December 29, 2020

4 Norms of Society Worth Ignoring

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness." 

With a nod to Charles Dickens, many of us may believe his famous opening of A Tale of Two Cities is an apt description of today's world. 

Things we thought we could count on seem to be on shaky ground. The way people, governments, and technology interact with each other seems to be shifting beneath our feet. The rules of the game have changed.

I agree, but with one important qualifier: every time in history is a combination of wisdom and foolishness, threat and calm, stupidity, and brilliance. In the middle of the chaos and upending of longtime standards, I offer another quote as a reason to be optimistic: "this too shall pass."

That said, what are these "norms" I am referring to, some that we should reassess. What seems to be common wisdom, but maybe it isn't so?

1) No one makes phone calls anymore. Texting is quicker and easier. For many of us, texting has replaced making or receiving phone calls. Maybe it is because of all the spam calls we are receiving, or maybe just another step into a very private world, but calling someone is becoming increasingly rare. 

Almost 60 million robocalls were made to Americans last year. The "Do Not Call List" has been a joke almost since its inception in 2003. Technology has allowed spammers to call your phone and appear to be from a number close to yours.

Even worse, many now go directly to voice mail without ever giving you the chance to disconnect, thereby forcing you to check and delete the message. Sure, there are phone apps that help, but answering a phone is a risky business. That is part of why texting is more popular. Also, sending a text forces someone to be more concise in what they want to say.

Unfortunately, I suggest texting often harms communication rather than helps. It is very easy to misinterpret what appears on the smartphone screen. Words written in haste or anger can cause lasting damage. Sometimes I find I have to exchange multiple messages with someone just to ensure clarity. A voice call would be much quicker and eliminate all the back-and-forth.

Our Covid experience has helped us understand the importance of person-to-person communication. Being kept away from friends and family for month-after-month-after-month has sent many of us back to an actual phone (or Zoom) call. We long to hear the sound of a voice other than our own. We need to share and get or give affirmation. We long to share with another human, even if it is just electronically.

When this is finally over, my personal hope is we will have rediscovered the joy and importance of speaking, rather than just texting. Our voices can convey feelings, emotions, and preciseness. Texts can not. 

2) Get your news and information from services that think the way you do. Few will argue that too many of us are stuck in a closed loop. We find confirmation and validation by watching news channels, reading web sites, or listening to talk radio shows and podcasts that reflect our viewpoints. This behavior is physiologically satisfying; we are not alone in how we see things.

It is also behavior that makes integration into the real world much more difficult. When you confront an idea that varies from yours, the natural reaction is to reject it. After all, your usual sources pat you on the back. The one that presents an alternate interpretation must be wrong. 

I suggest that approach to knowledge, opinion, and dare I say, truth, is a large part of our society's problem at the moment. Too many of us are incapable of acknowledging that we may not have all the answers or that others may have a valid point to consider.

Confirming my old guy status, I remember when there were just three TV networks who went to great lengths to play things right down the middle. If a story presented a liberal view, the news programs were careful to balance the presentation. Of course, they didn't have to fill 24 hours a day with content, which may be part of the problem. 

As a society, and frankly, as better informed citizens, may I suggest we all broaden our informational input. It is important to know what others are seeing, hearing and learning. And, every once in a while, you may decide the idea or belief you hold so dear needs to be reexamined.

3) Technological Progress is good for you. Not always. Planned obsolesce is particularly insidious in this area of our lives. We are expected to upgrade to a new smartphone at least every two years. Most suppliers stop providing updates to a phone's operating system after a few years to encourage that behavior. 

Recently, I was notified by Google that the Android system on my 4-year-old phone would not work for many Internet searches after next fall. Since my phone cannot be updated to the operating system required, I will find myself forced to replace it, whether I want to or not.

Betty's printer was set up with the manufacturer's instant ink replacement program when she bought it four years ago. Once we decided that letting HP tap into our home wireless network to check on our ink usage was just a bit too intrusive for our tastes, the fun began.

