Work/Life Hacking

Extra Credit: Home Schooling in the Islands

Posted on: Saturday, January 31st, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | 2 comments

Frustrations proliferate, from kids over-acclimated to island time to music books lost in the mail. Still, we agree with the many (also biased) families we meet who say, “Kids get more education from seeing the world than from sitting in a classroom.” And a beloved part of this trip is watching them take it all in. Let us count a few ways…

  • AllBoy has become a master snorkeler who can dive deep and spot findings he will research later.
  • CurlyGirl has gone from water-wimp to water-bug, calmly jetting underwater like a little dolphin.
  • AllBoy can be a finicky reader, but he’ll now rip through a book in one day if he likes it.
  • CurlyGirl writes with confidence and abandon. In BB’s Crabback—where guests write on the walls—she grabbed that marker and left a legend.
  • Both enter “local” places without a flinch. Before this trip, such atypical settings would have given them pause for concern.
  • AllBoy explores new surroundings by himself, blind to fears and stereotypes.
  • CurlyGirl’s self-reliance has also exploded. When we lost her on a crowded ferry, she showed up after being in the lady’s room with the message, “No toilet paper!”
  • They both eat countless things they would have only sniffed at before: Conch, okra, curry, soursop, and much more.
  • They now effortlessly leap over language barriers that previously would have stalled them. In the past 3 days, they’ve found ways to communicate–and play–for hours with children from France and Sweden who speak very little English.
  • They (finally!) assist with domestic gruntwork. She likes to clean and help with clothes; he loves to cook and tends to their endless snack needs.
  • While they still enjoy their digi-toys, their favorite things of late have become coconuts, seashells, strange fruits, a feltboard—or activities that aren’t “things” at all.


This blossoming has its poignant moments; it happens so fast, a doting parent can begin to feel obsolete. Like a slap to the head, it hit me yesterday that AllBoy will likely be leaving the house in just over six years. That’s too soon. Better start scheming another Sabbatical—before it’s too late.

Only rarely can I offer them a stretch of time to grow like this BreakAway. But how sweet it is to see that their minds, bodies, and hearts are expanding in ways that only such experiences can provide.

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No Regrets: Another BreakAway Tale

Posted on: Tuesday, January 20th, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment
Last week, this inspiring article by Steve Lopez ran in the Los Angeles Times. It’s about a California girl who took a BreakAway to the Caymans and never looked back. Her life story shows that ruts can lead to risks that lead to big payoffs.  And that leaps of faith can land you in a far better place. 
It’s recommended reading.  Please watch for these key words, which often appear on this site, to which I attach mini-definitions…
  • Revelation.  A leak in your heart that needs attention
  • Reinvent.  Can happen with or without our intent
  • Comfort zone.  An expensive big yellow chair that’s easy to get stuck in
  • Break.  aka BreakAway
  • Groove.  Feeling you’re following your right path
  • Regret.  An emotion more often triggered by things undone than things done wrong
  • Nightmare.  Where dreams go to die
  • Free spirit.  What we all long to be now and then
For your convenience, I’ve reprinted the article, which was published in the Los Angeles Times on January 14, 2009.           

She packed it up and moved to paradise, sort of

Steve Lopez

Traffic is mad, your nest egg is now the size of a pea and your HMO has stopped covering your blood pressure meds. You’ve thought about reeling it all in, selling what’s left and trying something new in a distant hideaway.

But who really has the courage for such a move, I wondered while lounging during my vacation last week on a speck of sand between Cuba, Mexico and Jamaica. I called the newspaper office in George Town, Grand Cayman, and asked a reporter if he knew of any California transplants.

The reporter gave me two names. The first person was away on vacation. The second answered the phone at her real estate office across the street from 7-Mile Beach, one of the world’s most spectacular stretches of white sand and turquoise sea.

Lisa Uggeri, who left Southern California two decades ago on what was supposed to be a six-week vacation, told me she hasn’t a single regret.

“It’s a nightmare for me to be on the 405,” the Long Beach native said of her infrequent trips home.

So how did she make the break, you ask?

It began when a relationship blew up in 1989, leading to the revelation that she needed to reinvent herself at the age of 28. A friend named Laura Lovekin, who lives in Hermosa Beach, remembers the day Lisa announced plans to step out of her own skin.

