Sunday, January 30, 2011

Art, We Take It for Granted, at Least I Do

I fess up.  Today I did not go to church.  I just felt like relaxing (drinking coffee and reading the newspaper), watching the CBS Sunday Morning Show (this show conflicts with church, so it was a treat to watch it today), and doing some things around my place (laundry and such).

There were two pieces on the CBS Sunday Morning Show that got me to thinking, a sometimes dangerous thing to do.  One piece was on Roy Lichtenstein, the person who started pop art.  The other piece was on actor Geoffrey Rush, an Oscar winner who is in the film "The King's Speech".  Both people are involved in very different forms of art, one being painting, the other acting.

I started to think about how much I take art for granted.  Art is all around us.  We see it everyday whether we think of what we are seeing as art.  Art might be a building, a bridge, even a laptop.  It might not have been built as a piece of art, but it can be art nonetheless.  Art is really in the eye of the beholder, to coin a phrase.  What I see as art, or what I see as art I like, can be just junk to someone else.  I think that is okay.  Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion.

I do have art in my condo.  I have several prints and one original painting by Kenneth Aunchman (I am not sure that "Kenneth" is his correct first name).  It was given to me by my ex-wife for our 10th wedding anniversary in 1995.  It is a sea scene with a view both above and below the water.  Above the water is a sailing ship and the sun partially hidden by the clouds (having the sun in his paintings is a signature of his).  Below the water are two whales, three porpoises, and a school of small fish.  One of the whales is breaching, jumping from the water into the air, half in the water and half out in the air.  When I look at this painting, it makes me wish I lived by a body of water.  There is something calming and peaceful about being around water.

I worry that we really don't appreciate and support art like we should.  In tough economic times, like the present, things like art get cut from school budgets, and financial support to both artists and art galleries goes down.  We need art and artists in our lives, whether we understand it or not.  Art, in my opinion, is part of what makes us human beings.  We as a species have had art in our lives since the stone age with the paintings on the walls of caves.

I certainly want to have more art in my life.  I especially would like to hang more prints on the walls of my cave, my condo.  Alas, my current cash flow does not support such a desire.  I have to admit that in someways I am no different than the people who put together the school budgets.  If the choice is between a new print and eating, I have to choose eating.  I can do one thing at least.  I can do a better job of not taking art for granted.  I can do a better job of recognizing the art that is all around us.  I can go to art galleries (especially the free ones) and look and admire art of all kinds.  I can see and understand what each art piece means to me, after all art is personal.  It might be a small thing to do, but it is something that is guaranteed to enrich my life.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today is my Birthday

Yes, today is my birthday.  For most of us, we look forward to our birthdays.  I certainly do, although not as much as I used to.  Another birthday means we are another year older.  The older you get, the more you realize you have already had the majority of your birthdays.  That is certainly true with me.  I am 62 years old today.  There is certainly nothing wrong with being 62.  I believe I am a somewhat wiser person now.  I certainly have more knowledge.  I always tell my students that if they are not learning, they are dead.  I am always learning, so I am not dead yet.

Being 62 makes me think of my parents.  They both died in their early sixties.  I am not worried about that from a genetic point of view.  I am adopted, so I am not worried about dying in my sixties because they died in their sixties.  I do realize however that I can still die in my early sixties if I don't take care of myself.  I must do something about that.  I am overweight, and I am out of shape.

What am I going to do about it?  Well, I am not going to go on a crash diet to lose weight.  I have heard too many stories about people losing weight and then putting the weight back on.  I have lost weight before, but after I reached my weight goal, I stopped the diet (which was really just eating better with more fruits and such) and went back to my old eating habits. 

Actually, I have already started to make some changes in my diet.  A couple of days ago, I bought some navel oranges.  I will eat them instead of eating cheese sticks or Oreo cookies for snacks/deserts.  Yesterday I saw a piece on the Today Show about eating whole wheat bread.  I know whole wheat bread is good for you and white bread is not so good for you.  The trouble about white bread is that it tastes so good, especially when you put butter (not real butter, but soft margarine) on it and bake it in the oven.  I bought some honey wheat bread, and it actually does taste good.  I had it this morning with my breakfast.  I also have some yogurt in my fridge, so I will eat more of that for snacks.  These changes are not major in scope, but I want to make changes that have a good chance of sticking.  If I make these changes as a lifestyle change and not think of them as going on a diet, I hope I won't drop them when I reach my weight goal like I did before.  One might say I am playing a mind game with myself.  However, if I really want to make it out of my sixties, I have got to make changes in my diet.  As I continue to ponder my diet, I am sure I will be making more changes to my diet.  I feel good about the changes I have already made.  They are small changes, but you have to start somewhere.

