A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
Education, learning, and books have always been an important part of my life and the life of my family. My grandpa Wasden (mother's dad) had a 3d grade education and yet, despite his meager financial resources, subscribed to several daily newspapers, including Salt Lake's Deseret News, as well as magazines like National Geographic and a dozen others. When I went home one summer to the farm in northwest Wyoming, grandpa asked me what I had been reading, and I told him "The Diplomatic History of the United States." He asked me if I had the book and if he could read it. I loaned it to him and I am sure he read it from cover to cover. My dad quit school in the 9th grade. Yet he read all his life and when he quit farming and milking cows, reading became one of his passions. He read almost the complete works of Dickens, numerous works of history and biography, and for fun, he read every western by Luke Short and Louis L'Amour.
I loved school and books and reading from the time my older sister taught me to read a year before I entered first grade. When I was in high school, from which I graduated at the age of 16, I decided for some inexplicable reason that I wanted to be a college teacher. So that is what I became, teaching in four universities for a total of 45 years. Throughout my life, learning has been important. College degrees are important, also, but circumstances prevent everyone from getting a college degree, at least when they are young. Marriage, children, work, and illness can stand in the way of a college degree. Just having a college degree does not guarantee making the person with the degree better or smarter or more useful than those without degrees. I wouldn't trade some of my dear friends with minimal educations for some of the lumps I worked with in college who were so impressed with their doctorate degrees and the number of journal articles they published.
So I decided to count up the college degrees in my family. As near as I can tell, My children, grandchildren, and spouses of children and grandchildren, have collected 18 bachelor's degrees and 2 master's degrees with 4 more bachelor's degrees and 1 master's degree pending in the current school year, for a total of 25 degrees from Brigham Young University. One grandson and two spouses of grandchildren received degrees from the University of Utah. We have four with degrees from the University of Wyoming: me, my son Russell (J.D.), my wife Velna who labored for years and finally received her degree in her mid-30s, and my mother, who was truly a pioneer when getting to Laramie 450 miles from Penrose Wyoming was truly a miraculous accomplishment. I have another degree from Montana State and my doctorate in economics from the University of Michigan. Granddaughter Michelle's spouse, Josh, has a Ph.D. in biogenetics from UT Southwestern. Son Jim has a master's in international relations and a J.D. degree from George Washington University. His wife Sharman has a master's degree from Stanford. Granddaughter Whitney has a degree from Texas Tech, Courtney's husband James has a degree from Texas Tech plus a nursing degree, Tyler's wife, Michele, has a degree from the University of Colorado, and Tyler will earn his degree from UTEP in the current school year.
If I have counted correctly, that makes a total of 39 college degrees in my family. Again, I can't emphasize too strongly that I am not assuming anyone with a college degree is better than anyone without one. As I said above, not everyone finds themselves in circumstances that permit completion of a degree, at least at one or more times of their lives. What matters most, however, is that, no matter what our circumstances, we continue learning one way or another all of our lives. In my day, I graded correspondence courses for 15 years. Now students have access to infinite numbers of online courses that are automatically corrected. Books and information are as close as our iPhone or iPad. We don't have to go to the library and spend hours in a handwritten card catalogue and hours more searching for volumes in a five story library. My mother earned her degree at 57. My wife was in her thirties and my daughter in law Lani persevered so she could celebrate her bachelor's degree with those earned by her four daughters.
Continual reading and learning are what is important. We should never quit reading and learning. And then, what is even more important, is what we do with our reading and learning and whether we are prepared to make a difference in our lives and, especially, in the lives of others. The difference we make is more important than having our walls plastered with college diplomas. Love, consideration, help, compassion, teaching one another, are all virtues that outshine college degrees any day. Nonetheless, I urge everyone to continue learning and perhaps one day, you too, will have a diploma to share with your posterity.
Life is a continuing story of choices. Decisions are a part of life that we cannot escape. Some decisions are easy and routine and we don't have to think about what to do. Others are difficult, ripe with consequences, and plagued with uncertainty. We can, however, take a major load of difficulty away from decisions if we always focus on doing the right thing.