Trying to delete the changes in the printer's ROM to stop the company from invading our privacy became a months-long battle of phone calls, factory resets and using an Ethernet cable instead of WiFi to hook up the printer. Still, the machine asks us to sign in to our (non-existent) account every time it is powered on.

I am not a Luddite. I love what technology allows me to do. I enjoy its benefits....when they benefit me. What irks me is when a machine, device, or company tries to force my hand. 

4) Walls make better neighbors. While lots of talk and emotion has centered on the barrier between the U.S. and our southern neighbor, that is not really the wall I am referring to, although that applies, too. I use "wall" as a metaphor for the barrier many of us erect to keep others away.

Where I live, walls around every suburban home are so common that finding a neighborhood without them seems odd. Those beige-colored walls allow us to drive into our garage, put down the door, and step into our home without encountering anyone else. We spend time in our walled-in backyard, isolated from even the people who live on either side of us. Knowing their names would be uncommon for most of us. Front porches? Not here.

If the discord of the last several years has proven anything (and it has proven quite a lot), it is important to maintain a dialogue between people. It is the absolute necessity of having some common ground between us and others to allow things as essential as virus control, economic progress, and a functioning country. 

We have become a nation of walls, literal and figurative, between groups of people, large and small, emphasizing the differences, not the similarities between us. And, how's that working out for us?

Society must have some shared beliefs, expectations, goals, and ways of living, or it shatters into factions constantly at war, usually figuratively but not always. Unfortunately, some of those points of agreement actually pull us apart.

I am interested in your thoughts on these (and other) ways we look at what is normal and what may need to be adjusted or abandoned as 2021 looms on the horizon.

December 26, 2020

Will Covid Be A Turning Point....For Good?

Maybe this is just an end-of-the-year desperate desire to find some good in what we have been forced to endure for the last 10 months. Or maybe my deeply buried, optimistic side is struggling back to the surface. 

Whatever the cause, I actually had a minor epiphany a few weeks ago: what if the horrible nature of the Covid pandemic actually ended up doing some good? What if all the deaths and illnesses were not completely in vain but made us change some important parts of our collective lives?

We must never forget what started earlier this year. How a combination of hubris, political calculations, and the unstoppable force of nature killed and sickened so many and upended our world. But, if we don't learn some lessons from the experience, haven't we missed a tremendous opportunity to improve? 

To that end, here are some thoughts I had about the potential for change.

Value essential workers. Doctors, nurses, hospital staff, those who work in nursing and retirement care facilities, firefighters, police...the type of people we think of as providing essential service to the rest of us have played a major role in our collective lives since March. These folks have always been necessary but even more so since March. They deserve everything and anything we can do to make their lives a little brighter and the load a little lighter.

There is an entirely new class of essential workers that Covid has exposed, or maybe the better word is spotlighted for us. To borrow a military expression, these are the tens of thousands of people on the front line, providing critical service to us all. After too long filling an almost invisible role, grocery store clerks, stockers, and delivery people have become noticeable for their day-in-day-out labor. The people that work to sort, package whatever we have ordered online, and then drive the trucks that bring all packages to do our door keep us supplied, entertained, educated, and sane during a time when our social moorings have been demolished. 

Even though it seems embarrassing to have to point this out, teachers must be on this list. Early on, moms and dads were forced to take on the critical duty of providing for their children's educational needs, a task many were not really equipped to handle.

Then, when it became obvious this was not going to be a short-term inconvenience, teachers took on the extra load of preparing and teaching virtual lessons, coupled with partial in-person duties, when possible. The men and women we give the responsibility to prepare our children for a meaningful life are underpaid and underappreciated in normal times. Their dedication deserves our strongest support in the midst of a double workload, both emotional and fiscal. 


Make clear the importance of relationships. Zoom and its sister apps have saved our collective bacon this year. Many businesses have stayed afloat and functioning, teachers have instructed our kids, family members have shared storytime, birthdays, and other important milestones with these electronic links.

