Feeling guilty on a Saturday

No one else was home.

That meant I could stream the crazy music I enjoy, at volume, without bothering anyone.

And then I started to feel guilty.

Not about the music I was listening to…  but about the luxury of being able to listen to music in a house with no shared walls.

I remembered living in Kenya — when I felt guilty about having a microwave oven, knowing that it represented about ten times the average monthly wage of many around me.



mailboxes in rural Colorado

My brother and one of my sisters are pretty much the only people who write physical letters to me.

My mom used to, but she passed away almost nine years ago.

I challenge you to write to me. Just one letter or postcard.

If you leave a comment on this blog post, I’ll see your email address* and contact you for your snailmail address. I’ll send you a letter or postcard, and you can write back.

Just once.

No strings, no obligations.

Why? It’s fun to get a hand-addressed hand-written letter in the mail.

* No one else will see your email address.

If you liked this post, you might like this one and this other one.


The tip of the iceberg

my family - part

We know so little about the people around us.

Even though I live with my wife and daughter, I realized that I know so little about their day-to-day lives.

Rachel is a junior in high school. I am not sitting in class with her, listening to teachers talk about math concepts that I have forgotten a long time ago. I am not in the school cafeteria during her 15-minute lunch with friends. I’m not in her Bible study when her girlfriends open up about life struggles.

Heather works in an office about 5 minutes from me. But I’ve only visited her office once. I hear tales of the joys and challenges that each day brings, but I’m not in the room when she discusses the latest design challenge of the big project that she’s tackling. I’m not at the chili cookoff with her colleagues.

My two sons, Jay and Ben, have rich and full lives too. And so does everyone I work with, hang out with and know from the past chapters of life.

My challenge to myself is to ask those around me a question that will uncover something I don’t know already. (And there’s a lot.)


The beauty of bamboo

seventh generation toilet paper package

I came across a brand called (ironically) Brandless. Their Facebook ad was effective enough that I clicked through.

The Brandless product that caught my attention the most? Toilet paper made from bamboo fiber!

Bamboo grows at a rate of up to 36 inches (91 centimeters) in 24 hours (source).

Think about it — a regular tree takes way longer to grow. If we converted all our forests dedicated to producing toilet paper into bamboo forests, we’d use up a lot fewer resources. Think: reforestation in a much shorter time period.

The amazing thing is that the price of this Brandless product is just $3 for 6 rolls. True, there may be just 12 sheets per roll, but it’s worth a try.

I haven’t signed on the dotted line yet — but I’m seriously considering giving this one a go.

Footnote: I took this photo of toilet paper at my local Whole Foods. Surprisingly, they do not sell bamboo toilet paper.


Sometimes the minority loses

Ruth's Chris Tofu House

When we go out to eat, my wife’s choices are limited… she has gluten sensitivity challenges.

If a restaurant has gluten-free options, there are few. And they may not be marked as such.

We also get to pay double for the pleasure of knowing that the half-size pizza does not contain heavily-processed wheat flour.

Living in Clarendon, Texas (population 1,857) would cause even more limitations for someone with gluten issues.

Vegan? I won’t even go into that realm, but you see that the same issues apply. (There is no Ruth’s Chris Tofu House.)

Live with a wheelchair? There are not many off-the-shelf choices in the Ferrari line that will allow you to drive.

Is there a solution?

One might be for a Clarendon resident to move to the big city.

The big city resident might move closer to a Whole Foods supermarket and adjust their budget accordingly.

But basically, it’s just not fair if you fall outside the mainstream.


The $200 cup of tea

macbook pro trackpad

I spilled tea on my trackpad. Then it started acting weird.

Dilemma: call my 2011 computer a loss and get a new one or have the old one fixed?

Fixing the old computer won the day.

$200 later, and it works just as good as new.

I love my old MacBook Pro. Years ago, I upgraded the memory and hard drive, and it still works fine. It’s fast enough for just about everything, and it even has a built-in CD-DVD drive, which comes in handy every once in a while. (I even used that earlier today!)

Kudos to Mac Outlet for the fine job.



crashing on the street

A few weeks ago, I took a tumble off my bike. The road repair crews had put caution tape between the cones along one of the roads on my way to work — that wasn’t there the week before. I didn’t see the tape until I was too close. I slammed my brakes and went head-over-heels.

A guardian angel lady saw me tumble and quickly pulled over. She crammed my bicycle into the back seat and took me home, in spite of how I was such a bloody mess.

Through a miracle, I was able to get my teeth fixed that morning at a nearby dentist. Through another miracle, my dental insurance covered the vast majority of this unplanned expense.

Good as new!

Not quite. My face was a melange of scars for the next week. The aches and pains still live on — for a little while, at least.

