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.
Happy Mother's Day as we think of our own mothers today and to all of the mothers of our children. A mother's day bouquet from 2010 photo archives that seemed like a beautiful way to remember our mothers.
Happy New Year to my faithful blog viewers and supporters. I hope your New Year will be full of love, cheerfulness, and eternal faith and hope. Whatever happened in 2012, January 1 2013 is a new benchmark, leaving all of the past behind. As we say in economics, stuff we have done before, costs we have incurred, financial or otherwise, are fixed costs. We can't do anything about them. Sure, we may need to mend some fences and pay some debts, to fix up and patch up our errors here and there, to make amends on occasion. But we should not base today's decisions and choices on fixed costs. What matters now is what we can do about this moment, this hour, this day, this week, this month, this year. Maybe we're sick of New Year's resolutions that are rarely kept, but surely we can fix some little things here and there, show more love and kindness, stop cussing, listen more carefully, do less complaining and worrying, and be thankful for the blessings we have and for the joy of each new day. Maybe just a few little things. Then, what to do you know, little things become contagious. A smile for a tired clerk at the grocery store may be what he or she needs to finish the shift on aching legs. Patience for an old, slow person to cross the street with a walker or a cane, slowly, slowly, may remind us of our own blessing of mobility. Saying please, thank you, you're welcome, and how can I help you, might become more frequently spoken from our lips. And no matter how much or how little religion means to us, thoughts of thankfulness and gratitude will make us better persons.
May your New Year be full of sunny days, and may you see the sun shine through and look for the golden glow of hope even on the cloudiest, gloomiest days, when things seem so disouraging and hope seems so very far away, abandoning us to our fears and doubts. As Uriah Heep says, "Something will turn up." May it be so in your days ahead in 2013.
We all know that New Year's resolutions are smothered and nurtured by fear, good intentions, threats, genuiune desires to do something, guilt, and a host of other personal motivations. We also know that many of us just find last year's list of resolutions, update it to the current January 1, and vow that this year, we are really, really, absolutely, for dang sure, going to keep our resolve and do what we should have done ten or twenty or thirty years ago and never got around to. So, to avoid going "over the cliff," as we say today, here are some resolutions I won't make again this year:
Lose weight. Oh boy. Decades of overweight, yo-yoing, listening to cheers at Weight Watchers, counting calories, buying everything lo-fat, lo-cal, watching portions, skipping desserts, quitting drinking three cans of Mountain Dew a day (actually, because it had caffeine and caffeine caused a-fib), writing a book on weight loss, buying a library of weight loss books, trying to think myself thin, tabulating food points for Weight Watchers, keeping a food journal, listening to threats from my cardiologist, looking at myself in the mirror with disgust, actually reading a few pages in my library of weight loss books, I'm back where I started. Maybe my reverse psychology of not putting weight loss on my resolutions list will have a magic effect.
Repent of all my sins and bad habits. Actually, I don't have many sins or bad habits according to my latest tabulation. But check with my wife. But I do not seem to have made much progress in this direction. According to the LDS hymn, "angels above us are silent notes taking." Oh brother. Busy, busy, busy little angels with their celestial iPads and celestial iClouds and digital cameras. Every action? Really? How can one angel then keep track of more than one person? A point to ponder.
Become neat and orderly. This miraculous resolution is likely to be kept at about the same pace as going over the Congressional fiscal cliff, whatever that is. Some people are neat. They pick everything up. They put everything in it's place. They abhor clutter. They disdain bread crumbs. They can't stand a dirty dish in the sink. They brush their teeth three times a day, floss five times, and use dental mouth wash by the gallon. Then there are other people, like me, who have never had time, inclination, inspiration, or the ability to be neat. I have seven pages of computer passwords, with writing sideways, upside down, in the margins, circled, underlined, several ink colors. Now I have run out of space. I am planning to make a computer spread sheet of my passwords. Some time. I am in the planning and meditation stage so far. I also believe in leaving newspapers and books strewn around where they will be handy. I eschew sorting out the mess on my desk and work table, just as I did through 45 years of teaching school, because if it is sorted and put away, I will never find it again. Besides, much wasted time is avoided because much stuff put away at exorbitant expenditures of time is never needed again. Beware if you are messy and your wife is neat. Or vice versa.
Avoid procrastination. I bought a book once titled "How to overcome procrastination." But I never got around to read it or even open the cover. Just having the threatening title in my bookcase where it would remind me of my miserable status was enough. I finally donated the book to charity for someone who needed it much more than I did. I always felt that if you wait until the last minute, your mind is sharper, you use time more efficiently, and you are more likely to focus on what is really important.
