At What Cost?

I believe you get what you pay for. Case in point: I have a pair of shoes I purchased in 2004, Rockports, and they’re in pretty good condition. Now, sometimes you might get a bad specimen, but for the most part, I’ve been pleased with this brand. I do not recommend buying shoes at Walmart. You will pay significantly less, but the quality is so bad, the shoes will only last about three months. The same could be said for almost anything.

In 1993, I bought a large frying pan, Revere with a copper sandwich plate on the bottom for heat distribution and to help the pan retain its shape. It was my go-to pan for decades. Then, a couple years ago, the welds holding the handle started coming loose. Eventually, the handle broke off completely, and the pan was rendered useless (at least for my purposes). I suppose I could have taken it to a metal shop to have the handle reattached. But I had the thing for nearly 25 years. The cost of the repair would far outweigh the benefits. Besides, a new pan with more modern materials and better construction was on sale, and I couldn’t resist.

But repairing that old beat-up frying pan could have helped someone other than myself. A local artisan might have appreciated the business. I’m sure $50 or thereabouts might not have made a difference in the local economy. But what if everyone went with a similar alternative every once in a while?

Ouch!

Sometimes you really have to spend the money. One of my lenses was almost destroyed when it fell out of my camera bag about five years ago. Thankfully, I had spent about $30 for a protective filter, seen above. The filter took the brunt of the impact and was completely smashed, beyond repair. But I was grateful my lens was undamaged (visibly). It still works just fine. I later purchased another protective filter. It’s like paying for insurance. You hope you will never need to use it, but shit happens.

Back to the shoes. Another pair of Rockports hasn’t held up as well as the first. Actually, I wear them all the time. They’re perfect for work, and they’re also good all-around shoes for any occasion. Unfortunately, the uppers have torn away from the sole, and my initial thought was that I needed to replace them. I did, with a pair in brown, which I wanted anyway. But I hesitate to throw out the now defunct pair. My thoughts went to finding a cobbler in my city. Surely I could find someone who specializes in shoe repair. Surprisingly, there aren’t as many as you would expect. I guess part of the problem is we tend to throw away things that have lost their usefulness. That’s unfortunate.

I make attempts to reuse things, or at least I make the things I have last longer by protecting and maintaining them. I still have cookware I purchased in 1991, when my wife and I first moved in together. We also still have the plates, cups, and bowls we started out with. They’re decent dishes. One reason we hang onto them is also their sentimental value, I admit. But why get rid of them? They’re quite functional, and they serve a purpose.

I think I’ll call a couple shoe repair shops in the morning. I’d like to know how much it would cost to fix those shoes. I’m curious if it might be more expensive than buying a new pair. But what if it’s about the same cost? My shoes would be as good as new, and I could support a local business in the process. It seems like a win-win. If it turns out to be more costly to repair them, I’ll consider that, but I might just spend the money anyway. What could it hurt?

 

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Now You See Me

I like my privacy. I do have a Facebook presence, and I use my real name there, but lately, I have drawn back from that existence in the name of privacy. It all started a few months ago when someone I work with was perusing Facebook (while at work), and I asked him to look me up. He and I have no connection outside work, so I was confident what he was going to see was what any stranger would also be able to pull up on me. So there I was, toothy grin of a man who recently had braces removed in his forties.

Surprisingly, my public profile was oddly, well, public. I had things out there that I wasn’t comfortable with strangers knowing about. Furthermore, if I went looking for a job, prospective employers can and do look at our social media posts to collect as much information about us as they can before spending precious time in interviews. I was fully aware of this prior to my experiment, but I wasn’t prepared to realize how politically vocal I was in 2012.

That was the year of the general election, where Mitt Romney was challenging Barack Obama for the White House. Things got really heated, and the political landscape was being marred by a deepening divide between two opposing camps. Misinformation was the weapon of choice, and it separated families and friends. In many cases, healing has yet to commence, some 6 years later.

