Getting Sentimental with John Denver on New Year’s Eve

I’ve written before how happy I was when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, since I consider songwriters to be the poets of my generation.

I love listening to a song with good lyrics, using words that make you think or feel or remember or hope or cry.

Well in the car today, we listened to some old John Denver songs, and not only did it bring back lots of good memories, it made me realize what a way he had with words. I thought I’d share a line or two (or more) from some of my favorite John Denver songs that to me show how much he can express in such a few words.

Back Home Again

And oh, the time that I can lay this tired old body down
And feel your fingers feather soft on me

It’s the sweetest thing I know of, just spending time with you
It’s the little things that make a house a home

This song reminds me of how lucky I am to have found such a wonderful wife, and how much I enjoy spending time with her.

Rocky Mountain High

The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye

I just love the image this paints in my mind.

Today

A million tomorrows shall all pass away, ‘ere I forget all the joy that is mine, today.

A reminder to find joy in the moment. I did not know this was a John Denver song until about two weeks ago.

Poems, Prayers, and Promises

I have to say it now, it’s been good life all in all, it’s really fine to have a chance to hang around.
and lie there by the fire and watch the evening tire
while all my friends and my old lady sit and pass a pipe around.
And talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in.

Again, the words paint such a vivid picture of just enjoying the time spent hanging with friends and family.

Shanghai Breezes

And the moon and the stars are the same ones you see
It’s the same old sun up in the sky
And your voice in my ear is like heaven to me
Like the breezes here in old Shanghai

Reminds me of the many long distance calls I made with my wife-to-be while I was in grad school. John’s words express my feelings better than I could ever hope to.

Take Me Home, Country Roads

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah river

Is there a better two-line tribute for any of the 50 states?

Sunshine on My Shoulders

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

A simple phrase, but it brings me back to days just sitting on the beach, literally feeling the sunshine on my shoulders, and realizing there was no place I’d rather have been at that moment.

So thank you to John Denver and all of the wonderful songwriters who put into words what many of us are feeling.

To then put those words to music is truly a gift.

Happy New Year!

 

Add New Post

Those three words greet me each time I go to write my daily blog.

Most days, it does not take me too long to figure out something to write about, but other days, like today, it is a struggle. I just sit and stare at the blank screen you see above, the blinking cursor taunting me to write that first word.

And you may wonder, like I do during such moments, why bother to write something if you have nothing to write about it.

It’s a good question, and I’ve often thought about why I do it.

Part of it is probably a little bit of OCD; I’ve gotten to the point where I just have to post something to my blog each day. It’s become a necessary part of my daily routine.

Part of it is the mental challenge; coming up with something to write about each day. I remember when I started this blog on January 1, 2015, in response to an online challenge to write for 31 straight days. I remember how hard that was, but I made it through. I then thought, let me see if I can get to 100 straight days, then it became 1 year, then 500 straight days, then 2 years, then 1,000 straight days, and now I’m one day away from making it three straight years of writing something every day.

Part of it is my competitive nature; I want to see how long I can keep the streak going. As I’ve mentioned before, I’d love to break Cal Ripken’s record of playing in 2,632 consecutive baseball games. That means I can’t miss a day until March 17, 2022. How appropriate that it would be on St. Patty’s Day, one of my favorite days of the year!

Part of the reason was wanting to get better at writing, and I kept reading, from several sources, that the best way to get better at writing is to just keep writing. I’m not sure that’s happened, but I don’t think I’ve gotten worse. (I started with a pretty low bar).

Part of it is that writing forces me to clarify my thoughts and opinions. By then sharing it with others, I hopefully get to hear what their thoughts are on the topic, and I become more informed.

Many days, admittedly, I don’t have much to say, but somehow, something comes to me, like this post. I think I’ve said it before; coming up with the idea is 95% of the effort; actually writing the blog is the easy part.

So there you go, another blog about nothing.

But at least that blinking cursor can stop taunting me now.

The School of Life

One of the places in a Wall Street Journal story about places to visit in London caught my eye – The School of Life.

The School was co-founded in 2008 by Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born British author whose books discuss various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy’s relevance to everyday life. The School describes itself as a “global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence. We apply psychology, philosophy, and culture to everyday life.”

