The Lady of Shalott

The wonderful and kid friendly video series of “Anne of Green Gables” is the medium where I first heard the reference to the “Lady of Shalott,” a poem made famous by Tennyson.

As mentioned in another portion of my blog, the Legend of King Arthur figured somewhat prominently in portions of the film, Anne of Green Gables. For Anne Shirley, this orphaned girl drew hope and inspiration in the legend; the story of the Lady of Shalott as portrayed in the video above, has stuck in the back of my mind for decades and instilled a curiosity in me to learn about this scene.

But life constantly moves forward, and this curiosity was not satisfied until late in my life, in my sixties when, for some reason, I became interested in the Legend of King Arthur. Then, Youtube’s algorithm suggested this excellent rendition of the poem:

The Lady of Shalott by Loreena McKennitt with Lyrics

I was deeply moved by this performance! McKennitt’s haunting vocals, accompanied by the fitting backing music, breathed new life into this ancient poem. It’s an interpretation that I’m certain Tennyson—and Anne Shirley—would have never imagined but would undoubtedly approve of.

Money/Investment Tips: (Part Three) Fix things yourself

Learning to fix things yourself will pay huge dividends throughout the course of your life.

Life works in mysterious ways. I never intended or dreamed I would be a contractor to support myself and my family. As I have pointed out in other sections of this blog, I wanted to be a writer or marine or wildlife biologist. Fate had it own ideas, though, and I took a turn early in my twenties that propelled me in a completely different direction.

Without going into detail about how I ended up as a contractor, the fact I made my living this way proved beneficial in many ways. Though I never loved contracting (it was never my so-called passion), I have reaped numerous rewards from this humble profession: one of them being self-reliance, a phrase that should be “front and center” in any person’s vocabulary who desires to get ahead in life.

Learning to fix things yourself mostly involves repairing household items or doing maintenance projects related to your home and property. To illustrate, let me share one of my recent DIY projects: fixing my Whirlpool electric dryer.

About six months ago, after tossing freshly washed clothes into the dryer, I went to check if they were dry or at least partially dry. Being single and male, I don’t sort clothes by color or separate delicate items like underwear from sturdier ones like jeans—I just toss everything into the washer together.

But when it comes to the dryer, I know the more delicate clothes—like underwear—will dry sooner than, let’s say, a pair of work jeans, so I wanted to check what I could pull out that had dried. While the dryer was still running, I opened the dryer door expecting it to stop, like it always did. This time it kept going, never having done this before.

That’s weird, I thought, and quickly shut the door before the clothes had a chance to shoot out the dryer opening and fall to the floor. After a couple of seconds of thought, wondering what just happened, I waited a few seconds and opened the door again, but only part way, to see what would happen: same thing.

I unplugged the dryer; this, of course, stopped it, but now I knew I had a problem: my dryer was broke, at least when it came to the dryer not stopping when I opened the door. Since I knew I could stop the dryer by pulling the cord out of the socket (inconvenient to say the least), I did not consider this particular situation that big of a deal.

I’ve learned something about home repairs: they are rarely, if ever, simple in nature that one can fix, say, in a few minutes. In fact, I have developed a proverb which expresses this phenomena: “Changing a light bulb takes eight hours.” In other words, nothing is simple—even the most simplest of things like changing a lightbulb—when it comes to life, and there is hardly anything when dealing with home maintenance issues that can be solved easily and quickly.

Knowing this repair would at least require me to spend much time just in researching the problem to determine why it was suddenly doing this, I put it on the back burner of my never ending “to do” list. I had bigger fish to fry and, since this did not demand immediate attention, I dealt with it and rarely opened the door to check on my clothes like I used to.

Months passed, and every time I used the dyer, I remembered this issue; today, I decided to tackle it and found a video on Youtube that showed me how to replace it. I started to disassemble the dryer a bit to reach the part and have ordered it off Ebay. It is not a difficult repair to make and looks easy, but again, you have to take the time and have basic tools to make the repair happen.

Could I have called an appliance service company to fix the problem? Certainly, but the cost would no doubt be over $100. The replacement part is going to cost me less than $6.00 and I don’t have to go through the angst of calling multiple service companies, getting quotes, arranging a convenient time for them to come, have strangers coming over, bracing myself for the inevitable “up-sells” and getting scammed, etc.

Now, I have been fixing things all of my adult life. I have amassed a decent amount of tools as well as a fairly deep depth of knowledge of construction know-how. And most of this knowledge was gained the hard way, through trial and error and reading books; my dad never sat down with me and showed me anything about how tools work. There was no marvelous Youtube videos out there where one could learn from some true pro’s and even have a tool and material list available—with links—as an added bonus.