Prioritize my activities. Steven Covey made a lot of money and sold a lot of books telling people what they obviously needed to know, viz., put first things first, know where you are going, and stuff like that. If people didn't piddle around so much wasting time and not having a clue about what to do next, they never would have needed to read Seven Habits. But most of us are a sorry lot and we need a guru and an overseer to remind us to get off our duffs, stop wasting time on NFL and NBA, and figure out what the heck we should be doing next. Or, as my son has told his wife frequently, with limited degrees of success, "plan your work and work your plan." I sort of operate as the spirit moves me. If something really is important then someone will make five phone calls and send four emails reminding me or fine me $50 for not renewing my business license on time. Meanwhile, I will have saved a whole bunch of time not wasting it on stuff, that in philosophical retrospect, never needed to be done in the first place and would have wasted a big chunk of my life. What seems important today may seem a small trifle tomorrow.
Set new goals. I have a whole batch of goals. Some of them I have met, like getting through a long night of janitor work at the University of Wyoming so I could collect 75 cents an hour and buy another can of Campbells's soup the next day. Or asking my new girl friend out on another date hoping she wouldn't dump me. That goal was rather clear. Or deciding I wanted to get a Ph.D. so I could sit in class another four years while my wife slaved and labored to put me through school. My goal now, as I tell my wife, is to remind her and myself that, "every day, in every way, I am getting better and better." My wife never listens to me say stuff like that any more. She knows better.
To be more optimistic and stop catastrophizing, if there is such a word. Someone once told me that if you remain a pessimist you will never be disappointed and, occasionally, you might be pleasantly surprised. My problem is, the worst outcome always seems like a possibility. I just don't know how to figure the odds.
The Curmudgeonly Professor hopes that he has inspired you to make a similar list of stuff you never have done or never really had any serious intention of doing for more than a few hours on New Year's Day. But we do wish you Happy New Year.
All of us have hard and difficult times at one time or another. Some times the difficulties seem insurmountable, with no solutions or possible improvement in sight. Yesterday on the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast, the commentator noted that "no matter how hard things are, they could always be worse." This little mini-sermon was followed by the choir singing Iriving Berlin's "Count Your Blessings." ("When I'm worried and I can't sleep . . . ") So, it may be hard to realize that we are still better off than we might be or might have been, but we could be in a far worse situation. And, no matter how dire our straits, we still have many blessings to count. As long as we can breathe, we all have many blessings for which we can be thankful, many people who bless our lives, much sunshine, many beautiful mountains and flowers and sunrises and sunsets. Keep your chin up. I'm trying, myself. It's not always easy.
After an emotional and highly exhausting nine months in St. George UT undergoing intense rounds of medical procedures for my wife, we finally got the go-ahead to come back north to Salt Lake City. We usually come back in May, and I was bemoaning the fact we would have no flowers in our small flower patch at the front of our house and no tomato plants in the little garden plot by the back door. One of the first things we noticed when we drove up to our driveway was that someone had planted petunias and pink and white geraniums in our front flower patch. I didn't expect anything when I looked out the back door, but there they were, three tomato plants and a squash. My next door neighbor had looked after us during our long absence. It took me a while to collect my thoughts and convey my gratitude.
This little book shows the beauty and power of the two words "Thank You" hand written on thank you cards. Not emails, not text messages, not phone calls. But messages actually written by hand on note cards and sent to the recipient. The author, John Kralik, was a struggling attorney with a world of woes and problems when he made the decision to write 365 thank yous during the coming year. The subtitle of the book is "The year a simple act of daily gratitude changed my life." By thanking friends, family, clients, doctors, dentists, people he came in contact with or that helped or crossed his path, he enriched his own life and set in motion a series of events that led to the changes in his life and the lives of the recipients of his thank you messages.
Starting off the year, with a struggling law firm, delinquent bill paying clients, a divorce, living in a substandard apartment, and facing a mountain of woes and misery, Kralik writes: "I would try to find one person to thank each day. One person to whom I would send a thank you note." (p. 17) During the year, he thanked clients for paying their bills. He thanked the Starbucks guy. He thanked people through birthday cards. He kept thanking people through the financial market crash. He kept a spreadsheet with all of his original messages.
Kralik's advice is to keep the messages on point, addressing the action or friendship briefly and explicitly, leaving all extraneous matters aside. He stresses that you should "[replace] all thank you emails with handwritten thank you notes." (p. 215)
The author discovered that recipients of his cards often saved them as keepsakes, placing them in a prominent location where they could serve as a reminder of the wonders of a simple hand-written thank you. Imagine a world in which everyone bothered to tell each other "thank you" in an indelible and permanent way for all of the good that others have done for us, and imagine the effect your cards will have on others as they follow your example.
