Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Glass of Wine and Sun

Here's the latest painting.  It's bread and wine, but  there's no religious significance.

What started it is the observation of the cool pattern that sunlight makes shining through a glass of wine.  I observed that first at a restaurant with a sky lights (and later in someone else's painting hanging in another restaurant) and wanted to give a try to capturing that.

The bread and basket were added because that's what I could scour up around the house.  I had to keep the bread in the freezer for the last month or so and the wine was from a bottle that was only suited to be painted -- not drunk!

Anyway here's the finished (well, abandoned) product.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Big History

I’m a fan of history, but not just the recent history of the last 5,000 years since humans learned how to write, but also of what happened in the 95,000 to 195,000 years of Homo sapiens existence before that.  And what about the 1,000,000 to 1,600,000 year history of our Homo erectus ancestors’ migration from Africa?

I didn’t know it but there’s a name for this type of history – big history.  But big history doesn’t just trifle with the last 2,000,000 years.  "Big History,From the Big Bang to the Present,” author: Cynthia Stokes Brown (no relation), copyright 2007, takes us back to what’s known about the beginnings of the universe.  She covers the first 13 billion years in 71 pages before we even get to early agriculture beginning around 8,000 BC as a precursor to the start of early cities around 3,500 BC.

Of course, as time goes on we know more about what has happened, but it’s a real mistake to think that humans (or even any kind of life is anything but Johnny come lately.

I’ve seen these kinds of projections before but here are some excerpts from a table cited in chapter 3 compressing the creation of the universe into 13 years (Source: David Christian, “World History in Context,” Journal of Would History, December 2002, 440.). 

“If the universe had begun 13 years ago,” we would see the following milestones in history: 

·         Existence of Earth – last 5 years
·         Many celled organism – last 7 months
·         Asteroids that killed off dinosaurs – 3 days ago
·         Emergence of Homo sapiens – 53 minutes ago
·         The entire history of civilization began – 3 minutes ago
·         Modern industrial societies began – last 6 seconds
Later in the last six seconds, the book ends with a discussion of human “experiment with Earth.”  It put forth some not so happy scenarios regarding population growth and resource utilization.

Reading the book reinforces to me the miracle and fragility of human existence.  It reminds me that we largely live our lives out of context with what has come before.  We assume that all the progress of the last 6 six seconds is normal, has been here all along and is guaranteed to continue indefinitely – none of which is true.  We abuse our only planet when we have no viable alternative home and bicker with each other about politics, money, power, religion and other trivial matters instead of working together to address existential matters for our species and its survival.

Here’s hoping that we can somehow come together and get our act together before it’s too late.

*******
An interesting factoid among many mentioned in the book is that consumption of sugar in Europe went up from 4 pounds per capita in 1700 to 18 pounds per capita in the early 1800s.  That’s quite a change in an instant of time.  But consider that in the US, we now consume more than 125 pounds of sugar per capita.  Hmm…think there’s a connection to our obesity crisis?

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Miracle We Exist


I just finished Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s new book “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”  With my limited knowledge of science, I can’t say I followed it all, but a couple of things jumped out at me. 

First in discussing the composition of the universe, he notes visible matter (all the planets, stars and galaxies) account for no more than 5% of the mass.  The other 95% is composed of dark energy (68%) and dark matter (27%).  In discussing dark matter – which we know nothing about – he says one possible explanation is it:

“…could be just one of an infinite assortment of universes that comprise the multiverse.  Sounds exotic and unbelievable.  But is it any more crazy than the first suggestion that that the Earth orbits the Sun?  That the Sun is one of a hundred-billion stars in the Milky Way?  Or that the Milky Way is but one of a hundred galaxies in the universe?” (Page 89).

It’s mind-bending and awe-inspiring to contemplate the known size of our universe, much less what came before it 14 billion years ago when it was “contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.”   And what could lie beyond our universe?

What would happen if humans stopped to think about our miracle of existence?  How would it shape our interactions with each other and with our planet?  I think we would be profoundly different. 

But how do we get the word out?  That’s the challenge.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Moving to a Continuing Care Community at 65


Recently the CEO of Vantage House decided it would be good for the Board to hear directly from residents about how they made the decision to move here and their experiences since doing so.  For some unknown reason, I was picked to be the first “volunteer.” 