But, quite obviously, we are missing human contact. Hugs, handshakes, in-person greeting, smiles, laughter, tears...The importance to our emotional and physical wellbeing has never been more apparent. Humans are social animals. I venture to guess that enforced isolation is partly responsible for some of the divisions within our country at the moment. We are physically cut off from others; that could easily lead to emotional separation. 

Kickstart climate change efforts. I'm sure you remember some of the dramatic photographs from around the world during the early days of the pandemic. With businesses closed, fewer people driving, and large manufacturing plants on reduced schedules, the skies over many major cities worldwide, were suddenly almost free of visible pollution. Mother Nature had taken the opportunity of reduced human activity to blow away the gunk.

Of course, as soon as we began to open back up again in early summer, the pollution returned. What that small window of better air made abundantly clear was our impact on what we breathe and live with. Hopefully, that vivid demonstration of what is possible was not a one-off display but a preview of our future. 

Developing a vaccine in record time for Covid should encourage us in the battle against other diseases. Building on what scientists had learned during the SARS epidemic of the rally 2000s, the ability to produce highly effective vaccines in just months was an amazing demonstration of the power of money and knowledge to help all of mankind. While real-life use will probably uncover some issues, the promise of these shots will alter the world's future moving forward.

Based on this success, one would hope that those working on the treatment and prevention of other diseases would redouble their efforts. Cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart disease...the things that kill so many of us are solvable. The rapid work on Covid shows the way forward: a singular focus and the financial support to put these deadly scourges behind us. 

Demonstrate the importance of more self-reliance. Locked up at home, severely restricted in shopping opportunities, having away-from-home entertainment come to a screeching halt, finding our children depending upon us for their education...Covid has forced many to rediscover our innate abilities to solve problems and find solutions. 

"They" can't solve everything. "They" may be part of the problem. "They" may actually be making things worse.  We have been pushed to become creative and innovative when dealing with the hassles, shortcomings, and dangerous world we now confront. We are stronger than we thought. We have discovered solutions to obstacles on our own.

Rediscovering the joy of cooking and baking at home, or a long lost passion or interest. Learning to be content with ourselves. Finding an unlimited world of entertainment and education online, most of it free for the asking. Finding out shopping is not as important as we once believed it to be. Not missing the hours spent in cars and traffic.

Covid-19 has been a horrific experience. It has exposed the strange sight of sane people denying reality because it is inconvenient. It continues to kill and sicken tens of thousands a day all around the world. It has likely changed parts of the economy and employment options for years to come. Traveling on a plane, getting on a cruise ship, even taking a road trip remains too dangerous for most to consider.

But, like many disasters, from the negative effects may come some positives. As one of the worst years I can ever remember comes to a close, I am turning my eyes and thoughts to what 2021 may hold for us all. Fingers crossed, I think of the upside before us.

December 18, 2020

Family Break Time - So An Early Merry Christmas!

As you read this, our family is in Flagstaff spending time together. We are away from thoughts of pandemics, politics, bills, jobs, school, and anything else that might put a damper on this season of the year. I am reminding myself why I am not a big fan of below-freezing temperatures.

We are not running away from our problems; we are very aware of the real world that isn't stopping so we can get off. We are counting our blessings to be able to do what too many of us can't: enjoy family time together with our only focus on games, good movies, and meals shared with each other. We are building memories that will last a lifetime. We are giving our grandkids the gift of uninterrupted attention and love while we can.

So, I will be taking a longer break until the next post. We aren't taking computers, and cell service is spotty! Comments on this post have been disabled since I may not have much time to respond.

Our focus will be on the eight of us (plus two dogs) sharing time and love at the "most wonderful time of the year."

Look for a fresh post on December 26th, the day after Christmas.

In the meantime, the very best to you and those you love.

December 15, 2020

Take Out The Trash That Clutters Our Lives

We can almost taste the end of 2020. It is just a few weeks ahead. I know that all our problems won't magically end on January 1st, but it will still feel good to start a new year with its promise of solutions. 

So, this seems like the perfect time to talk about taking out the (metaphorical) trash. As I review the "trash" that needs to be put by the curb, I am reminded how much is still part of my life and how much work I still have to do.

