The Klondike Big Inch Land Company: A Tale of Puffed Rice and Deflated Dreams

My two brothers and I are very lucky to have been raised by loving, involved parents who made sure we were well equipped to become successful adults. They made sure we studied hard in school, ate right, and we were encouraged to get plenty of exercise by playing outdoors with our friends.

But, they realized that all this may not be enough. Just having a good education, eating a healthy diet, and rocking at Kick-the-Can and Hide-and-Seek would only get us so far in the world. We needed something else, something that could give us the financial wherewithal to fund our dreams. Some parents might have purchased savings bonds for their children; others might have invested in Disney stock.

Our parents bought us land.

Well, they didn’t exactly buy us land. What they bought were boxes of Quaker Oats brand Puffed Rice. This wasn’t just any old cereal, mind you: nestled inside each box was a Deed of Land granted by the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. Inc.; specifically a deed for one square inch of land in the Yukon Territory.

Yep, I became a land baron before I was out of diapers.

Inch FrontInch Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was old enough to truly appreciate the significance of my Deed of Land – not only for its tremendous future dollar value, but also for its ability to make my best friend jealous – I put the document in a protective plastic sleeve and placed it among my other valuable possessions. I occasionally brought it out when I wanted to dream of my future wealth or I needed to up my cred among my friends, but, for the most part, it remained tucked safely away until the day I would lay claim to my land and the prosperity it represented.

Given the significance of the document, I’m not sure how it managed to lay forgotten for many years until it was discovered when I was going through a box of childhood stuff.  There, along with my grade school class photos, Troop 202 Girl Scout sash, and Presidential Physical Fitness Award patch, was my Deed of Land.

Holding the slightly yellowed document in my hands, the dreams began again.

Maybe, over the years, someone discovered oil under my inch. Or, miners had unearthed a lucrative vein of gold running through it. Or, perhaps a developer had mistakenly built a shopping mall on my land and now I could claim a percentage of the total value (including back interest, of course). If land size inflated in the same way currency does, that square inch would now equal a whopping 8.7 square inches. Certainly that Deed of Land extracted from a cereal box many years ago would be worth a sizable sum today. Oh yeah: my ship had just come in!

Before contacting an attorney or hiring a wealth manager, I decided to do a quick Google search to get some idea of the volume of money that would soon be flowing my way. I also wasn’t quite sure where the Yukon Territory was or the location of the closest airport since I knew I’d have to venture up to the Great North to assert ownership of the square inch that was rightfully mine.

Big Inch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only it wasn’t… mine, I mean.

It was all a gimmick. What has been called one of the most successful ad campaigns in advertising history was a gimmick designed to encourage kids to pester their parents into purchasing Quaker Oats brand Puffed Rice cereal.

Back in the early 50’s, a brilliant advertising executive, Bruce Baker, developed a promotion tied to a popular Quaker Oats-sponsored radio show about Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his trusty dog, King. Mr. Baker convinced Quaker Oats to purchase 19.11 acres on the west bank of the Yukon River for $1,000. The company divided the land into 119,870,000 square inch parcels and printed over 21 million Deeds of Land. Each one was individually stamped with a unique lot number – mine was L-595729 – and placed in boxes of cereal.

The promotion’s success went way beyond the company’s wildest dreams.  Pretty soon boxes of the bland, unexciting cereal were flying off the shelves.

Unfortunately for the millions of us now-graying kids who once dreamed of one day laying claim to our square inch of rugged paradise, the Quaker Oats never formally registered the land. The company determined that it would be a logistical nightmare to register the deeds to millions of children. Even if it could be done, it would have cost the company a fortune.

Not only do we not own our square inches now, apparently we never owned them.

To add even more insult to injury, the Klondike Big Inch Land Co., Inc. was dissolved in the 60’s and the Canadian government repossessed all the land for nonpayment of $37.20 in property taxes.

Years ago, a Quaker Oats spokesperson explained that “the deeds were not meant to have any intrinsic value, but rather to give the consumer the romantic appeal of being the owner of a square inch of land in the Yukon.”

Yeah, tell that to my lawyer.

What Is Wrong with these People?

During this past week, I witnessed four drivers run red lights. A semi, the size of a large moving van, barreled through a red light seconds before my friend and I would have entered the intersection. I observed two sedans, on two separate occasions, roll through red lights as if they were green in their direction… they were not. The fourth, a truck, actually sped up to enter the intersection on a red light. The light turned green in his direction when he was about half-way through.

