Little Wisdoms

I was reading Jim Gaffigan’s “Food: A Love Story” and he mentioned that if you knew you were going to die tomorrow would you be eating a bag of crappy food or would you eat the best meal possible?  He says it best as:

“We want to leave the people here with the knowledge that we have loved them dearly but also that we have no regrets and lived our lives to their fullest. Therefore, I conclude that we should be full. Full of something delicious.”

With that, I recommend that every meal should be treated as if it were your last. Don’t waste it on regrettable choices. Choose options that exemplify that you care about yourself and a happy eating experience.

Never choose form over function in terms of clothing. Buy clothes that are well made with quality materials and are durable.  You will be paying more for the items but over time as you still have them, it pays off in the end.  You won’t be buying as often.

In terms of shoes, it is the same; but also comfort should always trump quality and style. Never buy a pair of shoes which will cause you to put them in the back of your closet because they pinch or are ill fitting.

When buying a winter coat always think worst case scenario in terms of weather and make sure the coat can handle the lowest extreme temperature. If possible, go for one which has a removable inner lining so that you can get more wear for the seasons.

Never have less than a pack and a half of toilet paper in your house. Period.

Always have at least 10 bars of soap on hand and always buy the jumbo bars. Should you ever be out of work you have a supply you are not having to restock.

When you run out of things you use daily – like shampoo, conditioner, laundry supplies, deodorant, dish soaps, razors, or shaving creme – the next grocery visit you should be buying two of the item you just finished. That way you have a spare always.

Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. You end up overbuying and picking foods you wouldn’t otherwise purchase.

The best time to shop in a city like ours is early Saturday or Sunday mornings because people are more likely sleeping in or off at church. Aisles are less crowded and you can shop in peace. The only exceptions will be holiday weekends. In which case, go the Thursday evening before.  In larger cities all bets are off as to the perfect time.

When you purchase sheet sets always to for the highest quality thread count you can and a set which boasts “no pilling”. If you go cheap they will not last long and they will “pill” (meaning there will be little balls stuck to the fabric you will be constantly picking off with each launder).

Baking is so much easier for cleanup if you use non stick aluminum foil. AND… you do not have to oil or butter your baking vessel which is healthier than having all that excess fat in your diet.

Conserve water and try to do your laundry the same time once per week. Like every Saturday. Do not do what your father does and have a load to do every other day. It is wasteful.

If you do buy anything on credit make sure you are able to pay over the minimum suggested payment so you can pay it off faster and you aren’t being socked for unnecessary interest payments. When you get to the last payment, pay a couple pennies over the last payment amount.  They cannot hold a positive balance for over 30 days so in a month they will have to cut you a check for the overage amount which will cost them more than the reimbursement. That is your little kick in the shin to them for charging you interest payments.

Keep a spreadsheet of who you send Christmas cards to each year with their current addresses and phone numbers. This is handy to have for birthdays as well as other gift giving occasions. Keep a card library and sort by occasion (Birthday, Anniversary, New Baby, Just Because, Blank, Thank You, etc) Always have a surplus on hand in case you forget. Then you don’t have to run to the store in a last minute panic.

Do the same with gift-wrap. Have plenty of options on standby with coordinating ribbon and bows. When you use up the coordinating ribbon/bows but still have wrap leftover, go out when convenient, and restock what you are missing.

Invest in a sturdy desktop tape dispenser which can be refillable. Saves on what you send to the landfill in the end.

If you ever get a dog or a cat, remember that consistency and routine are the best to solidify training. And with cats, if you disrupt their routine they will become threatened in their sense of security and they will act out to protect their space by “marking”.


More Than Words Can Say

I am reading a book entitled “Breakfast with Buddha” and there’s a point where the protagonist writes a letter to his daughter, simply providing a lighthearted status of his current road trip; but mostly to tell her he misses and loves her. The author states in a roundabout way that parents do not have the best method to express the love for their children.