“We were water skiing on San Diego Bay,” Lovekin recalled, “and she said, ‘I think I’m going to give everything up and go live on an island.’ “

Huh? She was spending her days water skiing in San Diego, and she needed to shake things up?

Uggeri says she didn’t intend to permanently relocate, and the only break she wanted was from the predictable routine she’d gotten locked into. She wanted to get outside her “comfort zone,” and not having a specific plan was part of the thrill for the business major.

Uggeri, whose last name was Haagsma back then, took a friend’s recommendation to consider the Cayman Islands. She’d never been, but after a bit of research, she decided it sounded perfect.

She quit her job in computer and software sales. She gave up a rented room in a nice San Diego home. And she packed her bags.

After saying goodbye back in Long Beach to her family, she flew away to the Caymans, a three-island British territory known for great diving and even better tax shelters.

Six weeks turned into 20 years.

When I drove to Uggeri’s office, I was on one of the busiest roads on the island, but traffic moved just fine, and no one seemed to be in any particular hurry.

Grand Cayman is no paradise, though. It’s flat as a boogie board and not particularly lush or distinctive, with too many Burger Kings and Wendy’s, and a daily traffic jam of cruise ships delivering passengers to T-shirt and trinket shops.

Uggeri, a blue-eyed blond with a gracious smile and a map of the Caribbean on her office wall, agreed that her adopted home has its issues.

“But there is no stress here whatsoever,” she tried telling me.

I wasn’t buying it. Every year, they’re on hurricane watch for six months, and 2004’s Ivan almost blew the island to Havana.

Yes, Uggeri agreed, but she was away on vacation at the time, and no one died despite all the damage. You take things easy on the islands, she said, and it wasn’t long before she found her new groove.

“I wake up the first morning and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get to 7-Mile Beach,’ ” she recalled. “So I start walking along the South Sound, and not five minutes into it a guy pulls up in a truck and says, ‘Do you need a ride?’ “

He was a complete stranger in a place she didn’t know. The old Lisa would never have accepted. The new Lisa, a budding free spirit, took a breath of fresh subtropical air and thought, “What the heck?”

He turned out to be a musician, and when she went to hear his band at a Holiday Inn soon after, she was introduced to a new circle of friends. One night at the bar, she met two Cayman Airlines pilots who convinced her to move into a three-bedroom condo with them on 7-Mile Beach.

But how would she pay the rent? They had an answer.

After two weeks of training, she became a Cayman Air flight attendant. It kept her six-week party going for another four months, until she found work in real estate at a time when the island was booming.

She knew then that she might never go home, and the deal was sealed the night a dashing young Italian expat sent a drink her way at a bar. Luca Uggeri was five years younger than Lisa Haagsma. He told her he was a submarine pilot.

Yeah, it sounds like a pickup line, but it turned out to be true. Uggeri piloted a sightseeing sub.

They began dating, they fell in love, they got married and there you have it. With a nice life in the tropics, who needs Sigalerts and brown-sky summers?

But surely Uggeri must miss something about her first home.

“I can’t really think of anything,” she said, except for the people she was close to. But Lovekin visits her in the Caymans, and they also travel to other parts of the world together.

There’s not a lot to do in the Caymans, Uggeri admitted. No shopping and little in the way of culture.

But she’s happy with a quiet and simpler life, she knows half the residents of the island and feels safe among them, and Miami is only an hour away by plane when she needs something more.

As for the submarine pilot, he’s moved up in the world.

“Did you see that yacht in the bay?” Uggeri asked me.

I did, as a matter of fact.

Well, Uggeri told me, it’s owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and it’s named Octopus.

So what’s that got to do with her husband?

Octopus, naturally, has a submarine aboard in case any passengers get the urge to see live squid. When they do, Uggeri is their escort no matter where in the world the yacht travels, and Lisa can catch a plane and meet him in distant wonderlands.

“I know,” said Lisa, who’s traveled a long way from Millikan High in Long Beach. “It’s crazy.”

The point here, folks, is to get out of your rut and take a risk. Who knows what might happen?

We’ve got it pretty good in Southern California, though, and the Caymans aren’t for me.

Of course, there is the warm sea. The island rum. The Cuban cigars. The expat adventures that need telling. And now, with Barack Obama promising a crackdown, someone should probably be investigating all those shady American tax shelters.

Someone’s got to cover that, right?

A tough job, but in the service of readers and country, I stand ready.