I’m a firm believer in self-reliance and, as much as possible, I don’t like relying on other people to get me through my days. A person is at a horrible disadvantage when they don’t know how to troubleshot and then fix the myriad of things which always go wrong or need maintenance as a property owner. And the cost to hire professionals—post Covid—is skyrocketing and is not going to get any cheaper.

Like anything else of value, learning how to use tools and repair things comes with a cost. First, you have to put in the needed time to begin to learn about construction or how to repair what you need to have fixed. This can become a significant investment in time. Then, you have to have the needed to tools to be able to fix and maintain your stuff. This can be frustrating and expensive because it seems one never has all the proper tools necessary to do any job correctly and—just as importantly—easily.

But all the time and expense required to be able to handle such repairs and maintenance needs are well worth it. And you don’t have to know everything, of course. One thing I have always detested is working on my vehicles. When I was younger and much poorer, I was forced to do as much as I could on my own, like changing my oil or doing tuneups. My most ambitious and time consuming auto repair project was successfully rebuilding the engine—by myself—on my 1971 VW van, a story all of its own of victory followed by defeat.

Part of my frustration with repairing my own vehicles was twofold: lack of the needed tools and lack of knowledge to do the necessary jobs. Again, this was all before the internet and Youtube which has made auto repairs so much easier. The cost of having even a small arsenal of critical, quality tools was also beyond my reach at that poverty heavy portion of my young adulthood, adding to my frustration because it seemed I always needed “one more tool” to get any job done.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle for me in successfully being able to fix my own vehicles was an almost complete lack of interest in the subject of auto mechanics. In high school, there was an excellent course students could take in auto mechanics which several of my friends took advantage of. But I was uninterested in the subject and was bored to tears whenever my friends would gather together with the inevitable discussion turning to something that had to do with their cars and fixing them, unable to contribute nothing substantial to any of these conversations.

Another problem I had with auto mechanics and the construction industry was my lack of native skill or comprehension in either of these areas. Many guys interested in “mechanic-ing”—or working in construction—had natural talent and native interest in these subjects. Some of them seemed to born with tools in their hands and using them came as natural to them as walking. Not so for me. I have never been a “natural” when it came to working with my hands and it has always been challenging for me to master even the basic fundamentals of certain tools and grasping basic principles of construction or specialized subjects within construction like electrical work, building block walls, or figuring out angles in carpentry (math has never been my strong suit).

These challenges, though, did not keep me from trying, and one of my strong suits is my tenacity in sticking with anything I set my mind on accomplishing until I finish it. One of my favorite quotes that perfectly sums this up is from William Carey: “If one should think it worth his while to write my life, I will give you a criterion by which you may judge of its correctness. If he gives me credit for being a plodder, he will describe me justly. Anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”

The effort and investment in tools I’ve put in to fix and build things myself has paid off in numerous ways, saving me tens of thousands, if not more, over my lifetime. Rather than depending on experts (or supposed experts) to construct, fix, or maintain my possessions, I’ve been fortunate to handle much of these tasks myself. Beyond the money saved, there’s an immense satisfaction in being self-sufficient and not relying on others to accomplish what’s necessary.

Some practical ideas: if you are just starting out in your adult life, or have recently purchased your first home or are planning on doing so in the near future, make an inventory of the kind of tools you have. If you don’t have any, start collecting them now by going to garage sales, swap meets, or buying some at Lowes, Home Depot, or Harbor Freight.

Harbor Freight has some good deals—and inexpensive—but their quality is not always the best. Like anything, tools can be purchased for cheap or expensive, depending on the brand. Tools you will use all the time—like screwdrivers, ratchet sets, hammers, etc.—should be of the best quality you can afford.

I have another saying: “The best time to buy tools and equipment is when you don’t need them.” The worst time to buy tools and equipment is when you must buy them because then, you have no time to do the needed research on what is the best bang for your buck and you usually go to a big box store like Home Depot and plunk down your credit card to buy what you must have to complete whatever project you are working on.

I was able to fix my dryer with no problem; in fact, it was easier than I thought. I ordered the part from Ebay after poking around the internet to find the best price (it can be astonishing the difference in prices you will find), it arrived, and I set out a block of time to tackle this project. I had the few tools needed to do this particular job and finished it in less than an hour.

