A Powerful Message

A few years ago, I was watching a very smart and well written show called Better Off Ted. It was a great show in general, but the moment I remember from it has all kinds of meaning. Ted is talking about the problems in life, with work, with politics, with relationships – the kind of … Continue reading “A Powerful Message”

A few years ago, I was watching a very smart and well written show called Better Off Ted. It was a great show in general, but the moment I remember from it has all kinds of meaning. Ted is talking about the problems in life, with work, with politics, with relationships – the kind of things we all deal with and then he said something like “And when I get completely overwhelmed and nothing is going right and the world is about to end, there is only one thing I can do” and it cuts to a scene of him and his little daughter – he looks at her and says “I love you” and she looks up at him with worshipful eyes and says “I love you too Daddy”. It’s one of the truest moments in television as far as I’m concerned. I am very grateful I saw it because while I think every father knows it, it’s just good to have it clearly pointed out and to understand the truth of it. There is nothing that makes everything okay when the world is upside down and turned inside out than to know that you are doing right by your little girl. Doing right by my daughter makes it all worthwhile. I’m guessing that this is universal for parents and children, but one thing I know from watching Better Off Ted – I’m not the only father who feels the way Ted was written.

The Preaster Cat and Preaster Bunny – Celebrating Preaster


I won’t be able to spend Easter morning with my 5-year-old daughter and I hate to miss the excitement and joy of the holidays as she experiences them – so this year- I let her in on a little known secret which I’m about to share with you. The Friday before Easter is a very little known day called PREASTER – yes, Virginia, there is a Preaster Bunny and if you are good he brings you a book, if you are bad he leaves a list of chores – but the real star of Preaster is the PREASTER CAT! If you are good, the Preaster Cat leaves you a hat (and other presents inside it) and if you are bad he leaves you a rat! Preaster is a non-religious holiday – we chose to leave a note for the Preaster Cat and the Preaster Bunny along with a dish of milk for the Preaster Cat and a carrot for the Preaster Bunny.This morning when she woke up – my daughter was overjoyed to find her hat, book, and assorted presents. “I must have been so good!” she exclaimed “I love being good!” And she is – and so a holiday is born. This year, the holiday shifted away from weird religious rituals and candy filled eggs laid by a magic bunny (which will still be there but not be emphasized by us) to the power of being good and being rewarded with a book and a hat. In any event – this morning has been much more fun than most Friday’s before Easter.

2017 World Happiness Survey – Thoughts on Happiness

There are a lot of very short news stories about the Global Happiness Survey – most of them read something like “Norway is the happiest country in the world” – and then they talk about the top ten countries and the places and the place of the USA and the bottom two or three countries and maybe how countries shifted from the last survey. When you read the actual report, there is a lot more to it. Here is the link to the full report: https://s3.amazonaws.com/sdsn-whr2017/HR17_3-20-17.pdf

On page 122 of the report (yes, it is nearly 200 hundred pages long) what I consider to be the most revealing chapter begins – it is titled “The Key Determinants of Happiness and Misery” – it begins with this:

This chapter is directed at policy-makers of all kinds—both in government and in NGOs. We assume, like Thomas Jefferson, that “the care of human life and happiness … is the only legitimate object of good government.”1 And we assume that NGOs would have similar objectives. In other words, all policy-makers want to create the conditions for the greatest possible happiness in the population and, especially, the least possible misery.

Which sounds great but which is obviously not true. Policy makers in 2017 want money and power for their financial backers. The problems with the world are well known and easily solved – if that were what those in control wanted to do. They do not. And to prove that point the last paragraph of the chapter:

To conclude, within any country, mental health explains more of the variance of happiness in Western countries than income does. In Indonesia mental illness also matters, but less than income. Nowhere is physical illness a bigger source of misery than mental illness. Equally, if we go back to childhood, the key factors for the future adult are the mental health of the mother and the social ambiance of primary and secondary school. The implications for policy are momentous.

If we wanted to have a better world filled with happier people, we would be focused on taking care of mental health, ensuring that mothers (and fathers) had the support they need to be good parents, and that schools were creating the type of atmosphere which brings about psychologically healthy and confident individuals – instead of factories that create workers filled with fear, anxiety, and depression. Simple. Business does not create happiness, nor does war/defense, nor do jobs, nor do any of the other things we spend trillions of dollars on. Security in childhood, healthcare, and education. That’s it.

This report is a treasure trove of information about creating a happier planet like this:

The effect from the increase in the numbers of people having someone to count on in times of trouble is by itself equal to the happiness effects from the 16-fold increase in average per capita annual incomes required to shift the three poorest countries up to the world average (from about $600 to about $10,000).

