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.
If your weight is normal, your blood sugar is normal, and you are thin and beautiful or handsome, you may think we are wasting a lot of time talking about sugar. Sugar, however, is the downfall of so many people that increasing the awareness of the pluses and minuses of sugar consumption is critical to the health and well being of those who are prisoners of excess sugar consumption. Yesterday we asked you to prepare a report on your own benefit-cost analysis, or your own analysis of the pluses and minuses of excess sugar consumption. So let's see what you and I can come up with for a report.
First we will analyze the benefits, or pluses, or excess sugar consumption. First is the benefit of anticipation that we feel when we shop the grocery store for our preferred sugar-laden candy, cookies, soda, processed foods, frozen desserts, cereals, ice cream, syrups, and any and all other preferred sweetened grocery items. Second is the benefit of instant gratification when we take that first handful of M&Ms or chocolate kisses or that first bite of a triple scoop of ice cream or that second bowl of breakfast cereal with the nice beautiful white sugar coating that is so obvious when we pour the milk over it before we eat it. As the poem goes, we have "visions of sugar plums" cheering us on, beckoning us to the pantry, to the fridge, to our stash in our desk drawer, to the break room, to the vending machine, to the fast-food emporium, to the malt shop, to the dessert table at the buffet, to the dessert cart at the restaurant, to the cookie jar, to the sweet Girl Scouts selling those lovely, lovely cookies, to the specials on the end caps of the grocery aisles. Our brain is sending us visions summoning us to pleasure, to enjoyment, to a moment of happiness and sugar heaven. So much for the benefits.
Now for the costs. Sadly, we all know the costs. The minuses of over consumption and indiscriminate use of white, beautiful sugar in all of its tempting and deadly forms are all too apparent everywhere. While sugar is not the only cause of obesity, sugar is surely one of the principal contributors to overweight. Carrying extra pounds is only the beginning of the costs, the start of the minuses of sugar consumption. We don't need anyone to tell us that overweight can cause or contribute to heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, knee and hip failure, loss of mobility, and a myriad other physical and medical problems. Overweight problems contribute to mental and emotional problems, to discouragement, to lack of energy, to limitations in our activities, and can restrict and put a damper on the quality of life we thought we could enjoy and which we thought, mistakenly, that we had earned.
One of the costs of sugar consumption is the monetary cost of food and drink items that contain heavy doses of any kind of sugar. Soft drinks at fast-food palaces and restaurants are clearly one of the high-profit items of such establishments. Restaurants and fast-food establishments will do everything they can to tempt you into buying soft drinks or any drinks. Such add-on expenses can significantly affect the total of your restaurant or fast-food bill. The soft drink dispensers at convenience stores invite us to fill up our 32 and 64 ounce guzzle cups so we can continue our consumption of mega teaspoons of sugar daily to keep convenience store profit margins on the plus side. You might consider a recent grocery shopping receipt and estimate how much you spend each week, each year on soda, cookies, candy, and all of the other sugar-laden grocery and drink items that you buy. Be sure to include sugary items you buy from any source, especially vending machines and convenience stores, in your total cost estimate. Then ask yourself, what is the opportunity cost of all of these sugary items, what else could I have bought and eaten and enjoyed instead?
Next, think about the unexpected costs of sugar over-consumption. If we have been chronically overweight, and if sugar has been part of the problem of our weight dilemma, we can count on higher doctor and medical bills somewhere down our time line. We can expect health issues to plague our life expectancy, our productivity on our jobs, and our quality of life. As we learn to think in terms of opportunity costs, we must ask ourselves, "What are we giving up by consuming too much sugar and remaining overweight, not just now but also in the future?"
I wish we could come up with a magic clue, a special motivating force, a source of inspiration, that would influence us sufficiently enough to get us to shift gears, to make the changes that will prolong our lives, make us healthier, and help eliminate or reduce a host of health issues and problems that we have caused by not facing up to the reality of our food and drink consumption habits. Sadly, no one has come up with such a panacea yet because the motivating force must come from within. And until we turn our own switch on to make the change we need to make, nothing is going to happen to improve our situation.
Task Number 117: Evaluate your own report of the pluses and minuses of excess sugar consumption. Good luck, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Economists are trained to evaluate projects and programs in terms of cost-benefit analysis. The logic is simple: estimate the costs of a particular project or change in policy such as building a dam or cutting a tax rate and then estimate the benefits of building the project or changing the policy. While the logic sounds like cost-benefit analysis is straightforward, the actual economic analysis often is somewhat more complicated. Estimating benefits and costs that are identifiable in terms of dollars and cents is not especially easy, since we are dealing with estimates of the unknown, but many costs and benefits are difficult to identify and estimate. For example, most programs and policies have unintended benefits and costs, surprises if you will, that were not anticipated or at least not anticipated correctly in the original analysis.
