Amanda Cade

Worth It! (Things to try, read, watch, hear, and discuss)

First of all, on a semi-related note, this Friday is Aunts and Uncles Day. It’s a great chance to show some love to your extended family.

Speaking of showing love, this week I’d like to share a few things you really should know about the people who are important to you, and how that information can help you strengthen your relationships. Think about your friends and family, and ask yourself:

What do they like to talk about?

restaurant-people-lamps-vintageA while back, during lunch with some coworkers, we got to discussing family gatherings. It was an interesting conversation, because it turned out that almost everyone was frustrated by the things their family did, and didn’t, discuss, but for very different reasons. Here’s a summary:

Coworker A: My siblings are all single and childless, so all we talk about is work and relationship drama.

Coworker B: You should hang out with my family. All we talk about is everyone else’s kids, and I don’t have any.

Coworker C: We talk about the kids all the time, too, and sometimes I wish I could talk about anything else-work, friends, whatever. I love my kids, but there are other things in my life.

Coworker D: My entire family is obsessed with sports, and I’m not, so I spend a lot of time just nodding and smiling.

Coworker B: I adore my nieces and nephews, and I do love hearing about them, but I wish people were half as interested in hearing about my vacation.

Coworker A: Last week I tried three times to tell my brother about my son’s soccer game, and finally gave up.

Coworker D: I pay attention to the sports talk, because it’s important to my family, but I wish they’d return the favor sometimes.

I think Coworker D really hit the nail on the head: we want people to care about things that are important to us. All four of my colleagues were frustrated because they felt marginalized in conversations. This doesn’t happen because others are trying to be hurtful, but simply because we don’t usually stop and analyze the flow of a conversation.

People want to be listened to, and to feel that what matters to them matters to others (or at least that they matter to others). Make a mental list of the things that are important or interesting to your friends and loved ones (consider family, social life, professional life, hobbies, etc.), and think about what they tend to bring up in conversation and what gets them animated. If you aren’t sure, ask them questions and discover their interests. Then be aware in conversations, and be sure to inquire, focus, and engage.

What do they like to do?

Just like conversations, activities should be balanced. Do you know how your nearest and dearest would prefer to spend a Friday night? If not, find out. If so, ask yourself how often you do those things with them. In general, it’s best to find activities that are fun for everyone, but sometimes it’s important to step outside of your comfort and interest zone for the sake of someone else, especially if they often do the same for you.

shoppingI don’t like shopping, but when my sister Audrey occasionally asks me to tag along and give my opinion, I do so with a smile. Why? Because I love my sister, and she wants me to share in an activity she enjoys. It’s the same reason that Audrey has accompanied me to a couple of fantasy and science fiction conventions. And, because we both approach each other’s activities with a positive attitude, we’ve both had more fun than we might have expected.

A word of caution, though: Since that positive attitude is key, don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re going to be miserable, because that’s more likely to strain a relationship than improve it. Also, be careful not to accidentally pressure someone else into that kind of scenario. For example, your camping trip will be a lot more fun without me. Trust me on this.

What don’t they like to do?

grocery storeKnowing what your friends and family prefer to avoid in their day to day lives can give you lots of opportunities to be helpful and caring. My dislike of shopping is universal, and I used to absolutely dread going to the grocery store. When my sister Amy and I shared an apartment, she always took care of it, because she knew I couldn’t stand it. When Amy moved out, a friend of mine, remembering my aversion to this task, volunteered to do my shopping for me, since we lived relatively close. For him, it was a small thing. For me, it was huge.

When I moved into my house, my friend Carrie, who is an artist, picked out paint colors, curtains, rugs, and so on, because while I wanted the house to look right, I had neither the talent nor the inclination to really take on the project. When Audrey got engaged, I spent weeks researching, calling, and visiting wedding venues to narrow down literally dozens of options. She would have found the process torturous. I thought it was fun. My friend Jamie and I used to help each other clean our kitchens (same amount of work in the end, but better because we did it together).

Whether it’s a big or a little thing, helping someone with something they don’t want to do is a great way to show you care.

rainbow heart

What else do you think it’s important to know? What do you wish people understood about you? Let’s chat!