Here’s, in part, of what I said:

…My wife, Marcia, and I moved to Vantage House late last June.  To our adult daughters, it seemed like a rash decision.   And in some ways, it was. 

We decided to investigate Vantage House one spring-like day the prior February, while on a walk around Lake Kittamaqundi.    Less than five months later, we had sold the house we had built ten years earlier, downsized and moved in to a one-bedroom unit here awaiting the availability of a two-bedroom unit.  It gave our daughters whiplash.  And for us, it was some time until our respective stomachs caught-up with our brains’ decision.

But it really wasn’t a quick decision.  We had watched the positive experiences of Marcia’s parents living in a Continuing Care Community (Meno Haven, in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) for about 20 years.  About five years ago, we investigated (at Marcia’s suggestion) continuing care communities in New Hampshire where my older daughter and her family lives.  We spent a December week exploring five or six communities and learning about the concept of Continuing Care Communities.  Do you know how cold it gets in New Hampshire in December?

When we built our house, it was to be a retirement home.  But as Marcia retired in 2010 and I got closer to retirement in 2016, we realized that:


  1. The remote location of the house was not conducive to having a post-employment community
  2. In my declining years, it didn’t seem prudent for me to be climbing ladders, shoveling a quarter-mile drive and being the care-taker for building and grounds. 

Hence the “snap decision” a year ago in February.

The transition to Vantage House and our living here have both exceeded anything we expected.  We were pleasantly surprised by some things we had not counted on.

·    We had never asked and didn’t know about the weekly housing-keeping provided each week.  How cool.

·    We couldn’t anticipate the service orientated – culture of the staff.  They really care about the residents and (being a former HR manager) I can see that employee selection and orientation and the workplace culture perpetuate that sense of care and service.
·     We didn’t anticipate the benefit the in-house fitness staff. 

Marcia began attending fitness classes as soon as we moved in, but I didn’t begin attending until I retired in December, choosing instead to take advantage of the fitness facility in the mornings before work.  Once I retired, I decided to join Marcia in an 8:00 AM boot camp workout conducted by fitness staff.  I thought I’d go to boot camp, work out with some of my more mature friends and then go to the fitness center for a real workout.  Instead, after boot camp, I went for a shower and a nap.  It seems the exercises are adapted to what you can do and one can do a little more at 66 than his 90-something-year-old classmates, for example.

Finally, and most importantly, Vantage House gives us the community we need in our post-employment years.   The size of the community is just right and the people familiar.  Before building our house in Baltimore County, we had lived in Columbia for 30 years and raised our family here.  There’s something about Columbia and the values of the people here that resonates with us unlike any other place we know.  Vantage House is microcosm of Columbia – the people, the values and the community. 

So, we feel we made the right decision to come here and to come here now.  We know we’ve move here on the early end of the age curve, but we feel that, if we’re lucky, we’ll catch up to everyone.  Meanwhile, we hope to enjoy many more years living here in this vibrant and caring community.

******

While I’m still getting used to the retirement thing, having to articulate this helps me down the path.  Who knew that would be a benefit of this assignment.








Thursday, April 6, 2017

Perspective


I’m reading a short book translated and edited by Phillip Freeman:  How to Grow Old, Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life.  How ancient?  It was written by Cicero in 45 BC.  He was in his early 60’s at the time, so I don’t know how accurate that “second half of life” thing was.  Anyway, this passage caught my eye: 

Yet I suspect that you are troubled by the same political events of our day that are causing me such anxiety. 

I think it was Mark Twain that said, “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”  This rhymes for me.
   
I found some more recent rhymes in Presidential Anecdotes, by Paul F. Boller, Jr.  The revised edition that I read was published in 1996, so it only goes through Bill Clinton, but there are some interesting nuggets to help give perspective on our current political situation.