One chore we are all familiar with is taking out the trash. While it may not be fun, it is necessary. Our junk stuff will not walk itself to the curb for pickup. Holding on to it serves no purpose but to clutter up our lives.

I suggest the same requirement exists in our personal lives. A satisfying retirement will require getting rid of things regularly that no longer serve a purpose or just clutter up your life. A life accumulates various types of  "trash" that are best dumped.

Self-imposed Limits. I'm hard-pressed to think of anything more destructive to our personal development and growth than the limits we put on ourselves (see previous post about breaking out of our creative comfort zone). We think we aren't very creative, so we never explore that part of us. We have been told by someone in the past we aren't very smart or strong or productive or capable or.....(fill in your externally imposed limits). We have internalized that judgment of part of us by accepting someone else's view of our abilities as true. So, we no longer try.

We have failed at a previous attempt to form a meaningful relationship, start a business, write a book, learn to play tennis, grow vegetables in the back yard....whatever...and so we are afraid. We eliminate the chance of failure by refusing to try. Actually, we eliminate the chance of success.

Self-imposed limits are part of the trash of our life that must be disposed of regularly. These limits will limit your happiness and satisfaction. These limits will make it impossible for you to grow to your potential. Label these self-imposed limits for what they are: garbage that needs to go. 

Habits that no longer serve a purpose. We all have them. They could be habits we know aren't good for us but are tough to dump. They could be habits that affect our interaction with others. The list is long, and the causes are complicated. I tried to quit smoking at least five times before it actually stuck back in the late '80s. 

In this case, though, I'm referring to habits or patterns of behavior that once served us well but no longer do. Previous posts have talked about how I fell into a routine of reading two newspapers every morning until I realized I was wasting my most productive time of the day on something that could be done later (or eventually dropped completely). Maybe we have always answered every e-mail the second it hits our inbox until we realize that is amazingly unproductive.

Pre-Covid going out to eat a few nights a week was an easy habit to develop. Cooking after a full day of work is not something everyone looks forward to. But, now that you are retired, the pattern of eating dinners at a restaurant no longer serves the same purpose. Also, it is probably putting a major dent in your retirement budget. Have you noticed a major saving during the last year since going out has been such a no-no? 

I used to buy lots of books from Amazon until I ran out of bookshelf space. Now, the library, with the purchase of an occasional book I really want to read, is a much better match for my lifestyle. 

We are resistant to change and comfortable with our routines. In fact, for many of us, our routines comfort us to the point where even the simplest change takes effort. But, are the routines and habits still serving a purpose? Do some of them need to be taken to the curb?

Grudges and Past Hurts. Here is a tough one. Doesn't it feel good to dislike someone who did you wrong all those years ago? It is easy to work up a towering inferno or rage and anger...until you stop to remember what caused the problem in the first place, and can't. Or, you review where the grudge came from, and now, years later, it seems so petty and silly. 

An example of grudges and past hurts that continue to harm us is the divisions and ill will caused by politics. Speaking for myself, I know how hard it is to leave all that stuff by the curb and move forward. This election has been a prime example, simply because the drama never seems to end.

Holding on to an insult or unkind action is never very helpful. It may feel good for a moment to zing someone back but rarely does it solve the problem. Even worse is to allow a past hurt to fester for years, preventing you from moving on.

Taking out the trash every week helps keep your house free of clutter and unpleasant smells. Getting rid of the trash in your life is more complicated but every bit as important.

Kick that trash and clutter to the curb to start 2021.


December 11, 2020

Will You Get a Covid Vaccine Shot?

 In record time, several pharmaceutical companies have developed vaccines that seem to be extremely effective against Covid-19. After multiple clinical trials and lab testing, they appear to be ready for prime time. The FDA has yet to approve any of the drugs for public distribution, but permission to proceed is very close, maybe even granted since this post was written.

