Category Archives: Random thoughts

Travelling Tales

Periodically I have reason to spend time enjoying folk and fairy tales and I am reminded anew how wonderful they are.  I am working on the storytelling workbook in Toastmasters and I also just participated in a local Hispanic Heritage day, where I was the storyteller.  We adults who don’t have regular contact with small children can forget the delights, and lessons, of these tales.

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Part of what is amazing about these tales, beyond their endurance through so many eons as well as social change, is the way that they travel.  We like to think that we modern folk are better than any of our ancestors at getting around because we have a variety of fast modes to get from here to there.  But the reality is that even back in the days of horse carts and walking as the main means to get around, people were quite mobile.

 

People who study folk tales can provide endless examples of the different versions of the same basic tale that show up all over the globe.  The tale that I told at the Hispanic Heritage day had a very similar flavor to the Brer Rabbit tales in the American southeast.  Which themselves have provenances from other far off shores.

 

A good story is far more that entertaining.  It makes us more receptive to new ideas, learning and growth.  Folk tales are packed with understanding of human nature, right and wrong, and ways to explain the world.  They should since the oldest are quite well travelled.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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Don’t Tell Me

Yesterday at lunch one younger fellow starts to tell us that he went to see Gone Girl and it blew him away.  He couldn’t get any farther before there was a chorus of, ‘Stop, No’ from most of the room.  Quite a few people have plans to see this movie and have apparently not read the book.  I read the book about a year ago and have no current plans to see the movie.

 

He really wanted to talk about the plot, it had sparked something in him.  I’m not sure how much of the finer detail I remember since I have read quite a bit in the intervening months but I could probably dredge up enough to have a decent discussion and find out how certain things are addressed in the movie version.  We would have been possibly subject to bodily harm had we continued to discuss the movie, though.

public domain image

public domain image

 

I’ve kind of gotten out of the habit of watching movies in the theater, which is a shame.  It is a very different experience.  And some movies really deserve to be watched on a big screen in a big dark room.  In a shared experience.  A friend and I danced our way out of Jersey Boys awhile back which gave us the opportunity to connect a bit with our fellow movie viewers.

 

But shared sensations – film or print – can lead to that chorus of don’t tell me, don’t spoil it for me.  I still remember trying to stay away from the people who devoured the last Harry Potter book immediately while we, my boys and I, read it at a slightly more leisurely pace.  We wanted to savor this last encounter with Harry.

 

A little buzz, a taste of personal reaction is helpful sometimes.  It might lead us to read or watch something that didn’t originally appeal at all.  Or it might build the anticipation.  A delay in achieving the experience can heighten it as well.  I just watched Captain Phillips, which I have wanted to see since it came out, with my older son and daughter-in-law and we were not disappointed.

 

Have you had an anticipated experience accidentally ruined?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Caution and Risk

Just the right balance between these two forces seems to be not only the key to survival, but also plays into success.  Cautious people live to tell their tales and to raise a new generation, but they might not have taken enough risk.  Risk takers might have gone a bit too far and checked out early.

 

I just spent some time with a couple of four month old kittens.  Sisters, one just a tad bolder than the other.  Kittens instinctively know that a certain hesitancy around new things is prudent, but they also have a strong need to know – what’s in here, can I fit in there, can I jump high enough, will this hold my weight…

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Natural laws and human rules provide some boundaries for their explorations.  A thing just beyond their reach is terribly tempting, conversely after a few minutes with the thing it loses its charm and they are off to the next thing.

 

How do we find that right balance for ourselves?  Thoughts of if only I’d done or not done this or that might mean that we were too cautious or too bold.  But maybe only in hindsight, too.  I bought my house right before the housing crash so I shake my head at the amount of money that – on paper – has disappeared.  But I’ve had the benefit of living in the house for the last nine years and being removed from the townhouse complex where I had previously lived.  So, do I count this in the good or bad category?  Hmmm.

 

Stay or move, keep a job or switch, invest in Microsoft (wish I had) or buy that car which provided mobility (when it wasn’t in the shop).  Get married, have a baby, buy a house, retire now – here or there?  Caution or risk?

 

I’m not sure that I will ever figure out just the right balance, but the consideration is worthy of a few more years of research (also known as living).  When have you been overly cautious or entirely too risky?  Or maybe you have gotten it just right?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Hardy

Now this is a word that we don’t use nearly often enough these days.

 

“I’m interested in that thing that happens where there’s a breaking point for some people and not for others. You go through such hardship, things that are almost impossibly difficult, and there’s no sign that it’s going to get any better, and that’s the point when people quit. But some don’t.”

