Friday, July 29, 2016

Free Time - Is It Really?

Recently, I heard someone talk about how they spent their free time.  It made me wonder, what exactly is free time?  And by free, do we mean available or without cost?  I’m not sure it’s either.
Wikipedia defines free time as time spent away from business, work, job hunting, domestic chores and education, not including time spent on necessary activities such as eating and sleeping.
An even broader definition of free time comes from  time available for hobbies and other activities that you enjoy, free from duties or responsibilities.
I guess I’d lean toward the second definition, but is time ever free? Time is like gold dust, slipping through your fingers and captured by the wind.  Once passed, time can never be reclaimed, and therefore, shouldn’t be wasted.
You could easily make the argument that free time, or leisure time, isn’t really wasted. It allows us to recharge our batteries, and makes us more productive when we tackle the “must dos” of life.  Some percentage of our time should be available to relax and recharge, but how much?
Much of our life, our employer defines the ratio of free time to work for us.  If your boss gives you two weeks’ paid vacation per year and you add in all weekends, you’ll average about 30% of each week to use as you wish.  Sounds low doesn’t it?  Well, it gets worse.  Not all of that 30% is truly available.
You probably use much of this time for other duties and responsibilities: home maintenance, domestic chores, volunteering, family commitments, responding to work-related emails, weekend work assignments, etc.  You might be lucky to end up with one day per week to actually do what you desire--maybe less.  But even that time isn’t free, or without cost.  Think about it.  You worked 70% of the year to earn it.
I’m retired after working more than 32 years in corporate America, conservatively averaging 50 hours per week on the job, and often traveling on weekends.  I’m extremely grateful to be healthy and young enough to enjoy my retirement, but I have never considered my leisure time as free or that I’m entitled to it. I earned my retirement many times over, and I try not to waste a single day of it.  It’s one of the reasons I write. It’s enjoyable, gives me a feeling of accomplishment, and doesn’t interfere with my other interests and activities.
At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve all known people who fear giving the perception they have free time, even after retiring.  They believe appearing busy gives them an air of importance.  These people truly waste time, filling it with pretentious sounding busy work.  To them, I share a quote from Henry David Thoreau. It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?
I’ve not heard of anyone wishing from their death bed that they’d spent more time at work.  At the end of our lives, most of us would give anything to be able to spend more time with our family and friends.  Isn’t that the best evidence free time is worth more than any material possession? 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Shopping Carts - They Can Define You

This may not be the most hard-hitting blog thought I’ve ever posted, but I think it’s a topic to which most people can relate.

I believe your shopping cart habits define you.  That’s right.  What you do with your shopping cart tells a lot about you.
Abandoned carts. They drive me nuts.  What normal person leaves their shopping cart in the middle of a parking lot after unloading its contents into their car?   These discarded carts are a hazard.  They become parking lot torpedoes.  People too lazy to push their cart 50 feet to the collection area must think the world owes them a favor.  Or maybe they believe the guy in the orange vest, snaking the line of carts back to the grocery store, enjoys retrieving them one at a time.   I’m not a governmental controls person, quite the opposite, but there should be a law against shopping cart abandonment.  Anyone caught should be required to don an orange vest and gather carts for the next hour. 
Carnival carts.  These are shopping carts disguised as trains, race cars, buses or other things that don’t belong in a grocery store.  They are twice the size of a normal shopping cart and usually have a couple kids bouncing around inside them.   These monstrosities push other carts out of their way and send produce, soup cans and cereal boxes careening off the shelves in their wake.   The parents at the controls of these carts are self-absorbed.  They clearly think it’s okay to have other shoppers share the pain of parenthood during their weekly shopping experience.  
Gotta bad wheel?  It doesn’t matter to some people.  I’m sure you’ve seen them pushing these defective carts, rattling their way down the aisles.  A shopping cart won’t go straight on three wheels.  It just won’t.  What goes through the mind of someone who keeps a defective three-wheel cart?  It’s not like they don’t have a choice.  There are hundreds of them at the entrance.  These people can’t possibly put much value on convenience or even on personal satisfaction.  Life just gave them a lemon that they could have easily traded for an orange, but they didn’t.
Electric shopping carts.  I know this is a sensitive subject.  Many users of these carts have special needs and have no other option. I’m clearly not judging them.  However, for those unable to walk the aisles of a grocery store simply because of their weight, I’m not sure providing an electric cart to gather more food is really helping them.   I’ve also witnessed ambulatory people of all ages and sizes use these carts, drop them off at the store after unloading, and then walk across the parking lot back to their cars.  For them, these carts represent an entitlement that no one regulates.  The use of electric carts has become so widespread the aisles of some Walmarts look like Shriner’s parades, except the Walmart drivers have better costumes.  
If you ever see me shopping for groceries, I’ll be the one carrying the hand cart.  I try not to be there any longer than necessary.  I guess that means I’m anti-social.    

