Don’t Follow That Chicken

I saw a t-shirt this week that read:

I want to live in a world where chickens can cross the road without anyone questioning their motives.

That sounds nice…except I think sometimes we need to question why, if only to help ourselves. After all, you wouldn’t want to follow a chicken if it’s on the wrong path, now would you?

With Angie still in Texas and my relatives visiting from out of town, this has been a very trying week. I’m not complaining. I refuse to let anyone steal my sunshine, but even so, it has been difficult not to crumble or explode at certain times – especially when you are constantly bombarded with other people’s “expert” opinions.

On money…

On what to eat…

On consumerism….

And my personal favorite, on food waste…how is it even possible to be pro-food waste anyway???

Caught on tape! You never know when someone will be playing with their camera.

Though I can’t fathom locking a child (literally) inside the house 24/7 so they aren’t kidnapped, chopping up a 12-year-old’s food so she doesn’t get cut using the knife, or telling a 14-year-old to get the brush so I can comb his hair before we go out, did I say anything about my uncle’s stellar parenting skills during his visit? Nope, not a word. Did I call his kids little hellions when they walked across my mom’s couch in their tennis shoes and chipped her 30-year-old maple coffee table throwing a cell phone at one another? Nope, I did not (though my mom did have a few choice things to say).

I don’t agree with the way my uncle is raising his children. I think it’s wrong and I truly believe they are missing out on the joys of childhood and learning to do things for themselves. But it’s not my circus and those aren’t my monkeys!

My opinion is just that – mine – and it will serve no purpose in sharing it with someone who did not ask for it. It will, however; serve a huge purpose in my own life. Having opinions (or making judgments) about what’s wrong in the world around us is how we ensure that we live our best life. And really, our lives are all that we can control anyway. It’s important – in my opinion – to question the way in which others do things, to sort out what feels right (or wrong) in our hearts, and choose our own direction based on those observations.

I share our choices (and the reasons behind them) here on this blog. I don’t feel the need to pull out a soapbox when guests are in town and wax philosophical on the state of the world. But maybe I should. It really is hard sometimes not to say something, especially when you’re digging through the garbage to fetch plastic water bottles for recycling because your out-of-town guests refuse to use the bin next to the trash can. Or when you bring fresh corn, tomatoes, and peas to dinner and it gets shoved in the refrigerator in favor of frozen French fries. Or when you watch your aging mother do 2 loads of someone else’s laundry every day because one outfit is not adequate to make it through a day of watching TV.

Or maybe I really should have spoken up when my uncle told his son that I was a Communist because I don’t eat meat. At least I could have corrected him – that would be a vegetarian, Cuz.

Like I said, it was a trying week and I’m glad it’s over.

On the morning that they left, my mom called to say that my cousin said to tell me goodbye and he loved me. Of course, my heart melted. I am human and deep inside I know that they are not bad kids. I know there is hope for them yet and I know this because of something my cousin said one night after I left. He told my mom that he liked having me around. When she asked him why, he said, “Because she’s calm.”

It really is true; you never know who you’re setting an example for.

I could have easily gotten into an argument with my uncle. He likes to agitate people, including his own kids, to the point that he provokes an argument. He and my mom argue all the time. But I chose not to. I find his behavior unacceptable and I choose not to repeat it. Does that mean I wasn’t frustrated? No. Does it mean that I didn’t want to say something? Sure, I did. Being calm isn’t always easy. Not responding to a bully isn’t either. But in the end, it’s what I can live with. Being at peace with myself and my actions if more important than debating someone else’s opinions. (And let’s face it, that’s like beating your head on a brick wall anyway. If our own opinions are unlikely to change, why expect someone else’s to?)

So, what does all this have to do with chickens crossing the road again?? Nothing really. I just liked that t-shirt.

Why Work Optional Matters to Us

Two weeks ago, Angie and I were sitting on the patio contemplating the future. I had just started reading Work Optional by Tanja Hester (of the blog Our Next Life) and we were brainstorming a list of ideas for what we thought an early retirement might possibly look like for us.

We’ve never had a specific goal to retire early but we have always had a “work optional” attitude. Angie retired from formal employment in 2012, right before we moved to Florida, and I have worked only part-time for the past 3 years. We’re not high wage earners yet we still manage to live on only 63-65% of our current income. Ridiculously frugal. That’s how some folks describe us. (At this point, you might be thinking that those expensive ice cream bars we blew our budget on a few weeks back weren’t all that frugal. Well, guess what? We used a coupon! 😊)

Anyway, back to the point…

Though we’re not in a position to fully retire right now, we are in a position to start thinking about the next chapter of our own work optional story. This is exactly what we were trying to do that day on the patio, but life happened, and that is the real point of this post.

Our great-niece was supposed to stay with us for 3 days while her little brother had an exploratory procedure in preparation for open-heart surgery in July. He was born last December with a congenital defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome and will require a series of three surgeries to repair his heart. The exploratory procedure last week did not go as planned and the doctors had to move up the timeline. On Friday, the little guy had surgery to place a shunt between his pulmonary artery and his heart. He is doing better than expected but will still be in the hospital for several weeks, during which time we have a very energetic 3-year-old house guest to entertain.

While this leaves little time to breathe, much less write a blog post, it has really highlighted one thing – if we were tied to normal jobs on a traditional career path, we would not be able to do this, at least not without the fear of losing our security. As a grant writer, my work is driven by deadlines but the work itself is flexible. No one cares if I write proposals before dawn, midday, or after dark…as long as the quality is good, and the deadlines are met. (I’m an early morning person, in case you’re wondering.) No matter what the next steps are in our work life, the one thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to jeopardize that type of freedom in any way. Work optional only works when the work is truly optional. (Say that three times fast!)

Angie and I will resume our brainstorming and planning when the time is right. Absolutely nothing needs to be decided today…except what to pack for a picnic at the playground, because that’s what a certain little one said she’d like to do today.