From my point of view – this fact alone shows why the two working parents, dog-eat-dog, get out when you are 18, take care of yourself, ‘sorry, I can’t help you’ society of capitalism in the USA is leading to unhappiness, stress, anxiety, overeating, alcoholism, and drug abuse/overdose. We can’t count on each other here. People give lip service to being there for their families, but in my experience (in my awful family) when it comes time to put their actions where their mouth is, Americans turn selfish. My wife’s family in Morocco mean it when they say you can stay as long as you want or need to, they mean it when they tell you that their home is your home, they are there for you in whatever capacity they can be – without excuses. They are not rich – they work hard to survive – but I know for certain that they would never turn away a dear friend or family member even if it meant they had to work harder. When I think of them in comparison with myself or my family, I feel ashamed – and I should. They are poor and they suffer in their poverty, but they are happier than most Americans I’ve met.

And…one last quote just to drive home a point

Overall, the chapter concludes that falling American happiness is due primarily to social rather than to economic causes.

The Joy of Teaching

One of the great joys of my life is being Sophia’s primary teacher. From the time she was born, I’ve tried to never overlook an opportunity to open her eyes to the way the world works – from pointing out the science and math in everyday objects to letting her know about the vast amounts of information she can find in books and libraries. Sophia is a kindergartner who reads at a high level and now has a firm understanding of addition and subtraction and a basic level of multiplication – she can tell you about planets, elements, and a huge array of other things. She has (I think) a decent understanding of birth, life, death, and how the body works. All of this wasn’t learned from someone standing in front of a classroom or from hearing a lecture – it was learned because I saw her interest and helped to guide it to the things I think it is important that she learns. This idea didn’t come from a vacuum either. In the 1990s, I read a lot about un-schooling and different ideas about how education could be reformed – changed from an industrial model. In the early 2000’s I was introduced to the work of Tsunebaro Makiguci and his philosophy of education (Makiguci was not only an educator but the founder of one of the schools of Buddhism I follow – SGI) Makiguci was persecuted by the Imperial Japanese government for his pursuit of non-traditional education methods – in particular – the idea that a child should be encouraged to follow their passion and it is the educator’s job to guide that enthusiasm into the subjects the child needs to learn…that is what I have been doing with Sophia. I wish I had been given that kind of education, I wish we all had. I can only imagine how different the world would be. Not a world where money is the driving force, but a world where knowledge is. I hope that this reaches someone and allows them to find the sort of joy I am finding in helping my daughter to become the person she is meant to be.

A Year in the United States of America

Hard to believe but it’s already been a year since I brought my family to the United States. I wasn’t sure we would make it but a year seems like a pretty good indicator that we are and will.

Of course, it’s been a struggle – but we’re making it. Major Ab Adversis – through struggle comes strength. My work with travel blogs has mostly carried us – by the time we were set up in a house and went through the expenses of moving, buying a car, paying utility deposits, and finding where to live – our savings was pretty well exhausted. Through a combination of picking, garage sales, eBay, and selling advertisements on travel blogs – we’ve made it. We’ve managed to pay all of our bills on time (or in the case of student loans, defer one more time) and somehow we navigated through Obamacare and got the three of us covered with health insurance.

We didn’t make it in California’s Bay Area – which was what my initial plan was. A weird combination of circumstances skewed that and put us in Sacramento for a few months while I tried to arrange interviews and land a start up job in travel and social media – unsuccessfully. Even when we considered staying in Sacramento, I found that since we’d been living outside of the USA and we were living on a self-employed income that landlords were unwilling to rent to us without paying an impossible deposit and first and last.

I knew we had to leave and go where the income I was certain I could earn, would pay for a decent place for us to live. We could have gotten a low income apartment in California but I’ve never wanted my family to live in that kind of situation – so I found a dying town on the Oregon coast where rents were dirt cheap and the quality of life was much higher. For the same amount a scummy California apartment would have cost us – I rented a 3 bedroom house with a big front and back yard and a leaky garage.

Reedsport is a dying town filled with geriatrics and people on disability. There is no industry here and more than 3/4 of the jobs that were here when we arrived have disappeared – but we’re making it. Our little family has a nice garden, a pleasant house, and a wonderful environment all around us including the Pacific Ocean, four major rivers, dozens of lakes, plenty of streams, and beautiful forests and sand dunes. Environmentally it’s heaven. Culturally – it’s not even on the map.

For the past few years, my main income stream has been advertising on my websites and doing SEO for small clients. Changes in Google policies and updates have been drying that stream up and the writing is definitely on the wall as to whether or not it will survive at all – so we have diversified – I’ve discovered that I can usually support us using eBay and we’ve begun experimenting with antique malls and the flea market. We are now vendors in two locations and have a permanent table at the flea market – only time will tell if that works for us or not.

