Tag Archives: Everyday life

Giving it Up

(From Late February, 2018)

It’s Lent.  The time when Christians commemorate the approach of Good Friday (maybe THAT’s the day that should be called Black Friday) and Easter.

In some churches people are encouraged to give things up during the 40 days of Lent.  I believe it has to do with showing solidarity with Christ through some minor personal sacrifice.

I didn’t grow up with that tradition and, frankly, don’t like giving things up.  My New Year’s resolutions usually contain qualifiers like “less,” “try to” and “if convenient.”  I’m not proud of that, but it’s true.  I can try to change and do it less, if it’s convenient.

I know that the power of religious belief can help people do remarkable things.  My father-in-law quit smoking, cold-turkey, during Lent one year.  Others start the process of “getting off of sugar.”  I don’t smoke. And as far as sugar goes, the Movie “Michael” is instructive.  Played by John Travolta, the Arch Angel Michael heaps sugar onto his cereal.  When asked why, he says there isn’t any sugar in Heaven.  He then says, “No matter what they say, you can’t get enough sugar.”

Medical science, of course, disagrees with that, but hey; he was an angel!

A week into Lent, I’ve decided that there is something I need to give up.  Comedy.  Not making it, but listening to it.

I like listening to people talk when I drive, and talk radio is painful to hear.  But, with Sirius/XM in our car, we have five or six channels of stand-up comedy.  When I’m at home I can listen to comedians on Pandora or IHeart Radio apps on my phone.

It’s gotten to the point where I fall asleep each night to comedy on my pillow speaker.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with comedy per se.  Some is not tasteful and can be downright offensive, partly because that’s what comedians are supposed to do, I guess.  I avoid those.

The problem is, I think, that comedy has become my brain sugar.  As it is, I can quote a comedian’s take on almost any topic that comes up.  So far my family and friends have been tolerant of my references, but even I’m finding them (my references) to be tiresome.

So, I think it’s time for me to listen to more music, or maybe some un-funny audio books or something.  Not forever, but for what remains of the 40 days. 

If you see me in tears at some point, you’ll know that I’ve kept my pledge.



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Each time there is a government shut-down, or the threat of one, a term comes up that gets people thinking.  That term is “non-essential government employees.”

Now, none of us want the term “non-essential” next to our names.  After all, it’s a subjective designation.  Somebody we don’t even know decides which jobs are essential and which ones aren’t.  I can a person who works very hard at their government job being insulted by being called non-essential.  I would be too.

To be honest, the two times I’ve left jobs in my career – one my idea, one not – I was a little disappointed that things continued on without me.  That didn’t mean I wasn’t valuable to those places, but I was clearly not essential.

The framers of the Constitution had some definite ideas about what the Federal government should look like.  They were mostly concerned with national defense and facilitating relationships between the different states and other countries.  Nobody envisioned the behemoth that we have created.  Nobody thought that so many would rely on the Federal government for their livelihood, health care, housing, and much more.

As this most recent shut-down started, the Federal government had shrunken to only 2,723,000 non-active-duty military employees — the lowest number since 1966, due in part to a hiring freeze over the past year.  That’s more than the population of Chicago, in case you wondered.

We have gotten into the habit of asking the Federal government to do a lot of things for us, and there are people who feel that much more government involvement would be an excellent idea.  Others would like things to evolve back towards what our founders had in mind, with a majority of needed government activity taking place at the state level.

It’s also true that the courts have determined that there are many “constitutional” functions for the Federal government that seem to them like things the founders probably would have approved.  Others vigorously dispute those rulings.

Fraud and corruption happen at every level of government, just as it does in private companies, non-profits, churches, and even families.  I would contend that the bigger the organization, the greater the corruption. 

That being said, who among us is even shocked to read about millions and billions in fraud in government programs?  The good news is that some of those 2, 723,000 were involved in discovering the fraud.

Time will tell whether government gets bigger or smaller.  I would bet bigger, but maybe at a slower pace.  If more of us are working and taking care of ourselves, fewer services will be essential to us.  And that’s not a bad thing. 


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Personal Dictionary

When we’re very little there are a lot of things we can’t do.  As much as we’d like to drive a car or fly a rocket ship or be a cow-person, if you’re five years old, you can only pretend to do those things.  They aren’t age-appropriate.

As life speeds along, there comes a time when we, as individuals, start to realize that there are some activities and things we can probably take off our lists of likely activities.  Not because we’re not old enough, but because we’re too old, feel too old, or are not adventurous enough.