The U.K. started giving Jabs, as they call it, earlier this week. Apparently, two people who had very bad allergies to several things had a reaction to the shot, so the drug company is cautioning those who carry an Epipen to avoid shots at this time.

The logistics of distributing this medicine will not be simple. The speed at which doses can be produced is unknown. One company says they may be able to produce 100 million doses by spring. While that sounds like a lot, remember that people all over the world are in need. 

Exacting standards for both preparation and storage will make a quick nationwide rollout impossible.  Who is offered the vaccines, and in what priority is a decision still under discussion. As you might imagine, there are major moral, economic, and political calculations involved. Are there enough people trained to inject others is a real question. Will the military have to help with distribution? 

Several public figures have stepped forward to help promote the safety of the shots. Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, and Joe Biden have said they will be publically inoculated to show their support, both literally and figurately. At some point, we should expect Hollywood and sports celebrities to join them.

Obviously, the long term effect of a particular type of vaccine is unknown. Anyone who accepts one of the first batches of doses is taking a risk, however small. Because of pre-existing conditions, some may not be the best candidates this early in the process. There are also tens of millions of people who hold beliefs about most vaccines that would mean they are not likely to volunteer to be poked with a needle.

Anti-vaxxers will complicate the effectiveness of any medicine. If even a significant minority of any country's population chooses to not be protected, the spread of Covid will continue to be a global problem. Any anti-vaxxer who falls ill might need hospital space and medical care. And, of course, they could affect others in the family or around them.

Could businesses require proof of a vaccine to become employed? Will airline companies ask for proof before allowing people to board planes? What about schools and colleges? If so, how will those who refuse the shot be dealt with?

All of which brings me to the question I am asking you: will you get a Covid vaccine when it becomes available? For high-risk folks, that may be a question that becomes real over the next few months. For those who are at a lower risk of becoming seriously ill or die from the pandemic, the question may not become a reality for the better part of 2021.

Eventually, each of us will be faced with a critical decision: get a shot now or wait for any side effects to surface and the safety of the medicine to be validated by others.

So, there you have it: what will you do when the opportunity presents itself?

December 8, 2020

Moving Away From Our Comfort Zone

painted several months ago

Over a year ago, I wrote about attempting to paint. For some reason, I found myself doing something I had never tried before. For years, I had told myself I had no ability in this area. Even with a ruler, I had trouble drawing a straight line. 

Then I stumbled across a few paintings my father had completed during the last several years of his life. He had never demonstrated any interest in putting brush to canvas. But, something motivated him to give it a try; his works were quite attractive. He experimented with oils, acrylics, and even watercolor while taking classes and practicing in an art studio near my parent's retirement home.

I guess that was the moment when I thought, "If he could give it a try, then so could I." Searching the Internet, I ran across the Bob Ross channel. Famous for a technique of oil painting known as wet-on-wet, his silky smooth, calm voice promised that anyone could paint. As he said, "There are no mistakes, just happy accidents." 

Even though he passed away in 1995, his "Joy of Painting" television series continues on many PBS stations. Every one of his episodes over a 31 season period is available on YouTube. With artist wife, Betty, urging me to give it a try, I stepped bravely into the world of painting. 

Bob Ross makes it all look much easier than his technique really is for someone with zero experience. My accidents weren't all that happy. A range of mountains one time would look OK. The next time, they resembled an undulating brown blob with some white streaks that were supposed to be snow. My trees had very odd-looking branches. A cabin? It seemed about ready to topple over.

I stuck with it, partly because I had invested several hundred dollars in supplies, and mostly because I actually enjoyed the process. The completion of a painting might be met with disappointment at the outcome, but I found myself anxious to pick up a fresh canvas (or canvas board) and go at it again.

Over time, there was improvement. I allowed family members to see what had been created. To their credit, support was what I received, even if the end result was marginal. I knew there was some progress when Betty suggested (allowed?) that I frame a few and mount them in the living room.

About 15 months later, I can report the experience is still frustrating because my paintings have parts that look OK, coupled with sections that don't. Yet, I continue to look forward to picking up the brushes and trying another.

