Thursday, February 28, 2008

Learning through Play

I was listening to NPR this morning, like I do every morning and there was a thought provoking snippet about learning. The gist of it was that kids learn best when they are allowed to play and make believe. Video games and structured play have taken away the kids' opportunities to imagine and play. What they are finding is that those imaginative times are when kids learn how to act as various members of society. We all remember playing teacher or parents or the milkman (why did I play the milkman? I've never seen a real, living milkman in my life. I think I would be a good one though, except I don't drink milk). As kids pretend to be different people, they are developing the social skills to take on different roles later in life.

So when the kids sit down to play a video game, even an educational game, they do not have the opportunity to 'try out' being different members of society and they thereby are lacking some social development. When kids go to school and the school structures all of their time for 'learning', they miss the opportunity to explore different roles and how to interact as different members of society.

The NPR piece was about some schools that are providing these opportunities for social development in a more structured setting. The kids have to plan out how they are going to play and then take on the role as planned. I think there are better ways to go about this (like letting kids play and not interrupting them). Of course children need to be educated, I'm not arguing against education. I am arguing for giving kids the freedom to play and imagine, uninhibited by their unimaginative adult onlookers.

As I rode into school today I was thinking of this and I became a little concerned. Our kids love imaginative play. I don't think I have ever seen Mugwump pretend to be anything other than a dog since we read "Julie of the Wolves". Six-pence has a larger variety, but I don't know that it's much better. He pretends to be a Mammoth or a Buoy. I worry a little that Mugwump is preparing himself to live among the wolves and Six-Pence is preparing to join a herd of extinct animals. On a brighter note, buoys are steadfast and unmovable and a beacon of light for those around it. The social skills of a buoy, however, seem to be lacking.

As for my own learning, I decided to take the long way home in order to clear my mind. Here's what I found. If you want to clear your mind, getting lost on a bunch of old country roads in the middle of the night isn't the best bet. Here are just a few of things that were on my mind while I was trying to clear it:
  • I wonder how big that dog I hear is?
  • I wonder if he is behind a fence?
  • I wonder if he is faster than me?
  • I wonder if this road turns to dirt or dead-ends soon?
  • I wonder how many other dogs are on this road?
  • I wonder if this road comes out anywhere near my house?

I don't know why I ended those statements with question marks, but we'll just say that it was an expression of unwarranted doubt. It was a beautiful night and a wonderful time to get out and explore.

P.S. Grammie, I got your email. It sounded like you couldn't get to the other blog site. I have a link on the left side of the page. When you move the little arrow over the words, "Mugwump's blog" your arrow will turn to a pointing finger. Click the left button on the mouse and it should take you to his blog. When you are there, if you click on the comments button at the bottom of a post and then click on the little circle that says, "anonymous" it should let you type in the comment box (I am going to go enable that feature right now). When you are done, type the squiggly letters in the box they are supposed to go in and click the button at the bottom of that screen that says "publish your comment". I hope that works.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I have some ideas that I want to write about, but they need to be further developed. So today I leave you with a favorite quote of mine.

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
Douglas Adams

If you've never read anything by Douglas Adams, you should. The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a good place to start.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Capitalism vs. Industrialism

I am going to respond to Earl's comment from a couple days ago. I had my little rant on global warming and how it was merely a symptom of capitalism. Earl commented that he felt that capitalism isn't the problem, but rather industrialization. Capitalism is an economic system that is simply controlled by supply and demand. It is the industrialization that is causing the problems (Correct me if I got that wrong Earl).

I am going to preface this with my credentials. I'm an exercise physiologist. I am studying to receive a PhD in Exercise Science with an emphasis in Health Promotion. I have never in my life taken an economics class. So this is my attempt to express my views in an area where I don't have a complete understanding. The reason I'm doing this is because I want to learn. If you disagree, let me know. If I'm wrong, let me know and explain it to me. If you think I'm ugly, keep it to yourself, I don't want my wife to find out.

The way I see it is that capitalism and industrialization are difficult to separate. OK, I'm going to be real honest, I just had to wikipedia "industrialisation" to see what I was talking about. I agree with Earl, industrialisation is the problem. It is the idea that we need to make more, to become industrialized. Earl made some good points about economies not based on capitalism that also destroy resources. I can't counter that argument. Probably because he's right.

I want to draw an analogy here. I'm going to compare capitalism and industrialization with the driver of a car and the car itself. People who drive cars are not bad. In fact, much good can be done by people in cars. They can give me a ride when I get a flat tire... they just don't do that around here. They can transport injured persons to medical attention. They can get needed goods from one place to another. Drivers are good, as is capitalism.

Industrialization can also be good. It's like the car. Without it we end up in an agrarian society with little room for 'advancement'. (I really don't think that more industry or a move from an agrarian society is a move 'up' or an 'improvement', but that's a topic for another day.) The problem is that we have lines of 3,000 pound cars carrying one person each in order to get a large mass of people to nearly the same place. It's wasteful. Is it the person (capitalism) that is doing a bad thing? Or is it the car (industrialization)?

I'm going to say neither... or both. I just argued that both the driver and the car can be good things. The problem is that industrialization is moving at a rate that is deteriorating natural resources faster then the planet can handle. That is the fault of industrialization and the desire of countries to produce more. But why do they want to produce more? In order to get more money into the hands of the people so they can spend it and further drive industrialization. So capitalism isn't necessarily the problem, but the fact that capitalism (the driver) has the throttle wide open at all times is pushing industrialization (the car) at speeds that are just to fast for the vehicle. Consumerism is driving it's 72 VW bus at speeds that should be reserved for Ferrari's.

I hope I didn't just embarrass myself with that analogy. I think it sounded really good, but that is certainly not my area of expertise.

There is one place that I would like to disagree with Earl. He said that capitalism to encourage good business and put environmentally unfriendly enterprises out of business. That simply doesn't happen. Wal-Mart is still in business even though they push for lower and lower prices relying on poor working conditions and environmentally unhealthy practices. If capitalism worked as a moral agent (i.e. consumers chose based on businesses making good, humane choices), Wal-Mart would have been out of business long ago. The fact is that capitalism is amoral and the system within the US separates consumers from the circumstances under which products were produced. It's all about price and that drives industrialization to destroy the environment to keep prices low.

I'm going to stop now before I really embarrass myself. I do have more to say about advertising and subsidies as they play in the game, but I'm not going to.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Don't ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.

Harold Whitman

I recently attended a presentation by a fairly well known city planner (ironically, I don't remember his name). After he was formally presented by the host, he came to the 'stage' and introduced himself as a homemaker. No, he did not stay at home with his family every day, but his home is the earth and his ultimate goals in life revolve around maintaining and the earth so that we can live on it.