In that vein, here are a few words and phrases that I have eliminated from my personal dictionary of things I’ll ever again need to say:

1.      Bungee jump

2.      Speedo

3.      Rappel

4.      Double Axel

5.      Parachute

6.      Maserati

7.      Tri-athalon

8.      Nobel Prize

9.      Fist fight

10.   Helmet

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that people at any age can’t say the above words, or do the things they imply.  I’ve heard of 90-somethings running marathons, and President Bush 41 did a parachute jump when he was in his 80s, I think 

I’m saying that for me, figure skating or parachute jumping or driving a car 150 miles-per-hour isn’t something that’s likely to happen, and I’m okay with it.  And any activity that requires a helmet is, by definition, not for someone who values their head.

My last fist fight was in 8th grade, and was really more of a shoving match.  We were both hoping for an authority figure to stop us, which they did.

And wearing a Speedo… I don’t think any of us want to see that.

Have I given up?  Not at all.  Walking, bicycling, moderate running – these are all activities I hope I’ll enjoy for years to come.  Part of it is that as time goes on I think we redefine what “adventure” means to us.  It’s an adventure to keep up with a one-year-old grandchild, just as it is an adventure to clean the gutters this time of year.  It doesn’t compare to rappelling off of a cliff or bungee jumping, but there’s just enough potential of danger to give a tiny thrill.

Actually, aging itself takes a little courage.  Boldly facing the future with a smile – okay, and maybe a Speedo – is what separates the courageous from the cowardly.

I’m up to the challenge.  I’ll keep a helmet handy, just in case.

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Life Is A Matryoshka Doll

(From November 2017)


I’m sure you’ve seen those amazing Russian nesting dolls.  They’re called matryoshka dolls, and I’m beginning to think they are an example of art imitating life.

It seems like everywhere I look I see a task that needs to be done, which could easily be done if another task were done, which can’t be accomplished until yet a third task is completed.

Take my office (“please,” as Henny Youngman would say), for example.  There is a box of things to go to Goodwill, but it needs to be gone through to make sure there is nothing I might need.  To do that I’ll need to make space on my table.  To do that I’ll have to go through a pile of papers, since there might be receipts or other information I’ll miss if it’s thrown away.

A task, within a task, within a task.

Getting healthier can be a matryoshka doll too.  Running?  Not until I lose some weight so my knees and ankles don’t give out.  Lose weight?  Not without vigorous exercise.

Of course, these are all mostly just excuses.  If I or anyone else thinks that getting from point A to point B will not include numerous stops along the way, we haven’t been paying attention.

I’ve always been someone who wants to take some grand action and then sit back and enjoy the splendor of what I’ve accomplished.  I like playing the piano, but not enough to take lessons.  I like writing, but avoid taking classes to improve.  I like having a nice garden, and I don’t mind weeding it thoroughly, but when the weeds come back in two weeks my enthusiasm has waned.

I’m not lazy per se, but for some reason I resist opening up those nesting dolls to get at the grand finale in the middle – the creamy center of the Cadbury egg.

In the past, I’ve burst through these mental logjams by managing to put forth a spasm of energy to get through all the projects within projects within projects in one part of my life or another.

Honestly, I think the answer is probably to shut off my phone, computer, and television for a few days.  And maybe I should start drinking coffee.

With shorter days and longer nights, it is especially important for me to dredge up some enthusiasm, so to assure that I’m successful in my efforts to make progress, I think it’s time to buy some Superman underpants.  If that doesn’t do it, nothing will.

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Interesting Times

(From November 2017)

It seems that there is a never-ending flood of interesting news these days.  “Interesting” doesn’t mean good or bad or odd, though some of all three have come our way.

The skimpy curtain on Hollywood’s power brokers has been pulled back.  I don’t know anyone who has been surprised by the revelations of sexual predation.  The “casting couch” has been part of show business history as long as there have been movies.  And, men behaving badly predates that by, oh, ten thousand years or so.

I always assumed that the producers and directors used coercion to tempt lovely young starlets onto that couch.  Come to find out, it isn’t always a couch, it goes way beyond coercion and is sometimes rape, and the victims aren’t always women.

The most interesting part of the recent disclosures may be both the courage of those who have come forward and the cowardice of the people who knew, and said nothing.  That, and the hypocrisy of the women-centric political stands of some of the worst offenders.

In other news: the Russians.  Real news, fake news, Republicans, Democrats… you name it.  It’s interesting that the key ingredients are power, influence, and money.  Some of it is, undoubtedly, innocent entrepreneurship, but some of it doesn’t sound like it is on the up-and-up.  Time will tell.