For my part, I decided to rid my Facebook feed of all political detritus. I began purging my profile and news feed, but it took a long time to clean it to my satisfaction. Now, my Facebook presence to an outsider will appear spartan and unadorned, all in the name of privacy and security.

facebook

When I think about keeping my information safe, I imagine it being locked away in a fireproof lockbox I keep in my house; my insurance policies, passport, and other difficult-to-replace documents and items I dare not lose. On the contrary, our information is quite public. Anyone can look you up, based on your license plate number or facial recognition, or any other data you and I might not be able to conceal from strangers. On the other hand, the Maryland newspaper shooting investigation was partially aided by facial recognition software which, though controversial, was very helpful in identifying the suspect, who was not cooperating with police.

So where is the balance between privacy and security? When I flew recently from Las Vegas to DFW, I was subjected to an uncomfortable array of security measures; I performed the requisite shedding of hat, shoes, belt – anything that might pose a threat, I suppose. Then I removed all items from my pockets and allowed myself to be bathed in radiation while a giant all-seeing robot looked into my soul. Now the TSA knows one of my testicles is larger than the other. I hope it was good for them, too.

These things I have come to expect, actually with some acceptance because I know that there are people who do want to harm innocent people. In order to assure the public of a sense of security, we put ourselves through this, even though there have been some pretty alarming mistakes. Still, I think we’re safer than we were before 9/11.

We allow authorities to have a look into our private lives. We accept it as citizens, but we rarely speak up when the gradual intrusion becomes too much, probably because by the time we notice it, it’s too late, like that proverbial frog in the boiling bath.

Do yourself a favor from time to time, and take a look at what the public can see of your social media presence. In Facebook, from your own profile page, click on the ellipsis next to the “Activity Log” button. Select “View As…” to see what strangers can see. Over the last few months I have been systematically removing old posts. It might be a bit obsessive, but I feel a little safer knowing some things are not out there for anyone to see. Do I worry about slipping into the oblivion of anonymity? Perhaps, but not enough for me to blast my opinions recklessly around the internet. I just hope no one mistakes my desire for privacy for a defiant stance against authority.

Vikings in Oklahoma?

We recently went camping in Oklahoma in the Ouachita National Forest near the town of Heavener (pronounced “heave-ner”). The town has a nice little diner called the Southern Belle, an old passenger rail car converted into a cozy eatery. I had the S.B.C. (Southern Belle Chicken) sandwich. For dessert, we shared a slice of cherry cream pie. While we2018 04 23_5043 enjoyed our food, we struck up a conversation with a few of the locals who told us about the “Heavener Rune Stone”, but they were hesitant to say much more. We were intrigued, so we went in search of this mysterious thing from the past. We drove for what seemed to be much farther than “just up the road”. Eventually, we saw signs for the “Rune stone” with unclear directions about which way to turn. Finally, there is was, a former Oklahoma State Park, now the park is privately run. There was no entrance fee, but the gift shop is a pleasant place to spend some money. One of the volunteers (apparently, they don’t make enough money to pay for staff) was pretty enthusiastic about the stone, reportedly carved in the 7th or 8th century by Viking explorers to North America. While many scholars have come to acc

ept the notion that Vikings visited as far west as modern day Canada (Newfoundland), it seems very unlikely they would have ventured to the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence River, then somehow past Niagara Falls, eventually making it to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, connecting to the Arkansas River, and into Oklahoma. Possibility and probability are two very different things. I suppose it’s possible that Native Americans traveling up and down the Mississippi could have come into contact with these Norse explorers. It is also possible that these or similar Native Americans could have copied Norse runes and etched them onto the giant monolith. Regardless, we were there, gawking at the enormous stone, with the faint runic message of “glome”. It is a matter of intense debate, not just the meaning of the supposed runes, but also the probability of Vikings ever having visited Oklahoma. The site was cool, with a “waterfall” and a treacherously slippery stone path. There is a handrail on some of the steps (but not all). And there is a precipitous overlook. The gift shop/museum store sells souvenirs and books, especially regarding all the evidence of the Viking presence here.

