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.
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.
We stopped by our neighbor's place to take photos of their saguaro cactus blossoms at 2:00 p.m. when we returned from the dentist. The sun was so bright, I took a few pictures and then decided to wait until just before sunset to get the best evening light. When we went back about 7:00 p.m., the blossoms had all died and turned into limp, red dishrags. I don't know of another blossom that is so pristinely white and stunningly beautiful as the white saguaro, and unless you catch it while it blooms, it will only last a few hours. So sad, but at least I have over a thousand photos of white saguaro, so I have fooled mother nature.
You can find a zillion strategies for losing weight. You can join Weight Watchers, you can sign up for special diet food deliveries, you can take miracle pills and cures, you can eat only low carb, you can eat cabbage soup three times a day for a month, you can go to a "fat farm" and get professional and expensive help to get rid of your extra bulk, you can buy a library of weight loss books that you will probably never read or, if you do read one or more weight loss books, you will likely fizzle out on taking the advice you read. We can't make light of serious eating disorders that require medical and professional guidance, and we should not postpone seeking such guidance and help if we need it. The strategies for losing weight are almost limitless. Yet, in the final analysis, the scales test tells us whether we have lost weight. And the only way we can effectively lose weight is to consume less calories, to eat less, and to move more.
We can follow complex and expensive strategies for losing weight or we can follow simple and straightforward rules. I have followed expensive and time-consuming programs for weight loss, and I have followed my own simple rule for eating less. The eating less rule wins, for me at least, hands down. Before we are through with our quest for weight loss, we will likely analyze and itemize all of the foods we eat and the beverages we drink. We will spend some time learning the basics of following a nutritional diet of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Although I found some of the routines I followed to be effective, I discovered that I could make just as much or more progress by beginning with a few simple rules and then proceeding, inch by inch, to achieve my weight loss goal.
We have been focusing on sugar for the past several days. If you have a serious sugar addiction, you should Google sugar addiction books and find a reference that will help you overcome your addiction. If you are like me, and your problem is trying to lose weight, one way to lose weight is to cut back on sugar. When I was drinking at least two cans of lovely Mountain Dew a day for years, that added up to seven or more teaspoons of sugar per can, 420 teaspoons of sugar per month and, do the multiplication, and over 5,000 teaspoons of sugar per year. Do the math. Then skip the sugar.
Your Do List Task for today is to count your sugar calories and teaspoons in the foods you eat and the beverages you drink. If you have begun writing in your daily food diary, you can identify the foods and beverages with the highest sugar content. You can check the sugar content on the cans and packages and bottles of food and drink that you consume. Here is a link to a source that may help you count your teaspoons of sugar consumption: medicalnewstoday.com, Sugar content in common foods and drinks. I'm sorry I couldn't put a live link here, but you can find this list at the address provided here.
Now our task is to continue our inch by inch, little by little, strategy, until we conquer a big problem. While many other facets of the weight loss quest await us, tiny steps of progress from eating less, drinking more water instead of calorie and chemical laden beverages, keeping a food and drink diary, and cutting back on sugar consumption can add up teaspoon by teaspoon, inch by inch, until we feel inspired to find other strategies and to keep going until we achieve our weight loss goal.
Task Number 113: Count your sugar calories. One by one. Teaspoon by teaspoon. Cupful by cupful. Good luck on your sugar reduction quest, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor
This photo was taken in 1959 while I was working for the Wyoming State Legislature as director of the Legislative Council at a very tender age. Four of our five children, Carolyn, Jim, Ron in front, Russell behind. Kim yet to be born. Who knew these charming boys would punch each other's lights out in Sunday School?
Today we are continuing our inch by inch strategy for reducing daily sugar consumption. We began two days ago by developing a strategy for cutting back on the amount of sugar-laden beverages we drink each day. Yesterday we reiterated the importance of keeping a food and drink consumption journal or diary to help us identify the sugar culprits in our diets.
Just to throw in a reinforcement on the wonders of keeping a daily food consumption journal: Dietitians and food experts tell us that people who keep a food journal lose more weight and lose it more consistently than those who just think about keeping such a journal for a minute and then let the idea fade into never-never land. Yes, an imaginary food consumption journal stored in the front or back or middle of your brain doesn't work the same wonders as when you actually take ball-point pen or pencil in hand to write beautiful prose for each morsel, each drop of drink, each M & M, you consume or sneak into your mouth during a given day. Then, guess what, you can look at what you wrote at the end of the day and say something like, "I cut down today," or, "Good grief why did I eat or drink all that stuff? Heaven help me." Or whatever comes to your mind.
