On Having Low Expectations

For things I can’t control, anyway.

Within the past year, I came upon the realization that my expectations can determine my level of happiness. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately and thought I’d set down my conclusions here.

Maybe this is something that most people have already realized and I’m just slow to figure it out. (It wouldn’t be the first time I missed the forest for the trees.) But maybe not. And maybe — just maybe — the thoughts shared here might help you achieve more happiness in your life.

Expectations for Myself

Expectations Quote
I’d edit this to say “High expectations for yourself are the key to everything” or “High expectations are the key to everything.”

Throughout my life, I’ve always had high expectations for myself.

The way I see it, I’ve got two things going for me: my brains and my health. I’m white, which is helpful in today’s world, but I’m a woman, which is not — I figure that those two factors sort of cancel each other out. I’ve got a college education, but just a BBA degree — not an MBA or PhD or any sort of fancy accreditation that puts letters after my name. I come from a middle class family which is neither rich nor poor — although in the past 50+ years, I’ve experienced life on most points of the financial spectrum.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve got what it takes to succeed in life, but I don’t necessarily have anything going for me that would make it easy. I have to work — sometimes very hard — to succeed at the goals I set for myself.

Anyone who says they’ve never failed at something they’ve tried to do is either a liar or hasn’t tried to do anything difficult.

And I do — for the most part, anyway. I succeed at most things I try to do. Sometimes that success is tiny and not worth remembering; other times it’s surprisingly huge and it changes my life. It depends on what it is, of course, and how much of myself I throw into it.

To me, that’s what life is about: trying new things, setting goals, working to achieve them, moving on to the next thing.

I’ve been called a Renaissance woman by people impressed by my widely varied interests. And I’ve been called an overachiever by people jealous of my ability to do the things I’ve done.

This is who I am — this is what makes me. I don’t have kids or, at this point, a life partner to distract me from what I want to do. No one is cheering me on, but no one is holding me back, either.

I set high expectations for myself and I work hard to meet them. When I meet my expectations, I’m happy and move on. When I don’t meet them, I’m disappointed, but I either try harder or let it go and move on.

That’s me.

But this isn’t about expectations for myself. It’s about what I expect of others. Unfortunately, my expectations for myself play a major role in my expectations for others.

Expectations for Others

Because I set high expectations for myself, it made sense to set high expectations for others. After all, if I could do something I set out to do, shouldn’t others be able to do it, too?

In hindsight — which is always viewed with 20-20 vision — I realize now that I got it all wrong.

My earliest example of this was when I worked for the New York City Comptroller’s Office. At the age of 22 — I graduated from college at age 20 — I was a supervisor in the Bureau of Financial Audits with 13 people under me. Every single one of them was older — some old enough to be my mom or dad. When it came time to do employee evaluations, I used my high standards to evaluate my staff’s performance. I can’t remember how the scale worked, but it was likely 1-5 or something like that. I my mind, 5 is “perfect” or nearly so. And very few of my staff members met my idea of perfection in the various areas I had to score them on. So there were a lot of 3s and 4s but very few 5s. And, to my surprise — remember, I was only 22 — these people had a problem with their scores. One of them even went so far as to accuse me of trying to sabotage her career. I wasn’t. All I was trying to do was point out where improvement was possible.

But possible for who? Possible for me, certainly — after all, I had definite ideas of how I could do it better. But possible for the staff member? Maybe not. Maybe she was doing the absolute best she could do. Maybe it was my expectation of her capabilities that were wrong. Maybe it was my expectation of how the job should be done that was wrong.

Expectations reared their ugly head any time I had people working for me. I always expected people to do a task to my standards, whether those standards were based on quality, speed, or any other factor. Back in 2003-2004, I ran the fuel concession at Wickenburg Airport’s FBO. I had about ten people working for me. Yes, I expected my employees to arrive on time for work. Yes, I expected them to limit personal phone calls on the company phone during working hours. Yes, I expected them to know how to store a delivery of ice cream in a freezer without guidance. Yes, I expected them to do their jobs as defined, as I trained them to.

This is the reason I don’t have employees anymore. Dealing with them frustrates the hell out of me.