I can’t say one way or another if cell phones or alcohol were involved, but all four instances happened in broad daylight. Since I don’t put a lot of miles on my car, I’m not sure if this was just a terrible week of driver inattention, or if running red lights is now so common that I witnessed only a fraction of what is regularly occurring on the roads.

A little over a year ago, I was hit by a van whose driver ran a red light and entered an intersection as I was about to make a left turn. The good news is that he “only” destroyed the front third of my car. I was shaken up but not hurt. The bad news (besides being hit in the first place), was that I was driving an electric car. Because the charging port is on the front of the car, my beloved LEAF had to be totaled since fixing it proved to be too costly.

My crunched LEAF.
My crunched LEAF.

As I was sitting in my car in the middle of the intersection, wondering what just happened, the other driver pulled to the curb and got out of his car. He was on his cell phone. I’m not proud of the words that came out of my mouth, but I was angry and my adrenaline was running on high. I realized that I could have very easily been further out into the intersection (I was the first car to enter it) which would have resulted in my injury, or worse. I was also incensed that he was on his phone since I know that they are a factor in many collisions.

He claimed that he wasn’t on the phone while he was driving, that he called his wife just after the collision happened to let her know. (Yeah, right, the very first thing I’d do if I hit someone would be to call my husband.) He told me that some pizza boxes he had stacked on his passenger seat had started to slip and, when he reached down to steady them, he missed the fact that the light had turned red. Uh-huh. Fortunately, he took full responsibility (I had several witnesses if he hadn’t) and was fully insured.   

Even though I wasn’t physically harmed in the collision (I don’t think these types of car crashes should be called “accidents”), I can tell—more than a year later—that I’ve been affected by it psychologically. I am more nervous and hyper-alert (some may call it paranoid) when I am in a car, as the driver or not. I hesitate just a little longer before entering an intersection, especially when I am the first car there. Even when all cars are stopped, clearing the way for me to go through, I scan both ways constantly as I proceed just to make sure someone (on the phone or steadying pizza boxes) doesn’t barrel through at the last minute. I don’t like the feeling of not being in control of the unknowns and “what ifs” of other drivers.

This past week, when I saw those drivers running through red as if it was green, I realize that I’m not overly paranoid at all. Because drivers feel perfectly comfortable talking on the phone, texting, watching movies, reading emails, applying makeup, and eating lunch while piloting several thousand pounds of steel down the road, we all need to be more vigilant. You can’t shield yourself 100% from gross negligence, but you can take precautions to protect yourself as much as possible.

Please be careful out there. 

Just Another Day in Paradise

I was bitten by the tiki bug at a young age.
I was bitten by the tiki bug at a young age.

I have lived in the beach culture all my life. My current home is not far from where I grew up and, even when I went away to college, I have never lived more than a few miles from the ocean. Although I haven’t sunbathed in many years, I’m sure I owe at least a few of my wrinkles—and certainly the scar on my back where they removed a cancerous spot—to the many hours I spent baking in the sun. Even now, when getting a suntan is no longer a major goal in my life—or something I desire to have at all—I still love the sand, the salt water, and – most of all – the relaxed, happy vibe of warm summer breezes and swaying palm trees.

In this spirit, my husband and I spent last Saturday afternoon enjoying all things tiki at Tiki Oasis 2014. There are many tiki-themed events in the US, but the Tiki Oasis is one of the “Big Three.” The other two are the Ohana on the Lake in Lake George, New York, and the Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I have only attended the one in San Diego, but I imagine the others are similar. 

Most of the attendees were there for the full 3-day immersion into the tiki culture which includes workshops, music, demonstrations, cocktail parties, and tours of local tiki architecture. We, on the other hand, just went for the one afternoon and enjoyed the free stuff — a great vintage car display, interesting vendor booths, an art show, and, of course, people watching.

Tiki Van 1

Who wouldn't be happy driving this van?
Who wouldn’t be happy driving this van?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many, these events are a great excuse to put on a Hawaiian shirt and sip rum-based drinks from a coconut, but others have embraced the tiki culture completely. I find these hard core “Tikiphiles” (as they refer to themselves) both fascinating and charming. The women wore their hair in elaborate pin curls, 40’s-style make-up, and dressed in vintage Hawaiian frocks (and I’m not talking muumuus; these dresses are gorgeous and form-fitting). The men donned Hawaiian shirts, pork pie hats, and typically sported some type of facial hair. Most of the men and the women had tattoos – lots of them.