I’m struck with the notion that we’ve had more bad presidents than good ones.  Here’s my read:

·         Washington – great.
·         Adams #1 – overshadowed by Washington.
·         Jefferson – good.
·         Madison – “…not a great President, but one of America’s great statesmen.” (p.45)
·         Monroe – respectable, but not a lot happened on his watch.
·         Adams #2 – probably a better as a post-president than a president.
·         Jackson – popular but rough.
·         Van Buren – a waffler.
·         Harrison #1 – dead after one month.
·         Tyler -- anti-federalist veto-er.
·         Polk – effective but not popular.
·         Taylor – good soldier, bad president.  Died two years into office from effects from heat when laying the cornerstone for the Washington Monument on 7/4/1850.
·         Fillmore – well…his wife installed the White Houses’ first bathtub.
·         Pierce – northern man who supported the institution of slavery.  Helped to bring about the civil war.
·         Buchanan – last on the watch before the civil war.
·         Lincoln – great but not exactly seen that way in his day.
·         Johnson – “Andrew Johnson’s presidency was a failure” (p. 147).  Enough said.
·         Grant – great man bad president.
·         Hayes – ineffective.
·         Garfield – assassinated early in term.
·         Arthur – good, but not popular.  Not re-elected.
·         Cleveland – an honest man! (page 179)
·         Harrison #2 – didn’t get along with Congress.
·         McKinley – Kind.  Killed in office.
·         Roosevelt, TR – Bigger than life.
·         Taft – Bigger than Roosevelt (around the middle, anyway).  Fair to middling as to accomplishments.
·         Wilson – Racist but good president.
·         Harding – Nice man, bad president.
·         Coolidge – in the helm at the run-up to the great depression.  Slept eleven hours a day – nine or ten hours at night and a two-hour to four-hour nap.
·         Hoover – good pre-president and post-president but not effective in his term (which was 1929 – 1933 for crying out loud!).
·         Roosevelt, FD – one the greatest.
·         Truman – decisive.  His stock is now high but it wasn’t in his time.
·         Eisenhower – a great general and probably a more effective president than he was given credit for.
·         Kennedy – too short a term.
·         Johnson – crude but effective.  Brought down by Viet Nam.
·         Nixon – sheesh!
·         Ford – nice man.  Kind of palette cleanser.
·         Carter – a great ex-president.
·         Regan – celebrated, but ran up the debt.  Time will tell.
·         Bush #1 – good public servant and better than Bush #2.
·         Clinton – you know.

Read the book yourself and see what you think, but I look at the list and see only a handful of leaders who made a difference and in most cases, they served in extraordinary times.  The rest of the time, it seems like the country muddled through with or in spite of whomever was at the helm.

In most cases the executive branch has not been that influential.  Here’s a quote (page 264) from historian Henry Adams to Franklin Roosevelt when Franklin was Assistant Secretary of the Navy:

“Young man, I have lived in this house many years and seen occupants of the White House across the square come and go, and nothing you minor officials or the occupant of that house can do will affect the history of the world for long!”  

Kind of re-assuring.

Things are different now than they ever have been with instant access to news and non-news, changes to executive powers and the like.  When I was first out of college, wise friend told me that politics follows a pendulum.  A swing to the far right or left, always comes back center.   

Here’s hoping that for the good of future generations, we can swing back to some kind of balance that takes civilization forward in the coming years and decades.  It may take the next generation to do that, though.  Stay tuned.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Retirement Finish Line -- Part IV, Finale


At retirement plus four months, this topic seems boring and cloying. But let me finish it off.  Here some excepts from my notes of what now seems like someone else's life.
Retirement is an adjustment and more and more people who have been retired for a while tell me that it "takes time."  I can vouch for that, but I don't think that means years.  At four months, I think I'm getting there.
*******
Friday, July 15, 2016 – 8.7 workweeks to go; 18 calendar weeks to go
It’s interesting to me that people get a vicarious thrill on my coming retirement.  “When’s the date, Dan?”  I guess it’s like the way I used to get a vicarious thrill out of the last day of school for my daughters each year.  I couldn’t take the whole summer off, but I could virtually enjoy that event and the sense of freedom through them.   I guess that’s what people are doing by tracking my approach to the finish line -- virtually experiencing freedom by tracking my progress.
Friday, August 5, 2016 – 17 weeks, 41 workdays to go