Expectations were definitely a contributing factor to the failure of my marriage. I expected my husband to do the things he said he was going to do. I expected him to achieve the goals he set for himself. I expected him to keep his promises to me, especially when those promises affected my life and work. I expected him to be honest and to communicate with me when he was unhappy. When he failed to meet my expectations, I was disappointed. When he failed over and over with most things I expected him to do, I became frustrated and annoyed. I didn’t enjoy my time with him and he apparently didn’t enjoy his time with me. Our marriage dragged on with bad feelings on both sides for a few years longer than it should have because I kept expecting things to get better when they simply got worse.

Low Expectations Prevent Disappointment

And that brings me to my realization: having low expectations for others prevents you from being disappointed.

Let’s look back at my airport FBO employee situation. Maybe I should have expected some employees to have trouble getting to work on time — even though they lived within 10 miles in a town with no rush hour traffic. Maybe I should have expected some employees to occasionally not show up for work at all without calling. Maybe I should have expected that some employees, when bored, will fill their time with lengthy phone calls to their spouses or kids. Maybe not everyone is smart enough to figure out that ice cream, when delivered, needs to go right into the freezer and that each bin in the freezer is set up for a specific type of ice cream so it can be put away orderly so customers can find it.

I expected my employees to be able to handle the job the way I handled it — after all, I did the same job, too. But was it fair to set my expectations of their performance as high as I set my expectations for my own performance?

Now let’s take this the next step.

Suppose I don’t expect an employee to show up on time. And sure enough, he shows up late. He has met my expectations. I’m satisfied.

And what happens when he shows up on time? Or early? He has exceeded my expectations. I’m thrilled.

Pretty simple example, huh? But you can see how this works. Just set low expectations for anything you don’t have control over. You’ll never be disappointed.

If you’re trying online dating, you need to read my take on online dating profiles. I promise you’ll get a good giggle.

Here’s an example of how I apply this in my life today. I’ve been playing around with online dating. And my apologies to friends who have managed to find a viable partner through this completely impersonal method of meeting people, but I have never seen a bigger collection of losers and liars in my life. Seriously. Half the guys look like they crawled out from under a rock and have to rely on selfies for profile photos, likely because they don’t have any friends. They describe themselves as “average” build and say they go to the gym regularly, yet their photos show an obvious couch potato with a beer belly. Most of the others are married or barely separated, shopping for some side action or their next caregiver.

Want some real examples? One guy claimed to be a pilot at the local airport; when we actually met, it turned out that he hadn’t flown in more than 15 years. Another guy claimed to be divorced, but was living in an unfurnished apartment and admitted that neither he nor his wife had filed for divorce yet. Another guy claimed he was single, then admitted that he was in a long term, long distance relationship and was exploring online dating as a “social experiment.” Another guy, when taken for a flight in my helicopter, lost his lunch. (I will never get the image of vomit on his mustache out of my mind. Needless to say, that didn’t go any further.) And this doesn’t even count the guys I’ve messaged with who haven’t been worth meeting.

Low ExpectationsI see how bad online dating is. And although some friends have made good matches this way, I don’t expect to. My expectations for online dating success are rock bottom low. In my eyes, it just isn’t going to happen. I’m so sure it’s a waste of time and money that I closed my online dating accounts.

Yet just before my Match account was closed up last week, I met not one but two possible matches. From their profiles, they look good — same interests, interesting backgrounds, right age range, not bad to look at. A person with high expectations might be very encouraged.

But I’m not. Although I hope to meet one or both of these men in person — we’re in touch via email and text right now — I don’t expect either one to be my next life partner. My expectations for success are low. So when things don’t work out, I’m not disappointed. I never expected them work out so the result has met my expectations.

What happens if one of them turns out to be someone I do want to spend time with? And the feeling is mutual? Well, then the match has exceeded my expectations. I’m pleasantly surprised.

And if one of them happens to become my next life partner? Well, then I’m thrilled!

Low ExpectationsApparently, I’m not the first person to realize this. I did say that I sometimes don’t see the forest for the trees, didn’t I?

Get it?

  • Low expectations = seldom disappointed, often pleasantly surprised, occasionally thrilled.
  • High expectations = often disappointed, seldom pleasantly surprised or thrilled.

I don’t know about you, but when something works out better than I expected, I’m happy. So it logically follows that low expectations can lead to happiness.

It Takes Effort

After almost a lifetime of having high expectations for myself and others, it’s not easy to set the bar lower. It takes a conscious effort. Sometimes, when things don’t work out the way I expected them to, I have to remind myself that I really shouldn’t have expected it to work out right. Over time, I’m getting better at it.