I really liked his perspective. I want to take a step back and define what a 'homemaker' is. By traditional definition, my wife is a homemaker. She stays home and tends to the children, keeps the house and does the laundry, etc. Unfortunately, homemaking is often looked up on as "not doing anything" or "not living up to your potential". I couldn't disagree more. I think one of the most important tasks on this earth is to raise the next generation and prepare them for the world they will eventually run. Don't get me wrong, I do really important things all day, like telling people to be more active and eat better, but it when it comes right down to it, my career has little lasting power. The work my wife does at home raising our children has effects that will last many generations. My job makes money, hers doesn't, but I would say that my wife is of far greater value to our household than am I.

So what does my wife do in keeping our home? She spends a lot of time tending to children. Sure, she could put them in front of the television (if we had one) and let the programming slowly suck the knowledge right out of them while she got more housework done. She doesn't. She interacts with our children at the expense of a pristinely clean home. I would have it no other way. Don't get me wrong, our home is presentable. Our things are generally where they belong and you can easily walk from room to room. Is the floor scrubbed daily? no. Is the dusting done weekly? Lets just say the dusting is done weakly. Could we be making more money and be able to give our kids more 'stuff' if my wife were to go get a job? Absolutely. I think the focus of our efforts to live simply revolve around our effort to increase interaction in the home and demonstrate that happiness comes from relationships and not stuff.

That is what I want to do as a profession as well, just on a different level. I want to be a 'homemaker' for the earth. My niche is in city design and active modes of transportation. I want to help design cities that promote walking. While I'm certainly interested in improving the health of people, more importantly I'm interested in increasing opportunities of people to talk with one another and interact. Does it take 'stuff' to interact? No. On the contrary, as people acquire more stuff, it seems to draw them apart into little cliques that limit interaction. Do I think that the earth is suffering from the amount of 'stuff' people have? Yes I do. While I have some very strong environmental views, I think the greatest benefits that will be seen from living a more deliberate and purposeful life is that we can lose the dependence on stuff and increase or improve our relationships.

You may note that there is a lot of room for compromise and I think that some 'stuff' is OK. Here is the key to my environmental views, as well as what I think will improve social interactions and society as a whole... Our current rate of consumption is going to destroy the earth. That doesn't mean we should all be aesthetics living with nothing, but living to build relationships rather than accumulations of stuff will greatly improve the earth and the fabric of society.

Thanks to all who commented on my son's blog, he was really excited about it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Blog review

It's about time, but I finally did it. I broke down and updated my blog. I added links, I updated the picture of my family (look, there are 5 and most are looking in the general direction of the camera). OK, I didn't do much else, but I needed to do that for a long time. So I figured I should take a post to talk about the upgrades.

So what prompted this upgrade? No, it wasn't the excess time I have on my hands, it was the fact that we started a blog for the Mugwump last night. I had to add him to my blog roll, even though I hesitated. You see, this is sort of a sad day because I'm going to lose 80% of my readership (I have 5 readers now, 4 will leave). My family reads this blog in hopes of seeing pictures and I generally disappoint. My 4 year old is all about taking pictures and making us post them. We think this will be a good learning experience for him, but it's also going to mean that nobody reads my blog, and I'm OK with that.

I want to make a couple comments about the Mugwump's blog. First, almost everything that is written there is what he says and then his mother or I simply write it down. It is sometimes lacking a little in flow, but it is genuine 4 year old. Occasionally he will type something himself and that is usually obvious. He did write the final phrase in last night's post and it would appear that anyone could have typed it, but that was all his work.

Now I have a favor to ask. My wife and I are hoping to make this a learning opportunity for him, especially in his efforts to read and write (He does more writing on paper than at the computer, but I still think it's good). Could you go over there and make a comment on his blog? Right now you have to be registered, I might change that to allow anonymous comments. I see that my dad already commented... Odd, he's never commented here. Anyway, it would be great if you could leave a simple message (short, one syllable words, nothing complex; just like when you leave a comment here). If you could leave your name (or a fake... whatever) and where you are from we can use this as a reading lesson and a little geography.

I want to sort of review the other blogs that I have listed on my sidebar.

Cultural Vertigo: He hasn't posted as regularly as of late, but I've always enjoyed his writing. He's got some great philosophical understandings and he lives without a car. Although irregular, his posts are worth reading.

Cycling Sasquatch: Very down to earth. He seems like a normal guy and he writes on political/anti car issues that I like reading about. It's worth a visit.

Fat Cyclist: Technically I know him, but not well, so he's still not on my 'friend' list. It is generally about cycling or weight loss. It is absolutely hilarious. If you haven't been there (which I doubt), you should visit.

Jill in Alaska: Crazy journalist who lives in Juneau. She writes very well and she does crazy things on a bike (think twenty below and spending the night out on a mountain bike trail). They are fun to read.

Minus Car: He too is not writing as much as he used to, but it's generally pro bike, anti car so I enjoy it.

No Impact Man: This is probably the most popular site on my list. He and his family went a year making as little impact as possible on the land. They live in NYC and had their electricity turned off, did their laundry by hand in the bath tub and didn't drive cars or even take public transit for a year. He puts a wonderful spin on it and is a talented writer, you should visit, at least to see what it's about.

NYC Bike Snob: He's funny, although not as clean as the other sites mentioned. If you are into the fixed gear culture, it would be a shame to miss his sarcastic slams on fixies. He's a talented writer.

Thoughtful Consumer: She wrote a book about decluttering and now maintains this blog (in efforts to sell the book?). Anyway, she is not nearly as extreme as I am, but she has some good advice for down-sizing.

Walk Slowly Live Wildly: I don't have any idea where I found this site, but she is a wonderful writer (although quite verbose). If you are a Christian and looking to simplify, she has some of the most sincere, heart felt posts I have ever read. They are always spiritual and uplifting while encouraging you to do with a little less.

I'm not going to go through my friends' blogs. They are generally family related and if you want to know about my friends, you can venture that way, but they aren't necessarily interested in the same things as me. For some that may be an attractive proposition.

Have a good weekend, and don't forget to stop by the Mugwump's blog to make a simple comment.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a good book.
Groucho Marx

I don't remember this problem when we had our second child, but our oldest seems to be jealous. On some levels, this is an incredibly complex situation, on other levels it all turns back to simplicity.

So here's the problem. The Mugwump has a growing tendency of sitting on Six-Pense. It's really pretty agressive and generally results in a crying 2 year old. So why does he do this? Because innevitably he gets in trouble. That's what he wants is attention, and he gets it when he sits on a younger brother, or pokes a brother in the eye.