~Robert Redford

 

Life has taught me that hardy is something that I want to be, a trait that I want to cultivate.  There are all sorts of breaking points, and I have a few memories of quitting this or that, like playing the flute, early on that didn’t sit well with my competitive nature.

 

Hardiness consists of these characteristics – resilience, optimism, flexibility and creativity.  I read this in periodic research that I have done and I believe it because it has been true for me.  The beautiful thing about hardiness, is that while some people are inherently hardier to begin with, it is something that can be learned and strengthened over time.

 

a hardy plant, Lily of the Valley

a hardy plant, Lily of the Valley

I do not lean toward optimism, but I can turn my thoughts in that direction.  My mom was quite the optimist and I could regularly compare my Eeyore mindset to hers, and sometimes be amazed that her belief that things would be ok seemed to actually make them ok.

 

I’ve learned resilience can be born from stubbornness combined with a willingness to learn.   Realization that resilience is something that I am mastering came slowly.

 

Flexibility and creativity also make sense as parts of the hardy equation.  Creativity provides strengths and helps recharge batteries.  And flexibility releases some of the pressure from stress.

 

I am mere days away from the beginning of a new decade, so while I hope that you get something out of reading this post it is admittedly more of an exhortation to myself that I know how to be hardy.  I hope that you do too.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Just a Little Reward

I was puttering in the kitchen and thinking about what I should write.  I have bits of ideas tucked here and jotted down there, but it was too much to go and find them to see if any appealed right now.  I happen to be working my way through left overs, which often seems to fall to me because my son prefers to make new creations.  (I kind of remember enjoying creating new flavors in the kitchen myself once upon a time.)

 

Mostly I don’t mind left overs and I really hate waste.  My reusable sandwich bag was a topic at lunch today among my coworkers.  (How easily it can be washed and how I wash it.)  But it can quickly become something I have to do if my son doesn’t join in and eat some too, particularly if he has made a batch of something way too large for us to eat in a couple of sittings.

 

One of my son's most recent creations.

One of my son’s most recent creations.

These led to thoughts of how we reward ourselves, if we reward ourselves and whether or not we should reward ourselves.  I happen to be reading a book that is set in the Middle Ages and this is making me think about how we are rewarded just by living in this century and not back then.  But I should just use modern context.

 

It is in my nature to use some sort of carrot to get myself to do something I don’t want to do.  For instance I can watch an episode of a show that I like after I make a call that I don’t want to make.  I don’t think of that as a reward, per se, but more of a prompt.  Delayed gratification.

 

My favorite reward for getting through a work week is the moment that I can turn off the alarm on Friday night, followed by extra time reading, a fine night’s sleep and then the luxury of waking up slowly and having a leisurely mug of tea Saturday morning.  Heaven.

 

My rewards might seem small to some, or decadent to others.  But the beauty of rewards are that they should be personal.  How do you reward yourself?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Time Well Spent

Reading.  Time reading is never ill spent, even if I’m not too fond of whatever I happen to be reading.  Reading is a wonderful way to pass the time, to feed your mind, to learn, to escape…  Even if I manage to forget much what I read, it was still time spent well.

 

My former mother-in-law thought time reading in the middle of the day was just about the most decadent thing ever.  A person who was doing – cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc. – was spending time wisely.  Reading wasn’t doing in her book.  (And don’t even mention napping.)  I do agree with her that doing is productive.  But reading is productive as well.

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Productive.  To produce, create, generate.  Time well spent should produce something.

 

I’ve mentioned here before that I am terrible when it comes to planning for myself.  Many weekends I wind up irritated with myself because I didn’t plan for this time away from work.  Plan to get things done, or plan for a little bit of fun.  I ask myself if those weekend hours are then time well spent?  At the end of each day I can point to ways that I was productive, though some of it repetitively so.  Such as errands and laundry, cleaning.

 

Work hours can be just as confusing when asking whether we are productive – if I got things done, but not necessarily the things that I expected to do, was it time well spent?  Was I productive?  What if you did exactly what you expected to do but didn’t get the result that you expected?  Was that time well spent, was it productive?

 

So much to do, so little time.  The time that we get here is finite, spend it wisely.  But was is time spent well when there is so much to do?

 

Reading.  I’ll spend more time reading and think about this more later.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Passage of Time, Accumulation of Dates

Weeks ago I called my eye doctor’s office for an appointment.  I wanted the first morning appointment, which was more important than the day.  I was given Thursday the 11th and I accepted.  The date gave me pause as I wrote it in my calendar.  I participate in a group that meets on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month so we met last night and as I prepared the agenda prior to last night’s meeting, and wrote the date, I paused again.