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Mayberry 2016 ?

What would Mayberry look like today?
I have a pretty good idea because I grew up in a Midwestern town in the 50s and 60s not unlike Mayberry.   Delavan, Illinois is a town of 1,700 residents, a 30-minute drive south of Peoria.
When I was a pre-teen, Delavan was a sleepy little village with one full-time policeman and a couple of barber shops: Bale’s and Whistler’s.  Whistler’s was most like Floyd’s.  There was also a bowling alley, one grocery store and a church positioned every few blocks with taverns tucked between. Our park had two small ponds stocked with fish.  Opie-looking kids dotted the shorelines most weekends.  My beagle trotted beside my bike everywhere I went, especially to the park.  We had one interconnected school building containing grades one through twelve.  Of the 50 students in my 1970 high school graduating class, I started kindergarten with half of them.  Like I said, it was a sleepy little town, not unlike Mayberry.
So, how would Mayberry appear today?  I visited my 87-year-old parents this past Father’s Day, so I can tell you exactly what’s changed in Delavan.  Some of the changes have been for the good, some not.
The first thing you see when you enter Delavan on Route 122 from the east is a new 20-acre medical marijuana plant.  That’s right.  Delavan has become the pot capital of central Illinois.  What would Barney think?
This is not to suggest Delavan will compete with Boulder, Colorado any time soon. There’s no low-hanging fog over the city park, not yet anyway.  The Mary Jane production is for medical purposes only.  Still, my grandparents are buried at Prairie Rest Cemetery a half mile down the road, and I’m concerned with what might be leaching into the soil.  When I meet my grandfather at the pearly gates, I expect he’ll have a Cheech and Chong grin on his face. 
Main Street in Delavan has had a major facelift in recent years, thanks to the investments of a local resident.  Several long-vacant buildings on the west side of Main have been remodeled.  What once were a grocery store, post office, and cafĂ© are now a pizza tavern, upscale restaurant, a wine store, and a yet-to-open brewery.  Delavan residents no longer need to travel to Peoria to enjoy a good meal and a bottle of $40 wine, and it won’t be long before Delavan’s Otis can stop making his own moonshine.  He’ll be able to buy it on Main Street, within walking distance of his jail cell.
On the downside, Delavan no longer has a bowling alley.  In an era dominated by video games, rolling a ball at stationary pins has lost its luster.  The town is also without a barber. Bale's and Whistler's shops have long-since closed.   The town’s grocery store mysteriously burned to the ground several years ago, having previously lost most of its business to a new Walmart in a neighboring town. 
My dad now gets his hair cut at Great Clips by a revolving cast of “stylists” with names like Tracie, JoJo and Tina on days when he and my mom drive to Walmart to buy groceries.   It’s not the same as gossiping with neighbors while you wait your turn at Floyd’s—I mean Whistler’s.
Mayberry may not have gone down the same path as Delavan, but it’s not hard to imagine.  I hear they recently opened a Walmart in Mount Pilot.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Can't buy friendship? Yes, you can!