What's the solution? We started sending the Mugwump to his room without toys. If he can't play nicely with his brothers, a natural consequence would be for him to not be able to play with his brothers. That was an OK idea, but it increased the jealousy and there is no way to send a kid to his room without giving him attention and then giving him additional attention when he gets out of his room. And what if he misbehaves in his room, or refuses to stay in there? He gets further attention. It didn't work out well.

It was time for parents to regroup. What is the main underlying problem? Oldest son didn't feel as loved as the others. So the solution ends up being quite simple. Show him that we love him just as much as the others. Instead of dealing out consequences, we've taken to preemtive displays of love.

How crazy is it that showing love worked so well at improving the behavior of a child? I don't know, but I would bet that this same principle could work in many different situations.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.
Henry David Thoreau
I was parusing the British Medical Journal yesterday and I ran into an article that you should read. Don't worry, it's short. Check it out. I know, I come across links all the time and the author suggests that I go there. I never do. This one is really worth it, so I suggest that you head that way. It's the one entitled, 'climate change only a symptom'.
It's a brief by Dominic C. Horne. I don't know anything about him, but based on his comment and the fact that he reads BMJ, so he's likely a physician. So this guy calls global warming a symptom. A symptom of what? Oh, don't worry, we'll get there, but I want to look at other symptoms. Dr. Horne suggests that depression is another major symptom that comes on as a result of global climate change. Interesting. OK, I want to expand the list of symptoms: Laziness, sedentary living, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, social anxieties, and the list could go on for quite some time.
In order to emphasize my point, I want take a moment to discuss a symptom. If you have the flu or a cold, you can't see the flu or the cold. It's a microscopic organism attacking your immune system. What you see is excess mucous, coughing, diarhea, vomiting, etc. You know what I'm talking about, we've all been there. So what do you do to make the virus go away? Nothing. You can take vitamin C to boost your immune system, you can take echinacea, but there is no evidence that it does anything. You can get a vaccine early in the season to give your body a preview of what it will be facing later in the year, but that's not 100% and in our little analogy, we obviously haven't vaccinated the earth. So what do we do? We take a cough syrup to alleviate the cough, Pepto Bismal to take care of the gastro-intestinal distress, and an antihistamine to alleviate the mucous problem. Does it work? It may alleviate the symptoms, but the flu or cold is still there and until your body has combatted the virus, you will have to continue to treat the symptoms.
So have you gone back and read the article yet in hopes of finding out what global warming is a symptom of? Here it is, global warming is a symptom of global capitalism. So the demand for stuff is the underlying cause of many of the world's ills. So what would happen if everyone stopped buying stuff? Well, there wouldn't be a demand to make cheap stuff in China, so they would be putting out a lot less polution. If we could decrease our demand for leather, meat and junk food we could decrease methane production (a greenhouse gas) significanly and we could also decrease our corn production so that we could grow something else, like trees or vegetables. If we as humankind drastically decreased consumption it would dramatically change things.
I'm not so naive as to think that all of the changes would be easy or even desirable. The economy would tank, leaving some major issues to be resolved. I'm not an economist, I should stop there, but I do recognize that it would drastically upset our current economy. But that brings me to question what would happen if we continue to consume at our current rates. I don't think the economy will be able to handle that. $100/barrel oil? I'm thinking that something is going to snap. Our current consumeristic ways are not sustainable, we're going to run out of the stuff we need to make cheap goods or we're going to cause other problems that are even more difficult to solve.
As an aside, Heather and Earl, this is my problem with investing. My perception of a solution would devastate many stocks. Alternatively, I believe that continuing as we are now will also result in devastated stock values. I do own stocks. I know that historically stocks have been good investments. I like the way they work, it makes sense. Boy, can I foresee them coming down in a blaze of glory in several different scenarios.
I'm not going to propose any solutions today, I feel that is what I try to do every day. I really like the idea of many of the ills of the world being considered symptoms to one great underlying cause. I think we see where the problem lies and it is time to start working to heal the world.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I'm done whining and am ready to move on. Everyday in my classes, I share a thought. Last week's thought was one I thought I would share.

"Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to move in the opposite direction." -Albert Einstein

First, I think it's important to note that I got the quote off of one of those websites that provides a bunch of quotes. That means that the quote is probably attributed to 5 other people and nobody really ever said it. Anyway, I like the quote.

Now I wanted to talk about diapers. This is where we make an effort to take a step toward environmentally friendly, but a step away from simplicity...or is it. It sure seems like disposables are a lot more simple than cloth diapers. I can go to the store, buy a bag of diapers and then when my boys soil them I can just throw them away and they disappear forever. It's realy simple, except for all of the petroleum and chemicals used to make the product and the fact that those chemicals and petroleum products will last almost forever in landfills, giving 'eternal life' the poo produced by my boys.

Lets compare that with cloth diapers. You have to do the laundry to get them clean, fold them all nicely so that creases don't produce raw spots on the tender areas of the kids, and then be absolutely sure that you remove the diaper as soon as it gets wet in order to avoid the mother of all diaper rashes. And then if they soil the diaper you have to swirl it around in the toilet and get it somewhat clean before storing it for the next load of wash. Boy, it takes a lot of laundry to use cloth diapers. I still think that using the water to do the wash is more environmentally friendly than disposable diapers.

So here's what we do. Jaguar (the new one) is still in disposable diapers because the cloth diapers just don't fit right. He will be moving up as soon as his legs will fill the hole of the cloth diapers. If his legs don't fill the holes, that is catastrophy waiting to happen. Six-Pense (the 2 year old) wears cloth diapers during the day, but disposables at night. He actually wore disposables exclusively for quite some time because a day in cloth diapers would give him a diaper rash to the point of drawing blood. Don't get me wrong, I'm an environmentalist, but I can't cause my kid that much pain. We've gotten his bum toughened up and he's good all day, but the night will cause diaper rashes, so we still use disposables at night. Mugwump (the 4 year old) is potty trained during the day, so he wears underpants. He wishes he was potty trained at night, so he will often refuse to wear a diaper, which just means that we have more laundry to do (his sheets). When we do convince him to wear a diaper, it is a cloth diaper. He too had diaper rash problems, which is why he is allowed to wear underpants to bed even though we know that means he will have a wet bed in the morning. He does, however, do his own laundry. If he doesn't he has to wear diapers again.