Doing the right thing may not be the choice that will be of the greatest material advantage or give us the most convenience or result in what we had hoped for or dreamed of. Yet a clear conscience is worth more than any advantage we may have otherwise gained. Some times we may be confronted with a choice that clearly could be to our advantage if we took one path. Yet, if we end up taking advantage of someone else, or hiding information that we know but that we should have also told others about, we may gain an edge or get what we wanted to do but we will never feel that we did the right thing.
The path to a clear conscience when making choices is to ask ourselves, " What is the right thing to do here?" . We need to forget about any result that may help us or end up taking advantage of others just so we can get what we wanted but always leave us with a cloudy feeling that, some how, we missed the boat and the advantage we gained is a hollow victory plagued forever with doubt and regret.
Dear Velna, who read my Do List tasks every day through the first 287 tasks and who told me every day that I should use fewer words, here is one of the shortest tasks I have written. Yet, I think it makes the point and I know you have already approved it.
Task Number 298: Always do the right thing. That way you can sleep nights without worry, look others in the face and know you have been honest with them and haven't taken advantage in any unfair way, and continue on with a smile on your face. Keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
I had a clear and unambiguous dream last night. Ninety nine percent of my dreams vanish into thin air, or are troubled nightmares, or are about looking for something or walking down an unknown road. But this dream was one of those rare dreams that was so crystal clear I could remember every detail when I woke up.
What I dreamed is that I was giving a presentation to a large group of people about the importance of photography in genealogy. My first camera was a baby brownie at the age of 13 or so and for some mysterious reason I have bought dozens of updated cameras over the years. I graduated from black and white box cameras to 35 mm cameras and Kodachrome and ultimately to digital cameras. When I was young I took photos of my four sisters, brother, parents, the farm where we lived, the river near by and other scenes. As it turned out, those photos are the only photos my siblings have of our growing up years. Unfortunately, I or no one else ever thought about making sure I was in some of the photos since I was the one who took almost all of them. Today those photos are treasures of great price. Many of the most priceless memories I and my siblings have of our childhood are locked into those wonderful images of our youth. In turn, those photos become an additional treasure to our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren, and so on down the line. Of course, one of the difficulties in those days was the fact that I had to take my little rolls of film to town to the drug store and pay to have prints made. Since I had no money, every roll of film developed was a precious and valued gift. Then, with 35 mm., we had to have the film developed and converted to slides. And that was expensive in the days when $1 may have meant an hour and a half of work.
Today we live in an age of photographic miracles. Anyone with a smartphone can take thousands of good photos if they will take a few minutes to learn how to use the wonderful camera in the phone. Digital cameras by the dozens are available at all price ranges. We can take an infinite number of photos for free, basically, and delete generously the duplicates and bad photos without paying to have them developed.
One problem today is that so many people don't take photography seriously. A few quick clicks and a fast post to Facebook and photography is over. While instant gratification on Instagram, Facebook, and other media outlets can be a valuable means of communication and can provide enjoyment to many people, the popularity of instant and transient photography is not going to be much help for family records and genealogy. Unless some effort is made to preserve these photos and make them available to family and others, all of the instant photography is going to vanish into thin air.
Digital photography offers a multitude of ways to preserve and distribute photos. The two most important ways, to me at least, of saving and distributing photos are these:
Storing on CDs and DVDs and distributing these discs to family members and others. Even these methods may be outdated by continuing technology shifts so we have to stay up-to-date on the latest methods of saving and storing photos so our descendants don't end up with a pile of unusable discs.
Print photo books. Printing photo books offers the most permanent and attractive way of saving photos, although the number of photos saved in photo books is likely to be significantly smaller than the vast numbers of photos you can save on CDs and DVDs. Dozens of photo book printing outlets exist. I like My Publisher and Artifact Uprising. Many people use Shutterfly. Shop around on the internet but check the ratings before you settle on a printer. By printing some of your best photos from Facebook and your phone memory every few months, you can be sure that you can save your images for another day. It's important to let others know how they can order copies of the books you publish if you don't just give copies to them to begin with.
