Thursday, January 31, 2008

The little things

Essentially, this is another post on perspective. My oldest son got a hold of the camera the other day and took some photos. I really liked how some of them turned out. He needs some work on his subject matter, but that's OK. Here's a sample:

This is my wife's guitar case next to our Thanksgiving tree. (we're still thankful, why should we take it down?)
This is the control to our stove top. I wish you couldn't see the dirt and gunk in the little slats there.
This is a picture of a cabinet at the bottom of our book shelves taken through the slats of the rocking chair.
This is a picture of our Dr. Seuss collection. The man was a literary genious.

This is a close up of some old molecular models that I used in organic chemistry a long time ago. The boys like to play with these and build things. I think it would be a lot of fun if I could still name the structures that they made. I can't. I think higher of myself for that.

Now we're getting at what I wanted to write about today. The little things, like this molecule are really the big things in life. I was looking at some pictures a friend posted on his Facebook page and was impressed at some of the places he had been. He had pictures from England, Spain, Tokyo, St. Louis, Hawaii and California. I think those are just the places that he has visited recently (he's a pilot, he gets around quite a bit). Of course I'm jealous and wish I could visit all those places, but at the same time, I'm glad that I haven't.

My boys were reading a book the other day about John Muir and there was part where a little girl asked him to show her around Yosemite (I think that's where it was). John Muir told her no, that she would not appreciate it and then handed her a magnifying glass and told her to learn what was around her. Only after she had learned to understand and appreciate the little things around her would he give the girl a tour of the great things of Yosemite. Without an understanding of the microscopic world that is the building block for everything, you can never really appreciate the great things.

I'm relatively new to the area in which I live. I am quite competent at getting to school and back, but I really don't know my way around very well. I do, however know my route to school fairly well. I know about the owl that lives in the area. I know about the ducks in the swampy area and the rabbits that live in the nearby bushes. I have seen the deer roaming around and the hawks hunting over the fields. I travel through that area at all times of day and night and I am in a quiet enough vehicle that I don't scare away the wildlife around me (except the ducks, they seem to fly away every time). I have a certain understanding of the area that I feel that few others have. It gives me a different perspective and understanding. There is a certain beauty in watching the owl circle over a field before diving down and catching dinner. Is it as spectacular as some of the views I've seen while hiking Mt. Timp? No. But without the perspective of the integral relationship between all the animals and plants, would I really appreciate what I was seeing? I don't think so.

One of my goals in life is to live in the midwest for a bit. (My wife is going to hate me for this.) Not because I have any attraction to what is there, but because I don't understand it. God created all that is on this earth and made it beautiful. If I don't see the beauty of Nebraska, I want to learn to understand the land well enough to see the beauty. I don't think that we can fully appreciate the great wonders of this world if we can't appreciate the world immediately around us. I still want to see the Himalayas and the Appalachian trail, but I will regret that I don't understand it as well as I should. The true beauty of things lies in the simple building blocks working together to make such a complex system.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


It's interesting how quickly perspective can change when there is a sudden change in measuring tools. Six-Pence was our baby for two years. Yesterday, he became HUGE! Suddenly his communication abilities seem greater than they used to be and he seems to understand a lot more. I don't think that anything really changed, except that now we have a helpless newborn. Here's a picture of Six-Pence the Gargantuan. Oddly, the Mugwump didn't suddenly grow, I think he is too distant from the baby.

So here's the baby in his little chair. Notice the strap that is supposed to hold the child in the chair on the bottom, errr left of the picture. The strap is as big as he is. I can't believe that Shackleton was a full pound bigger than Six-Pence at birth, and a pound and a half bigger than the Mugwump.

Another thing that has changed, is peoples' perspective on birth. It seems that it has become a procedure rather than something that just happens. With all of the "required" equipment for birth, it's amazing that anyone survived birth before all of these technological advances. Yet when you really look at it, everyone on this earth survived a birth. If we go back just a few generations, everyone on earth survived a birth that didn't involve tremendous medical intervention. Do hospitals provide a safety net for when something goes wrong during a birth? Of course they do, and I don't think that it's bad that more mothers and babies survive births, but C-section rates are getting out of hand and it just doesn't have to be as complicated as we make it.

Here's a picture of Shackleton laying on the floor in front of the heater. Look at that hair! He really likes being stretched out when he's awake.

Let's take the birth yesterday as an example. The baby presented itself really early in labor in the transverse position. Most doctors will perform a C-section at that point (or so said the midwife). She got everything straightened out and in the correct position simply by moving the baby through my wife's belly. It worked fine.

Later in labor the baby ended up breech, which is also typically a C-section in the hospital. It doesn't have to be, babies can come out that way as well. I need to take a moment for a side story.

About 6 weeks ago my wife had a different midwife. She just didn't feel comfortable with her. She didn't feel that the lady would do a bad job with the delivery, but it just didn't seem right. So she went looking for a new midwife. She found Valerie who happens to have a whole lot of experience in delivering breech babies. We didn't know that we needed that experience, but I really feel that my wife was inspired to find someone who could handle the problem we would face more than a month before we knew the problem would exist.

I don't have good sources for the information, but I have heard from a couple of sources that mistakes made in hospitals are one of the leading causes of death in the US. Additionally, hospitals house more germs than most places because sick people go there. Not just any sick people go to hospitals, REALLY sick people go to hospitals. You know the people with drug resistant strains of diseases that used to be easy to treat. I certainly don't think that medical technology is bad, but I think that our overuse of the system is creating bigger problems than we'll be able to solve in the future. Our perspective now is to treat everything to the best of our ability, but we are changing the nature of diseases faster than we can come up with solutions. If we step back and take a look, it may be wise to let our bodies develop resistance to some of these less severe diseases rather than trying to decrease our inconvenience through medical intervention.

OK, I also took a few more pictures. Now that you've endured (or skipped over) my soapbox, I will let you see some more pictures. That's Shackleton

Look, he's got hair.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's a... wait a minute, I'm going to make you read it

I'm going to ruin the ending of this post right from the start. My wife had a baby this morning. It's funny though people will keep reading to find out the silly little details like name weight and length. Who is going to remember the weight and length at the end of the week? I don't remember the lengths of either of my other boys (I do, however remember their weights).

So my wife had an appointment with the midwife (Valerie) yesterday morning. She came over to our house and with the due date quickly approaching (Feb. 8), she wanted to do an exam. She found that my wife was dilated to 2 cm, 75% effaced and the baby's head was positioned correctly in the pelvis. A birth was going to happen soon. I already ruined that part, but my family will keep reading anyway.

The midwife left and I got home later that evening. My wife was experiencing some "cramping" that was a little more significant than had happened before. She felt that the baby was on the way within a day. There also happened to be a snow storm on the way within a day, so we decided to call Valerie and have her come back and stay with us rather than call her when my wife was expecting a baby any minute and have a midwife stuck on the other side of the valley in a blizzard. It worked out well the way we did it. But before Valerie gets here, we need to get some pictures of how 'big' my wife is. OK dear, stick it out.
... and suck it in.
Valerie got back and checked my wife again to see how things had progressed. Well, things hadn't progressed all that well, the baby had turned sideways and was lying transverse in the uterus. That's generally when doctors do C-sections. Valerie gave my wife the mother of all belly massages and turned the baby head down again and we let things continue to progress. We went to "sleep" and decided to get up when my wife was in enough discomfort to wake everyone else up. I slept well anyway.