Of course I wish we could use exclusively cloth diapers, but I can't torture my kids like that. I know there are 'environmentally friendly' disposable diapers by companies like 7th Generation or something, but I'm not convinced. First off, there is no way we could afford them. Second, if it is disposable, even if it is biodegradable, I think it's sort of wasteful. And if it's biodegradable, why doesn't it biodegrade when my kid pees in it? Wouldn't that make it a little less than biodegradable? I'm sure they are better than what we use, but I still don't think that's the solution.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I remember being called a nerd in elementary school and the come-back of the time was, "thanks, I'm a 'Never Ending Radical Dude'". Oh, I know it's childish, but that's OK, I was a child. At the time, I don't think I had a clue what the word radical meant, except that it was 'rad' which was good.

More recently I have been called radical for some of the ideas I express on this blog. Now I have a better understanding of the word radical. I think people are implying that I am 'making a considerable departure from the usual or traditional'. I find this to be an interesting accusation because I feel that I'm advocating going back to the traditional or usual. I think that many of the modern conveniences that we rely so heavily on are detrimental to people and to society as a whole.

Now I want to make a point because I think some of the 'hate mail' that I recieve is from people who have misunderstood me. I'm not completely against technology or modern conveniences, I'm against the tendency to rely heavily upon them. Do I think people that drive cars are bad people? Of course not... or at least not all of them. I simply believe that people and society would benefit if more people were to take a step back to the traditional. Take a step toward transportation that requires physical exertion. Take a step toward understanding and a step away from relying on technology that we don't understand.

Another point made by my 'hate mail' fans is that I don't understand individual circumstances. I suppose that is true. There are a couple of points to be made here. First of all, sure there are reasons to drive a car and even to rely heavily on a car. My last job required me to drive a considerable amount. On the flip side of that, I made that choice. I also made the choice to change my situation so that I no longer had to rely on my car, because that was important to me. I understand that people live 50 miles away from work and have to drive. I understand that they can't afford housing any closer... I take that back, I don't understand. I think it's a matter of choice. If you can afford a home away from work and to pay for gas, insurance, a car, etc., then can't you afford a small place nearer to work that would allow you to commute by bike (as you say you want to)? I do understand that it is a difficult choice to sacrifice a large house that you are buying to move to a rental that is significantly smaller. I understand choosing to live further from work in order to have some of the conveniences provided by that choice. What I don't understand is people thinking that life is predetermined. We always have choices and options. Sometimes they aren't all that attractive, but if you really look at the situation, you can see options.

And then there's the question of what I am supposed to do about it. Am I supposed to change my views? Well, I suppose you could change my views if you provided a convincing argument, but name calling is generally insufficient. Or I could start writing to please everyone. Not a chance. Everyone is afraid of offending others. I'll be honest in saying that I hold back some of my opinions because I know they could be offensive to those I know who read this blog. I wish I didn't do that. I understand that some people close to me don't want to hear what I truly believe just because it isn't the same as what they believe. You are allowed to hold your own opinion. You are even allowed to have opinions that are as strong or stronger than my own. I'll still be nice to you when we meet in person. I won't call you names or otherwise insult you. I may try to persuade you if it seems like that conversation can occur productively and without contention, but you are absolutely entitled to your own opinions.

Evidently I needed to get that off my chest. I'll return to writing about simplicity shortly.

Friday, February 15, 2008


I was sort of off topic this week. I want to focus on simplicity, but I got pulled into politics. I don't like politics, but I feel they are extremely important (and fairly corrupt). I'm trying not to discuss them on my blog, but occassionally they slip out. So today I'm returning to simplicity.

Clothing. We all wear clothes, but I think they are often quite wasteful. I am currently wearing a shirt and pants that were purchased second hand. I checked my socks out from the locker room and my shoes and underwear were purchased new from the store. Honestly, my outfit is almost always made up of outerwear purchased second hand and underwear and shoes purchased new.

Here's another of my weaknesses: Shoes. I really think it's possible to get shoes second hand, and I even own one pair of second hand shoes, but it's hard to find something that looks OK and fits reasonably well. When purchasing new shoes, I know there is a lot of baggage that comes with shoes. I think a lot or made under inhumane conditions, and I probably buy those because it's all I can afford. I can't believe I said that. I really shouldn't be able to afford to support inhumane conditions of a fellow human, but instead I can't afford shoes? Anyway, I buy cheap shoes. That will be one thing that I can change when I make more money. When I buy new shoes, I will spend more to get shoes that I know were made under humane conditions. I do, however, wear my shoes until they are completely worn out.

I suppose you could consider wearing new underwear a weakness, but really I am not going to start wearing used underwear, that's just sort of weird. I do, however, wear my underwear until they are completely worn out (Yes Mom, they do get washed before they are worn through).

I buy my clothes second hand, which I think is good. I wonder if it would be better to buy locally produced clothes made under good working conditions (at this point I couldn't afford clothes like that), or if it is better to buy cheap clothes produced under poor conditions second hand. For now I will continue to buy second hand clothes.

Now comes the big question. I wear my clothes until they are worn out, but then what do I do with them. I like to recycle the fabric, but that is sometimes difficult. I have a couple of pairs of pants that have irrepairable holes in the crotch. There's still plenty of good fabric on the pants, but they're a bit breazy and sometimes embarrassing. The pants will sometimes be cut up to be used as toilet wipes or reusable facial tissues, but the fabric isn't always suitable for that. For example, what do you do with cordaroy that is no longer usable as a piece of clothing? I'm still working on that. Rags are an OK use, but you can only have so many rags.

There is one line of clothing that I purchase new (usually). Cycling clothes. I have one pair of thermal tights that I use for winter riding. They are difficult to find used, and these tights are responsible for keeping me warm on mornings like today when it is 8 degrees on my way into school. I may be justifying my desire for "new stuff", but I feel that investment is sort of important and hard to get something that is effective and comfortable used.

I think the best thing about the way that I dress is that nobody will ever mistake me for being stylish or trying to impress people with my clothes.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The commute

When I started this blog, I wrote about my bike rides. I don't do that any more because I ride the same 12 miles twice a day and I really don't deviate much from that pattern. Last night was no exception. I rode the same 12 miles as ussual, but I think the circumstances warrent a description. Grammie, Mom, you may not want to read this.

I started in Provo and it was snowing a little. Not a big deal, I ride in the snow regularly. The streets were wet, but nothing was sticking to asphalt yet. Even though I was on my fixie with 25 mm tires, I figured the ride would be fine. In fact, heading South through Provo was a piece of cake. It was wet, so I got the spray off my tires that soaked my bottom half, but I was plenty warm. When I got to Khuni road at the South end of Provo, I started seeing a little snow stuck to the road.