And I’m really seeing a difference in how it affects my overall level of satisfaction and happiness with life.

What do you think? How have expectations — high or low — affected you?

There I Was…

My first contribution to Vertical Magazine.

Vertical is a high quality helicopter magazine out of Canada. Beautifully designed and laid out and stuffed to the gills with quality writing and photography, it’s a real pleasure to read.

I’ve been wanting to write for Vertical for a long time, but never found a way to get my foot in the door. Until a month or two ago. I’d exchanged a few messages with one of the editors there and was passed on to another editor. He was looking for short articles for the magazine’s “There I Was…” column. This column, which is similar to AOPA’s “Never Again” column, showcases first person accounts of pilots in dangerous and/or stupid situations.

Any pilot who claims he’s never done anything stupid or dangerous is either lying or doesn’t fly very much. We all do dumb things once in a while. Those of us who are lucky, live to tell about it — and hopefully learn from it. Others don’t.

Vertical CoverThe cover of the March 2014 issue of Vertical Magazine, their largest issue ever. You can get your copy of the print edition at HeliExpo for free.

By the way, one of the reasons I occasionally read NTSB accident reports for helicopters is to learn from other pilot’s mistakes. Contrary to what the general public believes, at least 90% of aviation accidents are due to pilot error.

Anyway, I thought long and hard about what I could share with Vertical readers and decided to tell about the time I nearly killed myself trying to get over the Cascade Mountains in low visibility. I submitted it and it was accepted. It appeared in the March 2015 issue of Vertical on page 226, with the title “Scud Running in the Cascades.”

If you attend Heli Expo next month, I hope you’ll visit the Vertical booth and pick up a free copy of the magazine. Maybe one of you can send me a copy for my clip file?

Helicopter Tours in Wine Country

The reality for would-be helicopter operators.

I got yet another email from yet another helicopter pilot interested in doing the kind of work I do. He’s currently in the military, based overseas, and emailed me about his situation and an idea. I deleted his original message after responding, but did retain this:

Have you looked at increasing your footprint with a business partner and second helicopter? From reviewing your website it seems you have the perfect job and location to cater to the wine industry of central WA.

At Martin Scott
Here’s my helicopter, parked in a great landing zone at one of my favorite wineries. Unfortunately, the winery’s insurance company told them I could no longer land there. This year’s challenge: getting them to reverse their decision.

This made me laugh. “Perfect job and location to cater to the wine industry.” I’m not sure whether the author of this message understands the realities of the wine industry in this area. Yes, there are wineries in the Wenatchee area. In fact, there’s one about 1/2 mile down the road from where I live. But the dozen or so wineries near here don’t need helicopter service. And most of them either don’t want it, can’t support it with a safe landing zone, or have insurance-related restrictions that make operation on their premises impossible.

Of course, there are more wineries in the Chelan area, about 20 minutes flight time north of here. But there’s also another Part 135 operator up there with a business virtually identical to mine. The cost of me getting up there to service wineries in that area would make me far more expensive than that pilot, who is based right there. So I have to limit my Chelan activities with offering round trip flights from Wenatchee to Chelan — just as he’d likely limit his flights in Wenatchee to flights originating in Chelan. Simple economics of supply and demand.

I responded:

Thanks for writing, but no, I’m definitely not interested in adding a partner or helicopter. There isn’t enough business in the area for me, especially with competition in nearby Chelan. A second helicopter would add cost without revenue.

If you’re interested in building a tour business to serve the wine industry, I suggest Tri-Cities or Walla Walla. They both have far more wineries and activity than the Wenatchee area.

Good luck.

The Tri-Cities and Walla Walla areas are much bigger wine-producing areas. There are dozens of wineries in each place, many of which are in rural areas that can support helicopter landing zones. I’ve even done a little research in the Walla Walla area and found a number of winery owners interested in helicopter winery tours to their facilities. Trouble is, Walla Walla is about 45 minutes each way from Wenatchee, so flights there would be too costly. And I’m not interested in relocating to Walla Walla.

But again, it all comes down to supply and demand. You need to base an operation in an area where there are a lot of potential clients who have a lot of disposable income. After all, how many people are interested in spending $500 or more on a few hours of entertainment for up to three people? And if you’ve found the perfect place to offer helicopter tour services, chances are, there’s already an operator there. Now you’re dealing with competition which makes it even harder to get off the ground because you have to share that potential client pool with someone who is already known in the area.