My wife has long been a thank you card practitioner, sending out our beautiful photo note cards with a short thank you message. This past troubled winter, that included thanks for food brought in, for visits in our home, for visits by telephone, for prayers offered, for rides given to treatments, for gifts. My wife sends a birthday card to each member of our family, which consists of 5 children, 19 grand children, 4 in-law spouses, and 15 great grandchildren. We hear stories about how even the youngest children are excited to get their card with the number of $ for their age. No matter how sick my wife was, she sent me to the mailbox with the card or went to the ATM for the money to send with the card.
We have found that people usually save our photo note cards, framing them and hanging them on the wall or placing them in a frame on the mantel, a reminder of the thought behind the card and of the beauty of the image that enhances the message even more.
I cannot recommend this book strongly enough or the powerful message that it contains. You will never forget Kralik's experience, and, blessedly, if you follow his example, you may find more blessings in your own life than you ever thought possible. I invite your comments and reactions to this wonderful little book.
I have been a bit homebound this winter with my wife's illness, so I have had to become a bit more creative in finding plants, leaves, skies, trees, and whatever else shows up to photograph within a short radius of my home. Some of the best (or at leat photos I like best) are of plants and blossoms just out my front or back door, or of the many facets of the St. George sky. Just to see if my rule was impossible to follow, I grabbed my camera, wandered out the front door, then the back, and came up with about 35 photos, of which I have already deleted about 12. Here are some that I salvaged:
Blossoms on a Yucca spike
So there, you see, I could find something to photograph just outside my back and front doors. The white roses are imperfect, but so are we all, and a white rose that has lost a few petals is just as deserving of having its photo taken as any perfect rose. Photography has taught me more about the wonders of flowers and nature than any other experiences in my life. What is different about this flower? This leaf? This plant? What is the best angle to photograph it from? I feel truly blessed to have found a hobby that has provided me with such enjoyment during a hard and difficult winter, and with results that also have meant something to many other people. I truly believe that flowers and nature generally offer comfort and inspiration to anyone who will take the time to pause and look.
The following is from an email I sent to my children and siblings on January 8 concerning the progress my wife is making in regaining her health. I am reproducing it here after receiving numerous comments on it from those who read it. Perhaps these comments may help someone else:
We've learned a lot from all of our time sitting in doctor's offices, the dialysis clinic, the cancer treatment center, waiting rooms, the ER, the hospital, and wherever else our adventures have taken us. So many people are in so much pain and endure it the best they can with a straight face laced with grimaces and strain. We have seen much kindness and consideration from health care professionals of all types.
We continue to feel blessed from the phone calls, cards, notes, and attention from family, friends, and our neighbors both here and in Salt Lake. Lo and behold, one day a big jug of chicken soup appeared miraculously on our doorstep, a gift from my siblings. The soup and most of all the love and thoughts behind it were gratefully received and acknowledged. My niece and her husband continue to be our backbone and our help here, rescuing us from the ER late one night and staying with us awhile after we arrived home for awhile and helping us with transportation and errands. They have provided us with food and my niece gave us half of her delicious cherry chocolate birthday cake. Neighbors check with us constantly, bringing food and little gifts. One dear neighbor, a feisty Englishwoman in her 80s, came by the day after her husband's funeral to see Velna. When I commented on this she said, simply, "Oh, I'm all right. It's Velna I'm worried about." People have volunteered to bring food, do our housecleaning, haul us around, run errands. I know we need to accept help when needed but we've always been so independent since we got married and never felt we needed help to do anything and, by and large, we didn't. But we are learning the meaning of gratitude.