 

 

We all love compliments, especially sincere compliments. They give us a lift, brighten our days, and make us feel appreciated. However, sometimes they’re also warning signs. At times, a compliment can be something of a bait and switch, especially if it seems to come out of nowhere. I’m not suggesting paranoia, because all of these compliments can be completely sincere, but they can also hide ulterior motives. Sometimes you need to be careful that you don’t let the warm fuzzy glow of appreciation lead you into the wrong situation. Here are a few words of praise that should encourage you to be a little on guard:

You’re my go-to girl/guy

Why this feels great: We all want to feel like we are trusted, competent, and valued. When someone, whether it is a friend, family member, co-worker, or boss identifies us as the person they can count on to get the job done, it gives us confidence. It makes us feel appreciated. It’s awesome. 

Why you should stay alert: There’s a decent chance that this compliment is going to be followed by “which is why I’m coming to you with _____.” Sometimes, this specific praise is meant to put us in a helpful frame of mind, before we are asked or told to take on a new task. In some situations, you may not have a choice about that new task, but if you do, you need to stop, take a breath, and think logically rather than emotionally.

You Got It BossOne of my former supervisors always called me the “go-to girl”, and it wasn’t always a bad thing. He was great about showing appreciation both privately and publicly, especially in front of the higher ups. However, anytime he opened a conversation with this compliment, I knew he was about to hit me with something work intensive, last minute, or both. My personal favorite was calling me ten minutes before the end of the day and asking if I could give a presentation the next morning. (I said “yes” immediately, and ended up working all night to prepare.) It took a long time for me to learn to stop and think before I let the glow of pride overcome my ability to think through what I was actually being asked to do.

You’re so good at ____.

Why this feels great: For starters, see above. Again, it’s affirmation, and it makes us feel good. Compliments based on our abilities and achievements are some of the most fulfilling, because we’re more likely to feel like we’ve earned them.

Why you should stay alert: Frequently, whatever the thing you’re good at is the thing you’re about to be asked to do. This is even more common with the popular variant “You’re so much better at ____ than I am.” This is another compliment that could also be a set up. 

ErrorMy friend Mike works in IT, and he’s always on alert when someone opens a conversation, or abruptly changes the subject, with “You know so much about computers”. He told me that as soon as he hears this sentence, he immediately starts trying to decide if he has the time and/or inclination to help the speaker with a problem, because 99% of the time they’re about to ask. I’m not suggesting that you should never say “yes” in a situation like this (I’m actually a big fan of being helpful), but again, you need to stop and make sure you’re making the right decision.

I know I can trust you

Why this feels great: Being trusted is really high praise. This compliment shows that people recognize and respect your integrity. No one wants to be seen as a gossip or breaker of confidences.

Why you should stay alert: This could be a sign you’re headed into an awkward position. The secret you’re going to hear might put you between two friends or loved ones, threaten your professional ethics, or give you a desire to intervene in a situation. I’m not saying that you should shut people down when they say this, but you need to be on alert and ready to cut the conversation off quickly if it starts to veer into uncomfortable territory. If you’ve ever thought, “I wish you hadn’t told me that”, you know exactly what I mean here.

secretI will never forget one of my friends following “I know I can trust you” with a confession that he was having an affair with a married woman. She was also a friend, and so was her husband. He wasn’t looking for my opinion (although he received it, and then some), but just wanted to tell me about the relationship. Asking me to keep that information to myself was completely unfair, and since then I’ve been much more careful about becoming a secret keeper.

You’re so easy-going.

Why this feels great: If you’re at all familiar with popular entertainment, you have seen the uptight, type-A stereotype. It’s presented as negative, frustrating, and zero fun. So, being identified as the opposite has an instant positive connotation. Being flexible and easy-going inherently makes other people’s lives easier, which is often a good thing. 

Why you should stay alert: However, I’m going to be blunt about this one. Sometimes people say this when what they mean is “I’m about to try and walk all over you.” I don’t mean that they’re doing it consciously, deliberately, or maliciously. However, it is alarmingly easy for someone’s subconscious view of you to shift from flexible to forgiving to doormat. 

Steam EarsA former friend was constantly late, frequently changed plans, and often wanted me to go places and do things she knew I wasn’t comfortable with. In her mind, flexibility is the highest virtue…in other people. I try to be easy-going, but believe me, I have my limits. After growing increasingly frustrated with her constant expectation that I would be fine in all circumstances, I tried talking to her several times, but the situation never improved. Ultimately, we drifted apart.

Let's Discuss

Have you been there?  Are there other compliments that belong on this list? Share your thoughts!