And then there’s the problems faced by a Twitter/Facebook friend in the Margaret River area of Australia. He started a helicopter charter service, Wild Blue Helicopters, in that wine region and was soon plagued by noise complaints from the locals. One of those locals took matters into his own hands by vandalizing my friend’s helicopter, causing several thousand dollars in damage. After making a major investment in his business there, he’s abandoning it because he’s simply tired of dealing with the problems the locals are causing. Who wants that?

Why don’t people see this? Why do so many pilots think that all they need to do is buy a helicopter, move to an interesting place, and hang out a shingle for the clients and money to start rolling in?

I thought I was done with the conversation, but he replied. Again, he made me laugh.

Thanks Maria! I’m not sure how to do it but I think it would be a lovely way to spend a few years. Do you enjoy it?

“Lovely.” It would be lovely if I were independently wealthy and didn’t need to make a living as a pilot.

I responded with the brutal honesty I’m known for:

I enjoy the flying, but there simply isn’t enough of it.

And after 14 years in this business — in Arizona and now in Washington — I’m tired of dealing with potential clients who can’t respect the value of my services and understand the cost of operating a helicopter. Too many cheapskates. Too many people who think I’ll spend an hour preflighting/postflighting my aircraft to take their 8 year old kid for a 10-minute birthday ride for $25.

If you think you’re going to get into this business and make a good living at it right away, think again. It took more than 5 years for my business to support itself and another 3 years for it to become profitable enough to support me. I was fortunate to have another income for those 8 years; most people don’t. It’s a difficult business to succeed in.

I’ve written about this extensively on my blog, http://www.aneclecticmind.com/

My advice? Get a job flying for someone else. Let them have the headaches and costs of dealing with aircraft maintenance and the FAA. Fly, get a paycheck, spend your off time with your friends and family.

Now I’m sure lots of folks who don’t operate helicopter charter businesses in Washington’s wine country — or small helicopter charter businesses in a big city like Phoenix, where I used to be based — will take this opportunity to bash my business skill and blame me for my belated success. My response to you: If you think you’re so smart, you try it. And then let us all know how you do.

You might want to read this, too.

As for this pilot, I hope he makes the right decision for his future.

Construction: The Upstairs Lights are On

Well, at least the first six of them.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

If you’ve been following this blog, you might know that I decided to be “the electrician” for my new home. That means I’ve taken on the task of designing the electrical system, doing all the in-wall wiring, and ultimately hooking up all light fixtures, ceiling fans, and outlets.

These posts will give you an idea of what I’ve been up to with the electricity since buying my property in July 2013:

Wow. I didn’t think I’d written so much about electrical power, but there it is.

Electricity is an important part of our lives. We don’t think much about the electrical power in our homes. Flick a switch, a light goes on. Plug in a device and power flows through it. We only notice it when it goes out or we get our bills. We normally don’t think much about what’s going on behind the scenes, inside the walls. The planning that puts outlets and light switches and ceiling fans in the “right” spot. The wires, the connections. Amperage. Circuits. How does the power get from the transformer on your property to your microwave oven? Most people have no idea of what a “home run” — as it relates to power in their homes — really is.

I do. I have a vast, intimate knowledge of all the power in my home because I’m the one who designed the system and ran all the wires.

With a little help from friends, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere.

The Panel

After creating all the circuits you can read about in the last few entries listed above, I wound up with about 20 lengths of Romex wire dangling out of a cavity in the wall between my stairs and RV garage. Each length of wire represented one circuit, from the lights in my living room to the outlets, lights, and exhaust fan in my bathroom, to my water heater, to my stove/oven.

Romex is good stuff, mostly because each gauge — or thickness — is color coded. 14 gauge for 15 amp circuits is white, 12 for 20 is yellow, 10 for 30 is orange, and 6 for 50 is black. This would make it easy to match the wire to the correct circuit breaker amperage.

As I ran each home run, I used a Sharpie to write on the end of the wire, labeling it for its circuit. For example, KIT 1 and KIT 2 were my two kitchen circuits, BATH was for the bathroom, and LR TV was for the northeast side of the living room while LR OFFICE was for the northeast side. Although I never came up with a formal electrical plan for my place, I did keep track of each circuit on a sheet of paper. This helped me keep track of which circuits I had, what amperage it needed, and what my progress was on each one.