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HomeSchooling Report Card: B

Posted on: Monday, January 19th, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | 2 comments
The first trimester has ended.  So it’s time for an achievement report on how the Parent is progressing as an educator.
  • Math:  Parent has exhibited basic understanding of teaching math, but sometimes fails to appreciate “new math” and often seems unable to make math “fun.”  Parent was delusional in thinking that completion of Modules 4 and 5 would be easy.  Using card games as teaching tools is controversial. 
  • Music:  Forgetting the bass lesson book was a major mistake.  But Parent has recovered and shown creativity by substituting guitar and instituting “Bob Marley lessons.”  More practice would ensure that CurlyGirl masters lyrics to “3 Little Birds” and “Lime in de Coconut.”  AllBoy’s affinity for feeln de riddims and using various sticks and shakers to keep the beat has earned him some unexpected percussion extra credit. 
  • Reading:  Parent should have realized that small islands don’t have libraries, and brought  more vampire books for AllBoy, who burned through about 3,000 pages of the Twilight series in the first 2 weeks.  Parent has successfully supported CurlyGirl’s budding reading skills by procuring local sourcebooks including “Away to Bequia.” 
  • Art:  Parent has satisfactorily trained AllBoy how to use, not lose, and take care of digital camera, and maintain a multi-media weblog (  CurlyGirl’s felt board has proven to be a worthy tool for imagination, though Parent’s sketches are often indecipherable.
  • Writing:  Parent has a tendency toward verbosity, but demonstrates enthusiasm.  Can be harsh in instructing AllBoy to “write your blog!”  Should have brought more paper for CurlyGirl. 
  • P.E.  Parent was smart to bring basketball and baseball gear for AllBoy, but failed to realize that basketball courts and flat spaces do not exist on mountainous islands.  Has successfully organized vigorous dancing sessions for CurlyGirl to steel-pan-drums and guitarists, however, and taught both children good snorkel and bodysurfing skills. 
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Donkey Diner Dreamers

Posted on: Sunday, January 11th, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

One Mission for this Breakaway is to seek out work/life hackers—inspirational role models making up their own rules. Like Sue and Sean, proprietors of the delightful Donkey Diner on St. John. He excelled in molecular biology; she found her fortune in financial services. They walked away to faraway Coral Bay to cook up brand new lives.


Now, some might think of this as trading down to trade up.  After all, for nearly 20 years, they worked their way up corporate food chain…only to wind up bringing home the bacon by flipping pancakes and peddling pizzas.    



But in their eyes, this is THE vision. “I can’t even imagine that stuff used to be my life!” declares Sean.  And they’ve discovered new definitions of success:  “We sold out of pizza last night—had our best night ever,” beams Sue.

Riding the Donkey to the new dream has had some ups and downs.  

  • One upside was, after quitting their jobs, taking a one-year travel Sabbatical to search 10 islands and the internet for the right restaurant.  

“We became traveling, professional foodies,” admits Sean.  In the end, they found the Donkey on Craig’s List.

As negotiations began, they learned quickly that “you must be willing to do things differently,” they say in harmony.  Leases? They barely exist.  Lawyers?  Make others suspicious.  Papers?  They only wilt in salt air and blow away in the breeze.  As one player in their process put it, “We are all adults here.” “We had to meet half-way over and over,” reflects Sue.  “There are a lot of cultural nuances to get used to as a business owner,” admits Sean, the other recovering executive.

dsc_0839Other things that take some getting used to: Cooks that “call in sail” (skip work because the wind suggests it’s a perfect sailing day); procurement problems (“We’ve had to ferry over to St. Thomas just to buy spinach”); customers who make asses of themselves (“One dude blew up last night because we were down to our last 2 pizzas.”) Can they handle the many Donkey messes?  Sean only laughs,

“Hey, I’ve done million-dollar negotiations; I can handle a complaint about $2 home fries!”  

Anyway, after only one month as owners, they now know that their big-city work ethic will trump “Island Time” most any time. Plus, “99% of the customers are just happy to be here,” they agree. Says Sue, “Those last two pizzas last night?  They were call-in no-shows, so the ingredients were already on them.  Right after the New Yorker blew up and left in a huff, another customer came in and was ecstatic to buy them—said it was his lucky day.” Sean and Sue feel lucky, too. But besides luck, what drove them to such extreme work/life hacking?  