We recently went camping in Oklahoma in the Ouachita National Forest near the town of Heavener (pronounced “heave-ner”). The town has a nice little diner called the Southern Belle, an old passenger rail car converted into a cozy eatery. I had the S.B.C. (Southern Belle Chicken) sandwich. For dessert, we shared a slice of cherry cream pie. While we enjoyed our food, we struck up a conversation with a few of the locals who told us about the “Heavener Rune Stone”, but they were hesitant to say much more. We were intrigued, so we went in search of this mysterious thing from the past. We drove for what seemed to be much farther than “just up the road”. Eventually, we saw signs for the “Rune stone” with unclear directions about which way to turn. Finally, there is was, a former Oklahoma State Park, now the park is privately run. There was no entrance fee, but the gift shop is a pleasant place to spend some money. One of the volunteers (apparently, they don’t make enough money to pay for staff) was viking4 pretty enthusiastic about the stone, reportedly carved in the 7th or 8th century by Viking explorers to North America. While many scholars have come to accept the notion that Vikings visited as far west as modern day Canada (Newfoundland), it seems very unlikely they would have ventured to the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence River, then somehow past Niagara Falls, eventually making it to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, connecting to the Arkansas River, and into Oklahoma. Possibility and probability are two very different things. I suppose it’s possible that Native Americans traveling up and down the Mississippi could have come into contact with these Norse explorers. It is also possible that these or similar Native Americans could have copied Norse runes and etched them onto the giant monolith. Regardless, we were there, gawking at the enormous stone, with the faint runic message of “glome”. It is a matter of intense debate, not just the meaning of the supposed runes, but also the probability of Vikings ever having visited Oklahoma.

The site was cool, with a “waterfall” and a treacherously slippery stone path. There is a handrail on some of the steps (but not all). And there is a precipitous overlook. The gift shop/museum store sells souvenirs and books, especially regarding all the evidence of the Viking presence here.

Whether you believe any of it or not, it’s a beautiful site. They even have led-lighted viking helmets. Say hi to the staff at the Southern Belle, and order the cherry cream pie. You will have a good time. You just have to kind of roll with it.

Resting, Period

IMG_1487.jpg

I Googled “are Americans sleep-deprived?” and there were so many results, that I couldn’t decide which one to link, so I’ll just let the reader do the work. Many articles confirmed my suspicion – something I’ve known about myself for years – that about 35% of Americans are not getting enough sleep. Many doctors, including mine, as well as researchers at the CDC, recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep regularly. The thing is, sleeping through the night is not that easy, and, when you look at human history, it may not have been possible, at least for some groups. People who followed herds across vast plains may have needed to pick up and move at a moment’s notice. Also, the threat of lurking predators might have required sleeping with one eye open. A modern study was conducted on present-day hunter-gatherer groups, all in the equatorial area or in the southern hemisphere. It found that those groups’ sleep patterns were very much like those of industrialized cultures. These modern hunter-gatherers live somewhat cut off from other societies, with no electricity. The thought was that they would closely resemble our ancestors going back about 10,000 years (granted, they couldn’t reproduce every facet of the environment). So, if we are to accept the findings, all our electric lights, smartphones, monitors and screens of every kind, they are not necessarily to blame for the general sleep-deprived state of about a third of us. So why are we so exhausted all the time?

Everyone is different. I have a friend who really only needs about 5.5 hours of sleep every night. As for me, I am useless with less than 8. Lately I have found myself getting very sleepy, in spite of sitting in front of my computer, around 10:30. What I discovered is that since I have been working out more, especially training on hills, I’ve found I need more sleep. Apparently there is some science to this, but I was only getting results from body building sites when I Googled it. But I can say that after an intense workout (intense for me, a middle-aged office worker) I get sleepy earlier than usual, and I sleep “harder”. What I mean by this is my sleep is more resilient, more sound. My dreams tend to be more vivid, and I wake up with no soreness now. It seems that healing is among the benefits of sleep. The morning after a workout, if I’ve had enough sleep, I do not feel any pain I might have experienced while exercising, not that I’m pushing myself that hard, I’m just clawing my way back to a semblance of fitness, and I have a way to go.

About 15 years ago I decided to perform an experiment. I went without the use of any kind of alarm clock. I started this while I was on vacation, as it were, so I didn’t have to risk being super late for work if it went awry. The first morning was interesting. I woke up a little earlier than usual. I spent my day doing stay-cation kinds of things. That night, as I had pledged to do, I went to bed when I was sleepy. The next morning, I woke up, completely alert, at 5:25 am. That night, I was in bed around 9:45. I mean, I was out. That’s the thing about me: I have never had trouble falling to sleep. I just like to find things to do to keep my mind occupied. I continued living without an alarm clock for several months. That lasted until my job changed and I needed to work nights from time to time.

