What To Do with Your Spare Time

by Pat Goltz

This essay was originally written a few days after an experience Victor and I had, when going to the grocery store. A few facts and figures have been updated; otherwise, it is essentially as I wrote it.

To put this essay in context, I will tell you what happened that prompted me to write it. We were walking down the sidewalk, and a boy who was quite a bit taller than Victor (who was 11 at the time) came up to us and said he had some candy he was trying to sell, and that he was selling this because someone gave him the opportunity so he would not be on the street causing trouble. I declined to buy any, and I suggested that maybe he could find something more productive to do, such as going to the library. I then suggested another thing he could do was help build a house. The kid was quite surprised at this suggestion, and I told him that my son standing next to me had helped build a house. His chin immediately dropped to China. Anyway, not long after I returned home from that experience, I felt moved to write the following essay.

I have seen all of you out here so often and wanted to say so much that I thought I would write this for you. I am going to spend most of my time talking about useful things you can do in your spare time, since you seem to have a lot of it. You see, I get a real charge out of figuring out a lot of really useful things to do with spare time, and teaching others. Your spare time is your most valuable asset, and you can either earn a very bright future with it, or you can squander it. Before I talk about this, I need to talk for just a minute about what you are currently doing with your spare time.

It is not that I think selling things to earn money is wrong. There are just a couple of problems with your approach. If you want to sell something, the reason why a person should be encouraged to buy it is because it will be useful to that person. It is not valid to ask a person to buy it to keep you off the street. You should stay off the street because it is the right thing to do. If you ask a person to buy something from you to keep you off the street, you are either appealing to his pity, or you are suggesting it is his duty to bribe you to stay off the street. Neither of these is moral or honest. I suspect that whoever is encouraging you to sell his products is probably encouraging you to take that approach. If so, he is to blame. But you share the responsibility for agreeing to do things that way. Such a person is exploiting you. Please keep that in mind.

Selling a few things for a small amount of money takes a great deal of spare time. I would rather see people of your age doing something far more productive with their spare time. Your summer vacation is an asset, one which most kids squander. I would like to suggest you put it to good use. I will simply tell you what my family and I do with our spare time, so you can get some ideas.

I have seven children. One of the things I do in my spare time is raise them. Each of them also has done some important things with his spare time. All of the kids learned how to build a house in their spare time. The house they built, our house, was built from the ground up. It has over 3000 square feet, and is nearly finished. The kids are now plastering and painting. If you would like to build a house in your spare time, I would suggest that you contact Habitat for Humanity. See if they will let you help with one of their projects. If they will not, let me know, and I will talk to them. I realize you have two strikes against you in such a thing, but we have to start somewhere, to try to make it possible for kids to do productive things with their spare time.

All of us used to go rockhunting in our spare time. We also go to cactus club meetings, art museums, the library, and recorder meetings, where we play together. The recorder is a medieval musical instrument, the ancestor of the flute. Most of the kids also played in the street fair to earn money to buy Christmas presents. We don't really have to go to the library; I also collect books, and our personal library is over 30,000 volumes. We spend about the same amount on books that two heavy smokers spend on cigarettes. We buy a lot of used books, and I have gotten a lot of books free. Books are not the only things I collect. I also collect musical recordings, stamps, shells, and just about anything else that pops into my life. I learned a lot about world geography and history by collecting stamps. Several of the kids keep a cactus garden, and I also have one. We like to prepare foods from the native plants and eat them.

In their spare time, five of our children learned to draw so well that they can draw a picture of someone, and you can tell exactly who it is. Every detail of the face and the hair is there. One of the children particularly excelled in art. She learned to draw, paint, design things, and do pottery, in her spare time. Now she is married, and she does all the art for her husband's business. She is learning Taekwondo in her spare time. Another of the kids also does art work, and the oldest one makes beautiful cabinets.

Three of the children took courses at Pima College in their spare time. When they started, one of them was 16, one of them 11, and the other 10. A person that young can take courses if he gets his principal's and parent's permission. The one who was 10 earned 24 credits before he became college age. This included four semesters of college German, for which he got straight A's (as did the other two), art, and music courses. The two younger ones both studied ceramics in particular. The older one, who started at 11, also took writing courses, and wrote short stories and poems. Some of them have been published.

The oldest one learned computer programming in his spare time. He is currently making good money as a consultant. He is 25. He also learned a lot about history, political science, and classical music literature. He likes to participate in the Dr. Who Society in his spare time. He also does contra dancing, and lately he has taken up photography.

