Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Not To Scale.

Posted on | January 22, 2016 | 12 Comments

Not too long ago I sat in a continuing education class about drug addiction.  The speaker, a recovering addict, told us that on a happiness scale most people live at about a 5 or 6 out of 10 on a daily basis.  He mentioned that we generally only experience a 10 out of 10 for very special occasions—-like our wedding day or the birth of a child.  I find these to be typical examples for a man because men get to just show up at a wedding while a woman spends an entire year planning the darn thing.  And childbirth is a wondrous occasion—it’s just the 9 months of pregnancy and 6 week 8 week 12 week cesarean recovery time for the woman that drags childbirth down on the scale.  The speaker went on to say that when a drug user gets high, he gets to experience a 15 out of 10 on the happiness scale.  Pretty much euphoria.  And letting go of that 15 out of 10 in order to live at a 5 or 6 is really, really hard to do.

I checked my classmates’ expressions in my peripheral but no one seemed particularly surprised by the speaker’s happiness scale.  On break I mentioned to a co-worker that I didn’t think we all really lived at a 5 or 6 and that just reading a good book could be a 10 out of 10.  He looked at me like I was crazy and said drolly, “I’d like to read that book.”  (He can pull off droll.  He’s English.)

I was shocked.  Who has never read a book that was so good that it made you laugh out loud, cheer for the characters’ triumphs, and weep over their disappointments?!  A book so good that you couldn’t put it down but never wanted it to end?!  Isn’t that a 10?  Isn’t it?

I began to think my life experiences were not to scale.  And I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking about it ever since.

Of course, I understand that scales are not as absolute as we like to think.  In the medical field we use a pain assessment scale where the patients rate their pain from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain of their lives) in order to decide on treatment options.  Since most patients state they have 10 out of 10 pain—-regardless of whether they are having a heart attack or a hangnail issue—-I think we need to update the scale.  I realize pain is subjective but we have some modern tools now that might help make the scale more universal.   For example, the invention and widespread usage of the Smartphone is a technological advancement that should not be ignored in the field setting.   The Smartphone pain scale is a very user-friendly pain scale that would probably look something like this:

0—-Patient posts selfies of himself with ambulance on Facebook during medic’s assessment.

1—-Medic attempts unsuccessfully to interrupt patient’s phone conversation  greater than 10 times before finally giving up and searching through patient’s belongings or on counters and tabletops for demographical and medical information.

2—-Medic interrupts patient’s phone conversation less than 10 but more than 7 times in order to obtain demographics and medical information.

3—-Medic interrupts patient’s phone conversation less than 7 but more than 3 times in order to obtain demographics and patient information.

4—-Patient answers questions appropriately but texts continuously during medical assessment.

5—-Patient contacts family members and then calmly plays Candy Crush on phone during transport to hospital.

6—-Patient contacts family members but then puts phone away.

7—-Patients asks medic to contact family members for her because she’s in so much discomfort.

8—-Patient makes a weak grab for his phone off the bedside table while being placed on the stretcher so he’ll be able to contact family members eventually.

9—-Patient asks medic to please make that freakin’ phone stop ringing already!

10—-Patient cannot hear phone over his own screams.

(11)—-Medic frantically tries to find phone in an attempt to discover patient’s emergency contact info and medical history.

(12)—-Law enforcement instructs medic not to touch phone because this is a crime scene.

I’m not saying I invented that pain scale.  I just think it has some real-life merit.

Although not everyone has a problem with proper usage of the pain scale.  I recently went to a new massage therapist at the gym to soothe some of the usual aches and pains that occur after reaching 40+.  She suggested deep tissue massage focusing on the shoulders, back, and knees, but warned me that it could be uncomfortable.  She told me she used pressure at about 7 out of 10 on the pain scale and that I should concentrate on breathing through the pain and let her know if she needed to stop or be more gentle.

I might have rolled my eyes a little.  7 out of 10.  Please. She was barely over 5′ tall, very petite, and very pregnant.  While I got comfortable on the table, I thought about how soft we were getting as a society when we considered a massage to be 7 out of 10 pain.   That was the last thought I had because after that it took all my mental energy to keep breathing and not scream out for her to stop.  When I got up from the table an hour later I had a newfound appreciation for loose muscles and joints, recognition that when a small pregnant woman tells you that she is going to hurt you, she is not kidding, and extreme admiration for her proper use of the pain scale.  Well done, massage therapist, well done.

None of this rambling addresses my confusion about the happiness scale.  Because I can’t relate to the speaker’s assessment.  I don’t think I live at a 5 or 6 most of the time.  It just doesn’t seem possible.  After all, each school day that the kids get up, none of them are sick, and all their schools buses come on time rates at least an 8 in my book.  Finding all the ingredients for dinner in the garden and the farm freezer is an 8.  When I go out to the barn in the morning and all the animals are still alive and uninjured, it’s an 8, too.  A 9 if I have time to sit with the Great Pyrs on the picnic table for some ear scratches and Eau de Great Pyr.  Have you ever smelled a Great Pyr?  Yesterday I sat with Bruno and he smelled like dog and woodsmoke and crisp winter air and hay and wool and fallen leaves.  That’s a 9, people.  Obviously a 9.  Right?