So far we've talked about new photos that we are just taking now. The biggest treasure trove of photos, however, is likely to be held in shoe boxes, old albums, hard drives, on CDs and DVDs, dresser drawers, old trunks, and wherever else people saved the gems of their lifetime. Now is the time to resurrect these photos to their rightful place in family lore, history, and genealogy. Most people don't have any idea what to do with them. The best thing to do is to find some one who will scan these photos into a form you can use to print photos and photo books. Some libraries have scanners, and some photography companies will scan your shoe boxes full of photos. I have about 40 old photo albums that my wife put together over many years. If I die before doing something with these photos, none of my children or descendants will ever have an opportunity to see them. So I splurged and bought the Kodak flatbed scanner which many commercial scanners use. The miracle of this scanner is that it will scan a page in a photo album and then separate the photos on that page into separate photos just as if you had scanned the photos individually.
By taking a little time now to manage and distribute current photos and to find a method to preserve old photos, you can bestow a priceless gift to your children and to future generations. You can find much information on line about printing, scanning, and storing photos. Delaying too long can mean the loss of a valuable heritage. Doing something about your photos can provide an incredible boost to anyone doing family history or genealogy.
And that is what my dream was all about. Maybe there was a purpose to my dreaming this dream. I like to think that maybe there was a purpose.
Many of the most annoying events of daily life can be avoided if we take steps in the first place to keep things in order. Here are just a few examples of situations that become nagging pains in the neck and troublesome tasks:
Hundreds or thousands of emails piled up on our computers.
Password frustration from not recording or keeping track of 2 zillion passwords.
Not paying attention to bill due dates and getting charged late fees.
Postponing urgent tasks until the last minute when it is too late to remedy situations appropriately.
Avoiding fixing leaky faucets, broken light fixtures, sagging hinges, and countless other little annoyances around the house.
Not paying attention to your car and ending up with a flat tire, a stalled engine, and a tow truck.
Postponing necessary doctor's visits so that your life gets complicated from something that might have been avoided in the first place.
If you are a student, cramming all night before exams because you were too lazy to study ahead of time.
Avoiding making amends or apologies and letting personal relationships fester.
Clogging your mind with garbage. You know what I mean. Avoid time wasters and enjoy mental happiness.
Leaving papers and mail lying around instead of taking care of stuff in the first place and thus avoiding nasty clean up and sorting out chores.
Quit being late for everything. Try being 5 minutes early and see how much stress that relieves.
Simplify your life.
Quit buying so much stuff that you may use only once or twice or not at all and then have to store, insure, take care of, repair, and otherwise waste a whole bunch of time looking after.
Follow basic health rules for eating, exercise, sleep, medications, and daily routines to save yourself possible grief and misery and unexpected doctor and dentist visits.
So what have I left out? Surely following as many of these suggestions as possible would have saved me considerable misery and frustration over the years. What takes only a few minutes or an hour now could save untold amounts of time and expense to take care of things later.
Task number 298: Change your habits and avoid clutter. Don't even think about throwing that paper or pair of socks on the floor. Good luck, enjoy a simpler and less complicated life, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
One surprising benefit from my kids forcing me to buy an iPhone was my pleasant discovery that the iPhone had a built in steps pedometer. I have been relatively successful in losing weight by following the simple rule "eat less", but I hadn't paid much attention to the second cardinal rule of daily life "move more." Once I started monitoring my steps on a daily basis, I was shocked to see how sedentary I remained even though I thought I was moving around enough during the day. Once this bit of information sunk in, I remembered reading about how Nelson Mandela, the South African hero, kept himself in good physical condition while confined for many years to a tiny jail cell. My ability to walk normally vanished, probably permanently, when a severe vertigo attack landed me in the hospital two years ago and wrecked my balance. I move around fairly well with a cane, though it is difficult to manage stairs and high curbs.
So thus began my quest to increase my steps. I first ramped my walking up to 3,000 steps a day, then 4,000, then 5,000. On some days I managed 6,000 steps. Steps became a game and not a chore. Every time I got up, I would move around for a few minutes. Going to get the mail and walking with my cane beyond the mail box nets me nearly 1,000 steps a day. I know I feel better and that my legs are stronger so I can stand in the kitchen and do chores around the house without any leg pain or discomfort.