It still wasn't a big deal. I had a solid 20+ mph tail wind. I can't get a ride when I feel that good. Besides, nobody offered me a ride and by the time on Khuni road, there aren't any bus stops for miles. I don't recall the exact point, but things changed quickly. It got dark (although I do have a great light setup), the wind picked up and it began to snow harder. I started sliding a little, so I slowed down and unclipped my right shoe from the pedal. This was a devastating move because I had a tailwind well over 20 mph and I had to watch the snow blow by me while I worked to stay upright.

Getting to the South side of Khuni road was just a little sketchy, but things were not improving. The road turned West, so that I got a good portion of the wind right in the face. My right cheek went numb. I wonder if the snow accumulated on my cheek. It was certainly possible. I turned back South and had to go through a major intersetion. I was quite grateful for how courteous the drivers were last night. I was stopped at the stop light and saw several pairs of headlights headed my way. I knew that I was standing on ice, and that they would be unable to stop, but they approached VERY slowly and kept it safe. Heading in front of the Wal-Mart store was the last time I saw asphalt, the weather was certainly not improving.

I got back out of traffic, but the roads were nothing but ice. I found that if I rode on the 'shoulder' in the two inches of powder, I didn't slide as much. So I stayed off the road. My brakes froze, so I was glad that i was on my fixie so I could use my pedal speed to slow down. OK, I wasn't ever going fast enough to need to slow down.

The next time I turned West, I realized just how strong the wind was and how hard it was snowing. Had someone offered me a ride at that point, i would have taken it. So now I had a gusty head wind that was coming at an angle so that it was a cross wind as well. This also happens to be the point on my ride where I have the only hill on my ride. OK, it's an overpass, I can hardly call it a hill. Except last night, it was challenging. There isn't a shoulder on this part of the ride, so I had to ride on the packed snow and ice. The cross wind was hard enough that I had to lean into it in order to avoid being blown over. With my tires on ice, and leaning into a gusty wind, I thought for sure the wind would blow my bike out from under me, but it never did. The top of the overpass was the worst because it is completely exposed, with wind going over and under the road which made it pretty sketchy. I went very sowly down the other side of the overpass.

I got on some more good backroads that had plenty of powder to ride in. Then I saw the 18 wheeler coming and the car behind me. Of course we all met at the same time, but again the car behind me was quite kind and waited. When I waved to thank him when he finally passed, he gave a friendly honk. I don't get those very often.

Then I started hearing a metalic pinging sound that sounded like a spoke breaking. But I heard it so often that I would have been well out of spokes before i got home. I was still upright, so I kept going. When I got home, I found that the pinging was from the strap on my messenger bag. It had gotten wet and frozen and was pinging against the top tube.

I made it home without a single dab and without crashing. I even got first tracks on several sections of the commute. When I went out to my bike later that evening, the drive train had frozen solid. The rear wheel didn't spin at all. The front wheel would spin, but just barely and the brake was still frozen solid. It may be a while before I ride that bike again, it has some thawing to do.

This morning I rode my wife's mountain bike through 6-8 inches of fresh powder. It was tons of fun. I LOVE my commute!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

No time

I have three questions:

1) How does the little bulb inside the toilet fill with water?

2) Why does the little bulb inside the toilet fill with water at 3 am (thereby necessitating an early morning repair)?

3) How do you convince a 2 year old that 3 am is not time to get up?

Do you know why I've had so much free time lately? It's because I didn't see any assignments due in the near future. Well, now they're do and I see why I should have been busy. We finally got a family picture and I'll post a couple others with it I think Grandma's in Hog Heavan. She gets to read with the older boys while holding the baby. Does it get any better?
I wonder if there is a point when reading to the boys gets old? 4 hours? 8 hours? 12 hours?
There it is, a family photo. I really feel old having 3 kids. I want everyone to be impressed with this photo. All but one of the family is looking at the camera. You can almost see the baby's head. And you can't tell that the parents have been pushing, pulling, and yelling to try and get everyone to look in the same direction at the same time. I think we have other photos that didn't make it on my flash drive to bring it to school. Maybe later.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Yesterday we talked about money. A couple commenters, who also happen to be a couple, suggested investing as a means of 'making your money work for you' so that you can have more to help people without buying stuff. I agree with them to a certain extent. Investing in companies is a way to get a good return on investment. But is it better than buying stuff? You have to remember that when we 'invest' we are really buying a small part of a company (it looks like when I say 'invest' I am talking stocks, I realize there are other forms of investment). We own that part of a company because we have hopes of it growing, getting bigger and therefore the value of that piece of the company that we own increases. So how do companies grow and get bigger? In large part by making more stuff, that you may not be buying, but someone is buying. I do still think that investing is good, but I think it's important to know what you are investing in and promoting with the dollars you are spending.

Lets give some examples. Have you ever heard of national city lines? It was a cute little cooperative between Firestone, Standard oil of California, Philips petroleum and General Motors. They took interest in trolleys and other electric powered street cars in the 1930s-1950s. I am pretty sure they were trying to build public transportation infrastructure. Oh wait, they may have been a little upset over the transportation system that carried lots of people without using petroleum, or tires and it was efficient enough to make it so people didn't need cars. Right, so this cute little coop (remember that these were all publicly owned companies, making this a little on the illegal side) bought up transit systems and converted the environmentally friendly light rail systems to oil burning, tire using GM buses, maybe that is why they call it the GM streetcar conspiracy. Unfortunately they had STELLAR success. They essentially dismanteled the public transportation so that people had to use their products.

Lets look at Salt Lake City as an example. A few years back the Federal Government put a whole lot of money into upgrading public transportation and highways in the area in preparation for the olympics. There is currently a pretty good system in SLC that is growing and expanding as fast as it can, but is struggling with all of the development in the area that makes it difficult to lay down rails in downtown. 50 years ago SLC had a streetcar system that had rail lines every block or two and the entire thing was powered by hydroelectric power from the mountain streams. Now people can only dream of having TRAX every couple of blocks. So what happened? GM purchased it and essentially shut it down. Also, for the locals, there used to be a railed transit line running from Utah Valley up to SLC. We can expect that service to return in another 5-10 years. Along with more than 100 other cities, GM came in and purchased the streetcar systems and the cities are trying to rebuild and get back to what could have been.

I don't know that I would call it a conspiracy, but I see the same thing happening in nutrition. The government is sending huge subsidies to farmers to grow corn to make high fructose corn syrup. The corn syrup is used to make junk food that make people fat and are highly profitable for companies. The companies then make HUGE contributions to political candidates campaign funds so that the subsidies will continue. It's really a cute cycle that works well for all involved. Well, all except for the 66% of Americans that are overweight or obese. And I suppose it doesn't work so well for anyone who pays insurance for the people who are getting sicker. And it doesn't work well for the next generation who have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. But remember it works well for big business and politicians, so what else really matters? Oh, it also works well for pharmaceutical companies that make big money treating the new diseases caused by the increasing obesity rates.