Sleep is kind of a waste of time. If we are to get 8 hours of sleep each night, that’s a significant portion of our time. Sure, we have artificially divided the day up into blocks of 60 minutes, regardless of how much daylight there is. 24 hours is non-negotiable in our society. So if I need more sleep than someone else, I feel cheated. Given the difference, I might waste the extra time. Maybe not. I’m guessing that the researchers who compiled the sleep data on those hunter-gatherers probably lost some sleep, working overtime. I hope they got paid well.

Go for the Bronze

What have I done?

Last week, just as the 2018 Winter Olympics were winding down, I was thinking about how much work is involved in reaching the medal podium for a given event. The hours of training each day, the sacrifices, the failures, and the successes. For every athlete who paraded into the Olympic Stadium in PyeongChang (camel case was insisted on by the organizers to differentiate the Game’s host city from the capital of North Korea), there must be dozens, possibly hundreds, of athletes who might be as good, but did not make the cut.

Anyone who makes the team may be considered an elite athlete, with possibly one exception. Hungarian-ish freestyle skiers notwithstanding, I am always amazed to see the spectacle of human endurance and fortitude, played out so all the world can witness these achievements. Perhaps the most amazing story came when Simen Hegstad KRUEGER of Norway was knocked down and fell back to last place for men’s cross-country skiing. He would eventually win the race in what they’re calling the “Miracle on Snow” (actually there were a couple events that got this moniker).

While history loves gold medal winners, 3rd place doesn’t feel as nice. But any medal is better than nothing at all. Silver medalists, forgive me for this list, but I have decided to honor the Bronze medal winners in each event. The original list was supplied by Leah Rocketto and Skye Gould, which I hope to be comprehensive. I did find a couple of typos or errors in places, but overall I found it useful. The events were originally listed in descending order of the day of the medal round or final results. All the names of athletes receiving a medal have links to their profile on the Olympic website.

If I have omitted anyone, please forgive me. As a reminder, I have included only Bronze medal winners. Some sports were surprisingly unusual so I provided links to the event in those cases (like doubles luge, which, it turns out, is a thing). Also, it is worth noting that on the English language version of the PyeongChang website, women’s events are sometimes referred to as “ladies'”, for no particular reason. (Incidentally, the French language version routinely uses “femmes”).

 