In a way, I agree. It is clumsy sometimes. We feel like our children simply do not get the depth of this love;  which feels to us parents like a failure to communicate. While reading this portion of the book, I felt compelled to try to capture my feelings in order to communicate them to my son. I’d like to take the time to do it before it is too late to do it. In doing so, I know for sure he understands exactly how I feel.

Dear Ev,

I want you to know, that when I say “I love you” it’s just not a simple platitude. Those words contain a myriad of dimensions behind it. You are a gift to your father and me. An embodiment of the best and worst of both of us. And I love every aspect of you. From your smile to your moodiness. Your laughter tickles the heck out of me to my core. When you were conceived, I could feel an inner joy within me that did feel like a playful tickle. I could only smile and giggle with the spark of life I was promoting in those 9 months.

As young parents your father and I never wanted to share you with anyone. Reluctant to share you with Grandma and Grandpa because we loved spending time with you. You never had babysitters because we took you everywhere with us. The one and only time we ever had been separated from you was on our wedding anniversary after you were born and we chose to take a night out as a couple for dinner. We hated leaving you, and cut the dinner short to just be with you.

You taught us a depth of loving and caring I don’t think either one of us really understood until you were born. When you hurt, we hurt. When you found joy we were over the moon. When you were angry, it took all of ourselves not to burst in laughter over the triviality over which set you ablaze.

The man you are becoming makes me beam with pride. You are organized and so very considerate. It has always been a source of joy knowing how you care for others (your network of friends and family). When I hear you ask “How was your day?” to either me or your dad with a genuine interest and concern, I feel so very happy to know you are exactly the person we hoped to have in our lives and in others’ lives.

Even in your youth you have been a caregiver. Your heart is the best part of you. I hope you know how much of an impact you have on everyone you mentor and befriend. I respect the heck out of you and your values. I had always hoped you would have the integrity I lacked and avoid the weaknesses I had.

As you grow older, I pray and encourage you to become more independent and self sufficient. The pride in knowing you did it all yourself is the best feeling ever. Use your resources – your network of friends, coworkers, and family as well as technology to help you find your solutions and answers to the problems at hand.

Know that there are little pockets of notes to you in places in the house. Your baby book for example has letters to you from both me and your father. I kept a journal while I was pregnant with you to let you know how I cared for myself in preparation for you. And every book I have kept in the house, I kept because the stories were so profound that I hope that you pick one up and read it too.

It is a constant fear of mine that you may not find true happiness and life will deal you some hard lessons. But in the end, it is a part of the growth process. Whenever you are faced with an obstacle I hope you have the presence of mind to step back after the brief freak out and know that there is an opportunity to learn from the experience in order to grow and be a better version of you in the end.

Life is a constant path towards learning. The more you experience the more you grow. When I encourage you to travel and meet people it is to expand your experience. I know at this point you are not a fan of just getting out there but I hope that changes over time and you do get to go to fun places and meet outstanding people and become lifelong friends. Expand your circle of friends as they become your extended family when both your dad and I pass on. Know that I hated that you had no other siblings because I wanted you to always have someone you can count on to share your feelings and frustrations like both your dad and I had with our siblings.

And in every journey out you have, no matter how mundane, always be open to those moments that makes you smile. Take nothing for granted. Be present in the moment. It could be a pleasant exchange with a complete stranger or it could be a funny bumper sticker on the car in front of you. Find reasons to go through life observantly and not like a mindless automaton. That last way is easiest but it’s the least fun. So empty.

Also know that I am so excited to see ultimately the man you become. I bargain with the reaper every day to let me have this one indulgence. I want to see the fully grown you. It is what I live for. It’s not just the cats.

All my love,

The Trap

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. There is comfort in predictability for some things. I must warn however, as my mum did, sometimes people prey on your predictability. It is better to be unpredictable in certain situations.