At about 3 am my wife walked into the living room to visit with Valerie. Misery loves company, I suppose. We had some wonderful soup that Valerie made us and Aly had to walk around a bit, hoping to get the baby to descend. I offered to go borrow a pogo stick, but she declined. Here is what a home birth is like. My wife walking around the kitchen at 4 am with a cup of Valerie's homemade soup.

As contractions became more regular and intense, we went into the bedroom to prepare for the birth. Valerie checked Aly another time, it wasn't transverse, which was good, instead it was breech. Baby wanted to come out butt first. At this point in labor, that was just how it was going to happen. This is why we did research on our midwife to find that she has shown many doctors how to deliver breech babies. Evidently they don't teach that in medical school. So we (when I say 'we', I mean my wife moved and I got shoved to a new spot) changed positions a little and Valerie told us what to expect.

Two good pushes (and many preparatory pushes) and the baby popped out, butt first. In fact we saw that he was a boy long before we saw his head. Dad (me) thought he was a girl, and was actually quite confident in that fact. I think the little guy wanted to prove me wrong... with flair. I'm not guessing on the next one. So it was a boy and we named him Shackleton Lawrence. We're waiting for Gramps to come up with a screen name for him. He weighed 7 pounds 2 ounces and was 19.5 inches long. And he was cuter than most babies because his head didn't get all deformed on the way out. Although he did get a big bruise on his bum. Mom and baby are both doing great. That is just after the birth, mom and baby got some time to get to know one another from a different angle.

After Mom and baby had snuggled awhile and Dad got to interact as much as you can interact with a 15 minute old Valerie came back so we could do a little bath and cut the cord and stuff.

A couple hours later, Valerie had left and the Mugwump woke up. He was so excited last night about the baby and he was still excited this morning. After an intensive hand washing lesson, he got to hold his little brother. He was just a little disappointed that it wasn't a little sister.

And finally Six-Pence woke up and we got a picture of Mom with her boys. All are well.

I'm going to go spend time with my family.

Monday, January 28, 2008


I was recently interviewed (along with several other cyclists in the area) for a play on transportation. Essentially we just sat around telling stories about cycling while a group of drama people eavesdropped on the conversation. We went to the play that they made from that on Saturday (they also incorporated interviews with senior citizens, people who frequent the bus, teenagers and other groups).

First off, it turned out really well. They feared taking quotes and real experiences and trying to dramatize it because it loses something in the translation, so they essentially just used exact quotes put together into conversations. They took some dramatic liberties, but it turned out really well. I could sit and watch the play and think, "I said that, Dan said that, Aaron said that, etc." I think they did a better job of quoting me than journalists ever have. I really enjoyed the play.

Now I want to share what I learned. Here's the big thing for anyone who waters their sidewalk. I know, you are just trying to water all of the parts of your lawn without having any dead spots. Sure it's just a little inconvenience for passers by, it doesn't kill anyone and it doesn't waste that much water. Here's what it does... it makes it impossible for electric wheel chairs to pass. Oddly enough, electric wheelchairs are electric and they don't especially like water. In fact, water kills electric wheel chairs. Now think of walking around your neighborhood in the summer. How far can you go before you run into a sprinkler watering the sidewalk? How would you like to be confined within those "walls"? I have always been annoyed by people watering their sidewalks, but I never realized how much it can affect some people.

Seniors also had it rough. Their baby-boomer children in the suburbs would eventually take their drivers license and give them a line like, "It's OK Mom, we'll take you any where you want to go." Here's the fine print, "AFTER WORK, AT OUR CONVENIENCE, WHEN WE ARE NOT TOO TIRED, AND IF IT SEEMS IMPORTANT TO US". And after they shuttled us around for the first 18 years of our lives we welcome them into our homes, give them false hopes of mobility and let them live out their days in a pseudo-prison that we call home.

One of the other groups portrayed by the play was teenagers. It never ceases to amaze me how much teenagers think they know, yet how ignorant they remain of their surroundings.

The cyclist portion of the play was done to resemble James Bond. It was well done, he doesn't even know the dangers that he will have to face.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Today all you get is pictures with a little commentary. This is Six-Pence with an icicle he found on the rose bush. He spent the next 15 minutes sitting on the front porch sucking on his treasure.
I thought this picture was facing the right way in the icon, but it's not. This is the Mugwump's launch pad he made to launch his rocket. I should have known it wasn't supposed to shoot straight down, it's supposed to shoot straight to the right.
This was at one time a snowman, but now it's a rocket... I think. This is the Mugwump eating the side of the rocket. I have no further explanation.
This is Six-Pence quite content sitting on the porch just after a long suck on his icicle.
I know that I took the picture, but I have not the foggiest idea what Mugwump is doing. I don't think I knew at the time either. Anyway, that is the area that will be a garden in a few months.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Names: The anti-simplicity

My wife is due on February 8th and if the past is any indication, the baby could come any time. Our oldest son came two weeks early, although he was induced (today is two weeks before February 8). My younger son came naturally 10 days before the due date. So we are awaiting the arrival of an addition to our family.

We chose a girl's name long ago, but still haven't had a girl. So we still have the name ready to go. The boy's name is a different story. Here's the thing, I like boy names that are more suited for black babies. So my favorite names always get vetoed. My wife and I have made some decisions and we've narrowed it down to three names, none of which make you think of a black baby when you hear the name. I'm not going to tell you the names we have chosen. You see, if I mention the names you will think, "Oh, I knew a guy with that name, he was a total dork, you can't name your kid that." Then I feel bad naming my kid after the dorky guy that you know. Instead, we name the kid and tell you after the baby is born, in which case you smile and lie to me saying, "Oh, that's nice". So that's the thing, I want you to lie to me. Tell me you like the name because we do and that is why we chose it.

Our first choice just happened to be a little too similar to someone we know here. I do like the name, but not for this kid. We'll have to wait for a subsequent child or not have a kid with that name.

Another choice we came up with was a good name, but it just hasn't felt right for either my wife or I. Why is something so simple so complicated?

Then my wife had this idea for a name that she shared with me. We both really like the name, but it's unique. I'm not one to intensify my superlatives or use them inappropriately, so when I say unique I really mean one of a kind. It is the last name of someone marginally famous, but I have never before heard it as a first name. I also like that it shortens easily to a catchy name, although the shortened version happens to be the name of a famous black man. So family be warned, I think the name will be unique. I still really like the name, so when we finally tell you what it is, pretend that you like it.