The National Football League is having a problem.  It’s odd to see empty seats in stadiums so early in the season for teams that are pretty good.  I’m not as upset by players kneeling during the National Anthem as some people are. However, I think there are other ways for the players to be active in working on societal issues, and many of them do a lot of good work in their communities.  That’s why their actions are so, what’s the word… dumb.  I hope things resolve soon.

There have been more shootings, acid attacks, knock-out punches at strangers, and cars running into people.  Chicagoans are killing each other at a rapid pace, despite tough gun laws.  Maybe things would be worse without those laws.  It’s hard to say.

Finally, it’s dark out.  Without kids at home and their multiple school and work activities, it’s getting harder every year at this time to stay awake long enough to have dinner.  I can’t imagine living in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Yes, there is much going on in the world, and I’ve touched on only a bit of it.  I think it is becoming harder to focus on the most important things in our lives.  Only you know what those things are, but they probably don’t involve Hollywood, Russia, or the NFL. 



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Let Me Explain…

Sunday afternoon I asked my son-in-law if he wanted a Coca-cola.  My granddaughter began to laugh, thinking her grandfather had thought up another silly word.  She had only heard the beverage referred to as “Coke.”

Earlier, I was in the kitchen explaining to several 30-somethings what Burma Shave highway signs were, to bring some context to the signs the Earth Wood and Fire Tour people had put out around the area.  If you don’t know, Burma Shave had series of red signs all over the highways of our country that told a story.  The only one I can remember is: “Don’t go passing… on a slope… unless you have… a periscope.”  And the last sign would always say “Burma Shave!”

Later, while watching football, I explained that until around 1970, field goal kickers used their toes, and came at the ball from straight behind.  That was before soccer kickers took over.

It seems that I’m spending more time explaining things that I thought everybody knew, only to realize they hadn’t been born yet when these things happened.

It’s only fair, I guess, as those same younger people are constantly explaining things to me, although I’m still a little vague on “hashtags.”

People my age also find ourselves explaining things to people who are older than we are.  Comedian Mike Birbiglia tells that his mother, with help, had sent her first fax to Mike.  Then she called and asked him to fax it back, since it was her only copy.

Sometimes explaining things like Twitter and Facebook to older people leaves them with facial expressions that denote befuddlement.  It isn’t that they don’t get it; they just don’t see the need for such things.  Letters and phones and personal contact worked just fine.  And you know, they make a good point.

Some things are hard to explain.  Why is it considered a burden to call someone on their phone instead of typing a text message to them?  It’s called a phone, right?

Also, I still don’t understand why we have Daylight Savings Time.  Does anybody really think time is being saved?

The act of explaining things to people assumes that they want to hear them.  I try to get a read on that, but I fear sometimes my listeners are just being polite – especially if I’ve explained those things multiple times in the past.

I can’t explain why they’re so kind.


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(From Autumn 2017)

Autumn is here for sure, judging by the cool nights and the smell of the leaves.  It was inevitable, of course.  It happens every year around this time.

There are a lot of beautiful days in October, once the rain stops.  There are also German wasps attacking our food, box elder bugs crawling on and into our houses, and Japanese beetles flying around biting us.  But, the mosquitoes are mostly gone, so it’s a fair trade.

When summer turns into autumn, it’s not a bad thing.  School starts, everybody goes back to work, and the nights are better for sleeping.

However, when fall turns into winter, it’s a different story.  It’s like for no good reason nature suddenly hates us.  We get used to it, but the transition can be pretty rough.

We don’t get top ten lists on late night television anymore, so I thought I’d share a list of reasons why autumn is special.

10. Pumpkin-spice flavoring now available in every conceivable food and drink.

9.  Leaves in yard cover up weeds.

8.  Football on television helps keep our minds off of politics.  Oops.  Scratch that one.

7.  NHL playoffs are finally over.

6.  Walks in woods made more interesting by flying arrows and bullets.

5.  Last year’s Christmas decorations taken down to make room for this year’s Halloween decorations.

4.  Homework, and after school activities reduce awkward family time.

3.  Summer-tanned skin returns to normal pasty color.

2.  Realization that the 37 house and yard projects can’t possibly get done again this year.

1.  Putting away the lawn mower, roto-tiller, and weed-whacker, and getting the snow-blower ready to roll. 

That’s my top ten list, for what it’s worth. 

Seasons come and go as long as we’re around to notice them.  Some places don’t have the weather differences we have, but those places haven’t been too great for living lately.

So, I guess we might just as well embrace autumn for what may be its best quality: namely, that it isn’t winter.         

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