For example:  Never take the same route home every day. If a predator is out there, they can lie in wait based on your predictable route.  (Mum was a very paranoid person)

Office workers prey on your predictable reactions. Spouses too. Best to always leave them guessing. (Mum said the secret to a long marriage was to keep your spouse on their toes – though, she divorced after 8 years so I don’t quite know how sound that advice is…)

What I do know for sure is, that getting stuck in a pattern of behavior or point of view is pretty easy. Sometimes one can unwittingly get trapped into a pattern without really understanding they’ve been caught. One that particularly ensnares me off and on in life is negativity. For me, it starts with a whinge here or a whine there; but then after a while, it’s like all I can see. All the negative things people say or do. My sense of humor goes out of whack and gets sardonic and black. Snarkily so.

If it goes on long enough, it affects my happiness. Then I become bitter and bitchy. At that point, all I can see are what’s falling apart or going wrong and missing all the bits which are going right.

It hit me the other day that when I get home and I’ve been asked about my day; that’s really all I do is bitch and moan. God! How much of a drain am I to the family in doing so? Or anyone around me for that matter?

There was a meme out there that helped me identify being caught in the trap of negativity.  Disclaimer: I do not know if this is copyrighted…. so please do not sue me. I looked around to find the source and could not seem to locate the exact author/artist of this image.

Cartoon captioned Happiness I created it myself

It became all too clear that when I get caught in negativity, I have control to create my own happiness. I cannot rely on things changing for me, I have to make the changes to be happy. Rather than allowing all the negative events or interactions to cloud my world view; I can choose to select and search for those positives which occurred as well.

For a long time, I looked to my spouse for happiness and realized that would never happen. So I broke free of that expectation and found activities and projects which would generate happiness within me. Whether it was volunteer work, random acts of kindness, crafting for causes, taking on commissions for art, hash-tagging, or reading for pleasure.

The lesson I learned here was that happiness starts with a choice from within. So rather than focusing on what went wrong today, I deliberately also took note of what went right or what caused happiness today.

It’s a work in progress and I need to keep working at it; but that’s with anything in your life. Constant growth and maintenance.


On Good Deeds

Clare Boothe Luce once said "No good deed goes unpunished." From a cynic's perspective, the response is "Amen, sister!"

I'd like to think that the sentiment behind that witty statement was not fueled by selfishness and cynicism, but it is.  Usually there is an expectation by the deed do-gooder that some sort of recognition for the act is necessary or a positive response from the recipient is required. They come away shocked when no one notices or when met with hostility or sadness.

The television show "Friends" did an episode in 1998 which exercised and illustrated that very concept. Doing good is inherently a selfish act. To set the scene: Joey, the actor has volunteered to work the phone banks on the PBS annual fund drive. Early he admits his intent is to help raise funds for the station but also to get exposure on television for more work opportunities.  The exchange between Phoebe and himself explains how this deed is selfish and how other acts of kindness are as well:

Joey: I'm sorry Pheebs, I just, y'know, I just wanted to do a good deed. Like-like you did with the babies.
Phoebe: This isn't a good deed, you just wanted to get on TV! This is totally selfish.
Joey: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! What about you, having those babies for your brother? Talk about selfish!
Phoebe: What-what are you talking about?!
Joey: Well, yeah, it was a really nice thing and all, but it made you feel really good right?
Phoebe: Yeah. So?
Joey: It made you feel good, so that makes it selfish. Look, there's no unselfish good deeds, sorry.
Phoebe: Yes there are! There are totally good deeds that are selfless.
Joey: Well, may I ask for one example?
Phoebe: Yeah, it's… Y'know there's—no you may not!
Joey: That's because all people are selfish.
Phoebe: Are you calling me selfish?!
Joey: …. Yeah, well sorry to burst that bubble, Pheebs, but selfless good deeds don't exist. Okay? …
Phoebe: I'm gonna find a selfless good dead. I'm gonna beat you, you evil genius.