If you are a couch potato, start eating less and moving more. You don't need to read ten diet books and 50 exercise books although using common sense in choosing the right foods to eat less and knowing which exercises are right for you so that you don't overdo or cause muscle damage are still important to know about. But anyone can take more steps, and taking more steps is such a powerful step (no pun intended) in the right direction, that you will be soon motivated to expand your transition from an overweight couch potato to a healthier, thinner, happier person. And, miraculously, I always find that when I succeed at one thing, like taking more steps and eating less, that so many other things that improve my life become almost automatic, easy to do without much thought, and then I remain grateful for my kids forcing me to buy an iPhone and for following my own simple rule of eating less.
OK Velna, who always chastised me each day for writing too-lengthy do list tasks, this one isn't so long, but I hope it makes a point. Doing simple things can benefit our lives and the lives of others in so many ways.
Do List task number 298: Take more steps. Start moving, start taking steps, get a pedometer or use your iPhone, and quit sitting still for hours at a time. Your health and well being are too important and too valuable to ignore. Good luck, keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
One of the reasons we don't achieve our goals is because we fail to measure our progress. We know we need to accomplish something. We think about it, we remind ourselves about it, we worry about it, and then nothing happens. Nothing happens because we put the task out of our minds. We forget about it. Until we realize that we haven't done anything, we haven't made any progress. And yet we keep telling ourselves that some day we will get around to it, we will actually do what we have long needed and wanted to do.
I taught college students for 45 years. Perhaps the most frequent question I was asked was "How can I improve my grade?" My most direct answer always was "Be sure you learn the material." Then I would make a few suggestions: Keep up with the reading assignments. Come to class regularly. Listen to the lectures. Take notes. Review over and over again until you can explain the material to some one else. Students would listen and agree with what I said. Sadly, however, only a fraction of them would take me seriously enough to actually follow through with my suggestions. The penalty for not following these suggestions was failure to achieve a higher grade or perhaps even to maintain their original grade. Those who made a real effort to dig in and learn the material could see tangible progress that could be measured not only in higher exam scores, but in a higher level of self confidence and interest in the course once they conquered their learning hurdles and began to understand the complex problems of economics.
When we are trying to lose weight, we need to weigh ourselves regularly and record our weight. If we are not losing weight, or perhaps if we are even gaining weight, we are not doing what we need to do to lose. We are not eating less nor are we eating more wisely. Progress comes when we take the necessary steps toward achieving our goal and then keep up our efforts consistently and without telling our self fibs such as "I know I am not eating too much and yet I can't lose weight." But once progress comes, a feeling of success permeates our minds, and we not only find that losing weight is easy but also that we are more eager to tackle other projects and make progress toward their completion.
Frustration often sets in when we do not see the progress we sought. Progress, however, can be achieved in small, though measurable, steps. We may need to reassess our goals and set a more realistic goal. Losing one pound a week will mean a loss of 52 pounds in a year. Studying a textbook can be done one or two pages at a time if we just make sure we understand what we have read before we go on to the third and fourth pages. Exercising and moving more to regain our health can be achieved if we start with only a few minutes a day, a few hundred steps. Then we measure our progress and keep going
Follow the Rule of One to begin making the progress that has escaped you up until today. One step. One nasty chore we have postponed. One page in a book or a manual that we need to learn. One entry in a journal to record your progress and your problems and successes in achieving your goal. Just one. Then the second, and the third, and the 100th, follow more easily and we lose the frustration we have felt for so long in postponing something we have known that we need to do but have never really started.
Task number 297: Measure your progress. Keep track of how you are doing. Write it down, don't just think about it. Make progress your watch word. How am I doing today? Have I accomplished anything toward my goal? What do I need to do differently? How can I succeed. Progress is a wonderful accomplishment. May you succeed in your efforts toward whatever goal you are seeking. Good luck and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
We all have a basket full of wishes. We wish we were thin. We wish we had a better job. We wish we could get an A in the course we are taking. We wish we felt better. We wish we had enough money to pay our bills. And on and on and on. Yet so much of the time our wishes appear for a moment and then disappear as we just continue doing the same things we have always been doing. And then, some day, we may rue the day that we kept postponing making a change or starting a project or taking the first step toward reaching an important goal.
