Monday, April 25, 2016

Construction and Taxes


Two summers ago, we were blessed with a dirt pit instead of a street for a couple months as they replaced the road and the water lines beneath it. Following that construction phase came the little bump in our property tax by means of an assessment.

We didn't have it too bad that summer because we live on a corner and our driveway opens up to the side street. That meant while all our neighbors had to park on the side street and walk down to their houses, we were able to park in our own garage throughout the construction project. 

It's looking like the city is gearing up to tackle the side street this year. You would think I'd be a little upset about getting hit by another tax assessment and more construction on our street, but I'm not. In fact, I am quite excited for it.

Our side street happens to be a fairly steep hill. This hill also happens to be in quite poor condition, but that's not what has me excited about the roadwork. I'm excited to get my yard back.

Our hill has had enough asphalt patch filled into the countless potholes over the last two years that it probably would have taken less asphalt to just repave the road in the first place. I understand the band-aid fixes while waiting for the real repair, but it's been killing my yard. 

None of the patches seem to stay put...especially during the winter. The snow plows consistently rip them up (along with all the salt and sand they spread on the hill) and throw them into my yard. My entire side hill is a third asphalt chunks, a third sand and a third weeds. I would like to say there's still some grass surviving on the hill, but I can't even convince myself of that anymore. 

Getting the notice in the mail today for the public hearing on what our tax assessment will really look like was perfect timing. I did the first mowing of the year this past weekend and I was getting all worked up about how much worse my side yard gets every year. I was seriously contemplating paving the whole hill and just painting it green. Looks like I might not have to do that now.

I've been chomping at the bit for Spring to get here in full force so I can start enjoying my outside time and yard work again. This added little bonus of a new side street (and less asphalt in my yard) is just an added bonus. This year is starting to look up. If I could just figure out a way to get them to pave my driveway while they're at it, I'd be golden. Until next time....

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Happiness


Are you happy? If so, what makes you happy? If not, do you know what it would take to make you happy? Is it relationships? Fame? Money? A good laugh? Let's pretend for a minute that you're 100% happy as-is right now. What could you lose and still be happy?

There are multiple versions of a post bouncing around social media that touch on this idea. They typically show a picture of a cabin in the woods and ask if you'd be willing to live in it without internet for an extended amount of time. There's usually even some monetary reward attached to accomplishing this "challenge."

Every time I see it, my first thought is - Who wouldn't do it? Most of the people I know would do it without the monetary reward. I personally would love to live in a little cabin in the woods. I am curious how long I'd want to go without any contact from the outside world though because I know that's one of the things that makes me happy.

I've been reading a few minimalist blogs lately and they tie in nicely to this concept. I've never considered myself a minimalist, but I am far from being a pack rat. I don't seem to have any real emotional attachment to many of my personal possessions so it wouldn't phase me much to do without most of them.

I read a description of minimalism on theminimalists.com that got me wondering if I was more minimalist than I realized. Here's how they describe minimalism:
"Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life's excess in favor of focusing on what's important - so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom."
That fits nicely with how I look at most of the "stuff" in my life. I could toss 90% of it tomorrow and still be happy. That's because I know it's my family, friends and laughing at life that makes me happy. If it were money, fame or success that made me happy, I would probably be suffering from severe depression right now.

This brings me back to giving up technology and living in a little cabin in the woods cut off from society. I'm not a fan of large groups of people. I would love to live in that little cabin in the woods. The biggest problem I see is that my wife and daughters wouldn't be as keen on the idea and if they're not happy - neither am I.

As far as tech, I would love to go back to the days where we had to check our answering machine when we got home. Or even better, actually have to be at home to receive the phone call. The problem with this is that it only really works if everyone else is following suit.

I don't know if any of my friends or family members would care if I didn't have a cell phone. The issue I would see is with social media. So many people are used to social media being their main source of information that you're completely in the dark without it. I learned this during my two month hiatus away from Facebook recently. With the exception of a very small handful of friends and family members that I talk to on a near daily basis, I was completely in the dark.

Everyone assumes you know what's going on with them because they posted it on a half dozen social media accounts. The sad part is there are probably only a half dozen people that even noticed when I dropped off social media.

Technology has its pros and cons, but in the end, I'd have to say technology wins out based on the extent to which it's permeated our daily lives. Sure it's nice to have unlimited information at the tips of your fingers at all times, but without technology you might as well be stuck on a deserted island somewhere because you probably won't be hearing from anyone any time soon.