I had to smile during that exchange because Freud first indicated the self-centeredness of all people in his theory of Id, Ego and Superego. This episode calls that out to let people examine the ways in which selfishness exists even when the intent is selfless. Phoebe promises to find a way to prove Joey wrong and in her attempt she fails:

Phoebe: I cannot believe I can't find a selfless good deed! Y'know that old guy that lives next to me? Well, I snuck over there and-and raked up all the leaves on his front stoop. But he caught me and force-fed me cider and cookies. Then I felt wonderful. That old jackass!
Rachel: Maybe Joey's right. Maybe all good deeds are selfish.
Phoebe: I will find a selfless good deed! 'Cause I just gave birth to three children and I will not let them be raised in a world where Joey is right!

We tend to do nice things for others not so much for how it makes that person feel; but how it makes us feel. The more positive the impact, the more likely we are to do good deeds for others.  Phoebe later tries again and gives Joey a status update thinking if she did something which made her feel bad for the good of another then it would be selfless:

[Scene: The Telethon, Joey's phone rings and he answers it.]

Joey: (in a bored voice) PBS telethon.
Phoebe: (on phone from Central Perk) Hey Joey, I just wanted to let you know that I found a selfless good deed. I just went down to the park and I let a bee sting me.
Joey: What?! What good is that gonna do anybody?
Phoebe: Well, it helps the bee look tough in front of his bee friends. The bee is happy and I am definitely not.
Joey: Now, y'know the bee probably died after he stung ya.
Phoebe: (Thinks for a moment.) Aw, dammit! (Slams the phone down.)

This attempt shows how little thought into the result of the deed can actually do more harm than good. In this case, no one benefited. Sometimes we need to think through our actions to see if we may be doing a disservice. Know the person for which you are helping and think through if you are really 'helping' them. Giving food to a food bank may seem like helping, but giving money is more helpful. In the short term the food bank throws out most of the donated food items due to expiration and would rather have cash so they can stock shelves intelligently.

Phoebe tries one more time…

[Scene: The Telethon, Joey answers his ringing phone.]

Joey: (in an unenthusiastic voice) PBS Telethon.
Phoebe: (on phone) Hi Joey.
Joey: Hey Pheebs!
Phoebe: I would like to make a pledge. I would like to donate $200.
Joey: $200? Are you sure Pheebs? I mean, after what Sesame Street did to ya?
Phoebe: Oh, I'm still mad at them but I also now that they bring happiness to lots of kids who's moms didn't kill themselves, so by supporting them, I'm doing a good thing, but I'm not happy about it. So there, a selfless good deed.
Joey: And you don't feel a little good about donating the money?
Phoebe: No, it sucks. I was saving up to buy a hamster.
Joey: A hamster? What, those things are like 10 bucks.
Phoebe: Yeah, not the one I had my eye on.
Gary Collins: (on TV.) It looks like we have surpassed last year's pledge total! Thank you viewers! The pledge that did it was taken by one of our volunteers…(He walks over to where Joey is sitting.) Oh boy! And may I say one of our sharpest dressed volunteers, (Joey stands up.) Mr. Joseph Tribbiani!
Phoebe: Oh, look-look, Joey's on TV! Isn't that great? My pledge got Joey on TV! Oh that makes me feel—Oh no! (Realizes that her deed made her happy and therefore it's selfish and covers her mouth in horror.)

So the show stood by the statement that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed. I tend to agree. But I also like feeling good. Where I see good deeds go wrong is when the deed do-gooder is showboating their action, whether in a post on their preferred social media account or recording it on YouTube. I admire those who keep their acts private and anonymous. No one needs to know but you. Not even the person/people you are helping.

My husband does not understand my sense of philanthropy and feels like the only charity that should be donated to is the family itself. I cannot live that way because I like to be happy. Which is selfish. I keep donating my time, money and goods to help because I like feeling good. I just don't tell everyone when I do it. I don't want to be punished, or judged and I certainly don't want pats on the back. I already did that when I did the deed.

Make sense?