An Ugly Mess
After running all the home runs, I was left with this mess at the circuit panel. (You should have seen it before I neatened it up.) The round thing is my Internet router, which I hung up there temporarily. I’m going to have the local cable company re-do the Internet wiring so the router can be in my office area upstairs.

Of course, what I had at the circuit panel end was a big mess. Everyone who looked at it — especially the county and electrical inspectors — wondered how I was going to get the wires into the circuit panel neatly, without the Romex being exposed below 8 feet. I wondered, too.

My friend Tom is a retired union electrician. He’d been giving me a bunch of advice for the past few months and had helped me with some of the more difficult tasks, such as getting conduit to my shed up to code, helping run the circuit panel and outlet ends of my RV garage’s 30 amp RV circuit, and installing fixture bases for my outside wiring. These are tasks that I could have done on my own, but it would have taken much longer and I likely would have gotten it wrong several times before it was right and to code. He knew all about the job that was ahead of me at the panel and he also knew that I’d be depending on him for help.

He said he thought a lot about it while I was on vacation. He said he worried about it.

Tom at Work
Here’s Tom contemplating the panel not long after we started feeding Romex into it.

But when he came by yesterday, it didn’t take long for him to figure out how to get the job done. I cut another piece of wood to complete the wire channel and we notched it so the wires could come out neatly in one big bunch, high above the panel. The drywall guys, who hadn’t done that area yet, would be able to work around the wires and then close up the space in the notch with fire tape.

The wires then came to the wall over the panel where they’d be secured before coming down the wall and into the panel. 8-foot lengths of 2×4 lumber, which I happened to have handy — doesn’t everyone keep lumber around their home? — would be secured to the posts on either side of the panel. The drywall guys would lay in one 8-foot long sheet of drywall, with a hole cut to the size of the electrical panel, and fasten it to the 2x4s. Result: a neat panel area with no Romex exposed below 8 feet.

Sunny Day
It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. I shot this photo from my Lookout Point not long after Tom left.

And that’s the way things went. Tom and I worked on the panel for a few hours, stopping only for some grilled sausage sandwiches I cooked up for lunch and the occasional cigar break. The day was beautiful, with scattered high clouds, lots of sun, and temperatures in the high 50s. We had lunch outside in the sun. I opened the big garage door beside the panel about halfway to let in lots of fresh air. We worked as a team with Tom doing most of the connection work and me handing him circuits and marking the slot each circuit was connected to on my master list. Later, when the door was put on the panel, I’d label each slot on the sticker provided. At the end, we found that I’d failed to label three home run wires: by process of elimination, we figured out the 20 amp wire and know which two are the 15 amp wires — I’ll know exactly which is which when I finish wiring them and turn them on.

The Panel
Here’s the finished panel. The long circuits with the white labels on them are arc fault protected, which are required for living space circuits in Washington as of July 1, 2014. The dangling black wire on the right is for my range.

We had them all done by around 3 PM. All except the 50 amp range circuit. That needed a 3/4 inch connector, which I did not have. (The others used 1/2 inch connectors and I had plenty of those.) I’d finish it up on my own before inspection. I’d also have to attach the wires to the wooden board behind the panel.

But at this point, I had all of my other home runs wired to the circuit panel. That meant I could begin wiring light fixtures, outlets, and other devices.

When Tom drove away, he stopped and said out his window, “We did pretty good. I didn’t think we’d finish in one day.”

He wasn’t the only one. The task had seemed overwhelming. But with his know-how and my help — not to mention being organized and having everything we needed on hand — we’d knocked it out in less than five hours.

Wiring the First Circuit

While I was away, the light fixtures I’d ordered for my living room about two months before finally arrived. The six boxes were stacked neatly by my drywall guys in my shop area.

The living room light circuit was one of the easiest to do. There were only the six fixtures on it. I’d run the circuit with 14/3 Romex with the idea of having two separate switches. I wasn’t sure if I wanted each switch to operate every other light or if I wanted one to do the north side of the room and the other to do the south. The benefit of using 14/3 wire (instead of 14/2) is that I could make just one run, from fixture to fixture, rather then two separate runs, each of which went directly to the lights I wanted connected to each switch. I could decide now which lights would be controlled by each switch but could easily change it later if I wanted to.