To wrap this up, I have apparently not given enough thought to the "will you live in this cabin without tech...." question. I would now lean more towards no knowing that my family wouldn't want to be there with me and I would pretty much be cut off from my other family members and friends.

Happiness to me is my family and friends. Tech - no tech. Cabin - no cabin. It makes no difference. The real issue is whether or not it will cut me off from my family and friends because that's what makes me happy. Until next time....


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Timeout



I spent many hours of my childhood sitting in timeouts as a result of one form of shenanigans or another. I'd like to say I learned from my mistakes, but that wasn't always the case. More often than not it seemed the main lesson I learned was that any misbehavior on my part would result in a few minutes of boredom while in a timeout.

My memory isn't good enough to remember what exactly was going through my head during those many timeouts, but knowing myself I'd be willing to bet is was, "Was it worth it?" Or, to give my young self even less credit, it was probably more along the lines of whether or not I should take it up a notch next time so the timeout was "worth it."

Don't take my failure to learn immediately from my mistakes as a sign of low intelligence. I was actually a very bright kid. I was well aware of the ramifications of my actions because my parents raised me right. They laid out the ground rules, explained the consequences and then enforced those rules when I broke them.

Being the smart but mischievous kid I was, I probably planned my next infraction in great detail. It's one thing to take my misbehavior up a notch to make a timeout worth it. It's a totally different thing to take it too far and land myself in the next consequence arena: A spanking.

Now the father of two young daughters, I am seeing the roles being reversed. I have been blessed with two bright and very lively girls. I see the same thought process playing out in their little minds that went through mine as a kid.

They passed the testing the boundaries stage a long time ago. We are now into the full strategic planning stage. They know exactly what the rules and consequences are. I really do believe they've taken it up a notch from the mischievous skills I once had. They know exactly how to factor in things like the time of day, how busy my wife and I are at the time and whether or not we're currently behind schedule for the day.

When their misguided activities start to reach the threshold of my patience, a good old fashioned timeout is in order. Just when I thought we were past the "timeout phase," I find myself bringing them back into the mix.

The difference now is that the timeout is more beneficial to me these days. They are so good at pushing the limit that the my frustration level is also pushed to the limit at times. A timeout allows me to gather my thoughts (and emotions) while they suffer the boredom of having to wait. In this instance, time is my friend and their initial consequence.

I have learned that the occasional timeout is quite therapeutic for all of us. These moments of de-escalation have resulted in quicker attitude adjustments and a more pleasant day for us all. This isn't really a completely new concept for me. It just happens to be one that I am learning to make special note of lately.  Each and every action that leads to more enjoyable time with the family is a good idea in my book. Until next time....

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pop the Clutch


My older daughter (the first grader) and I have recently begun playing Scrabble in the evening. It's a nice change of pace from our usual games of Chess, Checkers and Dominoes. She never ceases to amaze me with how fast she's learning. A few months ago, I doubted she would even comprehend Chess and now I have to actually pay attention so she doesn't beat me. Scrabble is no different.

The one issue I do have while playing Scrabble with her is that she comes up with some pretty off the wall "words." I am torn between letting her be excited about being able to play a word and crushing her by telling her she hasn't spelled it correctly. (She does a lot of phonetic spelling as she learns.) Just yesterday she tried to play the word "ethylenediaminetetraacetates" saying it was some kind of acid or something, but I told her to quit making up words.

This got me thinking about how the words we use change over time as they rise and fall in popularity with a passing fad. Back in the 80's we thought something really impressive was "rad" or "radical." I remember my mom telling me that their big word when she was younger was "boss." As in, check out that boss Harley Davidson over there.

One of the kids in our office (I think he's like 12 or something, but I'm afraid to ask) used the word "clutch" the other day to describe something. Since then, we have taken every opportunity we could to use the word clutch in a sentence. I'm pretty sure none of us old fogies have managed to "properly" use the word clutch in a sentence yet...if that's even possible, but that hasn't slowed us down.

I think as a form of retaliation, I am going to start speaking with my old Marine Corps terminology when I'm around him. I think a heavy dose of nautical terms, acronyms and some good old Marine Corps specific terms ought to break him of his "clutch" habit.

