NOTE: Retirement can be a lot of things. For me, at this moment in my life, it’s largely enjoyable and even downright fun. There’s nothing negative except the wear and tear that all things old normally brings. Nothing else. And this blog is an attempt to comment on that nothing and that something that exists in retirement. And, of course, also the fun. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading it.

I was channel surfing the other day, although the term channel surfing is sort of ridiculous these days in the world of 200+ channels, and I landed on a show titled “The Filthy Rich Guide.”

Looking it up online, the description of the show reads: “A fast-paced guide to how the .00001 percent spend their money…Each half-hour spotlights lavish parties, expensive electronics, outrageous mansions, private islands. Billionaires featured include entrepreneur Charles Shaker, who had a $500,000 bar tab in Monte Carlo; business magnate Mukesh Ambani, whose house — valued at $1 billion — may be the world’s largest; and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, who bought a Hawaiian island for nearly $500 million.”

Everyone on the show is a billionaire and each person never seems to spend a dime on worthy causes. It is about the extravagant extravagances of the richest of the rich.

And as I watched two 30-minute episodes I found myself humbled and a bit self-conscious. The men and women on these shows were only moderately excited about a $250,000 car or a diamond-encrusted watch worth a million dollars.

And here I was, on that very day, extremely excited that I had finally purchased a new $9.99 pack of adhesive cable clips.

But I guess in retirement it’s more important to keep my electronic device cords organized than it is to take my wife to dinner on the French Riviera for an evening and then fly on to spend the night in Paris.

Just sayin’.

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Here’s what this blog is.

A little wisdom. A little whimsy. A little pathos. A little whatever. Nothing necessarily special, although it’s often the nothing necessarily special which is the most interesting part. And all of it scribbled from the point-of-view of a retired person.

A good friend of mine who was a former teaching colleague died on Wednesday.  He was a great teacher, a great husband, a great father, and just a really decent guy. And he died way too young. It is all very sad.

And because of that I wanted to write something “quiet” for this post. But I asked myself what exactly would that “quiet” writing be? Maybe it should be, as my wife said, something simple, just a couple of sentences. And probably that’s good advice, because I don’t know what “quiet” writing is anyway.

But maybe it’s writing more than just a couple of sentences.

Perhaps quiet writing is just writing about the joys of retirement. Saying how glad I am that I have lived long enough and lived healthy enough to be retired and to enjoy that retirement.

Perhaps quiet writing is talking about taking the time to be silent, to let the memories of times-well-lived be appreciated, even treasured.

Perhaps quiet writing is celebrating the life of my friend, whose name was Matt.

Saying that he built his own boat from scratch, once took a vacation to Bangladesh, was incredibly creative and whimsical, used to wear pants with stripes down the side, loved to play “Alice’s Restaurant” every Thanksgiving, once was asked to leave a Middle Eastern country because he taught journalism the way it should be taught, actually took his wife’s last name when he married her, or drove more aggressively (in that same Middle Eastern country) than most of the crazy drivers in that country.

Yea, I think that’s quiet writing. Celebrating, reliving some memories, and being inspired by a life well-lived that was cut too short.

That’s definitely quiet writing to me.

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NOTE: I love posting to this blog. But some readers (honestly, just my wife and I) feel the posts are not at the top for a long enough period of time. Thus, starting today I will post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Same amount of something about nothing, but for a longer time at the top of the blog.

Here’s today’s post. Next post is Friday. Thank you all for reading what I write.

You know, in my life-before-retirement I often informed my students about pieces of trivia that were far from the subject matter of any course. My rationale was that sometimes it’s neat to just be able to tell people something that makes them say: “Wow.”

For instance, I would walk into the classroom and write the following on the whiteboard.

A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.

Do you recognize it?
Know what it’s called?
Look carefully.
Yep, that’s it.

The letters are the same going forward or backward. The headline of this post is the same way.

They’re called palindromes.

There are also palindromic words like madam, mom, kayak, and radar. There are other longer ones such as race car, or Madam, I’m Adam, or top spot, or even Step on no pets.

Then, of course, there’s the following word palindrome:

First ladies rule the State and state the rule: ladies first.