A new bird on the feeder is a 7 and so is the return of the hummingbirds in the spring.  If Luna freaks out less than three times during a dog walk, it’s a 7.  If she freaks out more than three times but we get an iced coffee and a croissant afterwards, still a 7.  Going fishing is a 7 even if you don’t get any nibbles because, you know, you’re fishing!  A bushel of fresh veggies from the garden is a 7 because even though we have to wash the bugs off, at least we’re not poisoning the earth with insecticide.  And I suppose the baby bunnies in the garden are a 7, too.  Because they let us peer at their little bunny toes and pet their velvety bunny fur before they grow up to eat all the greens they can scarf down.  A teacher workday or inclement weather day that just happens to fall on my day off without any planning on my part is, of course, a 7.  Even a so-so movie at the theater is a 7 because everything is better on the big screen. (also, movie theater popcorn!)

I can think of some 5s and 6s in my life.  Life is at a 5 when some of the kids are some degree of sick but I’m still going strong enough to serve orange juice, make soup, and pass out meds.  When I start a recipe and only realize halfway through it that I don’t have all the ingredients, it’s a 5.  A 6 for healthy recipes that the Internet swears are delicious but really only taste, um,…healthy.  If I forget to set the automatic brew and there’s no coffee in the morning: 6.  Grounds in the coffee: 5.  Work days are a 6 because I get to be away from my family but I have to be away from my family to do it.  (Yep, you read that exactly right.)  Housecleaning is a 6 because at least I end up with a clean house and I can listen to the radio while I work.  But having to harass the kids to help clean is a 5 because I can’t always hear the radio over my yelling.

The lower numbers are pretty rare and, even better, the happiness scale seems rife with the rebound effect.  When someone noisily reloads the dishwasher after I already loaded it = 4.  When that same someone empties the dishwasher before he leaves for work because he knows I hate putting away the clean dishes in the morning = 7.  Basketball games where my kid gets smacked facedown onto the court and everyone is screaming at him to get up while he’s laying there trying to control his tears = 3.   When he finally gets up, makes both his free throws, and scores 6 more points to win the game = 9 (not a 10 because his nose and lip still hurt after the game).  A flat tire is a 3 which goes up to a 5 when the tow is covered by AAA and rises to an 8 when the mechanic accepts three dozen free range eggs from the farm in exchange for the labor and the tire patch.  If there’s no dessert after dinner it’s a 4, but having kids old enough to make brownies for everybody is an 8.  Probably the only thing immune to the rebound effect is calling customer service.  Waiting hours on hold for Blue Cross Blue Shield.  Or Time Warner Cable.  Definitely a 3.  And, let’s face it, even when you finally get to speak to a human, he isn’t going to fix it.  Still a 3.

And there are so many 10s. Oh, so many.  When Big got his learners permit and we drove the backroads aimlessly, turning randomly until we were lost.  Sipping shots of whiskey (in the middle of a weekday afternoon) with a friend to reward ourselves for rolling the hay into the barn.  My parents getting Lasik surgery for me because they spoil love me.  Book club with snacks and drinks and lots of good discussion with friends.  Escaping to a coffee shop with Pretty on a rainy day to sip espresso and write for 6 hours.  A car full of sleepy, sun-kissed kids after a day of boating and tubing at the lake.  The owner of the local feed mill paying for my family’s breakfast when we run into each other at the diner.  Because someone else paid for his.  Goats kids frolicking in the barn.  The 25 cent sale at the dollar used book store.  Beach weekend every March.  The first tomato in the garden every summer.  Either my happiness scale is completely skewed or there are 10s everywhere.  Almost everyday.

And I don’t think I need drugs to experience a 15.

Because one bright spring day I was working in the garden when I heard a rustling behind me.  I turned around to see a whirlwind of fall leaves swirling in the driveway.  The tiny tornado skipped over the gravel, passed right through the field fencing, and danced through the woods, picking up more fallen leaves as it went.  I glanced around me, but the tree branches with their new spring buds were completely still.  Not a breeze stirring anywhere.  I watched as the leaves approached the pond and the goats, too, looked up from their browsing to follow its path.  When it reached the dam, the vortex spun up high and thin into the sky and then all the leaves dropped.  Just fell, sudden and still, drifting gently into the water.  And the goats went back to munching blackberry branches.  And I laughed out loud with the sheer joy of it all.  That’s a 15, people.  A mysterious, mystical funnel of spring air that no one got to see except me and the goats.

Plus, this summer I took the boys to the Riverwalk to play soccer in the field while I walked on the the trail.  I was making my last loop with the dogs when I spotted the boys hovering uncertainly in front of the soccer goal.  I headed over and there, in the middle of the field, a young deer was grazing quietly on the grass.  It didn’t move when it saw the dogs approaching on the trail and it didn’t move when the boys resumed kicking the ball around.  The boys told me later that the deer just wandered out of the woods and walked onto the field right in front of them.  And it hung out with us the rest of the evening, noshing almost within arm’s reach, until the park employees showed up to empty the trash cans and lock the gates and it hopped back into the bush and out of sight.  Also a 15.