Now, what about exercising?  I have to do that too if I want to lose weight and be in better shape.  I am not so sure how to approach this.  Exercising is not my favorite thing to do.  You get out of breath, and it can be hard to do.  I know I can at least start taking walks.  I am certainly able to do that, and it does not cost anything like belonging to a gym does.  What would help me to do that is having a walking buddy, a person who encourages me, a person whom I would also encourage.  I would feel bad if I missed a walking session with my walking buddy, so I would more likely do the walking if I had a walking buddy.  Until I do find a walking buddy, I will just have to do it on my own.  I just have to remember why I am walking (and changing my diet), to live a longer life and a quality life.    

Monday, January 17, 2011

Both Our Differences and Our Similarities are Good

"Infinite diversity in infinite combinations".  This is a quote from the TV series Star Trek.  I do not know if Dr. King ever followed Star Trek, but I think he would have liked this quote.  At least to me, this quote is saying diversity is good.  We are all different, but those differences can bring progress.  It would be boring if we all looked alike and thought alike.  It is when someone thinks in a different way that new ideas are born and new ways of doing things are discovered.  I am not saying that every new idea or new way of doing things is good.  It may not be good for me, but it might be good for someone else.  There is nothing wrong with that.  We must always remember our similarities, but we can also celebrate our differences, differences that make us both unique and special.  If we can all realize it is both our similarities and our differences that make us human, make us grow into better humans, and make us create a better society, a free society where we all can live in peace and prosperity. What a concept!   

Friday, January 14, 2011

Another Reason I am a GED Teacher

I want to relate what one of my GED students said at the jail today.  He said he had some good news to tell.  He had just heard that there is a GED graduation ceremony for the students who earned their GEDs.  Not only that, but the GED graduates get to wear caps & gowns during the ceremony.  That part means a lot to him.  He had promised his mother that he would someday wear a cap and gown for graduation.  He would be the first one of his brothers and sisters to do so.  The others had their GEDs, but none of them had worn a cap and gown.  When he dropped out of high school, he said that it really hurt him that he was breaking his promise to his mother that he would wear a cap and gown.  Now he has the chance to do so.  I firmly believe that he will get his GED this spring.  He seems to have the ability to do so.  They take pictures of each GED graduate in their caps and gowns and with them holding their certificates.  My student said he will not tell his mother about the cap and gown.  He wants her to be surprised when she sees his picture.  He also said that she will probably cry when she sees the picture.

I always look forward to GED graduation.  All of the graduates have overcome so much to earn their GEDs.  This next graduation will be even more significant.  A student will be fulfilling a promise to his mother.  How special is that?  You can see why I see GED graduates as such special people.  Getting those GED certificates mean so much to them, much more than we will ever know.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Will What Happened in Tucson Really Change This Country?

The horrible events that occurred in Tucson this past Saturday has really started a discourse on how we conduct our public business and debate issues.  In the past few years, public debate is more about making political points for the next news cycle and making personal attacks instead of really trying to solve our problems.  Now it seems that violence against public servants is being used to get one's point across.  I don't think we know yet the motivation for these killings.  The killer may have some mental problems.  There may have been political motivations.  It is too early to know the reason or reasons for this horrible act.  Maybe, just maybe though, this act has made us realize that we all have gone too far in how we debate the issues of the day.  Many people are now saying we need to tone down our discussions a few notches.  I was encouraged by what President Obama, among others, said tonight at the Tucson Memorial Service.  He called for us to remember that we are all Americans and that we all love our country.  He said there are more things that unite us than divide us.  The memorial service has given me hope that we will tone down our discussions and really attack our problems together.  There was some of that bipartisanship during the last lame-duck session of Congress.  However, there have been events in the past that have united us for a time, but only for a short time.  The events of 911 are a case in point.  Despite this, I am choosing to be optimistic and believe that we will change and do a better job of working together and solving our problems.  This change will not happen overnight, and there will be setbacks.  Hopefully the events in Tucson will make us realize that what we are doing now is not working and that we must make changes in the way we debate and discuss the issues in order to get a handle on our problems.  Something has to be done, and maybe this is a start.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Technology, Isn't It a Good Thing?

Technology can be so cool, and I don't even have the latest or best technology.  My Dell laptop is about 4 years old, and I have Windows Vista on it.  I do have a G wireless network with a Netgear router (N wireless is faster and has a larger range), and Verizon DSL is my internet provider (cable is faster, but it can be unreliable).  Both my laptop and my printer are wireless.