Besides, if we can have presidential candidates (or primary contenders or whatever you want to call them at this point) named Mitt and Barack, how bad can a kid get messed up by a goofy name.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Screen time

I've spent the last couple of days on the topic of simplicity vs. environmentalism. So far I've hit on cars and cell phones. I've talked about how they can detract from our interpersonal relationships in addition to being bad for the environment. I think that this next point is taking it to the next level. Interpersonal relationships are important, but I don't think any are as important as those with our family. Televisions, video games, this blog that I'm writing and you're reading, they all take you away from your family (it would be the ultimate compliment to me if you stopped reading right here and went to spend time with your family). I suppose that you could argue that my bike commute also takes me away from my family, but if I didn't commute by bike I would still enjoy going for bike rides and I would still need to find time to exercise. Besides, my bike time is great alone time and I think that is important.

I want you to do an experiment. Go find a movie or TV show from the 60s or before and start watching it. Count the time between changes in camera angles. This is not just scene changes, but a different view of the same scene. Now I want you to find something on television today (besides sporting events, they seem to be an exception to this trend). If you want to maximize the effect, change the station to MTV. Again, count the time between changes in camera angles. Now I'm going to give the results of the study away. It used to be that there was a lot more time between changes of camera angle. Now you will often find that the camera angle changes almost every second (I believe i read somewhere that it averaged between 2-3 seconds).

So who cares, new technology has made it easier to edit footage, so now there are more changes, how is that bad? While the technological advances are part of the reason for change, it is also demand. People demand more stimulation (you can't tell me that the television industry wouldn't take the easy way out if they could). Shows have to be ever changing and exciting to attract viewers. The same is true for video games. You have probably found yourself bored reading my blog, that is because I don't use a lot of pictures or visual break-ups on the screen. I could do a lot more to hold the reader's attention, but that's the entire point. If you aren't here for content, I'm not trying to attract you... Except my family, they just want pictures of the boys, I doubt they enjoy my random rants.

I want to give an example. We don't own a television. We do, however, own a small portable DVD player that we occasionally use for movies (it's cute having the family of 4 gathered around a 8 inch screen). Last night I was watching the boys while my wife went to a friend's baby shower. I had some grading for one of my classes that needed to get done, so I suggested to my older son that we watch a movie. He refused and suggested that we draw something out of our activity jar. (It's a jar of ideas of things to do so that when you feel that you don't have anything to do you can be given an idea... our boys LOVE it!) So we chose a slip of paper that said the boys were supposed to draw something and then I was supposed to copy it the best I could. Then we would change roles. The Mugwump drew a dragon and I copied it the best I could (it was unsatisfactory to the original artist). I then drew a picture of a boat. The Mugwump could identify what it was, but was unwilling to try to copy it.

That was the end of the drawing game, it was then time to go learn about the dragon and the Mugwump taught an amazing lesson about dragons and what we should know about them. Six-Pence participated in that entire thing, but his artistic abilities are still developing, as are his communication abilities so it was a passive participation. I would have missed that opportunity to play with my kids had I watched a movie. I would have missed the opportunity to show my boys that I love them more than the light box. My older son would not have had the opportunity to teach a lesson on dragons. My younger son would not have had the opportunity to sit in a "class".

Are there good things on TV? Sure... whatever. Are the "good" things on TV better than spending time in reality interacting with your family? My answer would be, ABSOLUTELY NOT! Oh, but the TV is how I relax... Read, read to your kids, watch your kids play, learn to draw, learn to play an instrument.... Do you really depend on the TV to relax, or is it just an excuse?

I don't drive very often, but my family owns a car and we do use it to travel longer distances.

I don't own a cell phone, but I would if it would allow me to live off the grid.

I don't own a television and under no circumstances, not even if you offered me lots of money or a new bike, would I ever own a television. Of all the changes I have made toward simplicity, I think that not having a television is by far the best.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Where do the people live?

Yesterday someone asked me to look at simplicity vs. environmentalism on a topic other than cell phones. I saw a slide at a presentation that I went to that was a little better than this one. It was a photo of a typical suburban neighborhood and all you could see were garages. you couldn't see the front doors to the homes. The presenter made the comment, "I see where the cars live, but where do the people live?"

Take a moment and imagine the morning routine of a typical American. Get up, eat breakfast, blah, blah blah... Then you go out into your garage, hit the garage door opener, back your car out of the garage and hit the garage door opener again. You drive to work, park in the parking garage or designated parking lot for your business and go into the office. In between your home and office, how many interactions do you have with others? We are going to exclude the guy who you flipped off because he cut you off and the lady that honked at you because you were drifting into her lane. Now think again, how many positive interactions did you have on the way to work... or on the way home? Cars destroy social interactions.

I suppose it's similar to the cell phone, it's not the fault of the inanimate object, it's the fault of the users (us). The point still remains, cell phones tend to promote inconsiderate behavior and cars make it more difficult to interact positively with others on the road. I'll be honest, I haven't had any positive interaction on my 5:30 am commute to work in the snow lately. In the spring and summer, on the other hand, I will frequently cross the path of other cyclists and talk with them for quite some time. That's just a part of commuting by bike, it promotes interaction and camaraderie with other cyclists. Unless you cross paths with a "roadie" who will most likely pass you going as fast as he can without acknowledging your existence to prove that he is somehow superior to you.

Back in the day homes had a front door that people used and that was located front and center on the house. There was usually a patio or similar sitting area near the front door where people would relax in the evenings. Oddly enough people would talk to their neighbors and otherwise interact with one another. Nowadays the front porch has virtually disappeared, but the back yard keeps getting bigger, as does the fence that surrounds it. We want our privacy. I suppose privacy isn't bad, but when it is at the expense of relationships with those around us, I don't think it's positive.

I've ventured a ways from the auto v. bike comparison, but there is so much that goes with that. Streets used to have sidewalks because people walked on them. Now people drive so sidewalks lost popularity. With the increased use of the auto, people wanted a garage in which they could park it and since they were already in the garage, why would they leave the garage to go in the front door of the house. We have therefore decreased informal interactions with those around us. And what has this provided us? We spend more time in a car (to get to work so we can afford the house with a big garage), we have more time to watch television and we are overall less happy then we used to be.

I do care about the environment, but what I am more interested in is happiness. Call me greedy, but I just want to be happy and I am generally happier when those around me are happy. Happiness doesn't come with more stuff and more free time to sit in front of a TV and watch other peoples' reality. Happiness comes from human interaction. more on the TV tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Simplicity vs. Environmentalism

Phil commented the other day to contend with my distaste for cell phones. I agree with almost everything that Phil said. Cell phones probably don't pollute any more than the wireless phone that I have at home (as long as I don't trade it out every year for a new one), and the cell phone could certainly be handy if I ever get the chance to live off the grid. The main problem with cell phones is that people consider them expendable and they end up contributing a lot of nasty electronic waste to landfills. I agree with Phil, aren't necessarily a terrible invention and they may even provide opportunities that wouldn't otherwise be there.

I'm not going to speak for Phil because I don't really know Phil, but I think our differences lie in the words simplicity and environmentalism. It seemed to me that Phil took an environmental approach to the discussion, which is fine. I agree completely that the environment is important and something we need to be working to save. My main goals in life, however revolve more around simplicity than environmentalism. The reason that I don't like cell phones (beyond the fact that most people dispose of them far too regularly) is their social impact. Will the social impact of cell phones have a negative impact on the environment? Not that I can see, but I do see the impact on people and communication.