Screenshot 2019-07-06 at 10.01.09 AM

As always, this review is spoiler free, and just like with my Endgame review a while back, that means there’s going to be a bit of vagueness, especially because there’s a pretty big reveal fairly early in the movie. If you’ve seen Far From Home, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, there’s no reason not to read on.

Let’s get some context

Spider-Man’s second cinematic reboot began with 2017’s Homecoming. It was a great movie that, in my opinion, really got it right. Previous films had their pluses and minuses, but Homecoming had everything going for it. It presented Peter Parker as an actual teenager with actual teenage problems, on top of the pressure of trying to be a hero. His struggles, uncertainties, mistakes, and triumphs felt very real, and Tom Holland’s portrayal was note perfect. Additionally, Homecoming‘s antagonist was one of the best in the entire MCU, because of the careful attention given to developing the character and showing his motivation. The movie’s decision to devote serious time and consideration paid off by giving audiences a three-dimensional villain that we could disagree with (of course), but still offer sympathy. Homecoming had great pacing, a solid script, and great characters. It’s one of my favorite MCU films, and I was really excited about the sequel.

So does Far From Home live up to Homecoming?

Well…no. Don’t get me wrong: It’s a really good movie, a lot of fun to watch, and I do recommend it highly. However, there are some things about the film that I just don’t think hold up, especially in a post-watching analysis. Let’s break it down.

Here’s what worked

Far From Home continues to present Peter Parker as high school student with high school concerns. He still wants to use his powers and his role as Spider-Man to do good, but also wants to have some normalcy in his life. One of the things that has always made Spider-Man a great character is his struggle with how much responsibility he can, and should, take on himself. Far From Home also addresses the post-Endgame world, with Peter coping with the loss of his mentor and his possible role as inheritor. Tony Stark left Peter access to some pretty serious technology, and made it clear that he intended Peter to take over much of his unfinished work as Iron Man. That’s a lot of responsibility for a sixteen year old kid.

Screenshot 2019-07-07 at 7.48.35 AMPeter’s internal conflict is intensified by pressure from several sources, including Nick Fury (and let’s be honest…I don’t think many of us would be able to argue with Nick Fury). However, he gets some other things to think about when he meets a new hero: a competent, determined, adult hero who embodies everything Peter admires, and urges him to make his own choices and decide what he wants, which is a marked contrast to the messages he’s receiving from everyone else. One of the most effective things the Spider-Man reboot has done is to embrace the coming of age element of the young Spider-Man stories.

The scenes with Peter and his high school classmates also work really well. Peter’s best friend Ned, who was one of the best parts of Homecoming, has a smaller role, but is still lots of fun. Most of the other teenage characters were mostly background, but still effective in giving the movie the right feel. There are also small but significant moments of character development for the supporting cast that made me wonder what sort of role they’re going to play in the future.

Screenshot 2019-07-06 at 10.03.05 AMOne thing I really loved was MJ. While the nickname is, of course, an homage to the character of Mary Jane Watson, Michelle Jones is very, very different, and the character change was a great idea. The first Spider-Man trilogy introduced Mary Jane Watson as an unattainable girl that Peter patiently loves from afar until she finally has a reason to notice him and accept his worth. That’s a trope that has, frankly, overstayed its welcome. Far From Home‘s MJ is intelligent, competent, and assertive, and pays attention to everyone around her, including Peter. He isn’t in a position of having to prove himself to her; she already recognizes his admirable qualities. It’s a very different dynamic from the “nerd loves the prom queen” scenario, and it makes for a much better story.

One other thing I really liked is that Nick Fury is presented in a more human, less omnipotent role. His power base has been steadily eroding since The Winter Soldier, and Captain Marvel showed us how much fun it is to have Fury take a more active role in events, rather than coordinating from his pedestal. In Far From Home, Fury actually acknowledges the way that his circumstances have changed, and that allows the possibility of an expanded and more interesting role in future films.

Here’s what didn’t work as well

Screenshot 2019-07-06 at 10.07.55 AMThere was a lot going on in this movie, and I honestly think it tried to do a little too much. Some important things were simply not developed enough, which turned a few potentially interesting elements into little more than plot devices. Some of the events feel thrown in for no reason other than to justify something the filmmakers really wanted to include, or force a delay in something that otherwise would otherwise happen earlier. It clutters the movie, and makes some plot points just seem annoying and contrived.