Tiki events are part kitsch, part retro, part dress-up, and all fun. Just like seeing plastic pink flamingos on someone’s front lawn, the tiki culture makes me smile. The colors are vivid, the music upbeat, and the imagery is positive. Best of all, those who embrace it don’t take themselves too seriously. They are enjoying life and harkening back to a less complicated time (whether or not it was really less complicated is immaterial, that’s how they choose to reflect it).

Part kitsch, part retro, part dress-up, all fun... in sensible shoes.
Part kitsch, part retro, part dress-up, all fun… in sensible shoes.

I imagine that a majority of the attendees have regular jobs, and the commitments and stress that go along with them. Attending tiki events allows them to step back momentarily, dress up in colorful clothes, and enjoy the company of others who love the culture as much as they do. On Monday morning, I’m sure it was back to reality for most.

After several hours of wondering around, chatting with a few attendees, and having lunch poolside, it was time to rejoin the real world. As we headed back to our car for the short drive home, we couldn’t help but be in a good mood. With all the turmoil going on in the world, it was kind of nice to “get away” for awhile and enjoy a little island fantasy.

On our way to the parking lot, we passed a car with a window sticker which read simply “Live Aloha.” Those words made me reflect on how I’m so grateful that my husband and I have been able to retire from the work-world and its related time-commitments and stress. Although we don’t have pink flamingos in our front yard or a carved tiki on the patio, we are focused on smiling often, staying healthy, and trying to live aloha every day.

Live Aloha4

Party Nuts for Hire

spicy-party-nuts-pic2

My husband and I worked for the same company before we retired. It is not only one of the largest employers in our city; it is also a major sponsor of a number of charitable and civic organizations.

Over the years, we have been invited to attend numerous events as company representatives. Neither one of us was high up on the corporate food chain, but when the company “bought” a table at an event and needed to fill seats, they could always rely on us to say “YES!” Not only were we enthusiastic, we didn’t need much advanced notice; he owns a tux, I have a few fancy dresses of various lengths, and we didn’t need to hire a baby sitter.

As surrogate “important people,” we’ve been fortunate to attend some really fun parties; most involved good food and wine and, if we were lucky, a band and a big dance floor. I thought it surprising that the company had a difficult time finding attendees but I realized not everyone had our flexibility or the same idea of fun. We, on the other hand, were usually ready, willing and able to fill in when asked.

One of my favorite events is a major fundraiser in support of a local hospice program.  The annual gala is held at a local resort hotel and consists of a silent auction/reception, sit-down dinner, and dancing. The following day, attendees are treated to a regatta on the bay aboard a number of personal yachts donated for the day. We’ve been invited to attend six or seven times and have always enjoyed ourselves immensely.  

boats

The fundraiser is in mid-August… for the first time in many years we have not been invited.

I’m not terribly surprised that these invitations will disappear now that we no longer work for the company, but I admit a sense of loss and regret. Yes, of course we could actually pay for our tickets, but most of these benefits have quite a high per-person price-tag, a cost that isn’t in our retirement budget.

Because we’d still like to enjoy the good life without actually paying for it, I am exploring the idea of starting second careers as professional event attendees. We’ve got a lot to offer and we won’t ask for anything in compensation beyond the cost of admission and, of course, the food, wine and festivities that go with it.

  • Last minute need to fill seats? Our closets contain a selection of clothes for a variety of occasions. With little notice we can dress up for a formal occasion, dress down for a barbeque, or anything in between. 
  • Worried that some guests might be shy and feel left out? We can make pleasant conversation with anyone. We know a little about a wide range of subjects, and we will strictly avoid the topics of religion and politics.
  • Want to assure the band isn’t playing to an empty dance floor? We can “break the ice” by being the first ones out. We are decent dancers but not so good that we’d discourage other couples from joining us on the floor.
  • Need someone to start the bidding at an auction or to deliver the first “impromptu” tribute for a guest of honor? Just tell us what needs to be done and we can start the ball rolling.
  • Party over, need people to leave? We can subtly yet firmly encourage guests to pack up and go home. We can do it seamlessly and without anyone catching on.

My husband and I can dress well enough to blend in, but not so well that we stand out. We can guarantee that our pictures won’t appear in the society columns.

No worries about us eating or drinking too much. We won’t crowd the buffet table or embarrass our hosts employers by heaping mounds of food on our plates. We also won’t run up the bar bill excessively and make fools of ourselves by over-imbibing.

We are, after all, professionals.

Although my husband and I donate regularly to a number of favorite non-profits and charities, usually the most we get in return is a sheet of pre-printed address labels or maybe a tote bag. Being professional attendees will give us the opportunity to enjoy the same events as do those who give big and who regularly eat and drink better than we do.