Biathlon, men’s 4×7.5km relay – Germany

Erik LESSER

Benedikt DOLL

Arnd PEIFFER

Simon SCHEMPP

Curling, men’s – Switzerland

Peter DE CRUZ

Dominik MAERKI

Benoit SCHWARZ

Claudio PAETZ

Martin RIOS

Valentin TANNER

Figure skating, women’s single skate – Canada

Kaetlyn OSMOND

Freestyle skiing, women’s ski cross big – Switzerland

Fanny SMITH

Speed-skating, men’s 1,000m – Korea

Alpine skiing, men’s slalom – Austria

Alpine skiing, women’s alpine combined – Switzerland

Wendy HOLDENER

Biathlon, women’s 4x6km relay – France

Anais CHEVALIER

Marie DORIN HABERT

Justine BRAISAZ

Anais BESCOND

Freestyle skiing, men’s ski halfpipe – New Zealand

Nico PORTEOUS

Ice Hockey, women’s – Finland

Eveliina SUONPAA

Isa RAHUNEN

Rosa LINDSTEDT

Jenni HIIRIKOSKI

Mira JALOSUO

Ella VIITASUO

Venla HOVI

Linda VALIMAKI

Annina RAJAHUHTA

Riikka VALILA

Minnamari TUOMINEN

Meeri RAISANEN

Petra NIEMINEN

Emma NUUTINEN

Sanni HAKALA

Noora TULUS

Sara SAKKINEN

Saila SAARI

Michelle KARVINEN

Noora RATY

Tanja NISKANEN

Susanna TAPANI

Ronja SAVOLAINEN

Nordic combined, Team Gunderson LH / 4x5km cross-country – Austria

Wilhelm DENIFL

Lukas KLAPFER

Bernhard GRUBER

Mario SEIDL

Short track speed-skating, men’s 500m – Korea

LIM Hyojun

Short track speed-skating, women’s 1,000m – Italy

Arianna FONTANA

Short track speed-skating, men’s 5,000m relay – Canada

Samuel GIRARD

Charles HAMELIN

Charle COURNOYER

Pascal DION

Snowboard, women’s big air – New Zealand

Zoi SADOWSKI SYNNOTT

Alpine skiing, women’s downhill – USA

Lindsey VONN

Bobsleigh, women’s bobsleigh – Canada

Kaillie HUMPHRIES

Phylicia GEORGE

Cross-country skiing, women’s team sprint – Norway

Marit BJOERGEN

Maiken Caspersen FALLA

Cross-country skiing, men’s team sprint – France

Freestyle skiing, men’s ski cross – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Sergey RIDZIK

Speed-skating, women’s team pursuit – USA

Heather BERGSMA

Brittany BOWE

Mia MANGANELLO

Speed-skating, men’s team pursuit – Netherlands

Patrick ROEST

Sven KRAMER

Jan BLOKHUIJSEN

Biathlon, 2x6km women + 2×7.5km men mixed relay – Italy

Lisa VITTOZZI

Dorothea WIERER

Lukas HOFER

Dominik WINDISCH

Figure skating, ice dance – USA

Maia SHIBUTANI

Alex SHIBUTANI

Freestyle skiing, women’s halfpipe – USA

Brita SIGOURNEY

Nordic combined, Individual Gundersen NH/10km – Austria

Lukas KLAPFER

Nordic combined, Individual Gundersen LH/10km – Germany

Eric FRENZEL

Short track speed-skating, women’s 3,000m relay – Netherlands

Jorien TER MORS

Lara VAN RUIJVEN

Rianne DE VRIES

Suzanne SCHULTING

Yara VAN KERKHOF

Bobsleigh, 2-man – Latvia

Ski jumping, men’s team – Poland

Maciej KOT

Stefan HULA

Dawid KUBACKI

Kamil STOCH

Speed-skating, men’s 500m – China

GAO Tingyu

Alpine skiing, men’s giant slalom – France

Alexis PINTURAULT

Biathlon, men’s 15km Mass Start – Norway

Emil Hegle SVENDSEN

Cross-country skiing, men’s 4x10km relay – France

Jean Marc GAILLARD

Maurice MANIFICAT

Clement PARISSE

Adrien BACKSCHEIDER

Freestyle skiing, men’s slopestyle – Canada

Alex BEAULIEU-MARCHAND

Freestyle skiing, men’s aerials – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Ilia BUROV

Speed-skating, women’s 500m – Czech Republic

Karolina ERBANOVA

Alpine skiing, women’s super giant slalom – Liechtenstein

Tina WEIRATHER

Biathlon, women’s 12.5km Mass Start – Norway

Tiril ECKHOFF

Cross-country skiing, women’s 4x5km relay – Olympic Athletes from Russia

Figure skating, men’s single skate – Spain

Javier FERNANDEZ

Freestyle skiing, women’s slopestyle – Great Britain

Isabel ATKIN

Short track speed-skating, women’s 1,500m – Netherlands

Marrit LEENSTRA

Short track speed-skating, men’s 1,000m – Korea

KIM Tae-Yun

Skeleton, women’s – Great Britain

Laura DEAS

Ski jumping, men’s large hill – Norway

Robert JOHANSSON

Alpine skiing, men’s super giant slalom – Norway

Kjetil JANSRUD

Alpine skiing, women’s slalom – Austria

Katharina GALLHUBER

Cross-country skiing, men’s 15km – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Denis SPITSOV

Freestyle skiing, women’s Aerials – China

Skeleton, men’s – Great Britain

Dom PARSONS

Snowboard, women’s cross race – Czech Republic

Eva SAMKOVA

Speed-skating, women’s 5,000m – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Alpine skiing, men’s downhill – Switzerland