My biggest issue with Far From Home is the unclear and confusing villain motivation. After the incredibly strong antagonist in Homecoming, it was really disappointing to see so little attention paid to the villain in this film. We’re told what his plan is, and why, in a monologue (which, seriously, is just the worst way to handle things), that is short, contrived, and frustrating, especially because after it’s over, it still isn’t entirely clear what the heck is going on. My friend Mike and I spent about half an hour after the movie trying to trace the chain of logic, and finally decided to just accept it and move on.

Screenshot 2019-07-06 at 10.08.47 AMThat idea of just accepting it and moving on is really at the center of everything else I didn’t love about the movie. There is technology that is explained just enough to make you question if it really could function as portrayed in a pivotal scene. Peter’s crisis of confidence leads to a poor decision that just seems a little too quick and a little too forced. One of Peter’s abilities doesn’t work, and then works again, for no clear reason. Personally, I think most of the problems can be traced back to that first idea: that the movie was overstuffed, and therefore couldn’t effectively accomplish all of its goals.

Oh, and I was also annoyed that the mid and post credit scenes completely undercut several of the things that I considered real strengths of the film.

Final Thoughts

Despite some issues with development and internal consistency, Far From Home is a quality film that was a lot of fun and definitely worth watching. Just try to avoid thinking too hard about some things until after the credits roll.

Popcorn

Thoughts?

When I decided to take a break on Sunday, I promised I’d get to this post within a week, and I am a woman of my word. June wasn’t nearly as crazy or exciting as May, but it did have its highlights, so cue the theme song…

Episode One: Socializing

I attended three graduation parties last month (the inspiration for my Dear Graduate post). A few highlights from my inner monologue:

  • When did I get so old?
  • Remember, you promised no “I used to babysit you” stories.
  • Do people not open presents at parties anymore?
  • Oh, look, cookies!
  • I have already forgotten half of these people’s names.
  • Seriously, I have never felt so old.
  • Ok, maybe it’s time to stop talking to the teenagers. Go find a grown up conversation.
  • Oh, no, here come THE QUESTIONS. Time to talk to the teenagers again.

Ok, context. First of all, a slight tangent. All joking aside, I like talking to teenagers. As my friends’ kids have grown up, they’ve become fun, interesting people with a perspective on life that I find endlessly fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the younger crowd at the parties. I also mostly enjoyed talking with the other adults. However, at all three parties I spent some time conversing with people I don’t see often (every few years at most), which meant I was asked THE QUESTIONS:

  • “So, you still aren’t married?”
  • “Are you seeing anyone?”
  • “Any thoughts about having kids one day?”

Mouth ZipI was also asked these questions by a few people I had just met for the first time. My feelings on these questions could fill an entire post by themselves, so let me just say this (for now, at least): I am single, not currently seeing anyone, childless, and perfectly happy with my life. However, I am open to any changes the future holds, as long as those changes are the right thing for me. That is, unfortunately, sometimes difficult for people to accept. *sigh* So I amused myself by thinking of snarky responses that I didn’t actually say out loud (for example: “Unfortunately my species is incompatible with Earthlings”), and then changing the subject.

Then I went back to the teens and traded high school stories. Way more fun.

Episode Two: Staycation

Out of OfficeThe most common response to “I’m on vacation next week” is “Where are you going?” At least 75% of the time, my answer is “nowhere”. I go on a trip…maybe every three or four years. For the most part, my ideal vacation is being able to have a series of totally unstructured days. Having nothing on my calendar is my idea of the ultimate luxury. To misquote Newton’s First Law, an Amanda in motion tends to remain in motion, and an Amanda at rest tends to remain at rest. Over the course of a week, I only left my house a handful of times (during which I rediscovered the fact that breakfast restaurants get busy after 7:00, and there’s a lot more traffic), read eleven books, watched half a dozen movies, and slept in every morning.

It. Was. Awesome.

Episode Three: Father’s Day (Part One)

My Dad, who is amazing (see this post for the proof of that statement) always suggests that we skip Father’s Day, because the attention embarrasses him. He also HATES it when we spend money on him. This year, he had a more compelling argument than usual, because Audrey was going to be out of town on Father’s Day, Mom and Dad were going out of town the following week, then Audrey was going out of town again. Plus, my nieces had dance recitals, my brother in law had some work obligations…to make a long story shorter, we were having trouble with scheduling. Of course, we weren’t going to let him get away with that. We will be having a belated family celebration soon, and Dad and I got together on our own on Father’s Day itself.

