Fish Slappin’: In Search of Statues

We embarked upon our Grand Tour this week as only empty nesters can, carefree and with good walking shoes. In my mind, I’ve labeled this the Tour of a Lifetime and, since we are heading to Scandinavia, have dubbed it the Fish Slapping Tour. (See Monty Python). First Stop: London.

Third Time’s the Charm
The third time you visit a city, I am now convinced, is the best. The first time, you had to see all the touristy things because many of them are interesting even if touristy. The second time you brought the new spouse or friend or you saw two new things you couldn’t pack in the first time. The third time, though, you aren’t Obligated to do any of that. You also now have Your Favorite things to see again, and those things– those favorite restaurants and artworks and shops and short cuts to places– are old friends. Karin had a writers’ thing the first time in 2005 and then we brought the kids in 2006, and had to add Stonehenge and Westminster Abbey to the obligatory tours of the Tower of London and London Eye and British Museum. But theis time we didn’t need to do any of those; yet, we don’t live there so we felt free to wander and gawk and it was amazing. We decided to have no specific agenda aside from two unvisited museums and to go in search of statues. It turned out to be my favorite way to see a city.tmp_1916-20160422_1101541726330885

The statue idea came about last fall when Karin happened upon an audio book series written by Charlie Fletcher, starting with the intriguing Stoneheart. Read by Jim Dale, the books are about two preteens George and Edie who slip into an UnLondon where the statues come to life. While the trilogy had familiar battles between light and dark, it didn’t have the overused wizardry that magic stories often do. Instead, George must battle and befriend statues both good and evil—spits and taints as the books label them—to keep the bad spirits within the stones from taking over London. Continue reading “Fish Slappin’: In Search of Statues”

Is it Hot in here or is it just a Matter of Opinion?

I try to be open-minded. It’s a big, complex, diverse world of ideas out there and even though everyone else is not as correct as me, they might have something interesting to share.

I did make the mistake of reading the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. I opened it because I do respect the general journalistic approach of the paper – compared with what passes for journalism these days – and because I was lured in by the article on, what else? basketball. I mused over the opinion piece by Pfizer’s CEO that it’s disadvantageous for them to be prevented from merging in order to shelter profits offshore from US taxes. I was confused by the blurb that seemed to urge people with gluten allergies to be tested, since it ended by saying the gluten free paranoia would turn out to be fake, just like the fear of fat.  The piece that really got me was on climate change.

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‘Splaining Sports

It’s the first week of April, and, if you’re a fan, you know that means it has been 155 days since the end of the World Series. I was going to entitle this “The Crack of the Bat” and talk about how the smell of freshly mowed lawns and hot dogs reminds one of baseball. About how doing yardwork is better while listening to an afternoon game on the radio. About MY team’s savvy trades in the offseason, or how my favorite player’s scooter had once again been stolen (#HunterGate2). But it does occur to me that not everyone likes baseball, which puts me in a quandary. Perhaps I need to explain baseball. But suppose you don’t like sports it all? It might be necessary to explain Why Sport? in the first place.

Sports premise number one. You are more likely to enjoy a sport if your local team wins, if your local team won when you were a child, if your college had winning sports teams, or if you or a family member played. If you are unlucky enough that there’s never been a good local sports team near where you live, and your parents/college didn’t follow sports, and you never played any, then it is possible — just possible — you are not fond of sport, any sport. The libraries and museums are just waiting to receive you. Note also an important corollary: If you love a sport, it does not follow that your spouse will love it. Spouses can often find better ways to use their time. Continue reading “‘Splaining Sports”

A History of Fools

The origin of April Fools’ Day is kind of like April Fools’ pranks themselves. If you read through the history, it’s hard to tell truth from fiction. The celebrated tradition of pranking might have started as part of a festival to praise the humble OR it might have been a way to ridicule a captured enemy before his execution or – no, wait – it was because some people got confused about when to celebrate the new year.

It might have started in France. Or maybe England. Or Rome. For certain. Maybe. It’s kind of hard to say…

12mrtAccording to Infoplease, one convincing explanation was provided by Joseph Boskin, a Professor of History at Boston University. He linked the practice to the Roman emperor Constantine, when a group of court jesters told Constantine that they didn’t get enough respect and could do a better job ruling the land. The emperor decided to appoint a jester named Kugel as king for the day, and Kugel took the opportunity to pass an edict created an annual absurdity day. When Boskin’s story was widely reported in 1983, it sounded convincing. But, as it turned out, he was just being feisty with an Associated Press reporter who wouldn’t take “I dunno” for an answer to “Where’d the tradition start, professor smartypants?” So as a joke he’d made up the story and used the reference to “kugel” because the reporter was in New York and he thought, well, everyone in New York eats kugel, don’t they?… When the AP fellow asked him to spell “kugel,” he wondered if the joke would be taken seriously. It was.

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The Key to Wealth & Happiness: Ignore Other People (and other Paradoxes)

I’ve always had a beef with that societal notion of Happiness, and when reading the book Flow on what makes people enjoy life, I realized why. “Happy people” in the media always seem to be rich, thin, beautiful, lucky, brilliant, or talented – all unattainable notions to me or the average Jane. In the book Flow, an analysis of what makes people truly happy, it turns out none of those things drive Happiness at all. And in a recent update to the influential book The Millionaire Next Door, on how ordinary people achieve financial security, the message is similar. Ignore external messages; ignore social media; ignore commercials. Or as a folk singer once said, “it’s an inside job.”

I will note at the outset that this is a somewhat paradoxical entry. I’m telling you to read my explanation and advice on how to improve your life by ignoring other people. This reminds me a little of the Steve Martin bit where he would say, “Now, repeat after me, ‘I will not say things that other people tell me to say’…all together now….’”

But bear with me. The keys to discovering wealth and happiness are not avoiding other people’s advice or ignoring your friends and family, but rather learning when to react to cues from society and the environment and when to ignore them.

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko

millionairecoverLet’s tackle wealth first; it’s easier. The Millionaire made a very strong impression on me when I first read it 15 years ago. Since many have asked me how I have figured out how to leave the corporate world early, I would point to these principles. The book was based on large scale studies of affluent families and found that people accumulating wealth would probably not be recognized as such. They drive older cars, spend on few luxuries, and save the fruits of their hard-earned labor. They don’t tend to play the lottery but do understand the “miracle of compound interest.” They do take financial risk in keeping with appropriate rewards – save money, leverage money, but don’t gamble money.   A key theme is to ignore “keeping up with the Joneses”: affluent people don’t purchase things because their neighbor has them.

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