 

We accumulate dates that have personal meaning and broader social meaning.  Some are good – births and weddings – some less so – deaths and other endings.  It is hard to live a life and not accumulate dates, whether you acknowledge them or not.  A few can make a generation shudder, close their eyes and review the sights of the original moment when the date became etched.  Dates rarely carry meaning past a generation or two except as something obscure to memorize for a history test.

 

I’ve been to Gettysburg twice in my life so far.  The first time as a child whose father studied the Civil War era and passed on his interest in history.  The second I was there alone, as a stop on a trip to see family in Philadelphia.  I happened to come in to town on the same route that the Confederate soldiers had taken on a hot July day in 1863.  I was there on a hot August day almost 150 years later but the area retained an aura of the momentous occurrences of those 3 days in July that shaped our country.

 

I felt the need to try to express to those who never moved on from those quiet fields that we had learned something from their sacrifice.

 

Division monuments, photo credit Wikipedia

Gettysburg Division monuments, photo credit Wikipedia

This past summer we have been reminded that the hundredth anniversary of several significant moments of WWI have occurred.  This series of events that gave shape to a fair portion of our modern world, but is fusty and musty to most.  My thoughts turn to what we have learned from those events.

 

And the date that resonates for this generation, 9/11.  Although I overheard a father saying yesterday, with dismay, that his child was born in 2005 and had such different points of reference.   I didn’t personally know anyone who died that day.  If I know anyone who was somehow directly affected by those events on that blue sky, no cloud Tuesday, they haven’t mentioned it.  But it is a date that gives us all pause.

 

I ask my usual question, what have I learned?  How do you pause?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Now Resume Our Regular Life, Already in Progress

Do broadcast networks still say that?  It used to be when they had breaking news that they would cut into regular broadcasting to inform their viewership of that news and then tell us that they ‘now resume our regular programming, already in progress’.  I heard it often enough that the phrase echoes for me sometimes.

 

Last week I apparently tempted Fate when I wrote this piece.  (Although Fate may want to take a refresher course in reading comprehension – I was empathizing with people dealing with anything outside the norm of their regular lives.)  Fate is nothing if not capricious and possessing a strong sense of the absurd.  Not that anything truly awful happened to me, not last week anyway, but plenty of little and middle sized things were piling up to keep me just off balance from routine.  Mostly things at work.

 

Friday afternoon we looked out the windows of the office and noticed it was ominous, like deep twilight, and then the rain came along.  This has been such a regular occurrence in recent time that we got back to work.  This time my son called to ask me if it had rained heavily and I said it had.  He hadn’t experienced heavy rain where he had been, but was surprised to find trees and branches down all around our neighborhood and our power out.

 

I could see that the storm had been more intense as I drove north toward home after work.  More leaf and branch litter in the roads, and then I started to come across traffic lights without power.  (FYI treat them like a 4-way stop, please.)  And roads blocked by police cars.  Oh, my.  Now I could see big branches down and large wounds on trees.

 

I have 2 large cottonwoods in the front yard and 3 large maples in the back along with some smaller trees (plus 2 done-for ash trees).  I love my trees, but at moments like this, I cringe a bit.  But my son hadn’t mentioned any significant damage to our house and yard.

 

these will become firewood (taken through the screen because the mosquitoes are viscous)

these will become firewood (taken through the screen because the mosquitoes are viscous)

Our power was still out when I arrived, which is somewhat unusual.  We have been pretty lucky that it is rarely out more than an hour or two.  Thankfully I have a gas water heater and a gas stove… That has electronic ignition.  We can light the burners for the stove top, but no oven.  Don’t open the refrigerator too often and wait it out.  We did go out to eat, partly out of curiosity to see the damage.  And felt pangs of jealousy for all those who had power.

 

We played some Yahtzee by the light of lanterns and talked, then went to bed early as earlier generations often did before electricity.  Hoping that the power would be back over night.

 

The power wasn’t restored until around 5 am on Sunday.  Saturday became a struggle to maintain modern life.  My son’s phone had died, he needed to print something before work that evening, we could no longer access our internet because the back-up battery had died, the computer’s battery was running low and most ominous of all the fridge was warming up.

 

Have I mentioned before that my father was a professional Boy Scout for 33 years?  We figured out short term solutions to each problem, and it started to look like we were camping out in our own home.  My sister, bless her, has a generator that we got set up by Saturday evening and started the process to cool the fridge back down.  My son’s various finds like work lights and extension cords came in handy.

 

When the power came back on I had been in a deep sleep in a pitch black room.  Suddenly the small red glow from my bedside clock seemed like klieg lights and I had to chuckle at myself a bit how quickly I went from grateful to grumbly.