Take My MoneyWhen I spoke to Dad, I specifically said that I was going to take him out for Father’s Day, and he agreed to this. Way too easily. I should have known he was up to something. When I arrived at his house, he said he wanted to drive, which was fine with me. However, once we were on the road I quickly realized that he was going the wrong way. Ignoring my protests, he drove us to my favorite restaurant instead of his. Then he handed the waitress his credit card before we even sat down at our table, and smugly announced that he had bought tickets in advance for a movie I wanted to see. Then he told me that I can’t argue with him on Father’s Day. Well played, Dad, but this isn’t over yet. You have thrown down the gauntlet, and I will rise to the occasion for Father’s Day Part Two.

Incidentally, we had a great time.

Episode Four: Girls’ Night

bestiesThis month, Katie and I decided to try a cooking class (more about that in this post). We met up for coffee a few hours early, and also stopped by a comic book store. Katie and I have a lot in common, but my comic and game hobbies aren’t on that list, so this was a new experience for her. It was really cool to see her reaction to what was, for me, a familiar setting.

The cooking class itself was super fun. We met some nice people, had great food, and, despite giggling our way through 90% of the class, we learned a lot. We’re planning to go again soon.

Roll credits.

Let Me Know

How did June treat you?

Blank PageGiven that today is the last day of June, I intended to have a “month in review” post today. I also intended to work on before this morning, but for a variety of reasons I just didn’t get to it. So when I got up today, the post was my number one priority.

However, it wasn’t coming together. I’ve been tired for the past few days, and I’m feeling a little sluggish. I just wasn’t getting “in the zone”. So after about an hour of drafting and redrafting, I decided to delay the June post until later this week, or maybe until next Sunday. Instead, I would finish one of the posts I outlined a few weeks back, one that I thought would be a little easier to write.

It wasn’t. I spent about half an hour trying to finish the post, but wasn’t feeling this one any more than I was feeling the month in review. At this point, I started getting frustrated, because normally I’m able to push through difficulties and get the job done. On the other hand, I wasn’t happy with what I was writing, and didn’t want to publish a post that I didn’t think was my best work. So I decided to give it one more try.

Road ClosedMy third attempt at today’s post was a partially drafted discussion of the importance of examining our motivation. Since I started the post several weeks ago, I first skimmed what I already had. One lined jumped out at me: “Sometimes you need to ask yourself if you’re doing this because you want to, or because you have to, or because you think you have to”.

There’s something very odd about feeling nailed by my own words. I like working, I like being productive, and I pride myself on taking care of business. I’m also proud of this blog and of the content I post. On the other hand, I’m an advocate of self care and balance, and I’m usually pretty good about those things. This morning, though, I forgot about that for a while.

Coffee and BooksToday, I don’t want to struggle with writing a post that isn’t coming naturally. I don’t want to spend hours treating my blog like a chore instead of something that I love doing. I don’t want to spend hours working on it, period. I’m not feeling it today, and that’s ok. I’m in the mood to read posts rather than write them. I want to keep binge watching The Good Wife, and listening to A Trick of Light. In other words, I want to give myself a break.

And suddenly, writing today’s post became easy, because I realized that all I want to do is share a message that’s very simple, but bears repeating: Give yourself a break. Manage your own expectations. Don’t be your own worst critic, and don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself and doing what’s right for you. There will be many, many days when it’s hard to find time to decompress, so take advantage of the chances you get. And it’s completely ok to create them. You’re doing great, so don’t let anyone (including yourself) tell you otherwise.

Relax

How do you avoid putting pressure on yourself? What are your favorite ways to unwind?

A few weeks ago, the amazing Diane wrote a post about taking a pasta class, and it reminded me that it had been ages since I had taken a cooking class. A quick Google search netted lots of options in the area, so I called my best friend Katie (my favorite partner for trying new things), and we selected one and signed up. The class was this past Thursday night, and we had an awesome time. Here are a few reasons this experience is definitely Amanda Approved:

1. You can gain new skills.

Salad LettuceIf you read last week’s post about things I learned from Dad, you already know that the Cade family is big on learning how to do things. Taking a class is, of course, one of the easiest ways to learn or develop a skill. I’ve taken half a dozen cooking classes over the years, and each time I’ve walked away with something new, from how to properly use a pastry bag to how to quickly dice an onion. Most importantly, each time I’ve increased my confidence.