I also have a cell phone that is not a smart phone.  It's primary function is actually making phone calls.  I can send text messages on it, but I do not have a QWERTY keyboard to write the messages with.

Even though I do not have the latest technology, I can still do so much on my laptop.  I have complete access to the internet, both at home and anywhere there is a wi-fi connection.  I can connect with family and friends via email, Facebook, and/or Twitter.  I can also access the news, including breaking news, and weather reports via the internet.  I can manage my finances with Quicken (it is so easy to balance my checkbook) and can pay my bills on the internet (some may say that is not a good idea, but I have had zero problems doing this).  I can also read e-books by using the Barnes & Noble e-reader, and I prepare my GED lessons using my laptop and wireless printer.  This is not be all I can do on my computer network, but I believe you get my point.  I can do a lot on my system even though my system does not have the latest technology.

The reason I find this so amazing is that I am old enough, way old enough, to remember when none of this technology existed.  Bills were paid by check, and those bills were mailed out.  You also might actually go to a place to pay your bill in person (I saw people who still do that at the cable company office just this week).  Most stores did not accept checks.  You had to pay with cash.   Because I have a debit card that can be used as a credit card, I either do not carry any cash or very little cash (I got in trouble once because I had little cash, but that is another story which I probably will not tell).  Technology always gets better and better.  Who knows what will come next to make our lives more productive and enable us to be connected with people anywhere we go.

Is technology always good?  Of course not.  Just like anything else, it is misused.  Our teenagers can be bullied on Facebook or MySpace.  People can be lured into situations where they can be harmed, or even be killed.  Your identity can be stolen, and your PC can become infected with viruses.  In some ways, technology has made us more vulnerable than ever.

Despite the threats and misuses of technology, I am glad that I live in a time when technology has improved our lives and continues to improve our lives (look at some of the product announcements at the CES convention in Las Vegas this week).  I know there are some people who do not have this view.  Some believe technology is even evil.  On a whole, I believe our technology advancements have done more good than harm.  Technology can even be used to help us lessen the harm that the misuse of technology can cause (anti-virus software, for example).  Technology has certainly improved my life and has made me more productive.  It has enabled me to write this blog, which I am enjoying doing so much.  We just have to keep the advances of technology in perspective.  It is just a means, not an end.  We can use it to connect with people, but face-to-face connection, actually being with people, is better.  After all, we are human.  Humans are very social creatures.  We need to be with each other.  It is our family and friends that give true meaning to our lives.  Don't let technology get in the way of that.             

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Change, Part 2

This is an update to my post on 1/1/11 on change.

Today I talked with a Comcast representative about getting their basic cable service.  Basic cable, without HD, cost more than my budget will allow.  Unless something else changes, I will not be changing how I watch TV this year.  I have survived without cable TV so far, and I can continue surviving without it.  I am sure Comcast will continue surviving without me.

Making a Difference versus the Mega Million Dollar Lottery

I am a very lucky person.  I have a job where I am making a difference, even if it is a small difference.  I teach GED classes, and I tutor high school students in math.

It is in the GED classes where I feel I am making the most difference in people's lives.  I am helping people getting their GED, which can enable people to go on to bigger and better things (college, a better job, etc.).  Two of my GED classes are at the jail in Manassas.  When the inmates get their GED, it can help them turn their lives around and become productive members of society.  Of course for all of these people, I just point them in the right direction.  They are the ones who are doing the work to get their GED.  They are studying and doing extra work outside of the classroom instead of doing something else.  I certainly admire these people who overcome many obstacles to reach their goal.  It is really quite incredible.

So what does this have to do with the Mega Million Dollar Lottery?  Yesterday, the grand prize for the Mega Million Dollar Lottery was $355 million dollars.  Two people won the prize, and neither one of them was me. 

What if I did win the lottery?  Almost everyone says if they won, they would immediately quit their job.  I said as much on my status on Facebook this morning. On Facebook, I said that I went to work this morning because I had not won the lottery.  It was meant as a little joke, but there was some truth in it also.  However, if I did win the lottery, would I indeed quit a job that really makes a difference to people?  Not everyone can say they are making a difference.  Even though I am currently not making much money in this job, I have a lot of job satisfaction.  I have a good reason to get up in the morning.  I am helping people who really want to learn.  There is a lot to say to that.  However, winning a lottery can make a big difference in my life.  It can get me out of debt.  I would no longer be living from paycheck to paycheck.  I can remodel my condo, buy a new car (one that gets better mileage than my Jeep), and travel. 