Beat FEUZ

Alpine skiing, women’s giant slalom – Italy

Federica BRIGNONE

Biathlon, women’s 15km – Germany

Laura DAHLMEIER

Biathlon, men’s 20km – Austria

Dominik LANDERTINGER

Cross-country skiing, women’s 10km – Norway

Marit BJOERGEN

Figure skating, pairs free skate – Canada

DUHAMEL Meagan

RADFORD Eric

Luge, mixed team relay – Austria

Madeleine EGLE

Snowboard, men’s cross race – Spain

Regino HERNANDEZ

Speed Skating, men’s 10,000m – Italy

Nicola TUMOLERO

Luge, doubles – Germany

Toni EGGERT

Sascha BENECKEN

Nordic combined, men’s – Team Gundersen LH/4x5km – Austria

Snowboarding, men’s halfpipe – Australia

Scotty JAMES

Speed skating, women’s 1,000m – Japan

Miho TAKAGI

Alpine skiing, men’s combined – France

Victor MUFFAT-JEANDET

Cross-country skiing, women’s team sprint – Norway

Cross-country skiing, men’s team sprint – France

Maurice MANIFICAT

Richard JOUVE

Curling, mixed doubles – Norway

Kristin SKASLIEN

Magnus NEDREGOTTEN

Luge, women’s singles – Canada

Alex GOUGH

Speed Skating Short-track, women’s 500m – Canada

Kim BOUTIN

Snowboarding, women’s halfpipe – USA

Arielle GOLD

Speed skating, men’s 1,500m – Korea

KIM Min Seok

Biathlon, women’s 10km pursuit – France

Anais BESCOND

Biathlon, men’s 12.5km pursuit – Germany

Benedikt DOLL

Figure skating, team – USA

Nathan CHEN

Adam RIPPON

Mirai NAGASU

Bradie TENNELL

Alexa SCIMECA KNIERIM

Chris KNIERIM

Maia SHIBUTANI

Alex SHIBUTANI

Freestyle skiing, men’s mogul – Japan

Daichi HARA

Ski jumping, women’s normal hill – Japan

Sara TAKANASHI

Snowboarding, women’s slopestyle – Finland

Enni RUKAJARVI

Speed Skating, women’s 1,500m – Netherlands

Marrit LEENSTRA

Biathlon, men’s 10km sprint – Italy

Dominik WINDISCH

Cross-country skiing, men’s 15km + 15km Skiathlon – Norway

Hans Christer HOLUND

Freestyle skiing, women’s mogul – Kazakhstan

Yulia GALYSHEVA

Luge, men’s singles – Germany

Johannes LUDWIG

Snowboarding, men’s slopestyle – Canada

Mark MCMORRIS

Speed Skating, men’s 5,000m – Norway

Sverre Lunde PEDERSEN

Biathlon, women’s 7.5km sprint – Czech Republic

Veronika VITKOVA

Cross-country skiing, women’s 7.5km + 7.5km Skiathlon – Finland

Krista PARMAKOSKI

Short-track, men’s 1,500m – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Semen ELISTRATOV

Ski jumping, men’s normal hill – Norway

Robert JOHANSSON

Speed Skating, women’s 3,000m – Netherlands

Antoinette DE JONG

 

 

 

Really?!

Some of our preconceptions are just plain wrong. That’s okay. I mean, where else would stereotypes come from? Without these misguided perceptions we wouldn’t ever be amazed or mystified by new things. Nothing would ever take us by surprise. We would never have any reason to travel beyond our city limits or past our front porch. Maybe it’s okay to have the wrong idea, but we should never be content to assume we know the world outside the confines of our comfortable existence without checking it out for ourselves.

As much as I like to preach about reaching out past your comfort zone, I am confined by economics to an extent. My only trip outside the US was to Baja California. I was a little ashamed to admit this one day, but the person to whom I mentioned it said, “California’s in the US, dude.” I said, “No, Baja California.” He subsequently appeared to think I was proving his point.

The funny thing is that people have held very strange notions about where I grew up, near Dallas, Texas. There are 25 million people in the triangle that joins DFW, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. Once, a customer was asking me if Houston was a big enough city to hold an event. I said, “sure, it’s the largest city in Texas.” He was incredulous and asked me if the downtown region had buildings or was it just cows. I wasn’t sure if he was fucking with me, but I politely and diplomatically corrected his misconception. To this day I’m not convinced he wasn’t puling my leg.

 

Cottonwood Trail 3

In the Texas Panhandle, there is a large canyon, Palo Duro Canyon, carved into the Caprock Escarpment where visitors might be surprised to find a lush grove of cottonwood trees. Other parts of the park are a haven for birds and butterflies. And, of course, there are rattlesnakes.