And a really fascinating piece of trivia says the longest single-word palindrome in use today is the Finnish word “saippuakivikauppias” which means soap stone vendor.

And then, of course, there are date palindromes.

July 10, 2017 (7102017)
August 10, 2018 (8102018)
September 10, 2019 (9102019)
February 2, 2020 (02022020)

And if you have never heard of palindromes before…well…now you know.

Just remember never to look for an oozy rat in a sanitary zoo.

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NOTE: I love posting to this blog. But some readers (honestly, just my wife and I) feel the posts are not at the top for a long enough period of time. Thus, starting today I will post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Same basic amounts of something about nothing, but for a longer time at the top of the blog.

Here’s today’s post. Next post is Wednesday. Thank you all for reading what I write.

Have you ever thought about what a group of bears is called? Or a group of porcupines?

No, you say you haven’t.

Well, then you’re in luck. Because I’m retired, have more free time than you might have, and I’ve done some research. And incidentally, a group of bears is a sleuth of bears, and a group of porcupines is a prickle, which seems appropriate.

But where do these collective nouns come from? That was my first question. Turns out that a book called the “Book of Saint Albans” published in England back in 1486 listed many of those collective nouns that we still use today. And it even listed more than one collective noun for some animals. Horses, for example, can be a team, a harras, a rag (for colts), a stud (a group kept primarily for breeding), or a string.

While most of my minimal research says it is doubtful that these terms for groups of animals were used by very many hunters, the terms have indeed over the years become a part of the standard English vocabulary.

So, it is fortunate for you dedicated readers of this blog that you get to peruse a list of collective nouns that will surprise you, amaze you, and that you most certainly will want to share with others around you.

Here we go…

A shrewdness of apes

A congregation of alligators

A cete of badgers

A cauldron of bats

A gang or an obstinacy of buffalo

A clowder, clutter, pounce, nuisance, glorying, or a glare of cats

An army of caterpillars

A caravan of camels

A coalition of cheetahs

A murder of crows

A pace of donkeys

A convocation of eagles

A parade of elephants

A business of ferrets

A leash, skulk or earth of Fox

An army of frogs

A tower of giraffes (so appropriate)

A tribe or trip of goats

A flamboyance of flamingos

A bloat, or a thunder of hippopotamuses

A cackle of hyenas

A shadow of jaguars

A smack of jellyfish

A troop or mob of kangaroos

A conspiracy of lemurs

A leap of leopards

A risk of lobsters

A labor of moles

A troop or barrel of monkeys

A romp, a family, or a raft of otters

A parliament of owls

A pandemonium of parrots

A covey of partridge

An ostentation or muster of peacocks 

An unkindness of ravens

A colony or warren of rabbits

A crash of rhinoceroses

A shiver of sharks

A dray or scurry of squirrels

An ambush or streak of tigers

A rafter, gang, or posse of turkeys

A venue of vultures

A wisdom of wombats

A zeal of zebras

And now, you know.

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NOTE: Part of the joy of retirement is both the learning and the sharing of what I call “fascinations.” Sometimes those fascinations are things I knew before retirement. Sometimes the information is fascinating, fun and new to me. This week I give to you four entertaining and trivial fascinating fascinations. I hope you enjoy them.

I have always been fascinated by what is called spoken word poetry, and particularly by one poet…a woman named Sarah Kay.

Spoken word poetry is the art of performance poetry. It’s described as poetry that is not intended to just sit on a page, but to be spoken in front of an audience.

And, to me, it is fantastic.

When you first listen, it takes you a bit to recognize that you’re “watching” a poem. But soon, the rhythms and the cadences, the word play and the phrasing, all allow you to say to yourself…this is different…and it’s great. At least that’s how I view it.

At one point in my life I was totally fascinated by spoken word poetry. Even wrote a few and performed them in front of my classes in public speaking. And occasionally I assigned my students to try their hand at it. The results I’d like to tell you were fantastic, but honestly they were just mixed. It is more difficult than I imagined.

So, today, this blog is giving you two events to listen to. Both are TED talks. And if you don’t know what a TED talk is…well, shame on you. Google them, download the app and spend a week of your retirement listening to as many as you can that are on topics you like.