That incident reminded me that nearly anything can happen to us. And that we’re fragile.

People all around us are injured. We may not see their scars. But we should treat them with love and care, just like that guardian angel lady treated me.

We never know if someone in our daily lives is about to break. The stress of life might be more than they can handle.

A little love and care can go a long way toward their healing. And we’ll feel better for having made a difference in their life.


Older and wiser? Or just different?

This is a guest post by my brother, Bill Merrill. Thanks, Bill!

I thought this was appropriate as we all approach the start of a new year.

There is a common pair of related expressions that “youth is wasted on the young” and “with age comes wisdom.” I’ve had occasion to reflect on these and other ideas about aging as I’ve hit a milestone year. It’s fun to compare how I looked at things as a younger man versus the current “me.”

Younger Me: I’m hungry! I think I’ll get a pizza!
Current Me: I’m hungry. I’d love to get a pizza, but calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium…I’ll grab some baby carrots instead. Ugh.

Younger Me: Look at that slow driver up there! He’s obviously not in a hurry to get anywhere. He’s delaying my busy schedule! He must be at least 80 years old!
Current Me: Look at that “kid” driver darting in and out of traffic. How reckless! Would it hurt him to just slow down a little? Safer, too. (But I still go right at the speed limit vs. 10 mph under. I’m not that old yet!)

Younger Me: Frank Sinatra? Who would ever want to listen to that boring old guy singing? I’m putting on Led Zep instead!
Current Me: Mmm, listen to the nuance in Sinatra’s voice as he cradles the lyrics to “Angel Eyes,” and the string arrangements by Nelson Riddle are marvelous. How delightful! (But I still like Led Zep, and some contemporary music.)

Younger Me (settling down to read a book): Well, I see that Isaac Asimov has a new non-fiction book out on exploring the Moon. I think I’ll stick to the action in his science fiction novels.
Current Me: Wow! That nonfiction book Asimov wrote in the ‘70s on the Solar System was accessible and fascinating! Next up, the latest historical nonfiction by Eric Larson (although I still like a good SF novel from time to time…)

These changes in perspective are examples of how my attitudes towards various aspects of life have shifted as I have gotten older. I generally don’t look at the past with regrets, but instead, enjoy moments of nostalgia. I don’t see much point in saying, “if I knew then what I know now…” (aside from some investment advice), but I do wish I my younger self could have “stopped and smelled the roses” more often! (Ha! There’s another old saying that was more profound than it seemed!)


Wasted light

Denver gets most of its electric power from burning coal.

If Denver used less coal, our air would be cleaner.

Car dealerships use a lot of electric power every night after closing. They brightly light their parking lots and the inside of their showrooms.

I suppose they want to attract the buying public to their shiny new and gently-used vehicles.

But how many times do you see people stopping to look at those cars at night after closing? Never.

The idea is that drivers passing by will remember, “Oh, I passed by that group of shiny Acuras last night. Today, I need to see what they look like in the daylight!”


So here’s the idea: if a study was done on the difference between minimal viable lighting for showrooms and car lots at night, and their current ultra-bright usage, the dealerships could be charged WAY more for any use above the minimum viable amount. Let’s say it might cost a dealership $100,000 more a month to burn all those lights instead of the current cost of maybe $3,000 more.

Each dealership would be charged individually and have its own base vs. ultra-bright rate.

This would be more efficient than a tax. The expenses to get this system going would be a one-time occurrence. A team of contractors could do the study. The power companies would get software created to do the extra fee charging. Those costs would easily be paid for out of the first few month’s savings.

If car dealerships decreased their zillion-kilowatt light shows, we might be able to see the stars again.

Denver already does this for water since we live in a dry high-desert environment.

Sometimes we all need a little push to do the right thing.


Not OK to talk about

Today, it’s bad form to say anything about gender that was the popular view twenty years ago. But it’s very acceptable to criticize religious choices.

Thirty years ago, socially acceptable norms of discussion were the complete opposite.

There seems to be a rapid change of pace in what’s OK to talk about and not talk about.

And then there are areas that are never acceptable.

Many years ago, I was flying to California with a leader I respected — and respect — a great deal. The flight allowed us to talk more freely than our normal daily work life would ever permit.

He mentioned how some people needed just a few tweaks to their personal style for their image to be improved. But neither he nor I could ever mention those tweaks to those style-deficient individuals.

That would be crossing the line.

Heather and I have several years of experience at the game of parenting. We’ve learned a few things during that journey. But the opportunities to share those lessons are few. We fear accusations of being proud or not understanding the other side.

Lead by example” only has so much impact. Sometimes a deficit and later a positive change need to be spoken about.

Thankfully, there are always outspoken individuals. If it weren’t for them, change would rarely happen.