I decided to run the first three lights on one switch and the last three on the other. So the red wire brought power to the last three fixtures on the run and the black wire brought power to the first three fixtures on the run. I wish I had a decent drawing app to show how it was done. It’s actually quite interesting — if things like this interest you. (Which they might if you’ve read this far.)

It was getting dark, so I started by running an extension cord up the stairs and plugging in my portable shop lamp. I put it high up on my scaffold, which had been parked in my office area. I also brought up my radio and old iPod. I figured I’d be doing a lot of work upstairs in the coming weeks and some music of podcasts would be nice to listen to. Then I brought up all my electrical tools, the boxes of light fixtures, and a step stool. I put on some music and got to work.

First Installed Fixture
Here’s the first fixture I installed. Each fixture sits between and slightly above a window. The idea was to provide light high enough that it wouldn’t shine into your face when you looked out the window.

The light fixtures I bought were rather ornate. They’re sconces, each of which has a metal twig sculpture that holds a colored glass shade. Installing them was a remarkably easy multiple-step process:

  1. Use a yellow wire nut to fasten together the two unused power lines (in and out, red or black, depending on the fixture’s location) to allow power to continue down the circuit.
  2. Adjust the length of the central post in the metal base.
  3. Screw the metal base into the blue fixture box.
  4. Attach the ground wire from the fixture to the metal base.
  5. Use a provided wire nut to fasten together the grounding wires.
  6. Use a provided wire nut to fasten the fixture’s white wire to circuit’s white wires.
  7. Use a provided wire nut to fasten the fixture’s black wire to the circuit’s power wire (black or red, depending on the fixture’s location).
  8. Use the decorate nut to fasten the fixture to the metal base on the wall.
  9. Set the glass shade into place.
  10. Use a level to adjust the angle of the fixture and shade.

It went pretty smoothly. If I hadn’t stripped two screws for attaching the metal base to the blue box, I probably would have finished at least 30 minutes sooner. I took a break for dinner after the first two fixtures, still not sure whether I’d get it done that night.

In hindsight, I wish I’d taken some progress pictures. But I think I was too excited about getting it done that night. I was driven. I wanted to have the whole thing done at night so I could light them and see exactly how much light they cast so I worked as quickly as I could.

When the last fixture was installed, the only thing left to do was wire the switches. These switches would be at the top of the stairs in a box that held switches for three different circuits. I pulled out the mess of wires that, like the ones in the blue fixture boxes, were covered with paint overspray. I sorted out the ones I needed for my circuit and made the necessary pigtails for the black and white wires.

The two center light switches in this box will control the six living room lights.

Then my brain shut down. I knew how to do it, but they way I thought it needed to be done didn’t seem right. I didn’t want to bother Tom — especially after I’d texted him earlier, assuring him I knew how to wire the switches. So I grabbed my electrical how-to book, opened it to the page with the wiring diagram that applied, and studied it for a moment. Yes, I did know how to do it. I closed the book, went back upstairs, and finished wiring the switches.

Light Bulbs
Amazingly, I had lightbulbs.

But did I have lightbulbs? I did! I think I’d picked up a box at Home Depot or Costco not long after ordering the fixtures. I found them in my shop, exactly where they belong. I wasted no time twisting them in.

Then I texted Tom:

I’m flicking the switch. If you don’t hear back from me in 2 minutes, I got it very wrong.

After all, if I electrocuted myself, it might be a good idea for someone to collect my smoldering remains before the drywall guys came in the morning.

I went downstairs, consulted my master sheet of circuits, and determined I’d wired circuit 15. I counted down the board three times to make sure I’d flick the right switch. Then I flicked it. No smoke, no fire. So far, so good.

I went back upstairs and flicked the first switch. The first three lights went on. I flicked the second switch. The other three lights went on. No explosions, no fire. It worked.

I texted a photo to Tom. He congratulated me and I responded that I couldn’t have done it without his help.

I turned off the shop light. The room was fully illuminated by the six lights. At first, I was a bit disappointed by the amount of light each fixture cast. But as the bulbs “warmed up,” the light brightened.

Six Lights Pano
Here’s an iPhone pano shot of all six lights in my living room. There are two on each wall.

Lighted Light
The lights even look good when they’re turned on. In this shot, you can also see the reflection in the window of another light on the other side of the room.