So how do we get out of this? I think the first thing that needs to be done is to get rid of the advertising for these things that are so devastating to our society. So get rid of car, junk food and pharmaceutical advertisement from the radio, television and magazines. Well, that wouldn't work because there wouldn't be any advertisements left. Actually, in my opinion, that would work quite well for EVERYONE, but it will never happen and I know that. Do you see the problem? It's all about money, it's not about the wellfare of the people. So be careful where you invest.

Sorry, I got a little off task there. here's a good youtube video that you should watch on food industry and obesity.

P.S. Heather and Earl, that was not so much a bash on investments, although I do think you have to be thoughtful with them, as it was a transition to a topic I had been thinking of for some time.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I received a comment the other day about making money but using it for good causes. I think this is sort of a sticky point, so I want to discuss it. First off, I think that this is often a cop-out. You like your lifestyle, you like your stuff, so surely the little that you donate to a good cause entitles you to have more stuff than the guy that doesn't donate as much as you. I think that mentality is the reason we are battling to keep up with the Joneses.

I also want to be clear that I don't think that everyone who has money is like that. I know that when I was in high school my family all moved away and I had nowhere to live. A friend's family took me in and gave me EVERYTHING! They had more money than I did and they used to to serve me. I am EXTREMELY grateful for their generosity and I'll never be able to fully express to them how much I appreciated what they did for me. If they had less money, or had not used their money to have extra room in their home, would I have been able to live there? I don't know. But I do know that I hope to someday be able to provide the same experience to a youth in a similar situation. I could think of nothing more rewarding than to use my resources to serve people as I have been served by others who have more than me.

Do you see why this just got sticky? I really like the idea of simplifying so that I can work a part time job and have more time to spend with my kids and family. But if I do that, how will I have the resources to really help people? ...I wouldn't.

If you know anything about me, you know that I'm currently working on a PhD in Health Promotion. Although it would be a fun twist of irony, I don't intend to work part time at McDonald's when I'm done here. I intend to get a job and make a reasonable salary. I want to spend my carreer helping people healthier and I hope to help people on a larger than individual level. I want to make the world a better place for those who will follow me. In so doing, I'm going to make money. By many standards, I'm going to make a lot of money.

So am I a complete hypocrite? Maybe. I'll be honest with you, I'm afraid to make more money than I currently make. I like my simple lifestyle and know that it helps me keep my priorities straight. If I have access to more money, things could certainly change, and that scares me.

Then comes the big question. If you make more than you absolutely need, what do you do with the rest of your money? I see a couple of options. You could donate it to good causes. I heard somewhere that Bill Gates makes over 50% of all of the charitable contributions made in the United States. I don't know for sure if that is true, but I do know that he does a lot of good with his money. I also know that he has a LOT left over and he has a lot of stuff. In many ways I like the idea of donating money to good causes, but I like to see what my money does. I would really like to take homeless people out to dinner or hire them to do jobs and help them build skills. Anyway, I can cross that bridge when I come to it.

Another thing to do with money is not to spend it, but to invest it so that I could retire early and spend my days farming on my little organic farm in Maine. For some reason that just seems really greedy... It also sounds a lot like something I would like to do. I suppose I could do a lot of good on my organic farm in Maine. This just got really sticky. I am glad that I can live below the poverty level for now so I can procrastinate making those decisions.

Anyway, I don't have solutions. I know that I don't want to use my money to accumulate stuff. I want to maintain simplicity and maybe help others do the same thing. I would also like to support more things that are in line with my ideals (organic beeswax soap, for example), that I just don't have the money to do now.

So what would you use your money for?

Friday, February 8, 2008


I am taking the day off from school, so I'm going to make this quick. Yesterday I wrote about toys. Coincidently, my wife took pictures of the boys playing with toys yesterday. So that will be todays post, the boys playing with some toys yesterday.

This is Six-Pense playing with Legos and canning jar tongs.
The Mugwump was playing with moon sand.

This is Six-Pence in the moon sand. Then the boys made valentines for someone (maybe you).
And of course 'Jaguar'. He doesn't play much, but people want pictures of babies. He always looks the same. He's a little wrinkly head that sticks out of a bunch of blankets. Really all babies have a similar appearance, but I will continue to post pictures to humor those who want pictures. I don't, however, know if it would matter I just posted the same picture over and over. They all look about the same to me.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


I find it fascinating to watch infants. I know they don't do much, but the new baby is learning so fast. Just yesterday he figured out that if he turns his head in addition to moving his eyes he is better able to see the world around him. He's so advanced for his age. On the other hand, I was holding him last night while my wife was changing into pajamas and he kept moving his open mouth over my arm, trying to eat (rooting). He hasn't learned that Dads aren't good at that sort of thing.

The other day someone asked about toys. Boy do I have a thing or two to say about toys. I was just talking to my wife about this. During the summer it seems that they don't need toys at all. Give them a couple of sticks, a piece of string and a rock and they will spend months playing outside with or without them. During the winter, however, my wife sometimes feels like we've just played with everything that we have. Notices that is how my wife feels. The boys really don't care. They like having a couple of options, but they'll have fun playing with whatever.

So here's what we've got in our house. We have 'little people' and playmobil that encourage imaginative play. Except the old version of the 'little people' turned out to be choking hazards, now all of the little people are obese. I don't know what I think about that. We have legos, play-dough, tinker toys and kinex for building stuff. (I think this is cool, it's a computer that plays tic-tac-toe made entirely from tinkertoys.) Ironically the boys have lots of toy cars that they love playing with, but they still know that if we are getting ready to go somewhere they better go get their bike helmet. We also have one doll and lots of stuffed animals because we think it's important that the boys have the opportunity to play with dolls if they want. I think it's interesting how they will play with the doll when my wife is pregnant. It's like they know they need to practice for the real thing. We have some dress-up outfits so the boys can pretend to be something during their play. We also have a core set of books for the boys to read. Well, for us to read to the boys at this point. We are actually trying to keep our book collection fairly small and then use the library regularly.

Our toy buying principles are fairly simple. Number one (my wife is a HUGE supporter of this) no commercial characters. Cars, Nemo, Power Rangers; are they movies/shows or are they the most powerful marketing tool that businesses could come up with? Anyway, we don't keep commercialized characters around our home. I think it's interesting when my oldest boy plays cars (he has seen the movie), he will often play with Thunder McQueen and Fire McQueen (one for each hand) who will help out the other (unnamed) cars. But the character in the movie was 'Lightning McQueen'... Yeah, we're not sure what happened to him.

