How Far Can My Addenda Take Me?

If my last couple of posts have made you wonder whether I’m always for change and innovation, fear not. Let me tell you about


Some Things I Don’t Do Because They Do Not Make My Life Better

(By no means a comprehensive list.)

  1. Buy new “improved” sporting goods every year. Whether they golf, play tennis, or ride bicycles, some people seem eternally hopeful that the next new tweak of equipment will be just the thing that makes them great. I disagree. It’s my responsibility to improve my forehand or my top sprint speed. I mean, are you playing against me, or are our racquets battling it out? Are you racing me or my bike? Who gets the trophy, me or my Ben Hogan clubs? I think Olympic sailing has it right: everyone competes in identical craft, so the winner is the best sailor, not the sailor with the fastest boat. I think sporting goods manufacturers are like politicians. They need you to think they are taking care of your problems so you will continue to send them money, but if your problems ever went away, you would not need them any more. If acquiring equipment makes you happy, keep doing it. Just don’t call yourself an athlete.
  2. Carry a device that lets people contact me when I want to be alone (which is all the time). I do not want to pretend to Laugh Out Loud at pictures of overpriced restaurant hamburgers posted by “friends.” I have no need to show the world distorted close-ups of my face in front of the places I visit. These tasks were created by the devices. They did not exist before the cellular telephone. You are not making your life more efficient by quickly doing something that you did not do at all in the past. Just eat your food and let me enjoy mine.
  3. Read books that require batteries. Does this one really need an explanation? How much must you be a slave to change for its own sake to complicate reading with electronics?
  4. Make a single cup of weak coffee from a plastic pod, made from petroleum, that winds up in a landfill.
  5. Drink water out of plastic bottles, made from petroleum, that wind up in landfills. No one who does #4 or #5 can claim to be concerned about the environment.
  6. Computerize the telescopes I make. For me, the fun of stargazing comes from the tracking down of distant galaxies using my map reading skills. I enjoy the challenge of seeing objects that are on the limits of my vision. I do not want to reduce astronomy to “checking off” of some master list objects that a computer showed me. Why is that any different from looking at pictures of objects on line? How could you be sure some graphic designer did not create images of fictional galaxies and put them on line to fool you? I enjoy becoming familiar with the cosmos, getting in touch with our ancestors who knew their way around the sky. I know what I’m seeing is real.

It seems that everything in our society is about shortcuts. This makes people feel helpless and causes them to rely on people and machines that “know better.” For me, the process is always more important than the product. I wish more people approached life that way.

Addendum to the Alternate Holidays Theme

Last time, I talked about how our family moved the celebration of Thanksgiving to focus on the essence of togetherness and family. Today, I’ll tell you how we approach Christmas to emphasize thoughtfulness and caring.

When we first got married, my wife and I were both struggling to get out from under difficult economic circumstances. At the same time, we were committed to making Christmas a special time for the new family we had created. She and I shared a passion for making things, and she had raised her daughters to value this, too. In addition, we enjoyed flea marketing as a family activity. Even though we called all of our destinations “junk stores,” we did not mean anything negative by it. Every one of us wanted to keep caring for objects that had brought someone else joy, but for whatever reason were no longer needed or used.

We made a rule: all presents given at Christmas had to be hand-made or pre-owned.

Before you have us committed to a mental health facility,


consider the effects this creates. It requires everyone to take a step back and really think about the other people. What do they value? What do they do? What will they use? It promotes self-awareness and reflection. What can I find or create that they will enjoy? How can I make them happy by my efforts? Best of all it frees us from the tyranny of the American planned-obscelescence industry. Where can I find meaningful presents that aren’t the new trendy electronic gimmicks? 

Of course, electronics can still be a part of our gift-giving. Once, I made my wife’s daughter a guitar amplifier out of simple components from Radio Shack housed in a cracker box.


(And now, a moment of silence for the passing of a great resource.)

Sometimes, I have made things to help people make other things. On different occasions, I have given my wife a vacuum-forming machine, a custom fountain pen made on the lathe, and a combination yarn winder and swift.


Sometimes I have found cast-off items that help people carry out the activities they love. My wife’s scientific daughter has gotten an antique binocular microscope that I had to disassemble and clean to make it usable, an old high-school triple-beam balance, and her own small portable telescope.

I have received incredible sweaters and socks, books about my hobbies, a final project from Industrial Arts class, a lettering guide for mechanical drawing, a custom-finished storage cabinet for my fountain pens…I could go on all day. I treasure them all, and I always will.

Everyone has heard that it’s the thought that counts. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our house.