In any case, here are the links to two spoken word poetry TED talks. One is by Sarah Kay. And in her talk, she also tells her audience a lot about what spoken word poetry is. The other is by a man named Rives.

And finally I have given you the link to Sarah Kay’s website. It offers a buffet of information and this type of poetry. (performance) (performance) (Sarah Kay’s website)

So put on some earbuds or headphones, or just turn your device up really loud and soak it in.

I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

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NOTE: Part of the joy of retirement is both the learning and the sharing of what I call “fascinations.” Sometimes those fascinations are things I knew before retirement. Sometimes the information is fascinating, fun and new to me. This week I give to you four entertaining and trivial fascinating fascinations. I hope you enjoy them.

I have always enjoyed plays. I like reading them and watching them. Even toyed with writing one years ago. Plays, whether they be one-act, three-act, or something completely different can be dramatic or comedic or simply fascinating.

So today, let me tell you about an amazing play that’s something completely different.

The play is titled “Gatz.” It’s presented by an experimental theatre group called Elevator Repair Service. It began performances in 2005 with a cast of 13 performers. It’s played around the country for many years and also at The Public Theatre in New York City. And the reviews have been very, very positive.

And here’s the thing. Each performance takes more than seven hours, which includes a dinner break and two short intermissions. And every single word in the play was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, even though he is not credited with originally creating the play. (That person was a man named Steve Bodow who went on to become the head writer of “The Daily Show” during the time John Stewart was the star.)

But let me tell you about the play.

As the play opens a man enters and sits down at a gray metal desk and tries to unsuccessfully boot up a computer. When the computer refuses to work, the man opens a Rolodex on the desk. Inside is a paperback copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” He picks it up and starts reading aloud.

Slowly, over half an hour or so, the man in the office becomes more and more animated as he’s reading. Pretty soon he’s doing the voices, raising his pitch almost to a falsetto for Daisy Buchanan and artificially deepening it for Tom. And then, miraculously, people who have been silently coming in and out of the office, going about their workaday business, begin to imitate the characters, speaking the lines and even acting them out. A young woman who had been idly reading a golf magazine turns into Jordan Baker. A bullying, key-jangling janitor becomes Tom. Wilson, the garage mechanic, emerges from the tech guy, summoned to deal with all that balky computer equipment.

And so it goes. The play becomes not a retelling of the Gatsby story but an enactment of the novel itself. “The Great Gatsby” is delivered word for word, brought to life by a low-rent office staff in the midst of their inscrutable business operations. No word in the play is not from the novel, and no word in the novel is not in the play.

Rebecca Mead, writing in “The New Yorker” said: “Watching ‘Gatz’ is a heightened version of reading the book oneself, including the same moments of riveted attention and mental wandering. Part of the power of ‘Gatz’ may lie in the way in which it requires the audience’s submission to the exclusive experience of reading, without the distractions of family, television, laptop, or iPhone. Being shut up in a darkened theatre with ‘Gatz’ is a strangely potent way to reproduce the increasingly elusive sensation of being enraptured by a book.”

So there you have it. A book that is literally a play. And one amazing set of performances by what has to be a very dedicated cast.

Want to learn more? Just Google the play’s title.
Want to see an excerpt. It’s here:

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NOTE: Part of the joy of retirement is both the learning and the sharing of what I call “fascinations.” Sometimes those fascinations are things I knew before retirement. Sometimes the information is fascinating, fun and new to me. This week I give to you four entertaining and trivial fascinating fascinations. I hope you enjoy them.

In my life-before-retirement I was a college professor. For many years of my career I taught photojournalism, and I have always been fascinated by photographs and photographers.

One of my favorite photographs is the one pictured above. It is by the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. It is a photograph Smith made in 1946 of his two young children on a path in a wooded area near his home. The photo, which is in many collections of the best photos of the twentieth century, is titled The Walk to Paradise Garden. It has been said it symbolizes such elements as hope, childhood, innocence, and friendship.

But there’s actually much more to the story of this photograph.

You see, W. Eugene Smith was, in the early 1940’s, a war photographer, primarily for “Life Magazine.”