As I transition out, it hard for people to see that I’m doing just that – transitioning out, not checking out.
I think “checking out” is the lens through which people view someone who has announced his or her retirement.  Managers don’t know what to do because they lose power over someone whose time is short.  Performance appraisals, raises or the lack of raises no longer influence behavior.   As I transition out of my long-term responsibilities, direct reports and others can see me as checking out.  I think it’s more a reflection of what they think they would do once they decided to retire versus what I’m doing.  Projection and, perhaps, envy.
I do think that there’s a big difference in transitioning out and checking out.  The former is necessary for a good ending.  The later, while attractive to some, is not in my repertoire.  My work habits and work ethic won’t allow me to do that.  Still, as I get to the last couple of weeks, I’ll have to force myself as part of the transition to “let go.”  In that sense checking out is not such a bad thing at the right time.  Checking out early is the bad part.  I think I’ll know when the time is right to close-up shop.
Friday, August 19 – 13 (Recalculated) Weeks, 36 Workdays to Go
One of the things I notice is when I tell people I’m retiring is that I’m congratulated – as if I’m doing something notable or courageous.  The most recent example was when I talked to an investment advisor at T. Rowe.  His congratulations were over the top enthusiastic.  Perhaps it’s more a reflection of the congratulator’s desire to retire and fear of doing so than anything that the “congratulatee” has done to earn praise.  Anyway, it makes me a little uncomfortable.  I’m fortunate that I’m able to do this now (but I’ll be 66, for crying out loud!), but I don’t feel particularly praise-worthy for doing it.
Thursday, September 8, 2016 – 10 Weeks, 28 Workdays, 224 Work Hours to Go
…but as I always say, who’s counting?
I found myself adding to my answer to a question about when my retirement date is that “it’s starting to feel pretty good.”  And it is.
All in all, I’m starting to get the feeling of freedom and of excitement.  It’s reminiscent of the feelings I think I used to have when I was in elementary school and the end of the school year was neigh.  But that was so long ago in the last century that I really can’t remember.
Friday, November 4, 2016 – Seven days, five workdays, 40 work hours to go
Well if this isn’t the end of the game, I don’t know what is.  In the football game of my employed life, I’m down to one second (!) left in the game.  I’m up to date on assignments and transitions.  All I need to do is to take the hike, down the ball and let the clock run out.
Still, I know that, but (amazingly) don’t feel it yet.  What am I waiting for   Who knows?  But at some point, I have to realize that my ducks are in a row and it’s safe to celebrate my new freedom.
If I feel anything right now, it’s relief.  Relief at not having to do emergency non-value added things at work.  Relief in losing a few bosses.  Relief at not having to monitor, follow up and cajole to get things done.  Relief in not having to think about HR stuff anymore.
Meanwhile, it’s time to savor the final approach and celebrate the end to a long and lucky career. And to get excited about the future!
Let go of the past it’s done and completed
The good and the bad can now be deleted
New start and renewal -- the tasks of the day
And remembering the person who was lost on the way
Lost in achieving and in pleasing others
Buried within the question of druthers
To arise again at this stage of life
From the gift of time and the end of strife.

*******
Or something like that.



Monday, March 27, 2017

Which Way?

I've heard that sometimes upon completing an abstract painting, the artist will turn it sideways or upside down and decide that the painting actually works better that way.  I may be living that story.

Marcia was thinking about purchasing some artwork to complement a print, made by our daughter, Sarah, which hangs in our living room.  Not wanting to give up precious wall space for hanging my paintings, I talked Marcia into letting me paint something instead of her trying to buy something.

What I had in mind was to mirror and amplify Sarah's original print.  You can see below that I attempted to pick up the left tree of the print for the (to be framed) left painting and the right tree of the print for the (to be framed) right one.  The idea was that the branches in the trees would "point" to Sarah's print and draw your eye to it.


When Sarah saw the work in progress, she said she would have done it the other way around.  The left painting would be the missing half of the left tree of the print and the right one would have been the missing half of the print's right tree.  That way the branches of the trees in the paintings would point away from the print and "expand" the arrangement.  We realized that flipping the two paintings kind of does that.


Now the dilemma.   I'm not sure which way works best.   What do you think?