I have moved beyond just trying to mimic Bob Ross's style. Using the wet-on-wet approach for part of the painting, then switching to applying oil paint directly to a dry canvas gives me better control of the final look I want. So, I guess my technique is Bob Ross-Lowry. There is no Youtube channel yet, but I am having fun.

A few readers have asked if I am still painting, and would I consent to exposing a few of the more recent ones here. At the risk of public embarrassment, I am doing so. Not because any of these paintings are great, or even all that good. But, if I am to fully embrace the idea that a comfort zone needs to be ignored now and then, a demonstration is necessary.

Studio set up

The point of this post is really to emphasize my contention that retirement offers us the chance to take a chance....on almost anything. A lifestyle change, a new hobby, different use of our time, learning a new language, a renewed dedication to fitness...whatever we think we might like to try, we can. For me, it has been painting. For you?

A comfort zone is a good thing for many parts of our life, but not all. If we allow ourselves to only stay comfortable in everything, how will we discover something that turns us on, something that brings satisfaction?

December 5, 2020

Life is a Box of Chocolates...or Jelly Beans

First posted over seven years ago, this is one of the more powerful visuals I have seen in quite a while. In a way you can't ignore, it shows us the effects of decisions we make with the time given to us. Then, it asks some important, possibly life-changing questions.

With a new year just ahead, this seems like a good opportunity to talk about time.

Watch the video, read my recap, and see what your answers may be.

If all that went by too quickly, the average American will live 28,835 days, or 79 years. How do we spend that time?

  • Just to get to the edge of adulthood, age 15 in this example, we spend 5,475 days.
  • 8, 477 days are spent asleep
  • 1,635 days are spent eating and preparing food
  • 3,202 days are spent at work
  • 1,099 days are spent commuting to that work, or other errands
  • 2,676 days are spent watching television in some form
  • 1,576 days are spent doing chores and household duties
  • 564 days are spent caring for family and friends
  • 671 days are spent bathing, grooming, and other bathroom duties
  • 720 days are spent on community and religious activities

That leaves, on average, 2,740 days, or 7.5 years of our life to do everything else that interests or motivates us.

So, the obvious questions:

*Depending on your age, how many "beans" do you think you may have left?

*What do you plan on doing with them?

*What if only half of those 2,740 beans are left in your pile. Now what?

*What if only half of that half is left? What would you do differently?

*How are you going to spend your remaining beans?

Makes you think, doesn't it?

December 1, 2020

Mr. Rogers Is Helping Me - Really?


A much shorter post than normal for me, but the message is quite straightforward. 

Recently I have been kind of immersed in the life and impact of Mr. Rogers. I guess that's a little odd for someone my age, but there is something so hopeful and encouraging about how he went about teaching and influencing children with a sincere approach.

He honestly cared about people "just the way they are," and he truly listened to what children (and adults) were saying when they expressed worries or concerns. Then, he responded in a way that reflected those worries while offering an explanation designed to comfort and calm the person he communicated with. He didn't sugarcoat bad things but helped a young mind process them.

I thought about the way he dealt with the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, or toward the end of his life, how he addressed children and their parents right after 9/11. He had a way of speaking slowly, choosing his words and inflection with great care, all while acknowledging the uneasiness others felt at that moment.

Like you, I have been worrying a lot about the fate of our country. Under assault by a deadly virus, racial unrest, an illogical refusal by many regarding masks or simple safety precautions, and the effect of an election that, at times, seemed destined to veer completely off the rails. I have had some trouble sleeping and turning off the chatter.

But, in listening to a tremendous podcast about Fred Rogers (Finding Fred on all major podcast sites) and reading a few books about his approach to worry and uncertainty, his total love for others, and his unfailing optimism for the human race, I feel better than I have in a while.

Maybe just pulling away from my own filters and trying to see things through someone else's' eyes, like Mr. Rogers, is exactly what I needed at this point.

Mr. Rogers was a unique TV personality and human being, one we can look to for comfort and encouragement. Thank for the virtual warm hugs, Fred.