My wife and I spent yesterday morning at a Tractor Supply parking lot.  Reading this, you might think we could have found a better use of our time.  You’d be wrong.
Our county’s animal shelter is at capacity.  Fifty dogs and cats need homes.  Sadly, most will not find one in time.  Earlier in the week, a message went out on the Save-A-Pet Foundation’s Facebook page seeking help for a weekend adoption event.  
My wife and I have provided financial support to our county shelter and other nearby rescue shelters, and will continue to do so.  We love dogs.  We found Milo, our lab-terrier mix, at a shelter.  Until yesterday, we’d never experienced what it’s like to find homes for unwanted pets.    It’s much different than mailing in a check.
An email went out requesting support.  We met five other volunteers in the parking lot at 9:15 a.m.   They’d picked up six dogs from the county shelter on their way.   We set up a tent at the far end of the lot, prepared signs, and unloaded the dogs and crates.  
These volunteers love animals.  All of them had already adopted several dogs and/or provided foster homes for pets.   Each would have adopted one of the six dogs, but they were at their limit.
It was difficult to think about the fate of these dogs if they didn’t find a home yesterday.   Each had found their way to the shelter because they weren’t wanted, or their owners were unable to care for them.  Each had a unique personality.  Each had specific needs.
For the next several hours, I had a loveable beagle at the end of a leash.  I didn’t mind being dragged across the parking lot.  It was great to give these dogs some freedom and attention.  Recently, they’d had very little of either.  After all they’d been through, they still freely offered their love and attention to me.
As each prospective pet owner approached, I couldn’t help but get a lump in my throat.  The dogs didn’t know the significance of their decisions, but I did.  The other volunteers had done this before.   They patiently talked to each person and introduced them to the dogs. 
I was thrilled when the first dog was adopted.  She was a brindle boxer mix--a beautiful dog.   A young man adopted her.  It was like the brindle knew what had just happened.   She pranced to his waiting pickup and eagerly jumped into the backseat.   The volunteers applauded as they drove off.  I had to turn away to avoid having them see a 63-year-old man tear up.
As the morning progressed, four of the six dogs found homes: the brindle, a loveable pit bull, a stately-looking coon hound, and an adorable beagle (one of the volunteers adopted him).   For a $30 adoption fee, each new owner went home with a happy dog and an instant best friend.   It doesn’t get much better than that.
Recent update: A fifth dog, a small wire-haired terrier, was adopted soon after returning to the shelter.  Unfortunately, Marmaduke, a large, playful shepherd mix, is still looking.  If you hurry, he may still be there.   

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Pleasing Everyone -- Forget It

Have you ever suffered from “please-a-phobia”? 
It’s not a well-documented condition, but basically it occurs when you attempt to please everyone, and in the process, you take on other people’s values, lose your identity, fill with stress, and end up failing.    
To observe me today, you wouldn’t think I was ever afflicted with this condition--but I was.  I’m the product of a mother who worries about everything and a father who spent his life as a perfectionist.   Tragically, I inherited both genes, resulting in an advanced case of pleaseaphobia.   
Others, much wiser than I am, determined long ago that pleasing everyone was not a viable objective.  I’ve included quotes from a few of them below.  The list includes John Lydgate, Aesop, John Lennon, and my favorite, Unknown.  My life could have been much simpler if I’d heeded their advice earlier.   
It took me years to get my pleaseaphobia under control.  Two things helped.  First, I realized not all of those I was trying to please were working equally hard to please me.   Second, as I aged, I determined trying to please everyone wasn’t the best use of what precious time I had left on earth.  (By the way, if you want a lesson on the futility of trying to please everyone, volunteer to serve on your homeowners’ association board or to coach your son or daughter’s youth soccer team.)  
This isn’t to say I no longer focus on pleasing others.  I do, but I’ve become much more selective in whom I try to please.   I concentrate on friends and family members who care about me.   While we may have differing opinions on some issues, we share a sufficient number of interests and have a mutual respect for each other.
I began writing in my late 50s following a 32-year business career. Nothing opens you up to criticism more than writing.  Like most writers, I love reviews, but to expect my writing to please everyone would be unrealistic.  It didn’t take long to decide my objective shouldn’t be to please all readers, but rather to target an audience who related to my writing style, topics and genre.
As Ricky Nelson sang in Garden Party, “I’ve learned my lesson well.  You can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself…” 

Quotes about pleasing others:   
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
                   ― John Lydgate, 15th Century Monk & Poet
“In trying to please all, he had pleased none.”
                    ― Aesop, Aesop's Fables
“Trying to please everybody is impossible - if you did that, you'd end up in the middle with nobody liking you. You've just got to make the decision about what you think is your best, and do it.”
                  ― John Lennon, The Beatles Anthology
 “If you try to please everyone, you will excite no one.”
                  -- Unknown