“It’s about not working for The Man anymore, yet not letting go of the pursuit of quality,” asserts Sean.  “That, and we always dreamed of having a cool Jeep,” smiles Sue.  

That Jeep, by the way, is a typical St. John model, loaded with bumper stickers, dings, and character. For all that, they sold two fancier vehicles, a 3-story penthouse with a rooftop deck and view of Boston harbor, and many now-unnecessary possessions.

Sean takes a puff of a post-Sunday-brunch-rush stogie, rests his bare feet on a picnic table, and laughs, “People back home are still shell-shocked we actually did it!” Together, they reply, “We’re not!”

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Home Schooling Opens Up a Book of Challenges

Posted on: Saturday, December 20th, 2008
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

One of the Missions of this Sabbatical is to try home schooling. All parents dabble in it, but now’s the time to put up or shut up. Perform. Leave no child behind. Show proof of one my oft-stated boasts: A kid will learn much more on a trip like this than in the classroom.

Although there are endless educational possibilities, my to-do list distills down to 5 simple activities: Math; Reading; Writing; Photography; Music.

For a change, the Idea here is to present the tools, then get out of the way. So far, so good. School is on holiday break at home, but we’re definitely logging daily learning here.

  • Math…We’ll finish two month’s worth, then shop around next year’s worksheets.
  • Reading…He’s sucked up two vampire books. Now on to local lore.
  • Writing…His blog is up and running before mine:
  • Photography…While not a master of his camera, things are starting to click.
  • Music…The Martin mini-guitar arrives soon; he’ll finish his string bass book first, then improvise. (The bottom four strings are the same tuning, but you knew that.)

Oh sure, he’d rather be e-chatting (OMG!) or fondling his iTouch. We need the digi-sitters and downtime, so, fine already, but not more than, say, 16 hours a day.

One major challenge: The sports thing. He is, of course, a Star Athlete. (Aren’t all kids these days, but—really!—mine is!) Thus the 6A Traveling Team will play five tournaments without him. Yet we schlepped a pump and basketball which we diligently inflate and deflate every time we move along.

So what’s foul? Coral Bay courts. Sorry, but they’re pathetic. Blame vandalism. Blame the shrinking youth population. Blame cutbacks or plain old neglect. But when the rims are bent, the backboards are rotten, the hoops are holey, and the blacktop is cracked and muddy, it’s hard to get in the game. There is no game.

Order on the court:  Can't do phy ed here!

Can't do P.E. here!

(Last night at the local choir’s concert, I saw an AMAZING 17-year-old trumpet player. Somebody is mentoring him to excellence! What will happen to the native young basketball phenoms if there’s nowhere to play?)

For our P.E. class, one Mission is improving his shooting percentage and taking thousands of free throws. Now it’s Mission Impossible. That’s all I wanted: To shoot around and shoot some more. No coaches yelling. No criticism. No pressure. Just old-school shootin’ around til the confidence swishes.

Maybe on the next island? But I doubt it. When scratching beneath the surface, one quickly finds scores of sorry signs of poverty and scarcity in the Caribbean.

Oh well, we still have baseball. I even cut a string the exact distance of mound to plate—to work on pitching. That can happen any place there’s flat space, though that’s also rather rare in these parts. Problem is, he throws so hard now it bruises up my hand. And that knuckleball? When it drops and bounces into the crotch…ouch!

But there’s more to life than sports. That’s why we’re here. You can sweat in smelly gyms every winter. But you can learn about tropical flora, fauna, and culture only now and then.

Retiring Now and Then does NOT mean doing nothing. We’ll see what AllBoy can learn about self-motivation and self-education. And if his parents are up to the test.

Next experiment: Educating CurlyGirl.

PS Being miles away and taking all this on brings on deep gratitude to the many good people back home who helped make Home Schooling happen: Mrs. S, Mrs. B, Mrs. F—and also the passionate coaches through the years, all winners: You know who you are!

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Trust Fate: Take a Dart Vacation

Posted on: Friday, December 19th, 2008
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | 3 comments

As anyone who travels knows, you can meet the most interesting people when you BreakAway from your daily grind. Today’s proof arrived in the form of Bob & Jen Westerfield.  

While beaching at scenic Trunk Bay, this handsome couple strolled by with grins on their faces and pink drinks in their hands. They paused to admire AllBoy and CurlyGirl body-surfing (it’s common that the kids break the ice) and we began to chat. Soon the sun was moving across the sky. And I learned all about “The Dart Vacation.” Wow.

