanking moves. I made a misstep, he moved his rook, and with a subtle smile said, “Checkmate.”

I just smiled. For me it wasn’t about winning. It was just about playing the game.

“Ping-pong?” he asked.

I smiled again. Sometimes you have to lose to win.

Familiar campground scene

Almost Heaven

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Always Something There to Remind Me.”

The year was 1973. In a cedar-panel lined bedroom in a middle class Oregon suburb, I would sit on my bed, my record player blaring:

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah river
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, growin’ like a breeze

My young voice would lift with the chorus.

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads

I don’t know why this song spoke to me. I’ve never been farther east than a short pass through Kansas on a long road trip.

Born in the city, I was raised in suburbs newly born, clean within the downy fuzz of farmers’ fields, an island of new split-levels and kaffeeklatsches. We roamed the safe streets in freshly washed packs of multi-age explorers, feeding horses, sneakily entering the local farmer’s field and ducking down with stifled giggles when he came out on his deck shouting at us to leave. Bikes with loose chains were our transportation, and we whizzed up and down the hilly street, racing each other, laughing, and occasionally wiping out.

We were young and invincible. And we were loved.

When the summer weekends came, my family’s blue Ford F150 took off for the mountains. The canvas tent, camp stove, propane tank, family dog, and my sister and I were all loaded in the back under the canopy. We headed to the Mt. Hood wilderness for a weekend of fishing, exploring and relaxing at our favorite campsite. During the day, the creaky rowboat and our impatient voices betrayed our presence, scaring potential dinner away from thin, yet hopeful, fishing poles. Back on land, frogs croaked their locations and were surprised to be lifted from their resting spots by inquisitive hands, though always returned, unscathed. Dusty sneakers beat down paths around the lake. Water sandals slipped and slid in the cold mountain water. At night crawdads scurried from overturned rocks and glaring flashlights, and we laughed and chased them until the glow of the campfire and the gooey goodness of s’mores drew us all together again.

The scene has changed throughout my life like a flipagram, speedy, with common backgrounds and changing humans. The fields were exchanged for more split-levels, and the wonder of childhood became the pursuit of knowledge. Even so this song has played in the background. It lingers and beckons, pointing the way to sun painted mountains and calm, clear waters. It begs to go on a journey of exploration. It never ceases to paint in my mind a picture of childhood freedom, of connection with nature, of curiosity and wonder, and of a deep desire for simplicity in life.

And it always implores – take me home, country roads.

(lyrics by John Denver)