Here is some more detail, from its web site

Headquartered in London, The School of Life operates around the globe, delivering our services down a number of channels to suit your different needs. We offer classes and therapies in person. We also publish books, write articles, create films and make and sell a range of objects & tools that will assist you in the quest for a more fulfilled life. We also offer brand consultancy services and learning and development workshops for businesses.

The School of Life is a place to step back and think intelligently about central emotional concerns. You will never be cornered by dogma, but we will direct you towards a variety of ideas that will exercise, stimulate and expand your mind. You will meet other curious, sociable and open-minded people in an atmosphere of exploration and enjoyment.

We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm and how better to understand, and where necessary change, the world. We are seeking more emotionally intelligent kinds of:

  • Relationships
  • Work
  • Leisure
  • Culture

Here’s a video overview of the School:

I looked at the course offerings that are available during our upcoming visit, and some of them look quite interesting:

  • How to be Sociable (I should look into that one)
  • How to Enjoy Life
  • How to Be Serene
  • How to Be Confident
  • How to Fail (I could be the featured speaker at this one…)
  • How to Develop Self-Knowledge
  • Communication
  • Improving Your Emotional Intelligence

While I am not sure if I’ll take one of these courses, I do plan to visit the School’s store, since I am sure it has some unique items, including some thought-provoking books.

We are getting excited about our upcoming trip, and looking forward to exploring the city of London and all its many treasures, such as the School of Life.

A Store Full of Stories

My wife and I were walking around a Goodwill Thrift store today, seeing if we could find anything that might be useful for our upcoming trip.

As I was walking down one of the aisles, the mug shown in the picture above caught my eye.

Here’s a closer look:

As I looked at the mug, I started to get a little depressed. I started thinking about possible reasons as to how the mug may have ended up at a thrift shop.

Did the mom pass away, and someone just packed up all the stuff in the house and brought it to the thrift shop? If so, was the son or daughter who went to William and Mary aware of the fate of the mug? If so, did they not want to keep it for memory’s sake?

Or perhaps the son or daughter never graduated from W&M, and the mom figured what’s the point in keeping the mug. If that’s the case, that seems a little cold as well. It was likely a gift from one of her children, and I know those are gifts I would never think to part with.

Or was the mom down on her luck, and she was just trying to sell as many of her non-essential household items as possible in order to get enough money to survive another day? If that’s the case, did she have one final cup of coffee in the mug before bringing it to Goodwill?

I thought of several other possibilities, all of them as unlikely as the above. I’ll never know the real story, but I’m sure there is a story there.

And as I walked away from the mug, I started to look at all the other items in the store in a different light.

  • How did that lamp end up here – what’s the story behind its journey?
  • What about that men’s suit. At one point, I’m guessing the owner liked the suit. So what changed, why is it now at a goodwill store? Does it no longer fit? Is the person retiring and no longer needs a suit?
  • How about that tea kettle? How many cups of tea did that serve, and what conversations was it privy to? I’m sure it still works, so why did someone unload it at a thrift shop?

I soon realized that everything in that store had a story behind it, and it would be fascinating to hear what they were.

That’s one of the things that makes a thrift shop unique compared to a general retail store. At a thrift shop you’re not only buying a product, but you’re buying the history and the memories that go along with that product.

You’ll probably never know what that history is, so why not make up a happy one.

Perhaps the suit that a recently retired person donated is bought by a young man for his first job interview,  the $30 price all he can afford at the moment. The interview goes well, the person gets the job, and his life is changed.

As noted on its web site, the mission of Goodwill is to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.

Every product it sells contributes to that mission, and to paraphrase Rod Stewart, every product tells a story.

As for that W&M mug:

Perhaps the mother who donated it had gotten it from her daughter while she was on a trip to the school while in fifth grade. The girl fell in love with the school and vowed to her mom that she would someday go to W&M, and the mug would serve as a constant reminder of her dream. Once she graduated from W&M 11 years later, the mom decided that the mug had done its magic in her household, and it was time to pass that magic along. She donates it to Goodwill, hoping that someday some young girl would be walking the aisles of the store looking to buy her Mom a Christmas present. She comes across the mug, buys it for her Mom, and tells her that one day the mug will be telling the truth.

 

Let the Waiting Begin

Three months ago I wrote about turning 60, and mentioned that one of the gifts I received was the 23andMe Health + Ancestry testing kit from my three sons.