Bob & Jen, vagabonds & entrepreneurs.

Bob & Jen, vagabonds & entrepreneurs.

The concept is simple: Every year on January 1, they throw a dart at a US map—and that random landing becomes a vacation target. No exceptions. No rejections. They are five-for-five in five years. So far, this courageous twist of destiny has taken them to…

Marsh Islands, California
Happy, Texas
Zuul, New Mexico
Two Buttes, Colorado (population 45)
Superior, Nebraska

Next year, they will circle their wagons at Circle, Montana. (What goes around comes around?) And like this year’s vacation in Nebraska, the next outing will include their twin sons, now age 1.

They MUST spend some quality time in the place the dart landed. No matter what. That’s not always easy: In the case of Marsh Island, California—which is actually a game reserve with no humans—they had to court a local car dealer and attorney to take them out in a boat.

The price for this slice of bliss and chance? One case of beer.

Once en route or in the area, they do allow themselves to meander, get lost, and see the sights that speak to them. Those broadminded guidelines have taken them to the likes of New Orleans and Wrigley Field. And though their list may not make Conde Nast’s Top Ten lists, they describe each place as fun, appealing, and beautiful.

No wonder they make friends wherever they go, and have even made the front page of a local newspaper—along with their twins and rented Winnebago.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Nor can you concoct the many connections we found within less time than it takes a pelican to find a decent supper.

They vacation at Lake Superior too (on the other side). They also have kinfolk in Brookings, South Dakota (OMG!). And they are also self-employed and hacking their own rules.  In their case, hard work is balanced by frequent and extreme outings of all kinds.  

Sabbatical? Radical? NOT! This spirited couple wins the award for Most Radical Escape Artists.

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Rules for The Club

Posted on: Wednesday, November 19th, 2008
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

A dear friend whom I’ve known since I was 5 sent me this. RULES from a club we had as 4th graders. We met twice a week (or more) under a stairway in his house. There were old Playboys (he had 4 older brothers) there! We learned to BreakAway from those brothers, our parents, and all the RULES of the world…only to make our own.


No cussing.

No teasing.

No yelling.

Don’t damage other people’s property.

No bribery.

No stealing.

No ripping magizane.

No prank call to nobody you know.

No squealing.

No hiding.

No locking people in the club.

Don’t tell anybody our secrets.

No leaving the light on.

No writing notes about club members.

WOW! Can’t believe we came up with all that, in pencil-perfect, as 9-year-olds. What might we be learning about rules through this exercise in nostalgia?

Rules are smart.

Rules change. (Some no longer apply, like that one about cussing.)

Non-puter text was primitive, though poignant.

Do unto others…

Times were tough! (Tough times don’t last; tough people do!)

Life was sweet and pure…in the day…

Is there a bigger lesson here? But of course! The four young men who wrote those rules and met often for soft porn, bowling, pool, and ping-pong were simply escaping their dads, moms, sibs, and more…to hang out together in some parallel universe where there was not cussing, teasing, yelling, or squealing!

To be sure, there was probably plenty of cussing, teasing, yelling, squealing, and more. But in The Club, you could claim Higher Ground and stop such nonsense by merely invoking….The Rules.

So what are your Rules?

What are mine? Who wrote them? Do they still work? Or did we write them in the 4th grade? Or did we just inherit them from our upbringing? Are they as dated as the Mayberry RFD? Polaroid? Milli Vanilli? WebVan? Why are we still sticking by them?

“Hack” is a word, they say, that suggests living by your own rules, carving your own path through this planet. My advisors say it’s a good word to use in your blogs and things.

Hack! Hack! Hack! (Excuse me. Got a Kleenex?)

Yes, rules are everywhere. Omnipresent. As a community, we are better for it. Beyond that—and there IS life beyond rules—hack away. Remember the Goldens, do no harm, and hack your own bliss.

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Debt Will Kill

Posted on: Tuesday, November 11th, 2008
Posted in: Spendology, Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

Debt news is everywhere.  Are not we all forever indebted?

  • 10 Percentage of Americans who are taking out more cash advances on their credit cards than in the past.
  • 20 Percentage of respondents who indicate they are “sometimes” or “always” unable to pay their credit card and/or loan balances each month.
  • 8 Percentage who say they can make only the minimum payment required.
  • Source: Standard and Poor’s ExecuComp

The good news: These numbers, floating in air, don’t mean much without something to compare them to.