Just a couple months ago I set out to find a writing desk for the office.  It had to be big enough to contain the desk top computer and the printer and all the office supplies—copy paper and envelopes and staplers and ink jet cartridges and everything from the filing cabinet.  It also had to be cheap and available nearby.  I love craigslist but I don’t love driving 30 miles to pick up the perfect piece of furniture.  The same day that I set my mind on getting a desk, I was running errands in town when I drove past the new thrift store and figured it was worth a stop.  Sure enough there was the perfect desk.  It was huge and made of real wood.  Real wood!  It had deep drawers and a thick durable polyurethane coating on the writing surface (bonus!) and when I measured it was exactly the right size to fit in the corner of the office between the wall and window.  Exactly!  According to the price tag the desk was 1/2 off because it was on final markdown.  Which meant it cost $12.50.  It took 4 men to haul it to the car and I had to put all the seats down to make it fit.  It was a 10 moment.  But the next day when I came home from work, I found the desk was neatly arranged in the office.  Even though The Other Half had to get a friend to help him carry it and they had to take the doors off to get it into the house.  It was the perfect desk for the perfect price with all the hard work already done for me.  15!!!!

Which brings me to the other day.  I was paying bills and sorting mail while The Other Half and I went over our game plan for the week.  I told him the boys needed another appointment for the warts on their hands.  The pediatrician had frozen them off twice but a few were still there.  The Other Half took them to their last appointment.  He said the pediatrician promised not to charge us if we had to come back again as long as we made the next appointment with her, but he couldn’t remember her name.  He was in the process of describing her while I was contemplating the awkward conversation with the receptionist wherein I was forced to list the physical attributes of the doctor in order to make the appointment.  At just that moment, I opened a letter from the insurance company and discovered the EOB from the boys’ last visit.  It listed the office charges, the co-pay, and the name of the physician!!  I cut off The other Half’s description and waved the EOB around, laughing.  Now I had the right name, no awkward conversation needed.  I made the appointment, I took the boys in, and she stood by her word.  She didn’t charge us at all.  15!

What can I say?  Maybe my happiness standards are too low.  Maybe my scale is off because I’ve never done drugs.  Or maybe, if you’re living at a 5 or a 6, you’re just not paying attention.  And you don’t have any chocolate in the house.  Better teach your kids to make brownies!


12 Responses to “Not To Scale.”

  1. Andrew
    January 22nd, 2016 @ 9:30 pm

    I don’t know if you’re referring to me or the “other English guy.”

  2. Sherry
    January 23rd, 2016 @ 5:10 am

    It’s the small things that make real happiness.

  3. Lisa
    January 23rd, 2016 @ 7:32 am

    LOVE THIS!! Here, here…

  4. Tracy D.
    January 23rd, 2016 @ 8:01 am

    Love reading your posts…this is one of my favorites! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Jill
    January 23rd, 2016 @ 8:20 am

    This is terrific. Of course, as a math person, I would ask how do you rate anything a 15 on a 10 point scale, but I do get your point. And YES, reading a good book is at least a 10! Especially if you can read in relative peace!!

  6. admin
    January 23rd, 2016 @ 11:52 am

    Please. I know lots of English guys. As far as you know…..

  7. Shirley Elliott
    January 23rd, 2016 @ 3:44 pm

    I love your blog and have been reading for years. It’s just wonderful and usually I laugh out loud at some point. I could not agree more with you on the happiness scale.

  8. farmmom
    January 24th, 2016 @ 8:34 am

    I love your writings. They always make me think or laugh out loud. A 5 or 6 would be a pretty bad day around here. I think too many people just don’t look for the 8, 9 and 10. But I do agree that BCBS is definitely a 3 on a good day.

  9. Lin
    January 24th, 2016 @ 9:20 am

    I think your happiness scale is right on track. I’m like that too–I am really happy for the everyday joys in my life. If we wait for the big stuff to be happy about, we are gonna wait a very long time.

  10. Cheryl
    January 24th, 2016 @ 2:33 pm

    when I see your post come through my email, I always stop everything and read it. You always lift me and make me laugh. Thank you. I agree that if we think we are living in a 5 or 6, we aren’t looking and seeing the good things.
    Keep it up.

  11. Lisa D
    January 27th, 2016 @ 7:14 pm

    This is fantastic! It’s all about being mindful as you experience your day. Permission to post a link on my website?

  12. Lauren
    February 3rd, 2016 @ 4:56 am

    Wonderful read, just what I needed today 🙂 on another note have you tried Apple cidar vinigar on the warts? My son had a huge planter wart on his toe and after two or three nights of ACV on it it died! I was amazed, it was some really really old brags acv that had gotten lost in the back of the cabinet, I was very strong, not sure if that made a difference..

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