8. Parlor

You’ve secured a nice home, you have all your energy needs covered, you have a great source of fresh clean water and the pantry is full of healthy foods. You’ve banded together with some good folks to provide security for each other and everyone in the household is as healthy as a horse. (I thought horses were prone to lots of illnesses?) You’ve also had time to build up the homestead with a swing set built out of logs and an in-ground spa with solar hot water heating and a pump run off of solar panels and batteries. I’m reminded of the Disney World commercials when immediately after the Superbowl is over the MVP is asked, “You’ve just won the Superbowl, what will you do next?” Well, what will you do next? I believe after putting all that hard work into making a perfect homestead for your family, it’s time for a little YOU time. All your hard work can be compared to winning the Superbowl and of course the hard work is never over so it is imperative that you take time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor as often as you can.

The old idioms, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” or my personal favorite, “work hard, play hard” means after the work is done, whether its just the days work or the season’s work, have some fun. Look upon your fun time as the reward for all your efforts because you may not get any noticeable rewards from anyone else. Everyone in the family has worked hard and sometimes everyone is just too tired to take time and enjoy all the efforts, so make a big deal out of gathering everyone together to share a celebratory meal with all the trimmings. Don’t wait for Thanksgiving. Treat everyone to a new movie or sometimes a simple ice cream cone and a walk on the beach is enough. This simple act of relaxation and enjoyment with each other can make the pain and suffering well worth all the effort.

The Parlor was used years ago as a place to greet visitors or as a place for the family to gather for entertainment. (Who remembers Charades? Who remembers actually playing the game?) Parlor games were the reality TV of the day and just about everyone had a talent they could share. In good weather, the front porch was an extension of the parlor allowing you to hang out with your family (How often does that happen these days?) and listen to grandpa tell stories of how things were so much tougher when he was a kid. Of course this was possible only after the dishes were cleaned, dried and put away, homework and your chores were done and it was time to gather around the radio to hear the latest adventures of Fibber McGee and Molly. Now I know I may have lost a few of you going so far back in time but for you youngsters there was a time when there weren’t any televisions, cell phones or iPads. (Oh No!) My reason for reaching so far back is to propose we turn off our electronics (at least for one night a month!) and learn how to communicate with our family once again. Another radical idea is to provide stationary in the parlor and write a letter (not a text message!) to someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Sometimes going back to simple things can slow us down and help us appreciate all the good things in our life.

Library

The parlor is the place to find reading, viewing and listening tools. Used to be we would refer to these as books, movies and records but these days there are many ways to read and listen. I now have a collection of over 1,500 books in electronic format, more than I think I will ever be able to read, dozens of audio books as well as thousands of music .mp3’s. Amongst our family members we have well over a thousand movies and more movies are becoming available over the internet every day. With so many choices of material it becomes necessary to be selective in what you expose your brain to so maybe you don’t need to see the latest slasher flick but maybe pick something the whole family can watch and when its over, (wait for it…) discuss what you got out of the movie. Was there a moral, a story that was interesting and would you recommend the movie to others, especially grandma.

There are vast numbers of music genres from blues to Zydeco so for peace and harmony in the family find something most can agree to listen to, if only for a short while. Most importantly is that you share different types of music with one another. You just might discover that you like some country and bluegrass. Youngsters can explain to the oldsters why they like their boom, boom, boom music as long as the oldsters get a chance to explain the intricacies of Bach or Mozart. I like to think most of us can agree jazz and the big band era was great and exciting music and its all you need to listen to.

Entertainment

There is nothing that brings out a personality more than sitting down to a board game with friends. All of a sudden you find out Aunt Martha plays a mean game of Monopoly and laughs joyfully as she bankrupts little Timmy. You’ll also find out who the good winners and losers are. With patience and understanding we can overcome these minor imperfections in our personalities and learn to get along with one another. There needs to be some winners and losers to help us cope with real problems when they arise. Games can teach us how to plan, think ahead and strategise on how to keep Aunt Martha humble. Even a simple game of checkers can improve your ability to think as opposed to simply reacting to whatever is thrown at us. We need to teach our children its okay to lose at Monopoly but if you don’t like losing then learn how to play the game better than Aunt Martha.

I will never forget visiting my wife’s relatives in New Orleans. They had large families and parlors. The adults would gather in the parlor prior to dinner to socialize. The older children helped set up the dinner table and watched the little kids. After dinner the adults would retire to the parlor once again for after dinner drinks and once the table had been cleared, the children would come in and entertain us. These kids were quite good, most likely because they had been doing this sort of thing for most of their lives. It might be a stretch to expect your family to become competent entertainers in just one week, but start slowly with something everyone can get into. Kids love to tell jokes and dance around. Dad can learn a few ghost stories and I believe all Moms can sing lullabies. (It’s in their DNA) Learning to provide your own entertainment will save you a boatload of money as well as giving you the control over what your kids see. Teaching your kids as well as yourself to get up in front of the family and risk looking foolish is the springboard into making everyone more comfortable getting up in front of strangers.

There should be a concentrated effort for everyone to discover their talents. Learning to play the piano or guitar takes some time and dedicated practice but just about everyone can learn. Other instruments can be more complicated and may require more gifts than you were born with so don’t beat yourself up if you just can’t figure out how to make a stupid saxophone work, try a harmonica instead. I picked up playing the trumpet because I figured there were only three valves so how hard could it be? Not everyone is graced with a good singing voice or the coordination to play the drums but there is something out there for everyone. Beyond music there are many other ways to show your talent. Writing poems or novels, painting, working with clay, creating new ways of doing things, inventing the next great idea and making it happen and so on. Your family should be a safe haven where you can try stuff out on them without fearing out right rejection or ridicule. (Unless you have family members like mine who can be unmercifully brutal but still love you enough to give their lives for you.)

Crafts and Hobbies

Another great use of the parlor is to make things. Crafts, model building, putting a puzzle together and working on a hobby will also work on improving your skill sets. I remember learning how to build my first model cars and how difficult it was to get things to go together correctly but over the course of time I became a better model builder and could put together complex models. I learned right away the trick to puzzles was to start with the outer edge and work your way in. There is something to learning patience as you struggle to get your meat hook hands to fit in a tiny little space. Making stuff leads to learning how to fix stuff. I took apart many broken appliances just to see how they worked and when I couldn’t put them back together again I chalked it up to experience and eventually I could take things apart, put them back together and get them working again. When we stop being a throw away society we will become more secure and self-sufficient. Making our own stuff keeps us from relying on other countries to provide us with their stuff and keeps our money at home.

Get good enough and your hobbies and crafts can become a way of supplemental income as well as a way to provide your neighbors with goods and services and it builds up our community. Try having a homemade gift exchange at Christmas thereby avoiding crazy town malls and huge expenses. Create homemade heirlooms that can be passed on from generation to generation. I know many family members that would sell their young ones if they could for Grandma’s original recipe book and I expect some fighting between my kids over my cast iron pots if and when they become available. Make or create something that will be around long after you are gone and you can achieve some kind of immortality just for the fun of it.