July 29, 2015

Pride In a Job Well Done

When we moved to our new home one thing Betty asked for was a house cleaning service a few times a month. After 39 years she was tired of the dusting, vacuuming, and floor cleaning. Since we both retired 14 years ago she and I have split the chores. Even so, it is something she (and I) don't particularly look forward to. So, we found someone we both thought would do a good job and asked her to come every two weeks.

The lady we hired does something that prompted this post: she takes real pride in the job she does for us. Sometimes with a helper, but often working alone, she spends more time and cleans more completely than we could have possibly hoped for. 

Betty, who is a bit of a perfectionist about cleaning, is wildly enthusiastic. She says she has never seen anyone who is so meticulous and so professional about her work. 

Then, just a few days ago, Betty visited a new dentist in our area. After 75 minutes, I called to make sure she was OK, that there hadn't been some problem during her checkup and cleaning. More than an hour and a half later she returned, singing the dentist's praises. He had been more thorough during the rather mundane task of cleaning her teeth and reviewing a full set of x-rays than any dentist she had ever encountered.

Assuming that all that extra time and effort would come with a big bill, I was flabbergasted to learn that he had charged 50% less than the dentist we had been seeing (and pleased with) for years. Betty says he really cared about her dental health and wanted to do the best possible job he could. 

That got me to thinking about something that we seem to have lost in our speeded-up, technological world: pride in doing a job well. Too often a job is finished, but only to an "acceptable" degree.  A real sense of giving more than expected is missing, not necessarily from fear of losing a job or facing criticism, but from a lack of pride in the task.

The house cleaner and dentist are two top-of-mind, fresh examples for me, and that is a little sad. The pride in what these two folks do should not prompt a blog post, it should be what happens all the time. Whether it is getting a car repaired, a house painted, a lawn cut, a washing machine fixed, a doctor visited, or a house cleaned, pride in a job well done should be common. 

Teaching a Sunday School class, serving a meal at the homeless shelter, completing a homework assignment, cooking a meal for friends - all can be done with a sense of pride in a job done well, or as Mary Poppins said in the 1964 movie, "a job that is well begun is half-done."

Pride in doing something, anything well, is part of a satisfying journey that I can rededicate myself to trying to achieve.

July 24, 2015

The Ultimate Power Source: An Eight Year Old Boy

As I write this I am worn out. After two days of being with my grandson, I am ready for a long nap. Did I ever have that much energy? Could I ever talk that much without running out of words? Did my brain ever generate ideas and thoughts that quickly? Is there any way to harness the pure energy that pours out of a young boy? If so, we could satisfy the world's power needs forever.

Let's recap. From late on a Friday afternoon until just after lunch on a Sunday morning, or roughly 45 hours, here is what our human dynamo of a grandson accomplished (minus 19 hours spent sleeping) 

* We watched two full length movies (Newsies & Star Wars) and a few shorter TV shows.

* We spent almost two hours Friday evening at a local park where we were treated to an exhibition and discussion on moths, scorpions, giant beetles, ants, and butterflies. For a break from all the learning we walked around a beautiful lake at sunset and he did some arts and crafts projects.

*The next morning was spent at a local Lowes building center, putting together a wooden action figure motorcycle. He barely looked at the directions for the dozen or so pieces; he just instinctively knew what went where.

* We took our dog, Bailey, to the park twice for walks and romping around the area, all in the 105 degree heat.

* Betty and he handmade dozens of miniature capes and coats for Lego action figures out of various colors of duct tape.

* We played a Disney board game.

*He invented a game involving a white board and colored pens. We played several times, with him usually winning.

* We had a 60 minute quiet time each day for book reading

* He helped clean up after meals

* We took him to dinner at a buffet restaurant, where he was allowed to choose whatever he wanted and in whatever quantity he desired.  He said this was the highlight of the weekend for him! At home, I am pretty sure chocolate covered marshmallows, cotton candy, a cupcake, and jelly beans are not on the menu. Add to that pizza, french fries, and watermelon, and he was a happy young man.

Betty and I are tired, but happy. Having grandkids who want to spend time with their grandparents is a special blessing. When they are as energetic and full of life as he is, that positive approach to life has to rub off.

...just another part of the satisfying journey.

July 19, 2015

A Trip To Strengthen Family Bonds

 I grew up in a very small family. For reasons he never really explained, my dad had no contact with his two brothers. I have uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews I never met. My mom's family was even smaller: one unmarried brother. He was an important influence in my life and I still miss him 30 years after his death. But, a Lowry family reunion was not very large.

On the other hand, Betty comes from a family with all sorts of connections, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. At this point, many of them have passed on. Even so, she can count at least two dozen folks outside our immediate family who have a relationship to her.

Realizing that the passage of time does tend to cause relative shrinkage, she was determined to put together a family reunion this year. As a part owner of coal and natural gas holdings back East, she decided to try for a gathering centered around the annual coal company meeting held each June in a small town in West Virginia.