One of the participants in Thursday’s class was very apprehensive at the start, saying that she never cooks, is bad at cooking, and was only there because her sister wanted to go. By the end of the class, she had really come alive, exclaiming, “I can’t believe how easy this was!” It was awesome.

2. It’s a lot of fun.

Salad DressingA cooking class is a great place to find a roomful of positive people. Every instructor I’ve ever had has been engaged, enthusiastic, and invested in the class. The participants arrive with the expectation of getting involved and trying something new, so there’s an open-minded, “can do” attitude right from the start. For many people, cooking has a deep psychological resonance as a social/family activity, and that means we’re primed for a friendly, interactive experience. I’ve always found that conversation and teamwork comes easily during these classes.

Potato SaladPlus, you have the all-important achievement high that comes from accomplishing a new challenge (I talked more about this back in my escape room post). Each step towards creating your culinary masterpiece is a small achievement, especially if it involves something you haven’t previously mastered, all building towards a final, glorious moment of pride in your ultimate creation.

3. You get to eat great food.

I think these classes are a great value, because you get the instruction and the food. Depending on the class, you might take it home with you (usually the case for dessert classes) or have a meal right there with your classmates. The second option was the case at last week’s class, and I love that. Sharing meals with others is something I think is really important (one of the things I learned from Mom), and it’s awesome to celebrate the class’s accomplishments in the context of a social meal.

4. You should try this at home.

Katie and I left the class with a folder containing six detailed recipes for the evening, with added notes and tips from our instructors. Every class I’ve attended has emphasized that the goal is to be able to make the same food at home, and I’ve rarely had any difficulty doing so. Some of my favorite go-to recipes have come from cooking classes, like the Boston cream cupcakes I learned to make six years ago and still make all the time. I’ve already volunteered to bring a side dish and dessert to our next family dinner, because I fell in love with two of Thursday’s recipes and can’t wait to share them with my family.

chef

Have you taken a cooking class, or another fun class? What other activities are worth trying?

Happy Father’s Day! Last month, I shared some of the most important things I learned from my mother’s example. My father has also been incredibly influential, and for today’s post I decided to focus on one of the most significant years of my childhood, when my father prepared me for adulthood in ways I could never have expected, and showed how the most ordinary things can teach the best lessons.

A Tale of Two Objectives

BudgetWhen my parents bought their house, the only thing they didn’t love was that the basement wasn’t finished, so they decided that they would correct that as soon as possible. It ended up taking them close to twelve years to save enough money, because hey-kids are expensive, and their first priority was always, always “our girls” (it still is). When I was nine, they were finally ready to call in the contractors. At the same time, however, their girls were old enough to desperately want a “real” family vacation (specifically, we wanted to go to Disney World). And they wanted to take us.

Mom and Dad decided that the basement could wait a little longer, because they knew that there would only be so many years for family vacations. However, Dad wasn’t convinced that they couldn’t have both. He already had some pretty solid carpentry skills, he had a good friend who was an electrician, and there were lots of books out there about plumbing and other topics. Worst case scenario, he thought, we would take the trip the next year, no matter what, and the basement might be a multi-year project. His goal, though, was to reach both objectives within a year, and he made it. Within twelve months, the basement had been transformed from a giant concrete room to a family room, laundry room, sewing room, workshop, home office, and second bathroom.

And then we went to Disney World.

Dad taught us a lot of important things that year, including:

Learn how to do things.

In my mental montage of my Dad, several images always recur:

  • book-pile.jpegDad sitting at the kitchen table with a notebook and a manual, teaching himself how to install a sink or lay carpet.
  • Dad in the basement, consulting his notes and hand drawn plans while he cuts drywall and paneling.
  • Dad back at the kitchen table, with a road atlas and another notebook, mapping out our drive to Florida, estimating gas costs, calling motels, and so on.
  • And most importantly, Dad teaching all of us as much as he could about what he was doing. We all spent time in the basement working with him, and it was the start of a lifelong pattern of Dad showing us new skills at every opportunity.

One of Dad’s favorite expressions when we were growing up was, “My girls are going to know how to…” and there were lots of ways he finished this sentence. We all know how to build a bookshelf, fix a leak, paint a room, and hang a door. We also know how to change a tire and change our oil. And all of that’s just for starters.

plan and toolsDo we always do all of those things for ourselves? No. We have our own answers to the time versus money question, and that doesn’t bother Dad. He never tells us that we’re wasting money when we pay for something that we could do on our own. What’s important to Dad, and to us, is that we can do it, if we choose to.