I think it could work. I’m going to contact our former company’s corporate giving department to let them know we are available for hire. Maybe there’s still time to get tickets to the August fundraiser.

Planning for Spontaneity

My husband and I just returned from our first post-retirement road trip. Even though we mostly stuck to our planned schedule, it was very freeing to know that, because neither of us have a job to dictate our return date, we could stay away as long as we wanted… or at least until the money ran out.

We had a terrific several weeks in northern California; in Monterey at a car club “convention,” visiting my brother and sister-in-law in the Bay Area, and spending time in Santa Cruz with my husband’s family. In fact, we had such a good time we started to plan our next trip as we drove home. Yep, I think we could get used to this!

Monterey coastline
Monterey coastline
Tasting champagne in Napa
Tasting champagne in Napa

In addition to planning our next escape, we’ve been talking about what we can do to make it easier for us to just pack and go. We want to put a few things in place now so that, when the spontaneity spark hits us or a can’t-miss-it opportunity arises, we can take off at a moment’s notice.

We’ve already made the conscious decision not to have pets because of travel. Although I miss having a dog or a cat, the freedom has been a positive tradeoff.

Our landscaping is – by design – fairly low maintenance, so we don’t need to arrange for upkeep while we were gone as long as our plants don’t have to go more than a couple of weeks without water.

Seasoned travelers have told us that it’s best not to put a vacation stop on mail and newspaper delivery because it is an alert that we will be out of town. Because of this, we have a neighbor pick up our mail and paper while we are gone. Since we provide the same service to her when she’s on vacation, it doesn’t seem like an imposition. To make things simpler and to avoid overlapping vacations, we are considering cancelling the paper completely. Our mailbox is attached to the garage wall so we want to create an opening that will allow the mail to drop directly from the box into a container inside the garage.

Ideally, we’d like to have someone stay at our house for absences lasting longer than a week or so. Not much would be required beyond simple watering and generally keeping an eye on things, but having a presence in the home would make us more comfortable while away. Although we live in a pretty safe neighborhood, this is a big city and we’d be naive to think nothing could happen.

When I was younger, single, and living in a condo with my cat, I had plenty of friends who were happy to stay in my home while I was out of town. They either lived with their parents or with roommates and welcomed the opportunity to have their own space for awhile. They enjoyed the quiet and privacy and I received cat feeding, plant watering, and house watching services. Win-win.

Fast forward a few decades and circumstances have changed. Married or not, our friends tend to be happy with their living situations so are not available to house-sit.

House swapping is something we might explore in the future, especially for longer stays, but for now—and for shorter stays—we are looking for that perfect match; someone who is pet-free, trustworthy, responsible, and who would welcome the opportunity “get way” for awhile in our home.

Hopefully we can find someone before we take off again.

So Far, So Good!

I really didn’t know what to expect of the first week my retirement. I had hoped to check several things off my to-do list as well as explore a few activities I thought I’d enjoy, but I also gave myself permission—at least during the initial few weeks—to just kind of see what happened. Ease into it slowly. No pressure.

So much to do...
So much to do…

I hadn’t envisioned that I would jam my little toe into an unmovable object hard enough that it’s been too painful to wear anything but flip-flops. It also never occurred to me that I (who NEVER gets sick) would come down with a cold bad enough that I would have stayed home from work for a couple of days, had I a job to stay home from. Neither ailment is a big deal, but they have impacted my plans enough that I am anxious to be rid of both.

I know there will be many discoveries—both good and bad—along my retirement path, but two that stand out after just over one week are:

The retirees’ mantra, “I’ve never been so busy” is true. I always figured that it was a conspiracy among retired people to say this to their still-working friends just to annoy them. But, it’s a fact! It’s not that I’m running around (actually, hobbling around) all the time – but it’s so easy to fill up the day with… stuff.

Because it’s easy to forget exactly what all that stuff was, I’ve started to write a few lines in a journal before I go to sleep so I will be able to remember the highlights a week, a month, or even years from now. I may never look at the journal entries again, but I have a feeling my future self will want to look back to see what the heck I was doing to fill up my time. Better yet, if I maintain the journal into our retirement journey, it could help me recall the name of a restaurant where we shared an amazing meal, a hotel where our room featured a breath-taking view, or the details of a once-in-a-lifetime experience we were lucky enough to have.