In that post I noted how excited I was to see what the results of the test would be in terms of my genetic health risks, my ancestry, my wellness, my carrier status, and my traits. I also noted that once I got the results, you could count a blog post about it.

Well as it turns out, I’m going to be able to get two blog posts about it, because today I finally got around to providing my saliva sample and mailing it back to 23andMe. The whole process, from opening the kit to getting it ready to drop in the mail, took less than 10 minutes. And that included about five minutes spent registering my kit on the 23andMe web site.

I’m not sure why it took me three months to complete this simple task, except for good old procrastination.

But that’s all in the past now; the kit is on its way, and in 6-8 weeks I’ll know the results.. And so will my readers.

In the meantime, I’ll have to look around to see what else I’ve been putting off.

I’m just worried that the list will be so big that I’ll be too overwhelmed to do anything.

But that’s OK, I just downloaded another Harlan Coben novel on to my phone…

My First Time

It was destined to happen.

It was just a matter of having everything come together at the same time, a perfect storm in other words.

What started the ball rolling was when I bought an iPhone 7 Plus a few weeks ago, and I realized how much I liked having the bigger screen.

That was followed by turning in my final grades for the semester, which meant there was going to be some free time in my schedule. That meant time for some reading.

The next thing I did was go onto our local library’s web site, and tried to download some e-books. None of the ones I wanted were available for immediate download, so I was placed in a queue.

A few days later I got an email telling me that one of my e-books was available (a Harlan Coben novel), so I downloaded it.

Since the phone was in my hand while doing all of this, I decided to open up the Kindle reader app and see if the book came through OK. It had, and so I started reading it on my phone. The plan was to eventually read the book on my standalone paperwhite Kindle, but it was so nice reading it on the phone, that I decided to see if I could read the whole book just using my phone.

 

I never realized how convenient it was to read an e-book on my phone. I had read a chapter or two before on my old iPhone, but never a full book. I think the bigger screen size had a lot to do with it. Since I always have my phone with me, I could just read a few pages whenever I had a couple of free minutes.

Before I knew it, I had read the entire book, just on my phone.

Since that first time, which was just a few days ago, I have read another novel on my phone, and I am just about finished another one. (The Harlan Coben novels are quick (and great) reads).

It was so easy to read the books on my iPhone; to be honest, I’m not sure when I’ll use my Kindle again. I love e-books, but it seems as if the larger smartphone screens aren’t that much smaller than the paperwhite Kindle I have.

Plus, as I noted earlier, it’s hard to beat the convenience of using the smartphone, since it’s a device I always have within two feet of me.

So I’ve been busy downloading as many e-books as I can from my local library. The nice thing about using the library is that it almost forces you to finish the book, since after three weeks the book is no longer available for reading on your Kindle.

At some point, perhaps within the next week or two, I’ll have finished all of the Harlan Coben books, and it will be time to move on to some other author.

It will be fun discovering another author whose work I can become immersed in, knowing that the book will never be further than two feet from me.

So there you have it. The story of my first time reading a book on my iPhone.

*My First Time logo by Andrea Pippens.

What’s Your Pacifier?

There’s not many things better in life than holding a newborn, and I got a chance to do so today while visiting my wife’s relatives.

While I was holding her, she started to get a little fussy, with her arms and legs flailing, her back arching, and some crying.

Someone popped a pacifier in her mouth, and the transformation was remarkable. The fussing stopped, I could feel her body relax, and she seemed to go back to sleep. The whole transformation took less than two seconds.

As I watched the process repeat itself multiple times over the course of the evening – baby fusses, baby given pacifier, baby calms down, it got me thinking.

Everybody, no matter their age, should have a pacifier.

We all get upset, we get fussy. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something that would calm us down almost instantly.

Maybe that’s the role that cigarettes serve for some people. Or a quick shot of whiskey for others. But those don’t seem like the healthiest choices.

Perhaps a deep breath, or 15 seconds of meditation, or a few jumping jacks could do the trick, in a more positive way.

And when all else fails, and you’re looking for a way to relax, there’s always my lecture explaining the concepts of debits and credits:

I know it has quite the calming effect on my students.

Philadelphia – City of (Christmas) Lights

It’s one of the best times of the year to visit Philadelphia, and we got a chance to do so a few times over the past couple of weeks.