The second oldest learned how to work with animals in her spare time. She learned about all kinds of animals. For awhile, she bred dogs. The puppies sell for $500 apiece. She also held a job with animals for awhile. She plays three musical instruments. She also designed and made her own wedding dress and her sister's bridesmaid's dress, and organized her own wedding.

The third oldest was one of the two adopted ones (both are biracial, while the rest of us are white). He learned to play the violin in his spare time. He now also plays the viola, piano, trombone, recorder, conducts, and sings opera. He plays both classical music and jazz. When he was a high school senior, he organized a jazz swing band in his spare time, and they performed before the entire city. He has also studied French, Italian, and Russian, in addition to his German. He accomplished so much in his spare time that he earned a full scholarship to go to a music conservatory, including all of his living expenses.

The fourth oldest one, the other adopted one, was involved with the Civil Air Patrol and Explorer scouting in his spare time. He has also learned a lot about rescue work in general. He and several of the other kids learned to play basketball in their spare time. The older kids also learned to ride horses and swim in their spare time. Then this one began to learn Morse Code and study for a ham license. He is studying Spanish.

The fifth oldest plays three musical instruments. She reads a lot in her spare time. In fact, they all do. She plays in a string orchestra. She also learned to make bread, and does so regularly. She is teaching the others. She also is learning about animals. All of the kids know how to cook. She likes to sew.

The sixth oldest reads about science, space, and astronomy in his spare time. He also reads the Bible a lot. All the children and I are Christians. He plays two musical instruments. He and his younger brother are learning to make cabinets. He is studying German. He likes to juggle in his spare time. He and his brothers often play chess. Lately, he has taken to doing jigsaw puzzles. Several of the other kids also get involved. It is hard for me to sit back and watch and not pitch in. I have done jigsaw puzzles for years, in my spare time. That may seem like a waste of time, but the skills involved can be applied elsewhere. For example, I can match just about any color nearly perfectly. I can also pack a given size box extremely efficiently. Neither of these skills are particularly common, but they both come in handy. The kids play a lot of other games, too: Go, Feudal, Pictionary, Monopoly, cards, and Scrabble. Games also teach people how to think, and besides, they are fun.

The youngest plays three musical instruments. He has performed in concert. He also learns about architecture, and he is studying Spanish.

It cannot be honestly said my husband has spare time anymore. However, he organized what is now a major corporation and ran it for seven years. He has started several businesses since then. He is a highly skilled computer programmer. During his spare time, he used to be a radio amateur. He built all his own equipment, including a transmitter and antennas, and he built a complete amateur television station, including camera, synch generator, monitors, and transmitter. When he got tired of doing that, he designed and built a radio controlled train layout. He reads a lot in his spare time. His favorite thing to read is science fiction.

I always did as much as I could cram into my spare time. I have had a few more years to spend my spare time, but what I have accomplished will show you what you can do if you really set your mind to it. My big project for my spare time for about five years was to organize a civil rights organization which was national in scope, which I ran by myself for five years. During that time, I also helped organize similar groups in England, Mexico, Canada, and New Zealand. I gave speeches and debated all over the eastern half of the United States, and testified before the United States Senate. I appeared on radio and television, and was mentioned in Time magazine. I was also instrumental in persuading the Australian government to admit Vietnamese refugees at the end of the war.

When I left my position with that organization, I began to study foreign languages in earnest. I now read 15 languages. Awhile back, I learned to read and write Braille in my spare time, and I used to Braille the hymns for my friend so she could sing in church. When another friend went blind, I taught her Braille. I am writing a book on the uses of desert plants, which is already over 900 pages long. For that book, I am doing research in 8 languages. I also learned the law well enough to act as my own lawyer, and I have handled three major court cases. I did quite well in all of them. The rest of the time, in my spare time, I read a lot. I have read over 100 books a year for years. I also do art. I like to do pottery, macrame, weaving, needlepoint, and drawing. I play five musical instruments. Two of the children and I sang in the Tucson Masterworks Chorale for a number of years. I have been running a goat ranch, for which I often did my own veterinary work. I learned several natural healing arts. I taught the children much of what they know, that they learned how to do in their spare time. I even taught all of them how to read.

Did you know that a person skilled in foreign languages can earn up to $70,000 a year doing translations?

What it amounts to is that there are so many really valuable things you can do in your spare time that I hate to see you wasting your time earning large piles of money for someone else, for which you get to keep such a small amount. If you ask me to buy from you, I am going to tell you the things I wrote here. I cannot stand by and watch you without trying to inspire you to do something really worthwhile. You need to exercise your imagination. Surely you can find something to do that would be really profitable for you in the long run. I would like to urge you to try. You have a bright future if you choose it. Please choose. Do not let life just pass you by.