The best part about winning the lottery would be that I can do some things with the money that can make a difference to many more people than I do now, at least I hope I could.  It is that hope that would be the decision maker on whether I would quite this job or not if I won.  All that money can be a temptation however.  I have heard too many stories of people blowing all their winnings and being in worse shape than they were before they won the lottery.  I hope I would have the maturity and get the correct advice on how to handle that much money.  It is fun to dream about what you would do with all that money, but it can be a curse instead of a blessing.  It is very unlikely that I will ever have to make that decision because the odds are so against winning the lottery.  One can only dream.         

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I am excited.  I could be excited because I have had 3 cups of coffee this morning.  I don't think that is the main reason I am excited though.  I am also excited because I am making some changes.  Some changes are small, some changes may not be so small.  Only time will tell the effect of these changes and whether the changes stick.

This time of year people resolve to make changes.  After all, it is the beginning of a new year.  We tend to look back at the previous year and reflect on what went well and what did not work well.  Some of the things that happen we have little or no control over.  Other things we do have control over.  It is the things that we do have control over that we can change ourselves.  The question is do we want to make changes.  This past week my hair dresser (Yes, despite my lack of hair on the top of my head, I go to a hair dresser.) said she is a person who does not like change.  However, change can be good.  Change can be an improvement in our lives.  It might be hard to adjust to change, but it can be better in the long run.  After all, if we don't accept change, we can't improve.  We can't become better.  We might actually get worse in some respects if we don't change.  If you think about it, life is change.  Evolving and changing is how the human race became the human race, and the human race will not remain the human race.  We will eventually evolve into something else, hopefully something better.  

Of course, the changes I am doing or thinking about doing are not so drastic as evolving into something else.  Some are minor.  Some may say I shouldn't be doing.  At least one change is minor in implementation, but it could have a major impact on my life.  Only time will tell that.

One change I made yesterday.  Several months ago I won a Zune HD.  I downloaded the Zune software from the Microsoft website and used Zune to manage my music library.  However,  a few months my Zune HD went bad.  The Zune HD screen now has a bunch of horizontal lines and is unusable.  For Christmas I received an iTunes gift card, among other things.  Yesterday I downloaded the iTunes software to my laptop.  It detected all of my music on the laptop, and now I am using iTunes to manage my music library.  I used the iTunes gift card to buy a Norah Jones album, The Fall.  The album only cost $13.99 plus any tax, much cheaper than if I bought it from a store like Best Buy.  I used iTunes to make a CD of this album, and I am listening to it now.  It sounds great on my 12 year-old Bose Wave Machine.  There are other things you can download using iTunes.  It is a popular piece of software, and considering the cost of CDs at stores, I should have downloaded iTunes a long time ago.  With the blank CDs I already have, I can make CDs for both home and my car.  Now I have to think about some sort of iPod to take my music anywhere I go.  This old gator is trying to get with it finally.

Another change I am thinking about is going back to Comcast for my TV.  A couple of years ago, I dropped Comcast because it was too expensive, and my finances could not handle it.  I was getting the regular digital broadcasts with HD, and I had a DVR along with getting HBO and something else of which I can't think of the name of.  Now my finances are a little better (not much better, but a little better).  I noticed in the paper that most of the college football bowl games are on ESPN, including the BCS Championship game (thankfully the Florida Gators' bowl game is on ABC this afternoon).   I am currently getting TV over-the-air, which is free.  However, the selection of over-the-air stations is not great, and I do miss some of channels I was getting on Comcast.  If I do switch back to cable, I will not get a DVR or any extra stuff like HBO.  I do hope to be able to get HD stations without much cost.  I will do some investigating next week and see if this change is doable.

I have already made a change that is small in implementation, but it could be a big impact.  They say you should pay yourself first before you pay your bills.  On December 1, I put $100 in my savings account.  Yesterday I put in $100 more in my savings account.  I could do so because my cash flow is good in December and in January.  The question is will I be able to keep this up in the months that my cash flow is not so good.  My income is not the same each month because I work part time, and not all the classes I teach are in session, and my math tutoring declines in the summer.  I am also going to try not to spend as much in the "good" months so that I have something to get me through the "not so good" months.  If I can do that, my savings account will grow, and my finances will improve.  As you see, this simple act of putting something away can have a big impact on my life.

Change can be good if it improves things.  We do not always have control of what changes, and that can be frustrating and hard to accept.  However, the change we do have control of can be both exciting and life impacting.  Year 2011 is here, and I can't wait to see it unfold.