I have been in college since the late 90s and things have changed a lot since then. I used to be able to walk out of a huge class, find someone heading in the same direction as me and start a conversation. Now I leave a class and almost everyone either gets out a cell phone and makes a call or puts anti-socials (ipod or the like) in their ears so that it's more difficult to talk with new people. Sure, I could get my own cell phone and then I too could make a call at the end of class and have someone to talk to, but I just don't feel that is good for our society. Communicating with people face to face and interacting is an important part of life. Meeting people (not on facebook) and learning the social skills to interact are important. Sure, we are moving to a different type of communication, but I don't think it is a good move.

I'll give another example. My wife and I went out to lunch for our anniversary. Being the cheapskate that I am, it was a pretty casual place (I did, however, carry the tray for her). Anyway, as we were standing in line there was a couple behind us, the boyfriend was talking on a cell phone while is girlfriend stood with her arms crossed looking grumpy (probably because her boyfriend took her out for lunch and then talked on the cell phone instead of to her). Then as we were eating two girls came in to the restaurant, both on cell phones. It was sort of like they were spending time together as friends... except their attention was on the phone. In short, I don't think cell phones promote healthy relationships. Of course they can be used appropriately and that's not a big deal, but they have changed the way people interact and I don't think it is progress.

My disdain for cell phones resolves around my ideals of simplicity. I want to focus my interactions with people on real life, in person conversations (except, of course, for this blog which is generally anonymous and a way of communicating with people I will likely never know and really not even knowing who or how many I am communicating with). I believe that the most important parts of life are the personal interactions and relationships that we develop. Living a simple life is about the simple every day relationships that make life full. Sure, cell phones could facilitate communication, but when it gets in the way of your present life, it's unnecessarily complicating things.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


This will be a quick post because I don't like to take the time away from my family on the weekends. Today is our sixth Wedding anniversary. I think that it's interesting that there are debates in the school newspaper editorial section on marital conflict. There is one group that claims that the more arguments at the beginning of marriage the better because that way you work out the areas of conflict early in the relationship. Another group claims that arguments are bad, the idea is to get along in a relationship. And yet another group claims that more isn't necessarily better, but you also can't hold stuff in; you have to communicate.

This argument in the newspaper shows a couple of things. Number one, we have one of the lamest editorial sections ever for a student paper. Number two, there seem to be different ideas on arguments.

Here's my experience. I've got the perfect wife and we've never really had an argument. That doesn't mean that we always agree, we just don't really argue. We discuss, and I love the discussions that I have with my wife; that's why I married her, we can talk forever about anything.

I also married my wife because she is simple. I don't want that to sound bad, a simple woman is often thought of as less intelligent or less than pretty. That is most definitely not the case. I look back at dating and am EXTREMELY grateful that my wife is simple. We never had to decide the point at which we were exclusive, we always were. We never had to play the silly dating games of hard to get or whatever (she just didn't like me at the beginning which made it a challenge). We communicated, not in trying to impress, but simple, straight forward truths. It's amazing what telling the truth and being honest will do to a relationship.

Here are some other ways my wife is simple... I have only seen her in make-up once. It was the night before our wedding and her friends convinced her that she had to wear make-up for her wedding. She tried it and came down to show me. She looked ridiculous. She's beautiful without it and I think that all women are prettier without the war paint. She doesn't shave her legs, even though I do (actually neither of us have shaved in quite some time). She just doesn't care what people think and I admire that about her. I think her greatest quality is that she always tells the truth. That seems like a little thing, but I think it is often overstated. I think most people consider themselves "honest", but my wife will always tell you the truth, she will never lie. Even if it is something that is hard to say, she won't lie to you. You name it, she tells the truth. Santa, Easter Bunny, where babies come from... she tells our kids pure and simple truths. Her relationships are built on truth not trying to impress. That is what impressed me and has continued to impress me for the last 6+ years.

Friday, January 18, 2008


I got to thinking about what simplicity is yesterday and I want to discuss that a little. I think the first thing to do is say what simplicity is not.
  • Simplicity is not the easy way.
  • Simplicity is not popular.
  • Simplicity is not commonly known.
  • Simplicity is not easy to find out about.

Really when it comes down to it there isn't much simple about simplicity. Let me explain. When I think of simplicity I think of living an organic life. A life centered around the earth and the elements. An understanding of how the things around you work and being an active participant in all aspects of your life. That would mean that you could look around you and see no "black boxes". You could walk through your home and know how everything worked and how to fix it if it broke. You would be able to make the things that you need from the resources that you have.

Is that an easy lifestyle? I would say absolutely not, but how rewarding that would be. It's also not popular. Iphones are popular. Going without one is not so popular. Toilet paper is popular. Going without is not so popular. Most people don't even think about simplicity on a regular basis. Why would I go without a cell phone when they add so much convenience to my life? I think that convenience comes at a price. The cell phone, for example, has decreased our ability to remember and plan. What is your best friend's phone number? Do you remember it or do you look up the name on the phone and hit send? Are there long term consequences to that? When is the last time you planned to meet someone at a specific time, at a specific place? Or did you meet in a general area and then call each other and walk around until you saw each other talking on the phone to each other.

I find the whole simplicity thing to be quite ironic. There's a group of people who want to simplify their lives, so what do they do? They hang out on the Internet looking for ways to simplify. Ironically, it's extremely hard to find. It's ironic that I blog about simplicity, but I am quite aware that I'm not the only one. I also know that people read these blogs (not necessarily mine). Finding how to manage an organic garden is so complicated, but the earth does it on its own all around us. Figuring out simple things like what wildlife I want to attract to my garden to keep away pests and how to attract them are so simple, and probably well known, but they are hard to find, or it takes a long time to figure out.

So there it is, I think the simplicity movement needs to be simplified.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I have made a list of conservation topics that I will blog about at some point. In looking at the list this morning, I have decided to blog about heating our home because I really like how we're doing things now, but it's about to change.

Currently we keep the thermostat set at about 62. We live in an older house with a centrally located furnace. Normally "central air" is a good thing, but our furnace isn't connected to any ducts. The furnace is in one of the walls and blows heat in exactly two directions, into the kitchen and living room. The further you get from the furnace, the colder the house is. The thermostat is in the living room, one of the warmer rooms.

When I woke up this morning the temperature in our room was 11.3 degrees Celsius (low 50s F). I think that is cooler than most people keep their homes, but here's the thing; if you're cold, you can put on a sweater or throw a blanket over your lap. During the day our room is generally in the low 60s while the rest of the house is just a little warmer (the sun through the front windows will warm the house to above where the thermostat is set). Last winter there was a day when someone closed the door to our bedroom and forgot about it most of the day. When we finally opened the door, it was in the mid 40s in our room. That was a bit too cold for my taste.

