The Good Life

The May 3 birth of my newest grandson, Isaac Matthew Hoyt, and my wife’s consequent absence for about a month recently gave me some time to reflect on what we might hope for in the lives of our children and grandchildren.  I have more time to be reflective when the house is empty and I’m forced to entertain myself.  Evelyn usually has some specific ideas about how I should be spending spare time.

Our memories of events in our lives are often very different from the recollections of the people we shared them with, but the things we consider to be important tend to be largely the same.  We talk about what the children are doing at every family gathering, and there is usually an effort made to take lots of pictures.  The older people find it hard to believe the younger ones have grown so much, while the little people focus on some form of physical activity.  School and work always generate conversation, which probably shouldn’t be surprising because they make up so much of our lives.  We have had a rash of award ceremonies, graduations, and, now, theatrical events in recent times.

Food occupies an important part of our lives and is central to any family event.  Memorial Day weekend we celebrated three birthdays with chicken and assorted side dishes, plus the obligatory cakes.  Eating is often concurrent with cleaning up, which also provides multiple opportunities to have side conversations.  These discussions range from worries about each other to the always popular gossip about family members who are not present.

Family events in my household always seem to require at least one minor tragedy that will be discussed for years to come.  Recent injuries include a broken collarbone and facial stitches when the rubber end-cap of a baseball bat came off while the children were bashing a piñata and hit my son just under his lip.  I don’t know if every family feels obligated to race motorcycles, jump on trampolines, play football, or bash piñatas; but I’m sure many of us can relate to doing unsafe things when the family gets together.

Finally, I don’t think you should live in Oregon if you don’t take the opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of this place.  I am proud to announce that all of my children and my 14 grandchildren now live in Oregon, where we will camp, hike, fish, and otherwise enjoy this incredible place.

The moral of this column is that the good life is all around us if we choose to live it.  It is not a life free of pain, anger, sorrow, or other negative events; but a life filled with people we care about in a place we can call home.




Nothing Really Matters?

A journalist friend of mine posted the following link on Facebook ( which describes the human tendency to make mistakes and concludes that none of us really know what we are doing.  I disagree with the author because I believe if we assume that all of us are “winging it,” we will reach the damaging conclusion that knowledge, experience, and competence don’t matter.

My view is that all of us make mistakes, have wrong assumptions, and sometimes act irrationally.  Despite these weaknesses, many of our ancestors had skills and abilities that helped move humanity from short lives devoted almost entirely to subsistence to more rewarding ways of living.  I would go a step further and claim that there are more capable people in the world today than there has ever been.  We are too frequently reminded of the things we don’t know or can’t do, while infrequently taking stock of the many things we can.

I do not see myself as much more accomplished than anyone else, but I can come up with a long list of skills and tasks that constitute more than winging it.  I know a lot about city government, for example; but I certainly don’t know everything, and there are many variables I can’t control.  Part of successfully negotiating life or a career is the ability to respond to changing or unforeseen circumstances.  If that is winging it, then I am guilty as charged and happily so.

My point was reinforced during the process of writing this column when I had to meet an electrician at my house to fix an outlet that no longer worked.  I purchased a new outlet when the old one failed and attempted to install it myself.  I was very careful with the wiring, even going so far as to mark each of the six wires with colored electrical tape to make sure I was connecting them to the right receptors on the new outlet.  Despite my best efforts, the new outlet didn’t work.  The young electrician who came to my house had it fixed within ten minutes and consoled me with the observation that he had gone to school for a long time to learn his trade.  In short, I was winging it and he wasn’t.

Human beings have remarkable capabilities, and we see evidence of it nearly every conscious moment.  The writer who opined that everyone is winging it all the time delivered his message to a worldwide audience through an electronic medium that most of us never even imagined 30 years ago.  If we believed his hypothesis and acted accordingly, we would never have had the means to receive his message.  I think we need to believe in things, and I particularly believe that we need to believe in each other.  No one among us is always right or always in control, but most of us do many important things well every single day.

A Bad Place to do Business

According to city managers I’ve spoken with over the years, their town is the worst place in the state to do business.  I know, of course, that other city managers’ cities can’t be the worst because my city has that distinction.  The problem seems to be that whenever someone is told about an unexpected cost, delay, or prohibition, they draw the conclusion that whoever is bearing the bad tidings represents the worst possible place.

I share some of the frustration of people who encounter regulatory roadblocks because I frequently see city projects made more expensive or held up for similar reasons.  I sometimes wish I could pick which rules I choose to obey.  It would be far cheaper and easier to ignore zoning laws, building codes, and other development regulations.  I have learned, however, that there are negative consequences associated with breaking the rules even when you are trying hard to observe them.  I am still learning about state election rules, for example.

My attitude toward regulations is to try and help people work through whatever difficulties they have with city requirements and figure out a way to accomplish their goals.  Sometimes we are able to do that by providing direct assistance with economic development or urban renewal funds while in other cases we are able to come up with a better plan for achieving the desired result.  I also know there are times when no compromise works.

I have written before about the best example of the need for inflexibility I have seen, where a city building official and our fire marshal almost certainly saved the lives of a family of four by refusing to back down on requirements related to living above a business.  The business owner was infuriated about code requirements for expensive additions such a fire sprinkler system and another set of stairs.  The cost of these improvements was apparently too high, so the owner and his family were forced to rent a conventional house.  The fire he said would never happen eventually burned his business (a hardware store with paints, solvents, etc.) to the ground in a very short amount of time.

Enforcing building codes and other development regulations should not mean that our town is the worst place in Oregon to do business.  We have spent a substantial amount of money buying more software to better accommodate builders, and we have granted or loaned large sums to encourage projects in difficult locations.  These examples are frequently overlooked when someone hears a story about supposedly ridiculous rules the City is enforcing.  Critics do not see, as I do, the many thank-you notes we regularly receive for the work of our planners, building inspectors, permit techs, and engineers in helping to make new development possible.  I greatly appreciate this good work and the helpful attitude of all employees engaged in this demanding work.  We can take some comfort from the knowledge that every city will be viewed as the worst place to do business at one time or another.