Number two buying principle, nothing that takes batteries. Or if it does 'take' batteries the toy must undergo a battery-ectomy (removal of batteries) before the toy enters the house. We do have a couple alphabet boards where the boys touch letters and it makes sounds and whatnot. We keep those in the van for when the boys need to be entertained without much of our help. We haven't been in the van for two weeks now... those toys don't get used much, but they are handy. I think I missed one in the list of toys above, we also have musical instruments. You see, the lack of batteries isn't because the noises drive me nuts (although that is true), it is because without batteries the boys have to use the toy rather than just being entertained by it. The musical instruments sometimes drive me nuts as well, but I bear it because it's "music" or at least the exploration of music and probably better than what I'll have to put up with when they are teenagers.

Our final big buying principle is far more vague. We just don't buy stuff. My wife and I have passed many birthdays and Christmases where we simply didn't buy our kids anything. Some people may think that's harsh, but we get more than enough from grandparents. We will occassionally buy a legos set that is on a good sale (voila, my addiction to plastic reappears). For example, the older two boys got a lego set from the baby when it was born so that it put some attention on the older boys and not just the baby.

We also maintain a principle to get rid of stuff when it becomes excessive. When the drawers and cabinets start overflowing with toys, we go through and eliminate some. We can then either re-gift them or give them to the Goodwill or whatever. Is it hard to give away things that were given to us? Yes, it absolutely is. We recognize that a toy is more than a material, it is the thought of a relative and hopefully reminds our kids of their distant family that they should remember. But we just can't keep stuff forever. If it is time for us to get rid of something we will do our best to get it to someone who can continue to use.

Wow, for something so simple as toys, I had a lot of complex principles that I use to regulate their flux through our home.

Sorry about the spelling mistakes, my spell checker on the blogger page won't work and my spelling and typing just isn't very good.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Another weakness

I brought my glass jar to school so that I can drink out of it. I could have gone with the canning jars that we have, but they have those goofy two piece lids that are great for canning, but I was envisioning spilling my water on the laptop. So I opted for the spaghetti sauce jar (Tomato Basil flavored Ragu, if you wanted to know the specifics). I'm now going to be real honest; I feel a little weird drinking from a jar. I actually hesitated several times to take the jar from my bag, fill it with water and put it on my desk. It's there now... And so far nobody has asked about it.

In the comments I had people advise on metal containers. I think they're good, but here's the thing. I already have the glass jar and the plastic. Every day I can use the jar without issue. On a relatively infrequent basis I will need something more durable, and I have the Nalgenes for that purpose until I find an innexpensive used metal bottle or my Nalgenes break (thanks Vertigo for the insight, that was funny).

Today I want to talk about stuff. I read Jill in Alaska's post on stuff the other day (again, Thanks Vertigo) and it made me want to get rid of stuff. The main thing that I could get rid of would be clothes, and I really don't have that many clothes. This is really a dilema. I feel terrible that I had to use the biggest Uhaul available to move here from Oregon. I wish I didn't have all this stuff. The problem is that when I think of the things that I would like to get rid of, it seems like a bad decision. What are the things that filled the U-haul? Beds, a set of bunk beds I made for the boys, our bed and a crib. Kitchen table. Piano. Futon. Book shelf. Bikes. Washer and Dryer. Now you see why the truck was full. Could I do without some of those things? I suppose, but I don't want to. I don't want my kids sleeping on the floor (or me for that matter). I feel very blessed to have a piano given to us by my wife's Grandma. It's a pain to move, but I really like having a piano that my wife can play for the boys while they go to sleep, it brings a different feeling into our home. As far as living room furniture, we only have a futon and a bookshelf. If my boys get much bigger, we won't all fit on our living room furniture. I'm OK with that, but I don't think I could get rid of it.

We have shelves full of paper that the boys use for art projects. Is that wasteful? Maybe, but I feel that it's worth it so that my boys know how to express themselves in art.

So here's the point of todays post. It may be that I just want to justify my weaknesses, but I think that some stuff is worth having. I try to buy (or build) stuff that will last longer than typical. I also try to repair things instead of buying new. But in the end there are big things, and I might add lots of things, that I would rather keep so that I don't have to replace them. It seems like all these people who don't have stuff are single. I could do that. I think that it's more environmentally friendly to have stuff that you use regularly and keep for a long time than it is to "minimize" by disposing of stuff before you move so that you can get new stuff on the other end. (I'm not suggesting that everyone who minimizes does that, but I'm struggling to imagine someone who lives without a bed or a couch.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My weaknesses, I'll start with just one

Yesterday there was a little discussion on what is enough. I liked it. I've been thinking of what I could write more on the subject and come up blank. I certainly don't think that I've exhausted the subject, and I'm pretty sure I'll return to it, but that's not what has been eating at my brain today.

One of the coments on the blog yesterday was a compliment that I really appreciated followed by some comment expressing that she hopes I'm not just a really good liar. Boy, I hope the same thing. I want to be clear, my efforts are pure and sincere and I don't feel that I lie on my blog, but I fear that I have painted an overly glorious portrait of myself. Oddly enough, I prefer to blog on topics that I'm doing well at. Who doesn't? So today I want to tackle my biggest obstacle. Plastic.

This has seriously been gnawing at me all day. I use plastic for everything! Don't get me wrong, I do my best to minimize the plastic that I throw away, but I still microwave my lunch everyday in a plastic container. I have a plastic Nalgene bottle that I drink from every day. I use plastic bags from the grocery store as garbage bags (although we do reuse bags most of the time so we're not being over-run by plastic bags). I am addicted to plastic.

On the positive side, I don't consume drinks that come in plastic bottles. I make a point of refusing bottled water, even if I would like a drink.

So here's my problem; plastic is far more convenient than any other option. I carry my lunch to school every day in my messenger bag. I use plastic for two big reasons. 1) Plastic doesn't break very easily (except the one that fell out of the bag on the road, it broke). 2) Plastic is far lighter than glass (which I assume to be the only other viable option).

Do I have glass containers that I could use to carry my lunch? Yes. Could I get them to school without breaking them? Besides the lunch that slid along the road and one crash last year, I cannot think of a single time when my glass container would have broken. Would I have to do dishes more often? Yes. Do we have enough glassware to hold all of the leftovers that I need in order to survive at school? No. Well, we have enough, but then they would be at school and my wife wouldn't have anywhere to put the leftovers that are produced when I'm not there. So an investment in glassware would be a positive step for me. I'll discuss it with my wife.

Wait, we need to discuss the weight issue first. I generally carry 2 or 3 lunches to school each day (I commute 25 miles a day and teach 10 activity classes a week, it takes a lot of food to prevent me from losing weight). Three glass containers would be heavy in my bag and they may make my back hurt. The glass is also bulkier than plastic, so it wouldn't fit as well. OK, I'll stop whining, I think I can do it and will work toward that change.