To continue with a painless but important economics lesson, other costs that economists call opportunity costs must be taken into account in evaluating any change. An opportunity cost is simply the cost of a foregone opportunity that we give up when we make a given change. Almost every choice we make has some opportunity cost, some large, some small. Just ask yourself, "What am I giving up if I buy this roto-rooter that I have long wished to have?" Or, as my wife and I are asking ourselves after spending our life's fortune on dental implants, "What have we given up by spending all of this money on our teeth?" True, we can chew more easily and that is the main benefit of spending the money. Yet, we could have bought a dozen large screen TVs, redecorated our house, bought granite counter tops for the kitchen, replaced our twenty-year-old appliances, or splurged on a vacation on a tropic island. And this list includes only a few other possibilities we could have spent our money on.
Thus, it is always smart to ask ourselves what our opportunity cost is of making a particular choice, to ask "What am I giving up if I do this, buy this, make this or that choice?" You may think that the costs of what we give up by doing something are obvious, but many of the biggest mistakes people make are made by failure to consider what they are giving up to buy something or do something. A decision is made on the spur of the moment, or perhaps we finally make a purchase or a change that we have long dreamed of making. However, we may have made the purchase or the change without thinking carefully through the costs of what we are giving up by making the purchase or the change.
The purpose of this little mini-economics lesson is to get us thinking in terms of pluses and minuses when we make a choice or a decision. Some of the pluses and minuses can be measured in dollars and cents, other pluses and benefits cannot be so measured. The non-monetary pluses and minuses are the points most often overlooked or forgotten but these non-monetary pluses and minuses can often be the turning points that doom a particular decision or, once considered, make us happy that we decided not to do something we had long wanted to do. Now that we have the fundamentals of cost benefit analysis down pat, we will start applying it to many of the choices we will discuss throughout the remainder of this year. After all, we have a mere 249 additional tasks to discuss and complete. By then, you will be either sound asleep or 20 pounds lighter but you will forever after ask yourself "What are the pluses and minuses if I do this?"
In case you have gone to sleep along with many of my other students or tuned out of my economics lecture for today, we now get down to today's task: Evaluate the pluses and minuses of excess sugar consumption. Take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle, put a plus sign (+) on the left and a minus sign (-) on the right and then go to work. Think of all the pluses, all the reasons you love sugar so much and have yet to cut back on sugar consumption on the plus side. Now move your ball point pen over to the minus side and look at all of the costs, monetary and otherwise, that accompany your love for sugar in all of its sweetness. Your homework is due tomorrow.
Good luck, and keep going. We will evaluate the results of your first cost-benefit analysis tomorrow. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Still beautiful in its red protective sheath, this blossom will die and turn into a red-tinged limp dishrag just a few hours or maybe a day from now. At least we have the photo to remind us of its beauty. Double click all my photos for best view.
Our task today is to hold a farewell party. We are going to bid goodbye to a host of old and fickle and perhaps harmful friends. Just as poor Scrooge had a terrible night confronting all of his old ghosts before he turns into a kind and lovable old man in the last few seconds of Dickens' immortal "Christmas Carol" after his ghosts frightened the jumping willies out of him, we are going to gather our old sugar ghosts together and tell them sorry, we don't want to see you any more.
So let's send out the invitations. Sugar soda is an honored guest. We will arrange a pyramid of empty soda cans to make sure that sugar soda recognizes how important it has been to us. A latte or coffee with umpteen teaspoons of sugar is high on the invitation list. Doughnuts, cookies, inch thick frosting, sugar-coated cereal are among the invited. The super-size bag of M&Ms we hid in the closet or the dresser drawer so we could partake when our emotions got the best of us is a treasured invitee. Candy bars, energy bars, processed meals, all old and dear friends. The sugar bowl we keep full to overflowing so we can liberally sprinkle anything that tastes a tad tart or sour with heaping teaspoons to satisfy our sweetness craving gets an invitation. Ice cream by the triple scoop, pies by the mega slice, tasty puddings galore all are recognized. Jams and jellies we are used to swallowing by the tablespoon certainly have craved our affection and satisfied our sweet tooth. Chocolate in all shapes, sizes, and configurations has been our constant companion since we graduated from Pampers.
Now for just a few more Major Ghosts: The looming and demonstrative Ghost of Instant Gratification will make a grand entrance at our party. This Ghost knows it is King and Queen of the castle, and that all he or she, depending on ghostly gender, has to do, is to pop a bag of Snickers bars in front of your nose and you will obey the monarch's compulsive authority and consume the entire bag. Now we see the Ghost of Denial which keeps us comfortable without worrying about excess sugar consumption because this Ghost simply wipes out all recognition of our sugar addiction as we deny we ever thought of consuming an extra ten or twenty or thirty teaspoons of sugar. Then we welcome the Ghost of Who Cares, who has taught us the "why worry" solution to doing anything we know might harm us. And look, we have the Ghost of Advertising which tempts us with frosty drinks and excess sugar in any shape or form or quantity in icy caves and on palm covered sunny seashores populated by beautiful females whose duty it is to sell sugar and whatever else, tires maybe, to we drones who mindlessly watch TV.
You may have a few valued and deceptive ghosts who have guided your path in the past to everything sweet and sugary that I have omitted here. Be sure you invite them to the party.