The bad news: Only a dummy would see any bright side to those numbers, with or without something to compare them to.

Folks, we are finally getting spanked for our squandering ways. Sure, it’s just numbers on paper. And so is money itself—and that was before computers made money a “virtual” concept and paper an ungreen commodity. But some big, fat RESET button in the fiscal sky is getting hit violently.

Ever see a thug play pinball? It’s not pretty. It usually breaks the machine, and then the rest of us can’t play our game with touch and intuition any more. Not until it gets fixed, which, of course, most pinball games don’t.

Who’s gonna pay for this stuff?

  • The bailout(s)?
  • The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailout programs announced today (which failed to make stocks rally)?
  • The car company bailouts?
  • Overall government debt?
  • Stimulus policies?
  • A new New Deal?
  • Evermore credit card debt—as illustrated above?

In the old days, you could find economists who would say things like, “Government debt doesn’t matter, because it’s only money a people owes to itself.” That argument doesn’t work not, though. The world is one big, broken piggy bank. And the U.S. owes gazillions to other countries. Do we expect them to give, forgive and forget?

No. So who’s gonna pay? You know who: Anybody with any cash. Anyone with taxable income. Anybody with a decent job and investing habits.

Bummer—if you should be so blessed, but that’s what you get for being “in the black.”
Nothing new about that, of course, but the stakes keep getting higher. Expect higher taxes, pathetic interest rates, little appreciation on your house and other hard assets, a stock market that will take years to get back to its recent highs, and possibly inflation. Stagflation. Deflation. Systemic, worldwide flatulence with not enough Gas-X to go around.

What’s this got to do with Sabbaticals? Plenty. If you’re waiting to get rich, or pay off all your debt, or have time to burn, it may never happen. Only you know. Or not.

Get out of town, while you still can. For now, you may have to overlook the debt. The banks. The government. The global meltdown that may or may not produce a kinder, gentler, stronger planet. You may have to stop hugging your dayjob, even though these days they are things worth holding onto.

Worry about YOU. Find a way to make time, take time, and let go of the numbers on paper that are crippling too many lives. Even if you’re about to file bankruptcy and lose your house, there may be a way. Life goes on. All you have is today, this moment, this breath.

As for the crisis? As usual, the experts and politicians are united in this one opinion: This too shall pass.

Have a sunny day.

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“Another Casualty from the Crisis: Family Time”

Posted on: Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

This article from a week ago, by WSJ’s Sue Shellenbarger (the hardest working woman in work/life balance) came to my attention today. It’s worth a read, and a comment.

To summarize in a word: Bummer. Recessions are not only bad for portfolio values, but also family values, it appears.

People cling to their jobs during rough times. They also take jobs beneath them, and are forced to find new ways to pay the bills.

This is nothing new, as the article states:

“Data from past recessions tell the story. The proportion of people working part-time by choice fell in the recessions of the early 1980s, the early 1990s and 2001. And although the percentage of at-home dads among married-couple families rose in the 2001 recession, that turned out to be an economic blip — caused mostly by heavy layoffs among men. The ‘trend’ waned when the economy recovered.”

Dang. Call me the world’s first Masculist, but it often seems that women have made more strides in creating life choices than men. Sure, pinstriped (and sometimes pinheaded) men still rule politics, Wall Street, and more. But women keep making progress, and expanding their menu of possibilities.

Men do too, but not so much. There is still a stigma of shame or shirk that greets stay-at-home dads. And they are about as rare as, well, female senators. I ought to know. Despite a flexible but infinite workload at all times, I know what it’s like to be the only dad among gaggles of women picking up your kid at daycare, preschool, school, sports, and the like.

One can be completely left out of the invitations for playground meetups and coffee klatch—to say nothing of Tupperware and Avon parties (or whatever women sell to each other at such events these days). Some assume I’m a single (divorced) dad—taking my turn in the custody turnstile. (There IS a lot of that.)

But back to family (and other) values. For the record, YES, it’s very hard to spend the money we’re about to spend right now; many a family skips the vacation, daytrip, or movie night when the economy sours.

In my case, 2 Heads is a little business that sits very low on the food chain, and gets punished (if not vaporized) during recessions. Freelance creative consultants rarely seem indispensable. So it can take years to grow billings back to where they once were. And by then, it’s about time for another recession, right?