Our boys know that if they are cold they can put on more clothes, but generally they are active enough that they wear shorts and a t-shirt in the house and they're fine. Simple as it may be, I think it's important to teach kids to take control of their situation. If they are cold they know what they can do about it. They can either engage in a more active game or they can put more clothes on or cuddle up with a blanket. If they complain they are generally just told those options, unless they just came in from playing in the snow, then we usually turn up the temperature a couple of degrees and let the boys sit in front of the furnace until they are warmed up. Then we turn the thermostat back down.

We will be turning the temperature up a little in the next month or so when the new baby arrives. I think this is sort of funny. I am pretty sure that infants have brown adipose tissue which is metabolically active to keep babies warm, and I know that they have more UCP-3 to keep them warm. A snug blanket and being held close to a warm body is all that a baby really needs to stay warm enough in almost any temperature, but still, we will increase the temperature in the house for the baby.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Common courtesy

On my ride home last night a guy in a pick-up pulled up beside me while I was waiting for a light and offered me a ride home. In the year and a half that I've been commuting, that is the first time that anyone has offered to help or give me a ride. I should mention that guys in the office will offer me a ride home in bad weather (and I've accepted on several occasions), but this was the first time a stranger offered me a ride. I thanked him, but refused the ride.

Last night I had about a 20 mph tailwind for my entire commute. I NEVER feel that good on a bike ride. Of course the driver didn't know that I had a tailwind, he just knew that it was 19 degrees and there was a cold wind. I appreciated the offer, but it made me think. I have ridden that route a lot in the last couple of years. I have spent a considerable amount of time on the side of that road fixing flat tires. One time I had three flat tires in about 5 minutes and then had to walk 4-5 miles home. I've spent time soaked from the rain, only to have cars buzz me and try to hit the puddle next to me. I've had cars cut me off so that I hit the brakes and end up jumping over the handlebars of the bike to avoid being hit. Without fail, the car had left before I am done picking my bike up out of the road. 99% of the time, I enjoy my commute and wouldn't take a ride if you offered me one. On the rare occasions that I would appreciate a ride, it seems as if the drivers are more aggressive (that could just be my perspective).

After I turned down the ride, I wondered if I had done the right thing. He was trying to be nice and it could have given me a chance to talk to him... about not driving because it destroys the environment. Maybe it's better that I didn't get a ride. It also made me review the times that I have been driving and pass someone who was on the side of the road. How often do I stop? --- Not often. Usually because the car is full whenever I'm in it, but that doesn't mean I couldn't offer assistance. When I'm on my bike, I will always offer assistance to stranded motorists. I thin it's sort of odd because I don't carry a cell phone and i only have enough tools to fix a bike, but still I offer. The only person to ever accept my offer to help was a lady stranded next to her motor home who asked me to pray for her. I can do that.

I began to wonder if courtesy is less common than it used to be. I don't know how it used to be, but I don't think that it is all that common now. On the other hand, I got a flat tire (actually it was Jim's flat tire) going through Pocatello Idaho and in the few minutes it took to change the tire, three people had offered to loan us a cell phone or give us a ride. A few miles later a guy in a pick-up truck threw a beer bottle at me out of his window. I know there are good people out there and I know that there are jerks. It just seems that for everyday people courtesy has become less common. I think we can place some blame on busy schedules and the fear of psychos faking a mechanical problem and just waiting for someone to stop. I think this highlights why we need to simplify our lives. We shouldn't ever be too busy to help someone and we shouldn't withhold help out of fear. Not that the fear is unwarranted, but it seems that if you let fear guide your life, you aren't really living. I would much rather die helping someone than to live knowing that I didn't help anyone.

So to the guy who offered me a ride (because I'm sure he hangs out on anti-car blogs in his free time), thanks. I appreciate it, even though I refused. (I also appreciate those who shovel my walks for me even though I would really like to do it myself).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I wanted to post about this last week, but so much came up that I have put it off until now. I came home one evening and heard my wife up using the computer. Along side her my son was watching a movie on our 6 inch portable DVD player, affectionately known as "The Big Screen". We don't own a television, but sometimes on special occasions my son gets to watch a movie on "The Big Screen".

That evening he was watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, you know the one that is really old clay-mation type with the elf that wants to be a dentist, the Abominable Snowman and the Rudolph's nose that appears to be either radio active or powered by a tired hamster in a running wheel. Anyway, I came in the door and said a distant "hi" to my wife and suddenly my son starts screaming in terror. Evidently he was horrified by the snowman with the big teeth. He refused to turn the movie off, but every time he saw the Snowman he yelled in terror. He's really a sensitive little boy.

This isn't the first time this has happened. He has had similar responses to the movies Robots, and Cars. While on the one hand I hope that he grows out of it before he starts watching movies at his friends houses, I sort of like that he is naive and sensitive. Imagine how little violence there would be in the world if all people were as sensitive as my son.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Snow removal

This may seem silly, but snow removal is important to me. I feel that if I push the snow off the walk into the gutter, it is a total waste. When it goes into the storm drain it is washed away with the oil and junk from the street and then has to be subsequently cleaned in order to do something with it.

For this reason, I don't like it when people snow-blow my walks or use their ATV to push the snow into the ditch. First off, I need exercise so that I don't get fat an lazy. I have the right to be out there shoveling my own walks. Don't take that from me. Second, I don't want your motorized contraption spewing it's nasties all over my yard. I try to produce organic vegetables, covering them with exhaust is not helping that cause. Finally, I want to push the snow onto my garden and lawn so that when it melts it goes back through my soil to rejoin the water table, and in the process waters my lawn. Not that I've seen my lawn for several weeks since it has been covered with snow, but still, I want the snow on there, so let me put it there.

I needed to vent somewhere, I really don't yell at my neighbors for removing the snow from the sidewalks, but deep down, it sort of annoys me. I think my wife wishes that it would annoy me more when she did it (sorry dear), but my real problem lies with those that push my water into the ditch. I want to use it so leave it alone. Then comes the big question... Does it really make a difference? I don't know. I could be making a big deal over nothing, but that's none of your concern, I just want my water on my property.

Then comes the question of whether it is better to pack down the snow so that it lasts longer. I know that keeps things dark at the surface of the soil longer, but it also makes the water drain slower into the soil which could be good. I'll be honest, I generally choose to compact the snow, not because it prolongs melting, but because I like playing with the boys in the snow. Here's a picture of the Mugwump attacking what is left of the snowman (I believe it had been miraculously transformed into a rocket by this point) in the front yard.

Here's another picture. This is a shot of the gutter. What, you can't see a gutter? that is because it is full of the snow from my sidewalk. Truth be known, the snow in the gutter made a great launch pad for a rocket that I got from my dad for Christmas (Yes, it was my gift, not the boy's, although I did share). It was a Mentos and Diet Coke rocket. You put the contraption on the top of a 2 liter bottle and then the rocket. When you pulled the pin the Mentos dropped into the Coke and the rocket shot up into the air. It was fun.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Plastic bags

By popular demand, I'm going to write about plastic bags today. OK, one person made the recommendation and that is as popular as I have ever been. Anyway, you can go back and read the comment on yesterday's post, or you can believe what I say here as a sort of preface.