Last year I lost nearly 70 pounds after I started my Do List. I had tried for 30 years to lose that weight, without lasting success. By writing my blog each day, by expanding my do list I found that I expanded my resolve. My commitment became more firmly entrenched. I focused on what I needed and wanted to do which, basically, was to eat less. By switching my mindset from permanently passive and wishful thinking to the active let's-do-it mode, I succeeded. One pound at a time. Day after day and week after week. And then last October my wife died and for nine months I shifted back into the passive mode. I just couldn't concentrate on anything, let alone my continued quest to lose weight. But at least my weight stayed constant at 250, I did accomplish that much since after decades of yo-yo dieting I had never before been able to hold my weight constant even after I lost a few pounds.
Then about two weeks ago I decided to resurrect my Do List job that I began last year and try to finish out writing about the 365 tasks that would make my 2015 Do List complete. And guess what? After scarcely two weeks, my weight dropped from 250 to 246. Imagine, weighing 246 for the first time in 30 years or more. When I began writing again, I began focusing once more on what I wanted and needed to do. As I wrote each day, I became anchored to a firm commitment to get back to my original goal of ultimately reaching 220 or so. How could this result happen after being locked in at 250 for nine months? Actually, my result seemed to occur like magic. I didn't do anything different except think about, and write about, and think some more about how I needed to get back in gear. I needed to leave the Land of Wishful Thinking and enter the promised land of actual accomplishment. And it was easy. If no one else ever read my Do List blog posts, if no one else ever tried to write daily to reinforce what they need and want to do, if no one else ever tried to change their habits and do something different, if no one else ever followed any of my Do List assignments, writing my daily Do List tasks would be of infinite value to me because writing this blog has been the key to my success in accomplishing something that has eluded me for so many long years.
With every five pounds I lose, my health improves. Though I take blood pressure medication, my blood pressure is easily controlled now. I am at less risk for a bundle of health risks. I feel lighter. I can move more easily. I have greater self respect. I had a dozen or so health tests and measurements at the hospital yesterday and every one of them was within normal levels.
I feel that I can't let myself down. I can't go back to the overweight person I was for so long. The exhilaration of getting on the scales and seeing a 4 pound drop this morning after nine months of wishful thinking was worth more than I can tell.
My blog has been about making small changes. One step at a time. One task at a time. One day at a time. Simple rules. A firm commitment to do the day's task, to making the first step. After even small progress begins, a miracle often happens because after trying so long and so hard to get started, then our progress moves on auto pilot, on cruise control, and we just keep going, miraculously, after being stalled for so long.
Today's task: Graduate from wishful thinking. Stop being passive. Create a miracle in your own life. Good luck, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
One of the most rewarding things we can do is to learn something new. All too often, we may assume that our education is over when we graduate from high school or college. In reality, our need to learn and our opportunities to learn haven't even started. Learning is a life-long process. After eight years of college, four university degrees, 49 years of college teaching and research, and the accumulation of hundreds and hundreds of books, I feel like my need to learn hasn't even begun.
Learning something new has so many benefits. Once we begin the learning process, our imaginations flourish and our desire to learn even more adds a new spark to our lives. Learning increases our ability to think and may even cause us to discover that we have been wrong in some of our ideas. When we can branch out and gain new perspectives, our interests grow and we find ourselves flourishing in unexpected directions. We discover as we continue learning that there is a difference between acquiring new information and the wisdom to apply what we learn in new and constructive ways.
One of the miracles of modern technology is that learning opportunities have proliferated in so many ingenious and constructive ways. I remember when I was doing research in college that I had to spend hours going through endless library card catalogs and then spending additional hours tracking down the books and references that I needed. Now we can hold the knowledge of the ages in one hand in a tiny cell phone or Ipad. We can find out and access almost anything we want to know whether we want to figure out how to fix a leaky faucet or learn something more about medieval history. Once we discover the exhilaration of learning, we never want to stop learning. We just keep going.
Here are some of the ways we can learn something new:
Listen to a knowledgeable person who can explain what we need or want to know.
Take a college course, perhaps a night class or one of countless numbers of correspondence and online courses.
Read a book.
Consider commercial courses on DVDs and video streaming such as www.greatcourses.com. Great Courses has frequent sales that make their courses affordable. Their latest catalog has a dozen or more courses I would like to take, including photography, how to cook, how to invest, how to become an expert stargazer, and many others.