He was known as a photojournalist of legendary intensity, passion, commitment and, at times, epic irascibility. While covering the fighting in the Pacific in the latter days of World War II, Smith was badly wounded during his “thirteenth Pacific invasion.” He was taken back to the States, where he endured two years of surgeries and rehab.

On the spring day when he made his Paradise Garden photograph, Smith was in the midst of what might best be characterized as a spiritual crisis: his body half-mended, his confidence in his abilities as a photographer wavering, his memories of the horrors of what he’d witnessed on Saipan and Iwo Jima and other battlefields still brutally fresh in his mind. Because of his wounds and long recovery Smith had not made a photograph in many, many months. In fact, according to his accounts, he was not sure that he could make another photograph that would, ultimately, matter.

Yet, there came a day when he was determined to see if he could still be a photographer. He has called it a day “of spiritual decision.” He picked up his camera and went outside with his two young children, Pat and Juanita. His body was still in severe pain. He followed his children. He watched, and waited. And then, as he tells it right in front of him, he saw it unfold.

“Pat saw something in the clearing, he grasped Juanita by the hand and they hurried forward. While I followed my children into the undergrowth and the group of taller trees—how they were delighted at every little discovery!—and observed them, I suddenly realized that at this moment, in spite of everything, in spite of all the wars and all I had gone through, that on that day, I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it.”

Damaged, hesitant, frightened—Smith had every excuse in the world not to spend that spring afternoon walking in the woods with his young children, hoping and perhaps even praying for a moment to reveal itself, a moment that would force him to raise the camera to his eye, and shoot. To his eternal credit, however, he did exactly that—and viewers have been drawing inspiration from his private, solitary triumph ever since.

Smith went on to have a great career working for “Life.” He was one of the first photojournalists to shoot what came to be called “photo essays.” He published books and came to be regarded as one of the greatest photojournalists ever. He died in 1978 at the age of 59.

The story of this photograph has always been one of my favorites.

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NOTE: Part of the joy of retirement is both the learning and the sharing of what I call “fascinations.” Sometimes those fascinations are things I knew before retirement. Sometimes the information is fascinating, fun and new to me. This week I give to you four fascinating, entertaining, and trivial fascinations. I hope you enjoy them.

Take a look at this paragraph from a 1939 novel.

Read it carefully.

Branton Hills was a small town in a rich agricultural district; and having many a possibility for growth. But, through a sort of smug satisfaction with conditions of long ago, had no thought of improving such important adjuncts as roads; putting up public buildings, nor laying out parks; in fact a dormant, slowly dying community. So satisfactory was its status that it had no form of transportation to surrounding towns but by railroad, or “old Dobbin.” Now, any town thus isolating its inhabitants, will invariably find this big, busy world passing it by; glancing at it, curiously, as at an odd animal at a circus; and, you will find, caring not a whit about its condition. Naturally, a town should grow. You can look upon it as a child; which, through natural conditions, should attain manhood; and add to its surrounding thriving districts its products of farm, shop, or factory. It should show a spirit of association with surrounding towns; crawl out of its lair, and find how backward it is.

Notice anything different about it?

Maybe that the writing is a bit stilted. Also, some of the phrasing is a tad awkward.

But nope, those aren’t it. Look more closely.

The passage is from a 50,000 word novel titled “Gadsby,” written by an author named Ernest Vincent Wright. The plot revolves around the dying fictional city of Branton Hills, which is revitalized as a result of the efforts of protagonist John Gadsby and a youth group he organizes.

The novel is also a lipogram, meaning that the entire book does not include a single word containing the letter “e.” Yep, I know you went back and looked at that paragraph. See…not an “e” in sight.

You can take a look at a pdf of the entire novel here:

And if you think writing the book was a difficult task, think again. It’s not as hard as you think. After all, the last two sentences you just read did not use a single “e.”

You learn new things every day, even when you’re retired.

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NOTE: Retirement is often about time. So take time to count the good that was the past, the better that is the present, and the best that is the future.

As usual it’s the blog’s three-day weekend.

My plan for next week is to change things up a bit.