But even that isn’t the most critical takeaway. What Dad really taught us is that we can learn. Even in the days before the internet, if you wanted to learn a new skill, the information was available if you went looking for it. Dad’s example turned us into people who do just that. A few weeks ago, my sister Audrey’s husband mentioned that our family motto should be: “We can definitely figure that out”. It fits.

Make a plan.

Dad didn’t just involve us in the remodeling; he also made us a part of budgeting and planning for the basement and the vacation. We were all invested in both projects, as Dad’s vision for the basement was contagious, and Disney World was, well, Disney World. Over the course of the year, he taught us to think logically about a long term project, break it into steps, anticipate problems, and change direction if needed. When I was in grad school, studying organizational leadership, I was amazed at how many of the principles I was learning reminded me of Dad’s lessons during our “team meetings” (and yes, he did call them that).

CoinsMaybe the most important skill we developed was resource management and making tough decisions. Dad was completely transparent with the budget for both objectives, and when a decision had to be made, he discussed it with all of us, in ways we could understand. A nicer hotel would mean less expensive restaurants, so which was more important? Did we want to go to Sea World, or did we want more souvenir money? Did we immediately want to buy new furniture for our new basement, or wait six months to a year so we could spend more money on our trip?

Not only did that get us all voluntarily practicing our math skills (well played, Dad), but we were soon evaluating the importance of every way the family was spending money. Could movie night still be fun without pizza? What if sometimes we stayed home and played Monopoly instead of going out and playing miniature golf? How much would we save if we only had donuts every other Sunday instead of every Sunday?

That’s right, people-I voluntarily gave up donuts.

We learned to budget, to save, to delay gratification, to think long term, and to think qualitatively. In the long run, our experiences that year would help us choose colleges, jobs, homes, and much, much more. It’s the reason I was able to afford going back to school, taking the trip of a lifetime, and completely redoing the landscaping at my house. (That last one was also helped immensely by the fact that Mom, Dad, and I did 99% of the work ourselves. See the first lesson.)

Solve the problem, then tell the story.

pipesIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’m much more likely to share my mistakes and ridiculousness than try to hide them. That’s completely because of my Dad. Even when he swears he’s going to keep an embarrassing moment to himself, he’ll be telling everyone about it within a day. The only thing he likes more than stories that make him look silly are stories that make us look good. I don’t want to give you the impression that finishing the basement went off without a hitch. Despite his extensive research, there were a lot of things he was doing for the first time, and mistakes were bound to happen. The most significant was when he flooded half the basement while working on the new bathroom. I can’t remember exactly why it happened, but I definitely remember the mess. Mom wasn’t home at the time, and we actually managed to clean everything up before she got back. Dad, of course, said that there was no reason to tell her about it…and then, of course, treated her to a hilarious account of the incident as soon as she got home. He showed us not to take ourselves too seriously, and that a good laugh is more than worth a little embarrassment.

Dad has also always been open about serious mistakes and things he isn’t proud of, and because of that, we’ve rarely had trouble telling him when we really screw up. We know that he understands, and that his focus will be on solutions, not judgments. Because of him, I’ve learned to be open with friends, family, and coworkers to try and create the same level of trust and comfort.

CastleWe finished the basement a few weeks before the big trip, and all of our hard work was about to pay off. However, life was about to throw us a curve. On day one of our two day drive, we were in a car accident. Luckily, no one was hurt, but the station wagon wasn’t going anywhere soon. I remember huddling in a Denny’s in a strange town five hours from home, trying not to cry while I waited for Dad to come back from the mechanic’s and tell us the vacation was over. I knew that we’d have another chance, and was determined to “be a big girl” and go back to the savings plan to get ready for next year.

Instead, Dad pulled up in a rental car and announced, “Sometimes you just have to use the credit card. Let’s go to Florida.” Then he kissed Mom and the cheek and added, “Is this going to be a great story or what?” I can’t imagine how stressed he must have been about the additional expense, but he focused on the experience, the story, and what was really important.

Our basement family room is still a place where we gather, and the framed picture of all of us in Mickey Mouse ears reminds us of everything we learned from Dad.

Dad

What were some of the most important lessons you learned as a child?