Branch out and learn something outside your own field. My undergraduate degree was in agriculture, which basically was a heavy science degree. One of my most rewarding post-college learning excursions was into classic literature, an area foreign to a science degree. My eyes were opened and my mind stretched in wonderful directions from this journey through many classic works of literature.
Learn from experience and trial and error. Be on the alert for mistakes and new and better ways of doing something. Rather than just stay in a rut doing the same thing over and over again, search for alternative roads to your destination.
Life does not need to be boring, monotonous, and hopeless. Even if we have a job that is the best job we can find for now and we hate that job, we can brighten our horizons and find new and rewarding challenges by seeking continuous learning opportunities. We can spend time outside of the job we have that is necessary to make a living learning to draw and paint, do woodcraft and make furniture, studying history and biography, learning to understand financial markets, and any one of a million other other areas that will unclog our pores, open our minds, and give us a new reason to continue to learn. We never know when the germ or spark or idea will penetrate our minds that will lead to new and better directions in our lives.
Task Number 295: Learn something new. You'll be glad you searched for a new road to follow today. In fact, what you discover could go down in your personal history as a turning point in your life. Good luck, start learning, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
We all operate more or less from some kind if plan or idea of what we are trying to do. In this task, we consider the following options for our plan:
We can keep doing what we have always been doing. Continued efforts to follow a plan that made sense to begin with can lead to several results. First, following the plan may ultimately lead to success and to achieving the goals we originally had in mind when we started the plan. Often, people give up too early in disappointment when beginning results seem hopeless and without merit. Yet, if the plan makes sense, we may need to have patience and keep our efforts focused on our ultimate objective and see what happens. I have watched some people begin a career, for example, and find that the early years lead to nothing but despair and bad luck. Yet, some of these people may persevere and take advantage of learning all they can learn during the lean years and master the skill or job they began and then achieve a high level of success as a reward for not giving up. I remember reading the biography of General Norman Schwarzkopf who spent several years at menial and thankless tasks on his ultimate road to an honored role in U.S. military history. I have watched others spend the necessary apprenticeship learning a skill or a craft or a job and become an expert in what they began and then achieve their goals.
Second, we may reach an absolute dead end in trying to continue our original plan. The trick is to have a sixth or even seventh sense about when it is time to throw in the towel, so to speak, and start over again. We may often have a goal in mind at the outset of our careers but feel that we are locked in to our current situation and need to keep doing what we are doing just to survive and support our family. As a result, many people remain stuck in jobs they do not like or jobs that offer little incentive for advancement. Over my long teaching career, I learned that many students, perhaps most, are not certain about what they should major in during their college years and often remain stuck in what they started because changing majors would necessitate sticking around longer and taking more courses. And many students end up in jobs that are totally unrelated to their college major. Having the courage to launch forth down a new road when all efforts to see merit in the plan you began with have failed can be a life-saving change.
Third, we can tweak our original plan, thus taking advantage of what we have already achieved and learned to follow a more promising but similar route to achieving our goal. Rather than staying in a rut, we need continually to evaluate our progress, our mistakes, our flops, and our successes and then take appropriate action.
We can make a continual effort to learn how to do our job better and succeed in what we are already doing. We may surprise ourselves and find a new lease on life by making an effort to advance our skill and knowledge level rather than just stay stuck in something that doesn't provide the challenge we need to stay motivated in our work.
In my own case, I decided during my senior year in high school that I wanted to be a college professor. I will never know where that unlikely goal originated. I never lost track of that goal. I had many setbacks and more than once I thought I could never achieve my original goal. Finally, after years of struggle and work, I completed eight years of college and then spent 45 years teaching college plus another 4 years doing public finance research for the Wyoming Legislature and the U.S. Treasury Dept. I felt like quitting numerous times as my family grew and my responsibilities escalated in taking care of them. Yet, with my wife's support, somehow we never gave up on our original plan, though we tweaked it multiple times along the way.
Task Number 29: Evaluate your plan. Having a plan is important, but plans are not set in cement. Plans are flexible ideas, goals, and procedures that we can alter, tweak, or abandon when we see the need to make changes. Plans, however, are useless if we don't make an effort to follow them. Good luck in evaluating your plan, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.