Through hard work and efforts from her brother who lives in Pittsburgh, a Montgomery clan gathering did take place in the tiny town of Terra Alta early last month. Circumstances managed to knock several folks from the "we are coming list" at the last minute. But, nine of us gathered for stories, pictures, and shared meals together. 

As a member of this group by marriage, I must admit I approached the event with some trepidation. The cost was not insignificant and it was to come just two weeks before our 2 month RV trip (which was cancelled at the last minute). The idea of looking at photos of long dead folks, touring cemeteries to find grave stones, and listening to stories about people I barely (or never) knew, sounded like a long weekend.

As I often learn my preconceived attitude was completely wrong. The four day trip was fun, meaningful, and a satisfying journey. Betty had the time of her life seeing loved ones for the first time in years. I enjoyed the conversations over meals or sips of honey whiskey. Our cottage on the grounds of a golf course-resort was comfortable and spacious. 

Before and after the West Virginia part of the trip, we spent two days with her brother and his family in suburban Pittsburgh.  My grandparents on my mom's side lived in Pittsburgh, so I spent lots of time there as a youth. The Steel City is one of my favorite places: the neighborhoods, parks, and downtown are enchanting.

While the weather was either rainy or very humid, both provided a change from our desert climate, so Betty and I enjoyed the differences. We agreed we wouldn't want to live with that weather on a permanent basis, but it was fun to see and feel rain for the first time in months.

I doubt if Betty and her brother will ever organize another gathering like this one. Several of those in attendance are having problems with travel or ill health. For some, the cost and distances are too great. It was very important to her that this went well and built memories for all in  attendance. In that regard, her efforts were a complete success.

Here are a few pictures of some of what we saw and experienced during our time in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia. 
Betty's first childhood home in suburban Pittsburgh

Her next home in Pittsburgh
Her grandparents' summer home in West Virginia
Her brother's home

Relatives final resting place in West Virginia

More relatives

Our cottage home for the reunion

The very comfortable living room
West Virginia countryside

Pretty park in Pittsburgh

A beautiful setting

We had a tremendous time in a beautiful part of the country with great people and memories.

July 14, 2015

The Gift That Keeps On Giving: Parental Financial Planning

One of the subjects that never fails to generate interest is almost anything to do with finances. That isn't surprising. After our health, having a firm handle on one's money is the most important topic for many of us. As we age, and either leave the work force or look ahead to a time when regular income will stop, the key question becomes, " Will I run out of money?" 

For most of us, I think the answer is, No. Are changes in lifestyle, a downsizing and pulling back on what we spend possible? Absolutely. In fact, I would probably say, likely. In our case, we are living on about 40-45% of our pre retirement income. Cutbacks in the type and scope of vacations, the number of meals out or how often we replace clothing and furniture, and how often we replace a car have changed since retirement. 

Importantly, what we find most satisfying and where we choose to invest the bulk of our time and resources are different. Family-oriented activities and making memories have become so much more important than material items and things. Stuff just seems, well, like stuff. We joyfully spend money if it makes our daughters, grand kids, or son-in-law's life easier and more fulfilling.

I have been reminded of the power of parental giving over the last few months. My dad passed away in March. Since then I have been the one charged with overseeing mom and dad's final financial gifts to their three sons. Our parents' desire was make life better for their offspring, both during and after their lives. I have a firsthand view of how stunningly successful they were.

We grew up solidly middle class, which considering our circumstances is quite remarkable. With almost 20 moves before I left for college, friends always assumed my dad was in the military. The reality was that he had a tough time holding onto jobs, so we were constantly moving to his next opportunity. One of my strongest childhood memories is our dining room table stacked high with resumes, as dad gamely searched for work.

Throughout every one of his periods of unemployment, he never became discouraged or took out his frustrations on the family. He did a masterful job of keeping his sons unaffected by his problems. Meanwhile, mom taught elementary school. Her steady paycheck kept us afloat. Most meals were simple casseroles, but we were never hungry and never wanting for anything important.

I am pretty sure only the death of my mom's brother and her parents, all within a year of each other, allowed my mom and dad to retire with the insurance and estate monies left behind. I can't think they had much in the way of savings.

I can only speculate that is what prompted mom and dad to be so vigilant in protecting their assets and providing such a life-changing financial gift to the three boys. With so many periods of unemployment and living on just a teacher's salary, leaving much of anything would seem unlikely, much less the balance sheet I am looking at.

My parent's gift of financial planning has made my future (and that of my brothers) much more secure. I am well aware that I am amazingly lucky that my parents did what they did. 

I am not one of those folks who puts a bumper sticker on the back of a monstrous RV that says, "I am spending my kid's inheritance." Nor, do I believe Betty and I should live a bare bones life so we can pass everything along when we die.

But, I do take the lesson of my parents' planning and thoughtfulness to heart and hope to make my children's lives just a bit better and easier when the time comes.

I see that as an important part of being a parent.