Four days of fascinating accounts, extremely interesting, but also different.

I think you’ll enjoy it.

Talk to you Monday.

Have a great first weekend of 2018.

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So here’s what this blog is…
A little wisdom. A little whimsy. A little pathos. A little whatever. Nothing necessarily special, although it’s often the nothing necessarily special which is the most interesting part. And all of it scribbled from the point-of-view of a retired person.

What did my wife and I do differently over the holidays? Well, we watched less news. We took more walks. We made cookies, fudge, and candles.

And, we got a “little” addicted to Hallmark Channel movies.

Movies with titles like “A Bramble House Christmas,” “A Rose for Christmas,” “Home for Christmas Day,” “Christmas Next Door,” “Finding Christmas,” “Looks Like Christmas,” “The Christmas Cottage,” and, of course, “Christmas Incorporated.” And many, many more.

Holiday movies are on the Hallmark Channels 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the holiday season. And in those movies, beauty abounds. Beautiful adults, beautiful and well-behaved children, beautiful pets, beautiful settings, beautiful food, beautiful dialogue, beautiful manners and morals, and beautifully free of violence of any kind.

But one thing is not so beautiful. The plots of these movies. Now don’t get me wrong. The stories are wonderful stories of good cheer, found love, and happy endings. You can guarantee that the man and woman who found romantic bliss will kiss each other exactly two minutes before the film ends. You can be sure that the guy who hated all things Christmas will love Christmas by film’s end. And it’s certain that anyone who had a Christmas wish will have that wish granted by a bearded man who may or may not really be Santa Claus.

But…the people who write these movies pay very little attention to detail, to logic, or to time. There is such a thing in film as suspension of disbelief in which the viewer is asked to sacrifice a bit of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment, but in a Hallmark movie, disbelief is almost completely suspended.

Allow me to make a few specific points.

  1. Any Hallmark movie plot is filled with coincidences. Need a character to go to an out-of-the-way Christmas lodge and stay there until Christmas. Have her car break down, the part can’t arrive for two days, and a snowstorm is looming. Need a widower with a young child to meet a single woman. Just have him literally bump into her on the street. Or have his mother who runs an inn suddenly have an unexpected guest who loves children and Christmas more than anything else. And surprise, the child loves her and tells dad that she “reminds me of mom.”
  2. Things happen fast in a Hallmark movie. A character needs to decorate the house. As long as they have what appears to be a large box of decorations and a couple of hours , then the house can look like the Christmas card of your dreams. Lights, wreaths, a fully decorated 10-foot tree, stockings hung by a fireplace with a perfectly built fire and a perfect hearth, every type of candy cane, Christmas candles by the dozen. Every little detail done perfectly in the amount of time it would take to watch one of these movies.
  3. Need a drink in a Hallmark movie. There’s cider, hot chocolate, water, and a very occasional glass of wine that is always used for celebration and never over frustration.
    Distance in a Hallmark movie means very little. A woman and young child walk over to her father’s cabin. It takes five minutes to walk there, yet the father has to drive the woman back and that drive shows a car on a long, long road. And, did I mention that the young child appears to have been left alone at the cabin at night.
  4. Car problems? Instantly diagnosed. A woman (who hates the holidays) hears an engine noise. Somehow she is on a back road near a town called Christmas or Happy Valley, or Holiday Gulch (no, not that one). She stops at a service station where the young employee is playing the guitar. He listens to the engine noise, diagnoses it instantly as a faulty alternator and informs her it will be at least two or three days to get the part. And he happens to know a great little Christmas lodge she can stay at. And surprise, a room is available. And surprise, the child of the widower son visiting his lodge-owning-parents for the holidays immediately loves the woman. And love begins to blossom.
  5. And finally there are the sets. The Hallmark set decorators and location scouts are the best in the business. Beauty…perfect beauty in every way…abounds. A person could watch these films without sound and simply be totally satisfied and enthralled by the sights alone.

So, if you see my wife and I on the street these days, we have smiles on our faces, good cheer in our hearts, hot chocolate in our cups, and Hallmark movies playing on our phones.

It’s a perfect world and we’re perfect Hallmark people. Count on it.

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