Thank you for visiting!

You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, the first novel in my fantasy adventure series. Visit the Edge of the World! Come for the view, stay for the adventure!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Frugal, or Cheap?

One of my friends and former co-workers once observed that a piece of coal shoved up my nether-regions would shortly be returned as a diamond. It was a coarse observation presented in more common vernacular to point out that I am frugal. Perhaps even cheap.

The observation was correct no matter what term one would choose. I strive to be frugal. It is a value I learned from my parents, and one I value as a value. Frugality seems good to me, and I am content following such a course. Unfortunately, I can also sometimes be cheap. Not always, but way too often. Cheap is the less honorable and dignified sibling of frugality. Not the better company to keep.

As an illustration, I shall bring my wife (unwillingly) into the blog. We were in the market for some new cookware. I looked around and found a set of cookware of admirable quality for an even more admirable price. Just under two hundred dollars. A good price, since this stuff would last a long time. Good metal. No high maintenance inner surfaces to worry about. A nice variety of pots, pans and covers. They had a good structure and form. Practical. Dishwasher safe.

My wife did not want to spend two hundred dollars. I quite understood, but argued for the investment. She shopped a bit more, and found a hundred dollar set on sale for half of that. Using a coupon or some other combination of discounts, she got it for less than twenty bucks. Now that was frugal.

Unfortunately, it was also cheap, at least by comparison. The set we bought has a high-maintenance non-stick coating. The pots and pans have serviceable structure and form, but are not nearly as versatile as the set I wanted. The metal is a light aluminum, not my favorite for cooking. The variety of pot shapes was not quite as good. They are not dishwasher safe, as the dishwasher may cause the outer surface to discolor.

Who was right? Well, I don't see it as an issue of 'right.' The lesser expenditure allowed us to keep some of our money, and the cookware is working out fine. Since a lot of my cooking is simply high aspirations, good intentions and little action, perhaps the lesser investment was the wiser. Frugal? Yes. Cheap? Probably.

I will never be a label shopper. I shall not be a slave to fashion. Those practices tend to part me from too much of my money just for bragging rights and to please people whose pleasure I don't particularly care about. Still, a label can sometimes point to good value. Something that wears well over a goodly span of time.

I will never be a political or philosophical shopper. I once had a philosophy professor who admitted that she shopped with unbalanced diligence to obtain a tooth powder that was not advertised in any way, and payed far too much for that 'freedom' from media manipulation. Some avoid a particular store, or another, because they are off-shore or use slave labor or indirectly kill baby Panda bears and innocent whales. I will go for the best price for the best quality, period.

Why so unconscionable in my shopping? Because it is a bit much to expect for me to weigh the issues and sift the facts from the feces just to buy toilet paper or a new pair of shoes. Because frugality is my dominant philosophical position. Because, in the end, I am cheap.

Anyone want to buy a fresh diamond?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Success is NOT accidental-

I think a lot about things like dreams and aspirations and strange concepts such as "success." How do we  discover dreams? What aspirations are worthy of pursuit? What defines success?

Sometimes our dreams go undiscovered. They are undiscovered due to not knowing how to find them. They are undiscovered because we don't seek them due to the influences of others or our own critical selves. Sometimes they frighten us, and we avoid them. Sometimes we just never think about dreams, and don't even look.

I recently watched a video, kind of a documentary. As a kid I fell in love with magic, the performing art. Like most kids, I learned a few tricks. Unlike most adults, I have kept it up, a bit. I have recently dusted off my magic stuff and practiced a bit. It is fun, and I might just find a way to make a few bucks with this in my retirement.

In the documentary you will see a number of teenage people aspiring to be the best in their age group. These kids are good. Really good. The documentary is valuable in documenting their aspirations and the effort it takes to be really good at anything. Yep. These kids sacrificed their time, focused on their art, and they practiced. They practiced a lot.

The art of magic is a fringe art. It is geeky and awkward, even among other performing arts. These are ubergeeks, these young people. Their devotion is amazing, especially to someone like myself who never really aspired to be the best at anything. I never acquired the passion and the focus. I have achieved successes in my life, but I never went for the gold like these kids.

I relate to this documentary because magic was one of my interests in my youth, and has been an interest through most of my life. I have some idea just how much these young artists had to work to get where they did. Teenagers. Not a group noted for their dreams and aspirations bearing such fruit. Only one among the competitors becomes the best in the world, but they are all huge winners. Not sitting around in a pool of teenage angst for them. Aspiration and achievement, even if they don't all grab the brass ring.