Just a couple of other things. Part of my ability to endure all of these hours in medical facilities, some times for 7-8 hours a day, has come from meeting and talking to people. You can sort of sense when someone will talk and when you should just let them pass by. But mostly if you see someone struggling to move, to walk, to lift, you know they will welcome a smile and a cheerful word. I stopped to talk to an elderly lady struggling to get around her car the other day in the grocery store parking lot. She had just left her shopping cart crutch and was trying to get to the other side of her car. After a word or two, she brightened up like a light and said, "You know, tomorrow is my 88th birthday!" I wished her happy birthday, profusely, and watched her suffer with pain as she slowly got into her car. I struck up conversations with several of the patients in the cancer infusion treatment clinic. The elderly lady sitting next to me while waiting for my wife to finish her treatment was quiet as a mouse and was just a little wisp of a thing but she lit up with a smile and told me about her children, grandchildren, and grandchildren. Another patient was an artist, a potter and teacher of art and pottery, who was busy drawing incredible pictures in an artist's sketch book. I commented on his beautiful work as he leafed through his sketch book and thus we had a wonderful conversation to help him pass the time. What struck me was, when I left, he told me "I can't tell you how much I appreciate visiting with you." I helped a lady in a "wheelie" cart get into the dollar store the other day, and then kept my eye on her to help her get things from the shelves as she went through the store. The lady at the grocery checkout counter looked so exhausted the other night that I commented to her, and she told me she was on the late shift and then would go home and take care of her five kids and get to bed some time in the middle of the night.
We never know what is troubling others, when others are weeping inwardly our outwardly, struggling with pain and fear and uncertainty about tomorrow, next week, next year. A smile, a kind word, an offer to help, a pat on the arm when appropriate. Some may even need to cry on your shoulder. And some times you may need to cry on their shoulder. Like when we see a small child with a big smile who is too young to know he or she is not supposed to talk to older people, and the child smiles and waves at us and our spirits are brighter the rest of the day as our own smile spreads across our face. Smiles and love are the most contagious of all human virtues. Love to all. The not-so-curmudgeonly professor.
Unretouched photos of morning sunrise in St. George UT on December 14 201o
Above, beginning in the east
And moving to the south . . .
And then to the west . . .
Steve Green, in the lyrics to the beautiful song "Morning Has Broken," has written the words "Praise to the morning." During the dark days of the Great Depression in the 1930s, my mother, still in her 20's, was often left alone with her children in a two room tiny home, uninsulated, heated by coal stoves, no electricity, no plumbing, no telephone, 12 miles from town while my dad worked wherever he could find a day's wages. One night the temperature hit 20 degrees below zero and she writes that she bundled all of us into one bed and waited out the stormy frozen night. But then when the morning broke, she writes that, once again, she had hope as the bright rays of the sun lit the horizon and then knew that she could go on.
I think even the bravest among us will admit that maybe once in awhile, if not often, we feel a bit afraid and intimidated by the dark. We can't see, and our minds can wander places we would rather keep it from visiting, and fear and uncertainty can lurk. But morning brings with it a new day, light, maybe even clouds and rain, but a new day in any event. And with the sunrise we look to the east, to the south, to the west, and we hope and pray for a better day, and hope that we will have the courage and fortitude to continue with our lives and find joy in the sunrise and in the coming day. And we give thanks for who we are and what we have and for those whom we love.
After a four-hour procedure at the St. George Hospital for my wife, we walked across the street to the Visitor's Center at the St. George LDS Temple and sat on the benches before this replica of Thorveldsen's statue of the Christus for a little while to collect our thoughts and get ready to move on . . . .
Blog readers may have gained the totally false impression that the Curmudgeonly Professor just sits around all day twiddling his thumbs and casting hexes and spells on those who desperately need hexed and spelled. Not so. Much of his efforts go into remaining up to date. For instance, my wife just replaced the calendar hanging on my wall with a brand new 2010 calendar. Since June, I have been looking at the page for August 2009 and have remained puzzled as to why the days didn't look like they should for the months since May 2010. Now that problem is solved.
Next thing, I just replaced the battery in my wall clock in my den. When my son takes a nap in the recliner in my den, he always takes the battery out becasuse the tick-tick-tocking drives him nuts. The last nap he took in this recliner was about 3 years ago, so you can see I have remained puzzled about the time for many moons.
My first Seiko watch I bought over 30 years ago, used for 25 years ago, and gave to my youngest son, on whose wrist it is currently functioning. My new Seiko watch, which I intended to use in a working condition for the remainder of my mortal probation, quit working after about 5 years. Maybe it just needs a new battery. My old one never needed a battery, never was cleaned or repaired, and just kept going forever. I am extremely hacked. I have been learning to get along without a watch for several weeks now as I contemplate possibly going and asking someone about a battery. What concerns me is that the battery may cost half as much as the watch originally cost, and that will really tick me off. Meanwhile, as explained above, I have a new battery in my den wall clock and I yell at my wife periodically to ask her what time it is, which she enjoys because it gives us another topic of togetherness. Thus, I have learned to make do without a watch for the first time in 200 years and may never replace the battery. Or maybe I should spend the same amount on a new Timex. Or a sundial. Whatever.