Come to think of it, bringing back some military jargon might help me in my Scrabble game against my daughter too. When I find myself in a bind, I can just play all my tiles and quickly make up a phrase to match the "acronym." That is, as long as my wife isn't around with her lame rules about how you can't use acronyms, personal names or made up words in Scrabble. We'll see how it goes. Until next time....

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Grenade Approach to Change


I was told today by a co-worker that she doesn't read my blogs anymore because I only write about boring stuff these days. By boring things, she's referring to topics like kids, being a father, being a husband....basically....my life. In an effort not to call her out or embarrass her, I'll just call her "Lindsey" for the purpose of this post.

I know she was (mostly) just joking, but she was right about the fact that my recent blog posts have been pretty focused on my family life. In an effort to mix it up a bit for Lindsey, I'm going to make a change and talk about something other than my family today.

Change is something we all deal with in some way, shape or form on a daily basis. Some changes are little and gradual while others hit you in the face like the Minnesota wind in January when you step outside in a blizzard. There are many ways to deal with change, but that's been talked to death. I'm going to focus on getting to plan a change rather than just coping with change.

Since I am really trying not to be too boring here, I'm not going to tell you a traditional (boring) way to plan a major change. I'm going to show you how to have fun while making a change. I like to refer to this method as the "Average Jester Grenade Approach to Change." Basically, you just pull the pin, throw it and pray.

Pick Small - Change Big
Rarely a day goes by where there isn't at least one thing you wish you could change. It could be something simple like getting a key hook for your keys rather than throwing them on the table where you always seem to forget them. Or, it might be a big change like deciding to plan out, start and maintain a healthier lifestyle including a healthier diet and exercise regime.

Don't waste your time with the big stuff. There's no fun in that. Find the smallest, least important and inconsequential thing you can think of and make a drastic change. Using the key hook example above, a boring person would just go out, buy a key hook and hang it on the wall.

My suggestion would be to go ahead and buy that key hook, but then take it to the next level. Next, you will completely gut your entire house and remodel it to match the perfect key hook you just purchased. Cost and timeliness is no concern. Your entire house MUST coordinate with the style of your new key hook. (As a bonus, I can guarantee you will never again forget about the key hook or where to find your keys if you actually use it.)

Just remember, for the best chance of not being boring, pick the smallest change you can find and make it as complex and complicated a solution you can. Don't worry if you can't find something that needs to change. Sometimes change is fun merely for the sake of change.

Overthinking is Dangerous
I would like to point out in the example above that there was no planning involved. A boring person would evaluate the options, develop an initial plan and weigh the risks and costs against the potential benefits. This is not exactly a pull-the-pin approach.

The better (more fun) option would be to just start throwing parts and pieces together and see how it turns out. Planning a remodel, with all those blueprints and concept sketches take all the fun out of the surprise on what the final results will actually look like....or if the house will even still be standing.

Don't Ruin the Surprise
You can take the surprise factor up a notch by not letting anyone else know what you're doing or why. The biggest problem you'll run into with sharing your plans with someone else is that it will just slow you down. They will want to give you their input and possibly make suggestions that will take the fun out of it.

Sure, there is the possible downside of family members trying to get you committed for gutting your house for no apparent reason. Don't let that stop you though. Just think about all the fun and excitement when the project is complete. You'll be surprised by the result since you didn't plan any of it. Your friends and family members (oops - I talked about family) will also be excited to finally learn that this process all started because you wanted a place to hang your keys. ("Excited" might not be the right word??)

Document, Document, Document
Ok, documentation is technically a smart thing to do. A boring person would document the project in terms of plans, receipts, warranty paperwork and the like. But, that's not the fun kind of documentation I'm talking about.

If you were an extremely exciting (totally not boring) blogger like me, you would document your remodeling project on your blog. Considering how this unplanned and spontaneous key hook need turned into a whole house remodel, you'll probably have plenty of content. In fact, you could probably write a book about it.

Hopefully you have enough content to write a whole series of books about your adventure. Let's face it. If you follow the grenade approach to change above, you're going to have a lot of alone time in your future. I know I would get the silent treatment from my wife for quite a while if I remodeled the entire house to accommodate a key hook....especially if I didn't tell her about it until the end. (oops - family talk again.) This is part of the reason I don't actually use the grenade approach. I do want to point out to Lindsey though that it's not because I'm boring. It's because I'm not stupid. Until next time....




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Perception Trumps Reality


I have long (somewhat jokingly) labeled myself a pesi-optimist. I assume the worst will happen so I'm pleasantly surprised when the best happens. That's really not a true statement about myself, but it helps me shake off the little disappointments in life and appreciate the small wins as they come along. This evening was a good example of that.