I was planning on having a garage sale today, but the weather turned grey and rainy – so I ditched the plan. Maybe tomorrow – Oregon is like that. Twelve days of sunshine while you expect it to rain but when you count on sunshine the rain comes – if the garage weren’t so leaky, I would have the sale anyway, but we aren’t starving and the bills are paid – so it can wait.

We’ve tried a few other jobs. My wife worked at a hotel as a cleaner for a few months and that wasn’t good at all. The pay was almost as awful as the work and she was repeatedly solicited for sex by weirdos travelling through. I took my insurance license and tried my hand at selling life insurance but the company was such a crock of shit filled with liars and cheats that I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror – and the money was a lie – at least here on the Oregon Coast – maybe it would be a good job in a big city somewhere or anywhere that people have more than the bare minimum they need to survive.

The highlight of our year here has been to reconnect with old friends and family. Being able to see my daughter and wife with my mom, my aunt, my uncle, my sister, my cousins, my brother, and my neices and nephews has been awesome. Seeing those relationships grow has been so good.

One would think that my wife would have learned crafts like knitting and sewing in her native Morocco but it turns out that instead, being in boring Reedsport has given her the time and impetus to learn many new crafts. I am hopeful she can turn her crafting and jewelry making into a business – again time will tell.

The hardest part of being here in the USA is that we just don’t have any money left over to travel or do the things we used to do – even when there is a surplus, we are living so month to month that we need to save it in case the car breaks down, the ebay biz fails, or the antique mall spots don’t earn enough to cover their rent. All of that means that there is very little time for relaxation or enjoyment and almost no money for it – it’s taken a toll on our health and on our marriage – but what can we do? It’s not different for most Americans – although when we watch the $100k fifth wheels and RVs towing dune buggies and motorbikes start to roll through our town, it’s hard not to wonder where they get all this disposable income….

But what the hell – maybe they’ll stop and buy some antiques and collectibles from us tomorrow…

Chinese New Year Coming Up – Where will you celebrate?

Chinese New Year in Hawaii is always an incredibly big deal. In fact, the smell of gunpowder from fire crackers and fire works goes on for days after. If you head down to Hawaii’s chinatown on the night of Chinese New Year, you will be assaulted by colors and sounds as you are caught up in lion dances. There is mochi pounding and other annual celebrations that take place around the Chinese New Year as well.

I’m not sure why the Chinese New Year has always been a big deal to me, but I blame it primarily on my grand-mother. We used to call her the dragon lady and despite being mostly Scottish, she was easily mistaken for a Chinese lady in her later years. Maybe it was the Tiger Balm, maybe it was the years of living in Singapore, and maybe it was some inner Chinese woman coming out. In any event, she passed on that aesthetic and love of the far East to me.

I remember we used to go to Chinese food to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which was a pretty big deal to a kid from small mountain towns in California and Oregon. The fortune cookies, the hot and sour soup, and of course the waving kitties that always sit on the counter. I watched a comedian, Tom Papa, the other day and he had a very funnny bit of stand up about how the cats are the ones running a Chinese grocery. If my grandmother was there, people would probably ask her to help them – she would look like the ancient woman running the place with her big glasses, silk blouses, and tiny stature. Sadly, she is long gone now, but well remembered and loved in our family.

In any event, she has me thinking about the Chinese New Year again – even years after her death. I remember celebrating it in Hawaii and also in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sadly, I missed it by just a few weeks when I went to China – but I don’t think that would be my first place to go celebrate it. I’d like to go to either Sydney or London – I’ve heard that Chinese New Year in Trafalgar Square is the most extensive celebration in the West. With more than 300,000 people, I can’t imagine how crazy it must be!

London’s Chinese New Year from LondonTown.com

This year is special. It is the year of the wood horse.The Chinese New Year is January 31st and will be celebrated on February 2nd in London. If I were there, I would most likely grab a hotel room at the High Kensington and eat eat eat the delicious Chinese fare available from street food vendors and enjoy the music, cultural demonstrations, and general feeling of excitement that seems to come with the Chinese New Year.

The Horse in Chinese Astrology is an auspicious sign. China was built by Genghis Khan using horses and thus it is a sign of speedy success and favorable outcomes. Of course, if you want to really know what is in store for you, you need to find your Chinese Horoscope sign and look further into the murky depths of the future. You can find plenty of places online but my suggestion is that you get into the spirit of things and head to a Chinese New Year celebration, find a Chinese astrologer, and learn what challenges and victories await you.

Good luck, my friends. Do you have a Chinese New Year Tradition? What is it?