Many people have visited Las Vegas. And even though the city and its suburbs has nearly 2 million people, the casual tourist may not think about the city beyond the Strip. 2 million people in any city would need places to buy groceries, shop for necessities, get their hair cut, attend religious services, and just about anything we might do in a given week. Of course Las Vegas has kindergartens and laundromats, mundane and non-Las Vegas-y things you don’t want to think about while you’re watching Cirque du Soleil. One of the most blatantly unremarkable meals I’ve ever had was in Vegas (I would hope that Red Lobster has made some improvements).

I will be making my first trip to the Grand Canyon in May. My preconceptions are coming with me, like anything else I will pack. My plan is to leave them behind, which is the only thing, aside from a footprint, that one should leave when visiting a National Park. I expect to be pleasantly surprised, which is certain to happen. Even when I’ve been to a place repeatedly, I will always discover something new; and no matter how small it may seem, it is still enough to make me grateful for the experience.

 

 

You Only Need to Ask

Help.

help

This is one of the most powerful words in the English language. The mere utterance moves people to respond. Shouting it will draw attention, and strangers will spring into action. It inspires us to give. It motivates us to self-sacrifice. The thought that someone needs our help might override our own instincts, for self-preservation, or at least the fear of being hurt or humiliated. And yet, we are often afraid to ask for help, even when we desperately need it. Why, then, are we so willing to offer help and yet not able to request it?

I was shopping for dinner at my favorite market, and I asked the butcher for two things: coarse-ground beef for chili and a cut-up fryer. The young guy had to get his manager because he wasn’t authorized to operate the saw to cut the chicken. I asked him to go ahead and do that for me, if he didn’t mind. He was more than happy to ask, and the manager took care of me without hesitation. All I had to do was ask.

I find myself asking people more and more when I genuinely need help, mainly because I know how helping people brings me joy and makes me feel fulfilled. So I don’t have a problem asking. I don’t take advantage of people. But I know there are things that I would do for someone if it is an inconvenience for that person and especially if it’s a task I enjoy doing or that distracts me from drudgery. On the other hand, I have found great value in saying ‘no’.

‘No’ doesn’t have to be a forceful rejection of someone’s request. I am often asked to do something by a coworker that that person should know how to do, and that is their responsibility in the first place. One of my flaws is that I tend to bend over backward to help people, even when it is an imposition and I should be doing something else. On a rare occasion that I have flat-out denied to do something (I could have been fired), that person has just now started talking to me again after 3 years. I try not to let these things bother me, but averting disappointment is a major motivator for me. I think I am not alone, here.

I hate letting people down, even when I am not at fault and there was no avenue for me to come to the rescue. It is fortunate that my job doesn’t require me to save lives, and that is something I remind co-workers of, that the worst case scenario is that someone will be disappointed, provided no one violates policy or law. At that point, all bets are off.

Asking for help, however, is not as risky as we might imagine it to be. A person can refuse to help, and that is their right. Some people are assholes. But that should not stop us from seeking help when we need it. I learned recently that sometimes you cannot do everything yourself, and you don’t have to be a martyr, trying to take it on all by yourself. But you won’t get help from people by declaring to the crowd, “I need a volunteer!” That moment when everyone steps up simultaneously makes for great cinema, but I’ve never seen it happen in real life. Don’t wait for it to happen magically. Leave that to Disney.

As much as we might think we don’t like being told what to do, most of us will respond to that, at least when it’s a gentle, persuasive appeal. I like the “congratulations! You’ve been chosen to help me…” line. I also used, “good news! We’re going to work together on a project.” You’d be surprised how well a little sarcastic humor is received. Don’t be afraid to be turned down. It’s okay to refuse sometimes. Just don’t be that guy. You know who I’m talking about.

Don’t be surprised when someone offers to help you. Most of us are looking for opportunities to be of some assistance. There’s something ingrained in us that makes us crave it, that satisfaction we get from helping another person. Actually, other creatures don’t seem to share our values. (I think polar bears kill their young or something like that. That’s probably something to do with food supplies and the wilderness, which we don’t run into much in the US.) all that being said, I’m still not sure what most of us are afraid of. I think I’ll make it a new year’s resolution to ask for help more often.