Watching something like this always leaves me with mixed feelings. Why wasn't I like that? Well, I just wasn't. We all have a lot of variables that comprise who we were when we were born, and a lot more variables come into play over time. The star performer, the most successful politician, the richest rich guy all catch the attention of the public, but there are a multitude of lesser successes which are achieved every day. Those little successes are the ones that really push us all forward as a people.

Think about something like, say, a documentary about a group of teenagers who aspire to be the best teen magician in the world. How many people would it take to make that documentary? Lots. Not as many as a block-buster movie, but a lot. Videographers, audio recorders. Lighting people. Writers. Administrators. Legal people. Somebody to pack and ship stuff. Lots of people. People with dreams and aspirations. People who have their own forms of success. People who, together, create a corporate success.

Success is not accidental. Oh, the final form of any one person's success might have accidental elements in it, but success itself is not accidental. Thought, study, planning and practice all go into success. Hours and hours. Most of the young people in the video practiced five hours every day. Every day. That, just to make the top fifteen young magicians in the world. Failure at that level is still quite a success.

Sometimes success is better defined in retrospect. For example, my career in corrections. I became a correctional officer as a consequence of having a family to care for and no real direction as to how to do that. I did not have a real plan, just the desire for a job that met the needs. The corrections thing became something to aspire to in order to provide for my family. It was never more than a job to me.

In the course of performing this difficult task I learned a lot about myself, and discovered I had the necessary skills to manage inmates successfully. I was not particularly adept at the office politics, and I have to imagine that there are plenty of people I worked for who would only consider me marginally successful. However, feedback from inmates and my fellow officers confirmed that I did the job well. I was a success.

In my youth I never aspired to be the best teen magician in the world. Striving for such a thing would not have occurred to me. Yet it occurred to at least a few young people. It occurred to someone else to document their aspirations, efforts and successes. As a consequence, I got to enjoy being informed, entertained, and inspired.

Find your dreams, and follow them. Aspire. Strive and loose. Strive and win. Value your successes, especially the ones you see only when you look back. Value the successes of others, too. We all need an audience, or a cheering section, or someone to help us get back up.

Success is not accidental.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rug Hooking, Knitting and Wood Working-

My long time friend and co-worker, Craig Harlamoff, once noted that he and I could be happy as professional hobbiests. People who pursue new and old hobbies, all of the time. I had to agree. We have known each other for over twenty years, mostly as professional correctional officers. (I wouldn't recommend corrections as a profession, or a hobby.) Perhaps it was that profession which compelled all of the hobbying. Perhaps it was just something wired into our admittedly strange brains.

I have for years been a whittler, a wood-crafter who is not-quite a carver. I took up loom knitting a couple of years ago, needing something to do with my hands during a long period of waiting. Something not so messy as whittling. Loom knitting was cheap to get into, and not particularly messy. I still loom knit. I am presently making granny-squares to be crochet trimmed and built into a blanket or afghan. It is relatively clean, quiet, and allows me to use my hands and mind creatively when I need to do just that.

Presently I have been viewing woodworking shows on television. The Woodwright's Shop. Rough Cut Woodworking. Woodsmith Shop. Our move led to getting a pretty good cable package, and with the DVR I have been able to gather some of these shows and watch them. Repeatedly. I would love to get a shop together and do some of the fine work I have watched. Unfortunately, it costs a bit more than a five dollar loom and ten bucks worth of yarn to get into this hobby. Even though I have a few tools, I have nothing sufficient for this kind of work. Not yet.

It costs nothing to look at other people's hobbies. One I discovered was rug hooking. I thought I would look into this hobby when it was mentioned some place or another. I found a guy who was doing it, doing it well, and had done it for quite some time. His work was really good, and he knew people who were even better. I checked into the basics of the hobby, and found that it didn't come cheap.

I remain interested enough to look forward to blog posts on the subject, and I really enjoy the pictures of the works presented by proud hobbiests. Meanwhile I watch woodworking shows and continue to knit a bit. There is a lot I haven't done even with a five dollar loom, and there are many yarns I haven't worked with. Like most hobbies, loom knitting has many layers and a great deal of depth.

Oh, and I have been dabbling in making beer. Just a bit. Unfortunately, home-brewed beer and knitting are not complementary hobbies. More so than beer drinking and woodworking, but they really don't go together. Beer drinking and watching sports is a whole different thing, however. Baseball season is just around the corner....

Yep, look for me in my favorite chair, an afghan growing on my lap, a home-brew sitting frosty on the table next to me, and a whole season of baseball on the television. Unless some job comes along to spoil it all. Of course, then I might have funds to start building my wood shop.

Hmmmm. That might not be so bad.