Back to sugar, the topic of the day, again. First of all, if you are a fatty as I have been, you have let sugar outsmart you. I know I could have called myself an overweight senior citizen and could have been a bit kinder to myself, but let's face it, I'm a fatty. Just as all of those people I see each day when I go to the grocery store, to the dentist, to the doctor's, to the hardware store, or anywhere else, who have bulging waist lines, sagging rears, and super-sized pants and shirts are also fatties. I don't mean to be unkind. I have great sympathy for every overweight person I see. We are all spending more time at the doctor's offices than we ever would have needed to spend if we had not let sugar outsmart us.
Now the interesting thing about sugar is that sugar does not have brain cells. Sugar cannot think. We human beings, however, have what the charming Belgian television detective calls "little gray cells." When Poirot gets stumped, he takes himself out of the scene and turns on his little gray cells. In other words, he thinks about what he is doing. Just imagine what we could do if we turned on our little gray cells and realized that sugar, which is brainless, has outsmarted us. Every time we reach for a fat-laden, sugar laden treat, drink, dessert, cereal, dinner item, we have let sugar outsmart us.
Imagine, we have all been taught how to read. At least at the Dick and Jane level. We can all add and subtract and multiply and possibly even do long division, although I never would have known it possible from some of my brilliant college freshmen over the years. We can answer questions on Jeopardy, we can read the super-size menu at McDonald's, we can recite team rosters and game scores ad nauseum, we can run up our charge accounts to astronomical levels without batting an eye, but we let the sugar bowl defeat us. One stupid little sugar bowl has beat out our little gray cells. Otherwise, we could wear a smaller belt, not have to take so many blood pressure pills, nor would we have to prick our finger a dozen times a day to check our blood sugar levels.
The longer I keep writing these daily tasks, the easier it gets to write them. Why is that? Because I am constantly thinking about what to write next. My little gray cells are stirring and the words come forth. It is anyone's guess whether my little gray cells will stir enough and long enough to come up with 365 daily entries, but we are almost one-third of the way to 365. The same thing happens when we focus on doing something, like developing a strategy to eat less, move more, drink water, cut down on sugar-laden beverages, and write a daily food journal. When we keep our brains working, we come up with more strategies and ideas for accomplish something than we can imagine possible.
My wife is my hero. She suffers from chronic pain, yet she goes through each day silently bearing her trials and tribulations while I whine endlessly. One way she conquers her daily problems is to put 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles together. Every time she starts a new puzzle, she tells me that she doesn't know if she can finish this one. Too many pieces the same color. Too many pieces the same shape. Too many missing side pieces. And yet, she starts on a new puzzle, finds the outside edges, begins to find links from one piece to another, and the puzzle grows and grows. First thing you know, she gives a little word of triumph, "I've finished it!"
I think our sugar battles, our soda battles, our overeating battles, or any of our struggles can be conquered by a similar strategy. We start with a big problem or a 1000 piece puzzle and we look for the missing pieces. We find a link, and it fits together. We make a small beginning to solving a big problem, and we find connections to other beginnings, to other steps we can take. And we keep going until the puzzle is put together, until our problem is solved.
Task Number 112: Develop a sugar strategy. The Curmudgeonly Professor apologizes for being so long-winded. Teaching school, I had to keep going for anywhere from 50 minutes to two hours per class without running out of words. Now I start a new task, think I can only come up with a couple of short paragraphs, and a half hour later I have rambled on and on and on. But the writing experts tell us that when we write, we write for ourselves. So maybe that is all that matters. I am writing for myself. But I hope just one or two or maybe three readers may find some suggestions or words that will help them overcome some of the same issues I have had to overcome. Good luck and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor. Oh yes, and please make a comment or two to what I write so I know whether to keep writing or go back to reading detective stories.
My wife's current 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, partially completed, using her patented pie pan puzzle piece sorting method. One piece at a time is one less piece to sort. One inch at a time, one less pound to weigh, one less little worry to carry around.