Today was a gloriously beautiful day. It's actually starting to look and feel like Spring here in southern Minnesota. I'm even pretty sure I didn't see a snowflake all day long. So when I came home to my two little girls chomping at the bit to go outside, I was all game for it.

Having been a parent for a few years now, I have learned to read the signs of impending doom when it comes to my girls' attitude. They may be all smiles and giggles, but that doesn't fool me anymore...at least not all the time. A little snarl here. A quick, snippity answer there. Just a couple little signs that my girls are reaching the over-tired stage.

Our first step in the outside-play plan was bubbles in the back yard. It only took 30 seconds for them to come to the conclusion that the bubbles "didn't work" and they didn't want to use them. (No patience) Then they wanted to kick a ball around...no...ride scooters....wait a second...go for a bike ride. (Indecision) The tell-tale signs were adding up fast. I knew I had to act quickly.

We decided to just go for a quick walk and call it a day. After ten minutes of preparation (deciding to walk, ride scooters, push a doll stroller, which dolls or stuffed animals in the stroller....), we headed out on a daddy-daughter walk....with scooters (no stroller).

The first 30-40 feet went great. Once we got to the first corner though (we live on that corner), the argument began about which daughter got to pick the first change of direction. We jumped that hurdle in stride and set off down the street.

We made it half a block before shoes started falling off and an argument started about who got to be in front. Fortunately for me, I knew we had the argument of direction change at the next corner already decided.

The next two blocks were the biggest sign of a storm brewing. A duo-daughter meltdown....not the weather. The weather was still gorgeous. The sign I'm referring to is the fact that both girls were in top form. They were being polite and courteous with each other...and me. Once again, my limited father skills kicked in and I could tell this was the final calm before the storm.

We actually made it back to the point where we could see our house just two blocks away. I slipped out of my "prep for doom" mentality and thought for a  minute that we might just make it home intact. Then the storm hit.

Apparently each daughter wanted to walk on their own side of the street "like a big girl." I let them separate to opposite sides of the street and figured I would walk one block with Ziva and the final block with Siri. Off we went.

Ziva got upset because I was on her side of the street while her little sister got to be alone on the other side of the street. Apparently I was supposed to walk down the middle of the street with cars passing me on both sides?? Ziva, in a huff, decided to plant her feet and stop in place. That meant I had one daughter half a block ahead of me and the other half a block behind.

At the cross street, I switched over to Siri's side of the street. Once Ziva saw she was alone on her side, she brightened up and started moving towards home. Siri, on the other hand, commenced her meltdown. She went into full sit-on-the-ground-I'm-not budging mode. Oh well, one block to go, so I picked Siri (and her scooter) up and started carrying them both towards home.

It was at this point that one of our friends from church (and a teacher at Ziva's school) drove by in her minivan. I'll have to ask Laura B. how she perceived our little daddy-daughter walk. Did she see me and the girls out for a nice walk on a beautiful day? Or did she see a dad trying to hold it together with one daughter in full meltdown and the other booking it up the street?

Unless she had her windows up and stereo cranking, she couldn't have missed the fire engine-like roar emanating from my youngest as I carried her up the block. Considering everyone in the neighborhood had their windows open on this glorious day, they all got to appreciate the roar.

We made it home, got baths done and started our nightly before-bed routine. (For the record, the crying and screaming didn't stop until her bath was done.) I managed not to cry myself, so that's a plus.

At the end of the day, believe it or not, it was still a good evening. I got to enjoy the beautiful weather. I got a little walking exercise. I always enjoy time with my girls. My wife even got a few minutes of peace and quiet to herself while we were gone. (I'm not sure she really understands how to appreciate it though since she was probably doing things like dishes and laundry while we were gone.)

It's all how you look at or perceive what life throws at you. Sure, I got to "enjoy" a duo-daughter meltdown, but I could have been stuck at work and not gotten to spend the time with them at all. The girls may have been arguing over who got to go first at everything we did, but it's also a sign that they are both strong, independent young ladies. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

I am ready for Spring and Summer to finally be here so we have more opportunities to enjoy our little family walks and outdoor time. I will continue to try and focus on the fun we have rather than the struggles we endure. Perception really will trump reality every time. You just have to pick the right things to focus on so your perception is positive. Until next time....