It’s so easy to get distracted. There are so many things I want to do; so many projects that I’d like to start or finish. Without the hard deadlines that work provides or the confines of a weekend to accomplish a task, it’s easy to start something then get distracted and move on to something else. I find myself starting something, let’s say, a blog post… then I realize that I need to water the plants… when I’m outside, I notice that our 20-year-old patio furniture needs cleaning… but, why clean it when we really should take advantage of the sales and purchase a new set… hmmm, I wonder if Costco has what we are looking for… I should check online to see… oh, there’s my half-written post… I really should finish that. (Yes, this really happened.)

Several friends have asked me how I am enjoying retirement so far. Although I try to be gentle (they are still working, after all), I have to say that I LOVE IT! I understand that it’s only been a little over a week and I’m in the honeymoon phase, but so far, I’m settling in just fine and anxious to fill my journal with tales of adventures—both big and small.

Now… which plants did I finishing watering before I got distracted?

Resiliency

Even those who deny climate change (or, at least the impact we humans have had) must have a hard time ignoring the wild swings of weather conditions the United States—and the world—has experienced over the last several years.

Those of us on the West Coast are in a severe, multi-year drought while those in other areas of the country have endured record cold temperatures. Now, I’m reading news stories about torrential rain and flooding on the East Coast.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Here in San Diego, fire crews are just finishing battling nearly a dozen individual wild fires that burned around 26,000 acres and required over 125,000 people to evacuate. Although California has had wild fires throughout the state’s history, this mix of low humidity, triple-digit temperatures, and hot, dry Santa Ana winds in May is most unusual… and troubling. No one is naive enough to think that we’ve seen the worst of it. This is just the earliest start of our fire season in decades. What we used to brace ourselves for in September and October could now be a threat year-round.

Our home was well away from the fires, but, along with so many others, we watched the scenes of the firestorms on the TV; cheering the heroics of the fire fighters as they battled the blazes in their attempt to save homes and lives. Because of their efforts, “only” around 70 homes were destroyed and no lives were lost (contrast that to 2003, when 2,232 homes were destroyed and 15 people died, and 2007 when 1,500 homes were lost and 9 died).

Now that most of the fires are fully contained the focus has switched from fighting the fires to mopping up and surveying the damage. It is heartbreaking to see the bewildered faces of people standing in front of what once were their homes. It is the same look seen after the devastating hurricanes, super storms, tornados, earthquakes, and so many other recent disasters we’ve witnessed.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

As I look at photos of the fires’ destruction, I wonder how the people who have lost their homes will be able to bounce back after such devastation. Most of them say—and it’s true—that it’s only “things” and they are lucky to be alive, but I know how much all of the “things” that are in a home can make us feel safe, connect us to our past, and help us define who we are.

A word that I am hearing more and more in the aftermath of these disasters is “resilience” as it relates to systems, nature, and people. Andrew Zolli, the author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back described resilient systems as being able to “sense and respond to their own state and to the state of the world around them, compensate or dynamically reorganize themselves in the face of novel shocks, decouple themselves from other fragile systems when necessary, fail gracefully, and have a strong local self-sufficiency.” I think much the same thing could be said of people who are resilient.

I don’t believe that we either are or are not resilient. Some who are perceived as fragile by others can exhibit great resilience when faced with a personal challenge or devastating loss. Others, who may appear to be strong and stoic on the outside, might not be able to bounce back as well. Not everyone reacts in the same way to traumatic and stressful life events, but there are steps we can take to become more resilient in the face of adversity. A resilient person will still experience difficulty or distress, but their resilience can influence their ability to recover, persist, or even thrive amid disruption.

We all experience traumas in some form, whether because of a natural disaster, the loss of a loved one, the ending of a relationship or a job, or because of health challenges. What is important is to develop the tools—behaviors, thoughts and actions—now that will help us when we are faced with adversity. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), these attributes can be learned and developed by anyone. In order to increase our ability to be resilient, the APA suggests that we foster these important personal foundations*:

• Cultivate caring and supportive relationships, both inside and outside the family
• Nurture relationships that create love and trust, provide role models, and offer encouragement and reassurance
• Develop the capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
• Maintain a positive view of one’s self and confidence in our strengths and abilities
• Develop skills in communication and problem solving
• Learn to manage feelings and impulses

We all will face increased challenges as we age; the death of loved ones, decreased physical capacity, perhaps a serious illness or even a natural disaster. Building our resilience now will help us better respond and adapt.

heart2

“If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces”

– Shane Koyczan

* This list paraphrases a list from the APA’s brochure The Road to Resilience.