The commenter told of a recent PTA meeting wherein Wal-Mart would be sponsoring a competition to collect plastic bags for recycling. The competition, if I understand correctly, was to see which school can collect the most plastic bags for recycling, and the winning school won some money. One competitive PTA member suggested going through the self check out line and putting each item purchased into an individual bag to increase recycling potential... I believe it was the principle that suggested that strategy.

I would have to say that this is one of the purest works of genius I've ever heard and I could only recommend minor improvements on the principle's strategy. I would suggest that instead of buying things at Wal-Mart and going through the self check out, instead you go to Wal-Mart, you don't buy anything and then you steal a bunch of plastic bags on the way out. Now we are taking plastic bags from the store which surely cost the store something in an effort to win money provided by the store. I wonder if you could steal enough plastic bags to bankrupt Wal-Mart...

Sure there is a little problem in the fact that it is a lot like cheating that we are being a little dishonest in our accumulation of plastic bags. And there may also be some question of the message being sent to the children. OK, no real question, the message is "win at all costs". There are also some overtones of "recycling will save the world!!! Use more so that you can recycle it!!"

I've got some stats that I read somewhere (I don't recall whether or not it was a reliable source) and may have even partially forgotten. Anyway, I heard once that there is only about a 5% reduction in energy when comparing recycling plastic to making it new (aluminum cans, on the other hand, are quite energy efficient to recycle). Then there is the question of what Wal-Mart will do with the plastic bags. There are recycling programs that do their best to take used plastic bags, melt them down and make new plastic products out of them. Like I said earlier, it isn't very efficient and it's a polluting process, but it may be better than simply putting them in the trash. Other plastic bag collection places end up selling the used bags to other groups and they end up in China as an inexpensive fuel to burn. Of course the gases released when plastic bags are burned are quite toxic. And they do circle the globe to cause health problems not only to the Chinese, but to the people and animals of the rest of the world.

Of course I missed the HUGE point on this topic. The idea should be to teach children to be environmentally friendly. If I were on a PTA, this is the point that I would make. Environmentally friendliness is three-fold and in order of importance: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. If you don't use the bags, you don't have to spend the energy to recycle them. A cloth bag really works just as well and you can use it for hundreds of shopping trips. Hypothetically you could reuse bags, although I know that our local grocer will not allow us to because if meat was packed in the bag before, it could cross contaminate and cause health problems. We never buy meat, but we still can't reuse plastic bags. I do, however, use plastic bags on cold, wet days between two layers of socks to keep my feet warm and dry. Recycling isn't a bad thing, but it's a last resort. I will recycle my plastic bags after they develop holes from being worn as foot warmers.

I think in a PTA meeting the point needs to be made that we are trying to teach kids about being environmentally conscious, we're not trying to win a competition. Maybe all the facts should be presented to the children and then ask them what is the best for the earth. If they tell you that the competition isn't the best thing for the planet, you could ask what could be done to help the planet. Hopefully they get to the points of reduce and reuse, but you may even want to suggest that a letter to Wal-Mart articulating the problems with the competition could be a benefit to the earth because it could prevent future competitions that promote people wasting bags. How cool would that be to get an entire elementary school to write letters to Wal-Mart as a sort of protest for a poorly designed competition.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I had this great idea for today's Blog having to do with some experiences last night, but they are going to have to wait until tomorrow. I got to school this morning and turned on my computer as usual. It opened up fine, but instead of seeing my family, I saw a stock background and most of the icons on my computer were gone.

That was a little weird, but I continued to try and check my email as I usually do in the mornings and found that all of my Internet settings were gone. That means that I can't even get to one of my accounts and I had to work to get to the others. No big deal, but it's really weird. Then I thought, I hope that all my files are still there. I went down to the start menu and scrolled up the "recent documents" heading. The little pop-out think simply said, "empty".

That is when I began to get a little stressed. Let's recap what was going through my mind. First, I have done about 20 hours of work on a research project that i don't have saved anywhere else. Sure I probably have about 40 hours to go and the data is all still online, but I really don't want to have to redo the first third of that project. Then I thought of all of the classes that I've taken in the last two years of college; the course notes that I have saved, the assignments, presentations, research... It's all on this computer and nowhere else. After those thoughts I was very stressed. (You should all be proud, I didn't say any bad words... at least not out loud).

I took a little time and looked around in different places. "My documents" was empty except for what usually comes with a new computer. I still had all of my programs, even those that I've added fairly recently, but not a single file that I had generated. I checked the C drive. Nothing was there. So I unplugged the computer and took it to the techs on the other side of the building.

He started looking through the places where I had already looked. He didn't find it and i wasn't surprised. He then looked at the hard drive (you know the little pie graph of how much memory you have used and free). I said I thought it looked about like normal. He then asked if I had any music on my computer. I said that I did, but not a whole lot. He said that the amount of used space was not enough to store much music. I had gone to this guy to save my day, but things were not looking good. He then started snooping around in the hard drive and a few files later he found one labeled "desktop" and it contained everything that had previously been on my desktop. He then hit the mother load with another file that contained all of my precious work for the last two years.

So evidently while I was sleeping last night, my computer spontaneously moved everything from where it belongs to one file that can only be accessed a certain way. I have it all back now and I can rearrange it on my computer (except my favorites from the Internet, that is totally gone and I'm upset because I don't remember all of the stuff that was on there and I had some good links on there). So when is the last time you backed up your hard drive? I think today is a good day to do that. In fact, I have already put everything important on my jump drive.

And the link to simplicity... Isn't technology supposed to simplify our lives? I have absolutely no desire to file all of my documents on paper in a filing cabinet, but it bothers me how upset I was about losing information. Is that what is really important in life? (I'll give you a hint, the answer is NO). Sure it represents work and time, but it's not that big of a deal. Losing my family... That would be a big deal and i frankly don't think I could handle that, but a computer or a file is just a little stuff.

So that is why i am trying to simplify my life. I want to get back to what is important, my family. I also want to make positive contributions to the world around me and for that reason I am receiving more education and working to promote sustainable development and healthy living. But when it really comes down to it, the most important thing to me is my family and my beliefs, nothing else really has any substantial value.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


I'm going to continue on the nutrition idea. Today I'm going to write about grinding wheat. Yes, we do buy some of our flour at the store, but we also buy wheat berries and grind them ourselves. I think it's important to note that home ground wheat is healthier because it contains the entire wheat berry, whereas wheat flour from the store only contains parts. They remove the germ and only use the endosperm in most wheat flours. Whole wheat flour has to use the whole wheat berry. Anyway, there are a lot of nutrients in the germ and it is important to keep that with your flour. It is also important to note that freshly ground wheat does not keep indefinitely, if you are not going to use it immediately you should store it in the freezer.

We have a hand crank wheat grinder that we used for awhile, but eventually we determined that we needed something a little faster and a little less energy intensive. Now we have an electric model that does a wonderful job and is much faster and I don't end up sore after using it. I realize that it uses electricity, but for now, that is what we have. Some day I hope to set up a bike trainer so that I can just pedal to grind my wheat, but until then I'm going to use the electric one.