But for us, it’s rather now or never. An alignment of times—our kids are both in elementary school, and their teachers and principal have kindly issued extended “hall passes” that (some say) will not be so forthcoming in middle school, when advanced placement discipline hits.

Economic slump or no, this much I do know: A crucial goal to shoot for in life is to NOT let economics and crashes and things affect day-to-day OR big-picture plans. Maybe that goal is achieved simply by running away in this case. Plug your nose and go. After all, when is there ever a perfect time for anything?

I’ve been an aggressive investor in equities since 1984 (mostly stock mutual funds, nothing too fancy or short-term). So like all who’ve held stocks: Been there, seen that. I’ve lost many a night’s sleep to shrinking numbers. It didn’t help. It pays to take on less risk as you grow older (and richer), learn from mistakes, and test your risk tolerance—again and again and again.

Or as one rich old right-winger once told me: The more you have to conserve, the more conservative you become.

As the article suggests, pumpkins and bonfires don’t cost much, and can bring more fun and meaning than a day yachting. Maybe people learn to simplify—and enjoy the simple pleasures—during downturns. Bring on the apple pie. Homemade (it’s cheaper!).

We still have an amazing standard of living here in the U.S.A. We still have more housing space per-person than ever. We know that what goes up must come down…and what goes down usually bounces back.

As my Grandma always said,

“It’s not so bad we are off.”

She ought to know. She and my Grandpa homesteaded in South Dakota in the teeth of the Depression. There probably weren’t any stock portfolios, or even salaried jobs, but there was always plenty of fresh jam, home-grown meals, and yes, apple pie as a family at their farm.

Restore family values: Be together. BreakAway together.

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It Can Pay to BreakAway

Posted on: Saturday, September 20th, 2008
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

Lucky me. I’ve got a mini-BreakAway in progress, having ditched the relentless routine to sneak in some more summer at lovely Lake Okoboji in Iowa. (Yes, Iowa.) Remember Iowa? The state that first endorsed Barrack Obama and brought you Field of Dreams?

Moonlight Graham: “This is the most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.”

Shoeless Joe Jackson: “Is this heaven?

Ray Kinsella: “No, it’s Iowa.”

Ahh. In that dreamy script. Iowa is not just a state, but a state of mind. Guess what: So are Sabbaticals! They’re not just free time, but a place where “the wind never blows so cold.” Especially for those of us fixing to excape Minnesota in the winter.

So I sit on a deck overlooking a calm lake with a waning moon fading into it, the reasons for a Sabbatical seem clear as the brilliant sky. It’s the relaxation, stupid. A chance to dissipate some mental clouds, if only for a while, if only now and then.

A guy can achieve looser muscles and calmer mindwaves by escaping the daily grind, like I’ve just done by visiting this old, favorite vacation spot. Seems simple enough.

Here at glorious and blue Lake Okoboji, yesterday featured a sweet bike ride on new trails along lakes and through woods. Many a grassy knoll called my name and made me stop and chill a while.

A funky coffee shop (a shrine to Hendrix) provided live entertainment from a family of blonde ladies who served me quiche and salad. (Real men don’t eat salad, right?) Who gets even a slice of all that serendipity on a demanding day at the desk?

Meanwhile, a friend from Mankato escaped his day job and joined me by 2 yesterday. We were cruising on the pontoon by 3. We were out of beer by 5. We did a quick happy hour at the family shanty (named Itldo) before heading to a waterside restaurant for sundown with a steel-drum soundtrack and mahi mahi.

Hmmm, now where have I routinely devoured that before? Ah yes, the Virgin Islands.

An omen? Mahi mahi is by far the most common (and affordable) local fish around much of the Caribbean. (Some call it dolphin fish, which offends some diners so they won’t eat it, even though it has nothing to do with mammal dolphins.) I eat it often on St. John at Skinny Leg’s (one of Esquire’s Best Bars in America—and it even features “same day service!”). Their mahi burger is best with lots of the local hot pineapple sauce.

But back to the here and now: Today will feature golf, more boating, bar hopping, and another fine meal out. Not even sabbaticals promise days this easy and lovely. But they might, right? We’ll only know if we try. Absent my skeds and kids and egos and ids and doubts and pouts, I feel more like trying. Today, anyway.

  • ODDS OF GOING: 75%. (What a jump from just three days ago. It can pay to BreakAway.)
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