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Decision Making on the Fly


We all make decisions every day of our lives. Some of them are big, life changing decisions that (should) require a bit of planning and research like buying a new house. Others are run of the mill daily decisions like what to wear that day or what to eat for supper. For some reason though, I tend to get the two mixed up on occasion.

For the most part, I am the type of guy who wants to know all the facts and all the repercussions prior to making a decision. Or, in other words, I am not a "fly by the seat of my pants" kind of guy. I generally want to know what I'm getting myself into. This generalization of myself does not seem to apply to everything though.

Purchasing a new vehicle is one of my downfalls. I'll spend a bit of time determining my needs, the options and how much I want to (or can) spend on a vehicle. By the time I get to the point of visiting a dealership, I'm over the edge. I walk in with the intent to buy, know what I want and buy it. The problem is that I don't have the patience to wait if/when a couple "minor" criteria from my research are missing. I can justify it to myself that it's the model I wanted - who cares if it's the wrong color or doesn't have a steering wheel??

I know part of this is hereditary. Many times in my youth I heard the phrase, "we're just going to go 'look' at cars....not purchase." I'm pretty sure we always came home with a vehicle on those "looking" excursions. One time, we came home with three vehicles. (In our defense, we replaced both my parents' vehicles and added one to the mix for me.)

Fast forward to today and I still tend to make a few decisions that some may call rash or spur of the moment. I'm not talking about little things like making snap decisions based off first impressions, stereotyping people or buying a vehicle for my wife without asking her about it first. I'm talking about big picture, major consequence things like dropping off of social media.

Everything you've read up to here has been an elaborate stalling technique of mine to put off admitting that my decision to wipe out my Facebook presence was probably not as well thought out as I thought it was. Many of you have already figured out that (as of yesterday) I am back on Facebook. Some of you are probably even reading this because you saw it pop up on the average jester Facebook page. (If you don't already follow average jester on Facebook, you can go here to fix that.)

Since I am still too stubborn to admit that I was "wrong" to drop off Facebook, I will explain to you why it might not have been the right decision....hypothetically speaking of course.

Low ImpactAs a blogger, even an "unpaid, blogging for fun" blogger, I watch the numbers just like everyone else. If the views, likes, shares and comments on my blog fluctuate, I pay attention. I may be writing for my own pleasure and as a way to clear my head, but it is more fun if you know people are actually enjoying what you're writing. For that reason, I pay attention to the numbers. Since I can ramble on about anything under the sun (sometimes without an actual point to make), I can easily alter what I write about based on what people seem to enjoy reading about.

The numbers in this case tell me that Facebook was driving more traffic that I initially thought. I may only have about 40 likes to the average jester Facebook page, but closing that page for a few months had my average view per post drop by twice that much. (For my little blog - that's a lot.)

Medium ImpactWatching the numbers drop was expected so I didn't give it a lot of thought at first. Now, after a few months of being off Facebook, I am suddenly hearing from a number of sources that people are wondering if I still write the blog because they haven't seen anything lately. True, I haven't been writing quite as frequently, but I didn't stop. They just weren't seeing it on Facebook.

That actually means a lot to me. Numbers dropping is one thing, but having family members, friends and friends of friends specifically asking what happened to the blog woke me up. Wow, somebody actually noticed. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Then I remembered I was a man, got over the warm and fuzzies, and realized I was possibly being a bit selfish. Why should I expect my readers to change their habits (viewing through Facebook) just because I was sick of Facebook?

Higher ImpactAlthough the warm and fuzzies is what made me seriously start re-thinking my abandonment of Facebook, it was a bigger picture realization that brought me back. Once I started thinking about the last few months away from Facebook, I recalled how many things I missed because that's the only place it was announced.

I think it's a lot like the phrase, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." Or, in this case, "If it wasn't posted on Facebook, then it didn't happen." I was pretty much at the mercy of my wife to share what she sees on Facebook as important news and life events, but that only helps with our mutual friends.

So here I am, somewhat reluctantly back on Facebook. I am (wishfully?) thinking that since I have been off Facebook for a few months now, maybe I won't let it suck up so much of my time. I no longer have that habit of mindlessly scrolling through the news feed - and I hope it stays that way. Who knows, maybe my return to Facebook will help stimulate me to get my blog back on track. I have been a little lacking in content as of late. Maybe some new stimulation from Facebook will kick it back into gear. Until next time....