Is there a difference in quality? Nutritionally, there is absolutely a difference, but I have a hard time evaluating taste. I can eat anything and taste is not one of my stronger senses. It does make a difference with breads because the flour is heavier so things don't rise as well. There may be something to do with gluten to, but I would have to consult my wife about that to be able to really explain it. We often mix our home ground flour with store bought in order to get a bread that will actually rise, but still has a high quantity of whole wheat flour for the nutritional benefits (and I like to think that it tastes better, although I really can't tell the difference).

The main limiting factor with home ground wheat is storage. Before you grind the wheat, you can store it indefinitely, but after it is ground it needs to be kept in the freezer. Since we have limited freezer space, that means we grind a little bit of flour fairly regularly. I've always wondered if I could grind the wheat berries a first time and then put the resulting flour into the hopper to grind it again on an even finer setting. I am sure that i could do that, but would it yield a fine enough flour to be used like white flour? I may have to test that.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I was thinking of posting on giving up my car, but someone commented that they would like to hear about nutrition books. So I'll start by talking about nutrition.

Specifically the comment asked about Dr. Campbell's book The China Study. I have read that book and would even recommend it. I even had the opportunity to attend a talk of his when he came to our campus. I think that I should start by saying that he's controversial. When he came here, the nutrition department was up in arms. They did not want him to speak here because his ideas are different and they flow against what the ADA says. I will agree that there are weaknesses to his arguments, but overall, I think that he has some good ideas.

In essence, he suggests eating a "plant based" diet. Eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains and less meat, and dairy. I think that most Americans would benefit greatly by taking that advice. While the book never really says it straight out, he's almost suggesting a vegan diet (no meat and no animal products). This is where I will part ways with Dr. Campbell. "Plant based" (which is what he calls his vegan diet throughout the book) is a great idea, but the only source of vitamin B12 is from animal sources (eggs, milk and meat all contain B12). Sure, Dr. Campbell suggests that if you don't wash your carrots, there may be enough life in the dirt left on the carrots to provide B12, but I'm thinking that eggs on occasion are a more sure bet.

Another diet book that I would recommend is Volumetrics by Dr. Roll. She suggests eating foods that are higher in fiber and water content and lower in fat. It turns out that meat and animal products are generally high in fat, while fruits, vegetables and whole grains are high in fiber and water content. While Dr. Roll doesn't seem to be against meat, both Dr. Campbell and Dr. Roll suggest pretty much the same thing when you get right down to it.

We follow certain diets in order to be healthy. Dr. Campbell suggests some health benefits from his diet that are quite profound (including decreased cancer and other highly scrutinized ideas), while Dr. Roll's are more typical. Interestingly, I took several classes from Dr. Cordain in my Master's program; he is the author of The Paleo Diet. He says that we should eat lean meat, preferably that comes from wild game and non-farmed sources. His diet also contains no grains, no dairy and lots of fruits and vegetables. It is EXTREMELY different than Dr. Campbell's suggestions, but both authors proclaim the same health benefits and even site similar metabolic pathways for reaching those health benefits. I would agree with Dr. Cordain that farm raised meat is not a part of a healthy diet, while wild game and lots of fruits and vegetables are a good idea.

What do I eat? I would consider myself a vegetarian. I say that, but if you were to invite me over for dinner and serve hamburgers from the local feed lot, I would eat it. I would likely complain to my wife on the way home, but I really have nothing moral or ethical against eating meat. If I had a good source of wild game, I might even prepare some meat in my home, but it would be monthly at most. The reason that I am a vegetarian is partially because I think it's healthier, but more because I think that its better for the environment. Consuming farmed meat takes a lot of resources and I don't think that is sustainable for our growing population. I eat eggs for vitamin B12. I wish I had a more regular source of backyard eggs, but now I don't so we buy the junk from the store.

How does my diet influence my family? This may be more than you want to know, but with the high fiber content that we eat, my family is quite regular and there is seldom a problem with constipation in the family. I also think that it's significant that we don't bring processed foods into our home (at least not often). If we are having squash, rice and black beans for dinner, that's what the kids eat. They don't ask for hot dogs or chicken nuggets because I don't know that they've ever had them. Maybe they have, but they surely aren't available in our home and they would never think of asking. Don't misunderstand, my kids certainly complain about the broccoli sometimes and they don't like everything that is prepared in our home, but we also don't do much to accommodate them.

When we go out for the day, like when we go up to the Children's Museum or to the park, we almost always bring food with us. We rarely eat out. I would estimate that we eat out fewer than a half dozen times a year. Maybe it's more than that because family will often take us out, but I would take my wife's home cooked meal over eating out any day (except that day she made cold cucumber soup, but she promised not to make that again).

While I do think a lot about simplicity when I think about the food that I eat, it is so embedded into my routine that I hardly notice it. Most of the people I work with notice the quantity of what I eat more than what it is or that it is different from what others are eating.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The assignment

Finally I have a class that is worthwhile. As an assignment I was asked to write daily and keep a log of my writing. He even said that my blog counts (Thanks Dr. K). Actually I really like the philosophy, writing is one of the most powerful mediums for sharing ideas. If you cannot write and get a clear message across, it really doesn't matter how good your ideas are, nobody will ever understand them. And how do you get better at writing? By practicing. It's a wonderful assignment (not only because he asked for my blog address during class) and I am going to put my all into this assignment.

I got a couple of comments recently that I want to respond to.

First off, someone wrote about voting and said that it's a shame that people think that if they don't vote for the winner, their vote was wasted. Wow, I never realized that was a real train of thought. I can see how people might think that, but that is absolutely not the case. When I got to thinking about it, I wanted to know if there was such a thing as a wasted vote. I thought back to my vote for Perot. In the naivety of my youth, I thought that the best candidate might actually get the votes, even though he was running as an independent. I think there are too many people who only look at the democrats and republicans. So is a vote for someone other than the republican or democratic nominee a wasted vote? I think with how things are now, it might be. We have a two party system and there are not enough people who will vote outside of that to really change anything. Of course if I think the best candidate is not a democrat or a republican, but still vote for one of the two major parties so that my vote counts, I'm just contributing to the problem. I don't have a solution, but there is a definite need for an overhaul in the election process.

I also wanted to respond to a recent comment that suggested that I write about the little things I do to simplify my life and how those changes influence my family. Wow, someone wants to know what I'm doing! The thing is, there are lots of resources telling you how to "live green", but you don't know who to trust and many people aren't willing to make the simple changes. It's crazy how expensive and inconvenient it is to make changes to simplify. I would love to live off the grid someday, but I don't' have the money for solar power, I don't' have the money for a straw bale house, I don't know enough about collecting and storing water, and I am unwilling to do my laundry by hand. OK, if the rest were feasible, I would do the laundry by hand.

I think it's funny how big the global warming thing is, and people are sincerely interested, but there aren't very many practical solutions that are readily available. Oh, I know, I can change my light bulbs to CFLs or LEDs if I'm rich, I can turn the lights off when I leave the room like my mom taught me when I was little and I can drive the speed limit to save on gas, but what about real lifestyle changes that have real impacts? Well, No Impact Man did it in New York City, he just shut off the electricity and started buying local. I would not have enough money to buy local and besides there isn't anything local and organic. I don't even think I could get local vegetables out of season and I'm unwilling to give up all vegetables. I'm in a place that simply doesn't produce a variety of food. Besides that, with me working 40+ hours a week and my wife 8+ months pregnant, I'm unwilling to make her do the laundry in the bathtub while watching two boys.