I’d used the equivalent of 60 watt bulbs. The fixtures can support up to 100 watts. But I like the gentle light they cast. Not only can you see the fixtures when you look right at them, but the light is mellow enough that you can still see the city lights out the window, even when sitting away from the window. The light doesn’t overpower the room and make everything outside look black. I like that.

Milestone Achieved

Once again, I can’t describe the amazing feeling of accomplishment I get every time I knock off a little part of my construction project. To me, this is yet another milestone — the first circuit in my living space completed. The ball is back in my court and it’s all coming together quickly now.

Later today, I’ll wire some of the outlets upstairs so I can get rid of the extension cord on the stairs. And, as the days go by, I’ll wire one circuit after another, flicking each one on to test it before the final electrical inspection. Before long, my electrical work will be behind me and I’ll be on to other tasks.

This evening, I’ll fill my freshly painted and lighted space with friends and the smell of smoked ribs and the sound of music and laughter. Another milestone achieved, another celebration with friends.

The Little Prince

A classic children’s book full of ageless wisdom.

The Little PrinceYesterday, I read The Little Prince a novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. According to Wikipedia,

The novella is both the most-read and most-translated book in the French language, and was voted the best book of the 20th century in France. Translated into more than 250 languages and dialects (as well as braille), selling nearly two million copies annually with sales totaling over 140 million copies worldwide, it has become one of the best-selling books ever published.

Odd that I should live 53 years before managing to squeeze such a famous 98-page read into my busy schedule.

On the surface, this children’s book, which includes simple watercolor illustrations by the author, tells the story of an aviator who has crash-landed in the Sahara Desert. He’s working hard to repair his plane when he meets a small prince who has travelled to earth (and a few other places) from a tiny asteroid. What follows are stories from the little prince’s travels, each of which has an important message that isn’t just for children.

The Fox

Chapter XXI made the biggest impact on me. In that Chapter, the little prince meets a fox who explains to him, in the course of their conversation, the meaning of the word tame:

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”

Later, the fox adds:

“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”

Can you think of a more beautiful way to describe the bond between two people who have come to love and depend upon each other?

There’s more to the story than that, but I’ll let you discover it on your own. I’ll just say this: the end of the story of the fox made me cry when I read it yesterday and it made me cry again today. There’s so much truth in the words. I’m filled with sadness at the knowledge that so few people understand this simple wisdom and how it applies in their lives.

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

Matters of Consequence

Underlying most of the book is the idea of what’s really important in life. Saint-Exupéry refers to this as “matters of consequence.”

In the little prince’s travels, he meets a businessman who is busy counting and doing sums. He’s too busy to relight his cigarette and almost too busy to answer the prince’s questions between counting and adding. He tells the prince that he can’t stop, that he has so much to do, that he is concerned with matters of consequence. Those matters turn out to be counting the stars, which he has claimed ownership of, despite the fact that he’s not even sure, at first, what they’re called. The prince has questions about this:

“And what good does it do you to own the stars?”

“It does me the good of making me rich.”

“And what good does it do you to be rich?”

“It makes it possible for me to buy more stars, if any are discovered.”

Later, the prince asks the man what he does with the stars.

“I administer them,” replied the businessman. “I count them and recount them. It is difficult. But I am a man who is naturally interested in matters of consequence.”

The little prince was still not satisfied.

“If I owned a silk scarf,” he said, “I could put it around my neck and take it away with me. If I owned a flower, I could pluck that flower and take it away with me. But you cannot pluck the stars from heaven…”

“No. But I can put them in the bank.”

It’s that what it’s all about for too many people? Slaving their life away in pursuit of the almighty dollar, neglecting what’s really important in life? All so they can accumulate what they believe is wealth and keep it safe from others?

Later, the little prince is angry with the pilot because the pilot has failed to answer a question the prince thinks is important. He sums up his meeting with the businessman and what it means to him:

“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man — he is a mushroom!”

In my life, I’ve spent far too much time with mushrooms. Indeed, I think I was a mushroom for a time myself.

Read the Book

If you’re more interested in morals and philosophy than what’s on reality TV, celebrity gossip shows, or the business press, do yourself a favor and read the book.

Read it slowly and savor the lessons revealed in the little prince’s travels. I’m sure you’ll take away a lot more than what I’ve shared here — I know I did.