One of our first places to visit was the “Miracle on South 13th Street”. This is a block on South 13th Street, between Tasker and Morris, where every house goes all out to decorate their houses for Christmas. We got lucky this year, with temperatures close to 50 degrees on the night of our visit.

On another trip into the city we took in Christmas Village:

followed by the Comcast Holiday Spectacular video show:

and ended the night by watching the City Hall light show (pictured at top of post); here’s a video:

While driving home, we got to see perhaps my favorite city landmark, Boathouse Row, this time all lit up for the holidays.

As I noted, it’s a great time to visit the city, and a great way to get in the holiday spirit.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. If you’d like to see more of what Philly has to offer to celebrate the holidays, here’s a good web site.

 

No More Christmas Songs from the Killers 🙁

Brandon Flowers, frontman for the Killers, recently stated that, “We are finished with the Christmas song game, but we’re proud of what we did. We did 11 songs.”

Flowers said that while the band won’t be releasing any more Christmas music, they’re planning on releasing their one (and only) Christmas album Don’t Waste Your Wishes on vinyl at some point.

Don’t Waste Your Wishes featured The Killers’ yearly Christmas singles from 2006 to 2016, and all proceeds from sales of the album went to the Project Red campaign, raising funds to help eliminate HIV/AIDS in eight African countries.

But just because there is no new Christmas song, it doesn’t mean I can’t share a couple of my favorite ones from years’ past.

My favorite is the song from 2013: Christmas in L.A. The video features Owen Wilson while Dawes co-write and also performed on the track. Great animation. While it may be considered somewhat depressing, it could also be viewed as a tribute to those who follow their dreams, despite the cost.

Joel, The Lump Of Coal, from 2014 is another one of my favorites. This animated video made its debut on the Jimmy Kimmel show. Kimmel also co-wrote the song, along with The Killers and Jonathan Bines. Has a catchy tune, and a great message.

If you want to see all of their singles, I wrote about all of them last year.

It was a nice tradition while it lasted, but thanks to YouTube (and the Killers), the songs will continue to spread joy for many Christmas seasons to come.

Is Your Job Safe from Robots?

I’ve thought about this issue before, but what prompted me to write about it today was a poll I came across that was sponsored by Cards Against Humanity (CAH), and conducted by the polling firm Survey Sampling International.

CAH refers to the poll as “Pulse of the Nation”, and asks the types of questions you wouldn’t see in most surveys.

Questions included the following:

  • If you had to choose, would you rather be smart and sad, or dumb and happy?”
    • 53% said dumb and happy
  • do you think it is likely or unlikely that robots would take their jobs within the next decade.
    • 80% said unlikely
  • is it OK to pee in the shower?
    • 57% said it was unacceptable
  • is rap music?
    • 66% said yes

For each of the questions, there was then follow-up questions, breaking down the responses by various demographics. For example, the question about dumb and happy was broken down by political affiliation, and the question about robots was broken down by how many Transformers movies the respondents had seen.

You can check out the full set of results here.

But the question that peaked my curiosity was the one about robots replacing jobs. I asked my oldest son who is home for the holidays (yay!) if he thought any jobs were safe from being replaced with a robot.

We tried throwing out a few possibilities, but it seemed like for each job we thought was safe, there was a counter-argument to suggest that maybe such a job could be done by a robot.

So I decided to search online to see what has been written, and I came across several articles with titles such as “10 Jobs That Robots Can’t Do, Yet”, or “Jobs that robots are least likely to take over”. I wanted to see if there was any agreement between the articles – were there any jobs that everyone agreed on would be safe from robots?

I did not find any job that was mentioned in every one of the half-dozen or so articles I scanned, but there were a few that were mentioned multiple times.

Those jobs were the following:

  • doctor
  • counselor/social worker
  • occupational therapist
  • nutritionist
  • journalist/investigative reporter
  • elementary school teacher
  • professional athlete
  • politician

As you can see, many of the jobs are health-care related, so while there have been great technological advances in health-care, there is still a need for that human touch

I should note that there are also several articles online that note what jobs are most likely to be replaced by robots, but that’s too depressing to think about. Fortunately, I did not see college teacher on any of those lists. As long as that holds true for about the next five years, then I’m a happy camper.

At that point, hopefully universal basic income will kick in…