My point is that I'm making the changes that I'm willing to make. Sure, some of them could be considered sacrifices, but overall they are benefiting me and my family. Others (like no washing machine) would not benefit me and my family at this point. Someday I hope that we can get there. So I'm going to write about my efforts, insufficient as they may be, and hope that someone else can benefit from it. If anyone else has ideas on simplifying, let me know. I'll either try it or make an excuse not to try it.

Tomorrow I'm going to dive into something that I've done to simplify and how it has helped my family. That will be a common theme for some time.

Friday, January 4, 2008

New Years

I'm not a big fan of the New Years holiday. I think it's ridiculous. What do people do for New Years? They stay up so they can "celebrate" that split second when we can get a new calender. What else was significant about Monday night this week? Nothing. If you want something to celebrate, see my post on the winter solstice, that has some significance.

I know, New Years isn't only about staying up until midnight and celebrating the new calender, it's about starting anew, with a new year ahead of you. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. You can "celebrate" March 12 and make the appropriate changes and see how you perform until March 11 of the next year. The same is true for any day of the year. It's really not any different, except if you make the changes in your life that you feel that you need to make throughout the year, you are far more apt to develop into the person that you want to be. Oh and it's easier to remember January 1 than it is to remember March 12, but that is really of little significance since most New Years resolutions don't make it past March 12.

So I am not a fan of New Years... maybe I would like it better if I drank. I guess I'll never know.

Some people may say it's the new year that spurred the idea, and maybe it was, but I've been thinking about my blog. This upcoming semester I will have more free time than I did last semester, so I would like to write more regularly. I think I want to write daily on week days. That sounds great, but what in the world will I write about? Here's the thing; I would be willing to bet that most people really don't care what I did today. My goal with this blog is not to keep a journal, my goal is to keep up on my informal writing skills. I spend lots of time writing really boring scientific manuscripts and I think it is important to maintain the ability to communicate with real people that have better things to do with their time than read boring scientific papers.

OK, so I want to write informally, but I also don't want to write about nothing. Still nobody cares about what I did today, so what should I write about. When I started this blog, I named it "Sans Auto" partly because I just sold my car and was depending far more on other forms of transportation, and partly because Fatty had a great blog on bikes and I wanted to be like him. I ran into a couple of problems... 1) He's a far better writer than I am. 2) Riding my bike everyday has become the norm and I don't have much more to write about without copying verbatim from Fatty's site. I would also like to add that it's not bad. I really don't feel that I'm missing out on anything and not having a car actually brings much more to my life than it detracts from it.

That's where I'm trying to go with the blog. My family is trying to live without many things (car, television, TP, etc), but really I don't want to write about doing without, I want to write about what it brings to my life and how it helps my family. As we do without, we are far from deprived. I would call it liberated and free. --Oh, and I"m going to try and post more pictures.

So there's my plan. Now I'm going to spend the weekend trying to come up with something to write about on Monday.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


"If you're listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who
to vote for, you're a bigger moron than they are."
Alice Cooper
I do a daily quote in the classes that I teach. This is one of them. Is it OK to quote Alice Cooper at a religious institution? We will see, I suppose.
Frankly, I don't do the primary thing, I'm an independent and will wait for the national election to get out. I have been considering the candidates seriously though. I've sort of narrowed it down to the woman, the black man and the Mormon. I think I'm going to compromise and write in Gladys Knight, she's all three.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


No, it's not a New Year's resolution (It's far too close to New Years for a post like that), but I've started flossing. I know I should have been flossing all along. I know, I'm getting a graduate degree in Health Promotion and I should be an example of health. I know that it really doesn't take that much time and it's not hard to do. I even know that gum disease is linked to heart disease and that flossing is a simple thing that can be done to be healthy.

Sorry Bri-onic Man, I hate flossing. I had a final last semester that consisted of a presentation to the class. One of the presentations asked the students to write down a health habit that they needed to improve and how they were going to do it. I wrote down flossing because I didn't want to bring up any of my really bad habits like sour gummy worms. When I had to write what I was going to do to change this habit, I said that I would tell my four year old to help me with it. When he brushes, I will floss. Now I have a tyrannical dictator forcing me to floss against my will. He absolutely will not brush his teeth unless I floss. So I have to set an example for my kid and floss. Every single day, I have to floss.

So if you have a health habit that you want to change, simply make a deal with a preschooler. It will change your life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Years

147,090, that was the mileage on the van on January 1, 2007. Today, the mileage on the van was 152,544. Yes, I'll do the math for you, blogs are not designed to make the reader think, so I'll do that part. 5,454 miles, including a ~1500 mile trip to Arizona to visit my mom and go hiking. I was shooting for less than 100 miles a week because I wanted to ride more miles commuting than we put on the van. We were over the 100 miles per week, but I would estimate that I ride between 5500-6000 miles a year for my commute. That takes into account the fact that there are many weeks where I don't ride to school. Like this week that I have off, and last week. It also takes into account days that I take the bus because of icy roads.

I started the New Year off right, I went on my second annual New Years day Squaw Peak Hill Climb. Squaw Peak is the local "make out point" (I've never been there for that purpose, in fact, I've never been up there in a car) and the road is closed in the winter. Snowmobiles still go up there, and they keep the snow packed down a little, but otherwise it's not well traveled in the winter. On New Years Day Fatty organizes a ride up there and I like to attend. I must admit that last year was much better for me. This year I just couldn't get going on the snow, so I ended up walking about half the time. In fact I didn't even make it to the top, I turned around when everyone else started heading down (I was probably .5-1 mile from the top). On a certain level I felt that I should have been embarrassed about my performance, I really did not ride well. Actually I didn't "ride" much at all, I pushed my bike up a lot of the hill.

Even worse than walking my bike up most of the climb, was walking my bike most of the way down the hill as well. I have two major weaknesses in cycling. First, I am tentative. I am not a daredevil and I get nervous when I get going faster than I feel comfortable, and that's not very fast. This is especially a problem off road because I don't spend a lot of time off road. Second, I don't have great bike handling skills. Sure, I can track stand forever, but when it comes to picking a line on a descent, I am not good at it. The combination of these two major weaknesses is that I am REALLY slow coming down hills, especially off road (or on a road covered with a couple feet of snow). So by the time I got back to the bottom, most of the others had already left.

I think I just made it sound like a bad experience. It wasn't. In fact, I don't think I would change a thing. I was able to enjoy the solitude of the outdoors. On several occasions while I was climbing the hill, I stopped and enjoyed the absolute silence. What is it about snow that makes the silence so much more intense? I also got to a few overlooks where I could see the city below and the Utah Lake which looked to be frozen all the way across. It was really pretty up there. And my feet were warm. That was a highlight, there's nothing like being out in the snow and having warm feet.

Happy New Years