Now comes the water bottles. I haven't seen any really good science on it, but I would have to believe that drinking water out of a carcinogenic petroleum product (plastic) is not the healthiest choice. Glass would be better. I'm sure I could get a glass or jar up to school to use instead of my plastic bottle. Where I run into a problem is hiking and stuff. I'm afraid that glass would break in my backpack. I use my plastic Nalgene bottles to play baseball with rocks, I sincerely believe that they are indestructible (close anyway). I suppose I could carry a glass jar up to school and save the plastic for hikes and other excursions that require something a little less breakable. Consider it done.

Now that I've written this, I want to define weakness. This is based almost entirely on what I've just written, so take it for what it is. A weakness is a bad habit that you know that you have, that you could change with little effort, but don't. So what are your weaknesses?

Monday, February 4, 2008


I love that title, it makes me seem mad, and to a certain extent I am. However, the real point of the post is going to be what is enough. I'll give credit where credit is due.... The ideas for this post come directly from Sara who often has some very insightful posts. You should visit her.

Anyway, I like to discuss simplicity and how to live with less. Then comes the big question, how much is enough? I really get torn on this topic. A book that I highly recommend, Your Money or Your Life, suggests that 'enough' depends on the individual person and their circumstances. Everyone likes that, it's cute and it means that I can say, "Yeah, I'm at that level so I don't have to do anything to change". Then I can live a stagnant life and think real highly of myself for my conformity to ideals that I like.

I really don't like relativism. My personal views of this world are pretty black and white. I think there is truth and error. It doesn't depend on what you believe, what religion you belong to or how much money you have. There is truth and if it isn't truth it is error. You can criticize me for that if you want, but you're wrong. (that was an attempt at philosophical humor.) In all honesty, one of the truths that I hold at the greatest value is that of respect. Even if you don't agree with me, I respect your views. In fact, I would like to hear your views because I don't claim to have a monopoly on truth. I may want to discuss our differences and that may be perceived as an argument (my appologies for that), but I do want to know why you believe what you do and I'm unwilling to accept your idea of truth without questioning it.

I got off task, that relativism is a tough subject for me. What really gets to me is the idea that we can do whatever we want and still think we're doing everything right. Isn't this life about growing and improving? So shouldn't we set our sights on an idealistic goal and pursue it? Sure we may never make it, but I would rather live a life striving for purpose than to live a life of complacency.

I want to live a simple life. I have read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and I admire that level of simplicity. Abandoning all of your possessions except a loin cloth. Relying on the kindness of others for food and all of your needs. There's something beautiful about it. On my visit to Wikipedia, I just noticed that Siddhartha means, "he who has attained his goals", I like that. Is that my goal in life? I don't think so. I have a wife and family that I want to support. They are of the utmost importance to me and I want them to be a part of my simple lifestyle.

So here I am, still stuck. How much is enough? In this story a loincloth was enough for the man. If I say that I need more than that to have enough, doesn't that mean that I'm taking a relativist approach? I really don't like relativism. Hypothetically we'll say that the story took it too far. In reality a 1,000 square foot house is the perfect size for a family of 4. Does that mean I get another 250 square feet because I just had another kid? Does that mean that all of the people in the world who have less than 250 square feet each don't have enough? Oddly enough, many of those people with 'less' are happier and, as far as the important things in life go, they have more.

So maybe the goal isn't how to limit stuff, but rather how to maximize happiness. I truly believe that happiness comes through simplicity and spending time with and interacting with people rather than stuff. So who is the happiest person alive? I don't have a clue. I doubt that it corresponds with money or stuff. I would consider myself a competitor for the happiest man alive (although I really don't know how to measure it), and I am pretty sure I'm below the poverty line. What I lack in money, I more than compensate for with a wonderful family and being able to spend time with them. There is a lot I still want to do with my life, especially in the area of simplifying.

Maybe that is the underlying truth. Maybe it is the pursuit of truth that brings happiness. I really like that idea, except that different people have different ideas of truth which leads us back to the problem of relativism. I don't have answers (which anyone who reads this blog regularly already knew), but I want to know what you think.

Friday, February 1, 2008

True Simplicity

I think that I live a fairly simple life. I do my best to go without a car, I don't have a television and we try to spend lots of time as a family, interacting and enjoying time together. I certainly feel that I have a long way to go, but for where I am in life, I'm pleased with my efforts to live simply.

I took a moment to watch my new son. He was sleeping. He does a lot of that. When he's done sleeping he usually wakes up ready to eat. He cries... or lets call it an obnoxios screatching... until my wife feeds him. While he's eating he makes little noises of contentment. You can just tell that he is happy. When he's finished eating, he poops. This is associated with some grunts and pushing. After the work of eating and pooping he goes back to sleep so that he can start the process over again in a couple hours. I can't believe that I think I have a simple life.

The world would really be boring if all anyone did was eat, sleep and poop. So can a life be too simple? I think that it can. I think the human interactions are the greatest thing in life, but they also act to complicate life. The complications of human interaction are generally good. I have very much enjoyed what No Impact Man has said on the topic recently.

As I read that post by No Impact Man, I started to think of a conversation I had with a man in France while on the train. He was on his way home after work to have dinner with his family. I don't recall how the topic came up, but he told me that he would spend 3 hours eating dinner with his family. (He was actually quite skinny, if you were wondering.) I was amazed! Who eats dinner for 3 hours? He explained that they don't spend the whole time eating, they eat the first course, and then talk a while. Then they eat a second course and talk a little more. I don't know how many courses there were, but there were several. I then asked if this was a Thursday night thing, or if it was like this every night. He said that it was typical, except Sundays when they would have a larger meal that would take a bit longer.

First off, this was not typical of all French families that I met, but I would certainly say that meal time is different over there. How would your life be different if you had a 3 hours dinner with your family every night? I think it would get back toward the simplicity that my new baby has with the addition of positive family relations. I think it's great. I don't think I could do it. I like to be doing stuff. Although I often wish that I were better at relaxing and doing nothing, I think it would be quite difficult for me.

What would that three hours of eating replace? TV, kids' sports leagues, reading the paper, playing games, wrestling on the floor. OK, I like wrestling on the floor, but I think a lot of those after work activities could be done away with and it would benefit the family. I think about that man often and wonder if he still does it (I would guess that he does). I wonder how many other families in Europe are like that. I wonder how the world would be different if everyone lived like that. I still don't think I could do it and I don't know that it's the perfect situation, but it's an interesting thought. Could you do it?