Meanwhile, I have an agenda for updating other stuff. I am trying to find my book club return forms so I don't get another couple of book shipments I don't want. I don't know why these book clubs just keep my membership current as I typically return most of the book shipments. I have, in good moral conscience, occasionally resigned them after years of egregious behavior as an irresponsible member. But then I get deluged with passionate entreaties about how much they miss me as a member and how much they want me back and they will be happy to send me umpteen free books if I will just sign up and join again. Don't they ever learn?
Moreover, I am late paying magazine subscriptions. I used to take a ton of magazines. Now I just take Newsweek, Time, Atlantic, BusinessWeek/Bloomberg, and the New Yorker. I take the New Yorker mostly to read the cartoons but do read some stuff now and then. I really do need to sort out the late bills and pay them. I do have some concerns about the future of magazines. Newsweek, especially, seems to have drastically altered its format, and Howard Feinman announced last night that he is moving to Huffington Post, having long been a pillar on the Newsweek staff.
Other than that, I am pretty much up-to-date. I just need to start sorting some thousands of books as my wife keeps reminding me that my kids will have a tough time getting rid of all of them. I am not particularly worried about that, as I figure I will be getting even with them anyway and they need to become more literate, besides.
The Curmudgeonly Professor has decided to launch forth into the self-help field. After noting that Steve Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Successful People still haunts the best seller lists after many years since publishing, I realize that I have missed the boat and should have climbed onto the self-help bandwagon eons ago. Covey's book has presumably inspired many people to arise from their posteriors, be proactive, do stuff, get with the program, and accomplish all manner of good stuff. Many people are probably also listening simultaneously to Tony Robbins and Wayne Dyer. One of my neighbors a few years ago told me that the best thing about being retired is that he no longer had to listen to those blankety-blank motivation and self-help tapes any longer.
I thought I would aim my first foray into the self-help field by concentrating on what I do best; viz., help people become chronically messy and disorganized. I would expect that, over time, I could write a book on the topic that would end up on the NYTimes best seller lists, appear on Costco and Walmart book tables and shelves in big piles, provide fodder for discussion groups, provide required reading for the newly married, furnish an inspirational present for teenage slobs, and establish new standards for new employees.
First, let me establish my credentials in this field. I have been messy all my life. I have been disorganized all my life. I have embarked on countless self-help programs and twelve-step recovery programs to attempt to overcome my sloppiness, slovenliness, surliness, and general messiness. But to no avail. Now that I am elderly, I figure, what the heck, I won't have to worry about it when I'm gone. Every once in awhile I go on a binge and clean up stuff. My binge usually lasts two or three minutes and then I tire rapidly, develop a headache, and find enough stuff that has been missing for months to keep me occupied for another few days.
To cut to the chase, so to speak, and at no charge to you, here are my Five Critical Habits of Slobs: As soon as this little blog post takes off exponentially, I will have to charge for this information, so take advantage of it while you have a chance. But wait! There's more! More enlightenment will follow!
Never put stuff away. By having stuff handy, you will save time wondering where you might have put it if you had actually put it some place you would never remember anyway.
Pile stuff up in piles. Don't worry about how high the piles are. Once stuff is in a pile, you will know that you never did throw away that important overdue book bill or book club reminder warning you to stop ignoring the "do not send" checkboxes on their periodic mailings.
If you run out of space on your desk, use the floor. There is usually a lot of floor space available. You might at least do a preliminary sort to have, say, books in piles in one area, old newspapers in another area, and dirty clothes and socks somewhere else.
Never file stuff. Filed stuff gets outdated soon anyway and will soon have to be sorted out and thrown away, just making more work and tiring you out when you could have been Twittering, Tweeting, Facbooking, MySpacing, blogging, texting, playing on your iPhone, iPad, Nano, Nook, Kindle, or doing a myraid of other constructive things. Actually, if you want to end book clutter, just buy the new super-duper Kindle and store thousands of books.
Actually, random dispersal of stuff works best, usually, because you increase the odds that you will quickly, with two or three hours or two or three days actually find what it is that you are looking for.
So, dear blog readers, that's all there is to it, to lard a sentence with indefinite antecedents. Remember, some of the most famous people on earth have been messy. 97% of all teenagers are slobs. Husbands are famous for strewing cast off items of clothing in a random path. When your home gets too messy to work in any more, go to the office. You won't have to clean your office until you either die, in which case you won't have to clean it anyway, or retire. And besides, your spousal unit (i.e., wife) won't be around to commentate on the miserable mess you live in. But why take time away from stimulating your creative juices to create new companies, float new IPOs, invent new social networking empires, and the like by wasting time sorting through your stuff? Food for thought.