 

Electricity flows into our houses and we pay the monthly bills without thinking about how much more comfortable our lives are because of it.  My son kept trying to turn on light switches.  I kept forgetting to grab the lantern when I moved from room to room.  Thankfully it was a beautiful day in the high 70s, but when we got warm we wanted a fan…

 

I really needed a restful weekend so I could hit the reset button for this week at work.  At least I got a fairly normal Sunday.  I’ve had plenty of personal lessons in resilience, this was just the latest.  ‘Normal’ life resumed, for now.

 

(Disclaimer to Fate: I’m just telling a story here, I read an article on electricity in India, where it is not yet widespread or terribly reliable.  I get it, there is always someone doing better and always someone doing worse.)

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Season’s Change

Summer is over if you count the season as lasting between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Or we still have a handful of days left if you take into account these days before the first day of autumn.  The leaves on the trees are still green, but clearly worn.  Some are tinged with other colors after hanging onto branches for quite a few months.

 

Walking at the back of the nearby park with the dog recently, I got a strong whiff of the sharp smell of fall.  A bit of pungent decay, once growing things ready to enrich the soil for something future to grow.

 

I’ve written a couple of times over the past few months about summer, this season that most causes us to think of leisure.  One that we are more likely to feel concern about wasting than the other three.  (Assuming that we live in a place that has seasons, which I do.)

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How did I do in my effort to enjoy moments of summer?  I mentioned choosing the patio option as often as possible in my early summer post.  I’m afraid that I didn’t meet up with family and friends all that often, but I can say that I logged a bit of time on decks and patios.  Nor did I manage to get to more than one outdoor concert.

 

I took stock again early last month in my effort not to let summer pass unnoticed.  I can add the taste of our own tomatoes to the list I made in that post.  They have a heady flavor, but unfortunately thick skins.  And I experienced mosquito bites too, darn it.

 

This summer wasn’t hot enough for a lot of people, but it was just about right to my thinking.  (I’m sure they at least appreciate the more reasonable utility bills from the moderate summer heat.)

 

Now plenty of people are already bemoaning the coming of winter.  But, please, let’s give fall its due first.  The weather will continue to be pleasant for weeks to come and then turn crisp.  While the plants all settle into a dormant state.

 

I’ve lived most of my life in regions that experience all four seasons.  I most enjoy spring and fall, I see benefit in summer, and I endure and accept winter for the sake of the other seasons.

 

While I think about how I met my own summer expectations and where I fell short, I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t just lament but decide what I might do better.  How about you, did your summer turn out how you expected?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Strangeness of Ordinary

The litany of ills and travails – big and small, natural, geo-political, economic – seems to be unusually long around the globe right now.  Many people in many parts of the world are steeped in or trying to fend off chaos, their ordinary life set aside for the time being.  But plenty of other segments and corners of the populated world go about their ordinary business day after day and only encounter the chaos when they access the news.

 

Does that seem a bit strange to you?  While the main part of my mind is keeping track of my appointments, facilitating tasks at work, planning and cleaning and ticking through my days another part is contrasting my regular schedule against the topsy-turvy days of all the people affected by these various storms (manmade and natural).  And wondering how these people that I don’t know are coping.

 

It is back to school season and I see the effect at the school across the street as I leave for work.  My company supplies products to schools which means that we are quite hectic these days.  But aside from some people having flooded basements thanks to all the rain, or difficulty getting in to the office for the same reason we are all going through actions that we have done for ages, routine.

 

I do know someone whose son was evacuated from Liberia due the Ebola outbreak but that is as close as I personally come to most of the turmoil.  How about you?  Do you have relatives in Ukraine or Israel or Syria or Ferguson, MS or…

 

August 2013 Political Map, credit Wikipedia

August 2013 Political Map, credit Wikipedia

The world is a big place and it has always been true that there will be turmoil here and there and normal life will occur everywhere else.  Routine is annoying, but also comfort.  A seismic shift – either literal or not – that removes a person, a group, or a whole region from the ordinary usually seems to happen elsewhere.  Until it doesn’t.  Most of the time ordinary is just that, but every once in a while there is such a spike of chaotic activity, or the chaos hits too close to home, that ordinary seems rather strange.

 

I remember my first jolt of the strangeness of ordinary.  We were all called together because my grandmother was not doing well, but when I woke up the next morning at my uncle’s house and heard laughter downstairs I believed that she must have made it through the night.  Until my dad came up to tell us that she hadn’t.  How could they have been laughing?

 

I used the phrase ‘seismic shift’ earlier in this post because I have experienced real earthquakes, including a major one, and it is quite disorienting to have the ground beneath your feet move violently.  To see the damage that an earthquake can wreak up close.  The mind can’t quite take it in.

 

Knowing that disquiet I can’t decide if it is right to carry on normally or that there is great strangeness in the ordinary.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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