Now that everyone is assembled in a ghostly room, it is time to tell this assemblage of apparitions, tempters, betrayers, and ghostly images goodbye. Well, you might sneak out a half dozen M&Ms before they all go, which won't kill you, but otherwise, like the children singing their good night song in The Sound of Music, we are bidding our ghosts good night, farewell, auf wiedersehen, and goodbye. We don't care whether you leave on foot, horseback, by rail, plane, or automobile, but please get out of our lives and don't come back. So whatever language, whatever words you want to use, however many tears you want to shed as you wave a last farewell to those beautiful little silver foil covered chocolate kisses, we have come to the end of the ghostly party. Tomorrow we we will welcome our new friends, who will prove more trustworthy and reliable than our departed excess sugar acquaintances, and begin a new life.
Task Number 115: Wave Goodbye to the Ghosts of Your Past. Enjoy your party, Good luck, and Keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Some days we heave a huge sigh, maybe shed a tear of frustration, try to avoid saying a cuss word, but then we say "I just don't know what to do." If we are the guardian and protector of the home, the dishes may be piled up in the sink and on the cabinets, two kids are yowling and need their diapers changed, the floor needs mopped, the laundry is piled up and overflowing in the laundry room, our back aches, the dog is scratching at the front door to get outside, the telephone is ringing, we are out of laundry detergent, the garbage disposal is clogged, and we are supposed to bake three dozen cookies for school.
If we are the knight in shining armor and the main breadwinner, we get jammed in gridlock traffic on the way to work, unable to move as some jerk took a risky chance and blocked traffic in all directions. So we are late to work and hungry since we were trying to do a chore or two before we left home and didn't have time even for corn flakes. We feel a migraine coming on as we sit down at our work station and check our email and discover we have 237 new emails to contend with as the phone is ringing and we are summoned to the boss's office for a meeting and we don't have time to go to the bathroom first. The job we were supposed to finish last night and report on this morning remains unfinished and our secretary calls in sick. Our favorite sports team lost a close game last night because of the clearly incompetent referees and unfair play of the other team. The snow on the driveway needs shoveled but we didn't have time to do that before leaving for work.
I'm sure most of us have never had a day like the one we have just described here. For most of us, I am certain that we awake regularly clear headed and full of vim and vigor, anxious to greet our loved ones, and even more anxious to get to work and get all of our chores done, either at home or at our job. We have planned our work and then worked our plan, as my second son advises his wife from day to day when he wants to risk having cold cereal for supper and no refreshing beverages brought to him when in need. The garbage disposal is running as it should, the laundry is started, the dishes are in the dishwasher, the children are laughing and giggling, the phone is quiet, our joints and back don't ache today, and life is wonderful. At home, we finish our chores early and relax with a nice drink of something and a Harlequin romance novel so we can see what romantic lapses we are experiencing with our loved one at home. When six o'clock rolls around and we hear the garage door opening and closing, our knight who swept us off our feet one time while our eyes were closed and we were sure we knew what we were doing materializes and asks, "What's for dinner dear?" "Well, dear, I have prepared a gourmet feast of steak, shrimp, apple pie ala mode, and all the trimmings. Just go relax on the couch and I'll call you when dinner is served."
Actually, life is more often a challenge and a muddle of confusion than not. Trying to juggle job, spouse, chores at home and at work, kids, stuff that quit working, grouchy co-workers or boss, multi-tasking with a laundry basket under one arm and a squalling baby under the other arm, some times taxes us to the boundaries of our upper limits. And yet, our daily experiences make up our life. And coping with our daily challenges and problems is what makes our life both interesting and rewarding. When the burden gets too great, when we feel we are near the breaking point and we just can't take "it" any longer, then we need to back off a little, take some deep breathing exercises, get back on our feet, and tackle our tasks inch by inch.
When we are overloaded with chores and frustration, we need to learn to settle for some imperfections. We don't have to have a perfectly decorated home, all color coordinated with the latest doodads. We don't need granite counter tops or fancy floors. We don't need to vacuum today and we may let a little dust settle in the corners. We can warm up some leftovers for supper. We don't need to greet our husbands perfectly coiffed and wearing the latest apron we saw when we took home ec in high school. What we need to do, day in and day out, is to live life, to cope with life, and be thankful for life's blessings. We can take time to relax once every little while for a few minutes, and we can work on the highest priorities on our own personal do list and then, like all of our other tasks, whittle away on them, inch by inch.
Life, after all, was never meant to be easy. Adam and Eve found that out when they were expelled from the Garden of Eden where life was all easy peasy. Ever since then, we have had to sweat and struggle, learn and fail, pick ourselves up and start over, smile through adversity, burn the supper when we left it for a few moments, deal with the impeccable manners and boundless knowledge of our wonderful teenagers, and go to bed thankful that somehow we have come through another day.
Task Number 114: Figure out what to do when you don't know what to do. Just back off a bit, let some chores go undone, hug the kids, read them a bedtime story, tell your family that you love them, look at the flowers blooming and the rain falling or the sun shining, and say a little "thank you" prayer. Enjoy the challenges of your life. Good luck, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.