It was satisfying to start up the dryer after I replaced the part, open the door, and have it stop again. And for $6.00 or so for the part, it was an inexpensive fix, saving me the time, hassle and expense of having a technician come out and do it for me.

Growing up in Tucson

I plugged in my portable hard drive I use to remove pictures from my iPhone and onto my other larger hard drive, going through the pictures to see which ones I could delete to free up space. I found this picture of me when I was a small boy, probably around six or seven. That would put the date circa 1967.

This picture was taken, I believe, on Christmas Day. You can see the wrapping papers scattered around. I believe that cat figure is a Disney character…Felix the Cat, perhaps? And the other figure is Frankenstein. I remember that cat, though, and it might be a bottle of shampoo, but I can’t be sure.

The object I’m touching may be a cassette player, but again, I’m not certain. I have little memories of my childhood, and I don’t remember many details. If it is a cassette player, I don’t think it was one of my presents but probably something for my older brothers or sisters.

Where I was living in Tucson on this Christmas Day is a mystery. We used to live on 25th and also on Eli Street, so it may have been one of those houses.

We were not a rich family and always had modest Christmases. At this point, I’m not sure if my real dad was in the picture or if my mom and dad had already divorced by this time. I’m thinking my dad was not in the picture at this point because I don’t remember him being there.

One of the interesting facts about this picture is the background with the book shelves. The bookshelf to the left of me, on the bottom shelf, is a set of encyclopedias, something, of course, is unknown today with the advent of the internet.

The other book shelf also brings back memories because of the books that are on the bottom shelf as well, right above where my right heel is. I believe those were Life books, full of wonderful nature stories and pictures. I enjoyed reading and looking through the beautiful color pictures and reading about the stories. Here is a screen grab off of Etsy where these books were put up for sale and sold:

The title of the Etsy listing is “Vintage Time Life Nature Library Set of 23 Books from the 1960s.”

(Picture below is my sister Mary, no doubt taken at the same time as the other picture. Note the date: January, 1967.)

What interests me is the fact that we had books around our house, evidently quite a lot of them. I remember I loved to read and read all the time, something I do to this day. Reading has been one of the main loves and pursuits of my life.

One question I have is, who was responsible for bringing literature into the Spears’ family? I don’t believe it was my mom as I never saw her reading. She loved watching t.v. but was not, to my knowledge, a lover of books.

My dad, on the other hand, did read, and I remember he would have a book by his cot when we lived with him in Crystal Lake, IL. I write “cot” because they was exactly what he slept on. Cots are not official beds, but small, portable items, like what you would find being used in a military barrack. This would make sense because he was in the Air Force when a younger man, training to be a pilot.

Knowing this, it would make sense it was my dad that may have been the driving force for having books in our home. If so, I have a debt of gratitude for him instilling a love of literature into our home; I attribute most of all my learning to books and reading and would feel very impoverished if reading had not been a major part of my life.

This is one of the many mysteries and regrets I have from my childhood: not knowing the genesis of where many of my interests originated from—like reading. As I have mentioned elsewhere in my blog, it was my dad who emphasized education. He put myself, my sisters Mary and Lisa, and my brother David (all older than me) into private Catholic school when we were sent to live with him in Crystal Lake.

Though he was a brutally perverted and vicious man, still, he had redeeming qualities. This is one of the many profound mysteries of life, the fact of the simultaneous light and darkness so common to many, reminding me of the Frankenstein toy given to me at Christmas.

This is an interesting toy because I have never been a huge Frankenstein fan. In fact, I don’t believe I ever read the book because it was simply too dark of a story for me and I never was attracted to it. Where I believe this toy may have been influenced by was the hugely popular “Addam’s Family” sitcom from 1964, something I remember watching as a kid.

My dad was weird in this respect; he enjoyed dark and violent stuff while I never did. He foolishly took us to see the horror film “Tales from the Crypt” at a drive in while living in Crystal Lake. It was one of the most terrifying movies I have ever watched and gave me nightmares for years. Never would I allow my own children to be exposed to this type of trash and did my best to keep them from its evil influence.

Again, part of that “mixed bag” of the human personality.

Fox News pays out almost $1 billion

I have been closely following the Dominion lawsuits against Fox News and other purveyor’s of the “Big Lie” since its inception in 2020, writing about it here and here.

My extensive reading of the Dominion lawsuits and ongoing litigation has been instrumental in changing my perspective on the 2020 election. Prior to delving into this case, I believed that Donald Trump’s loss was due to election rigging. However, my intense interest in this case has led me to a complete 180° turnabout in my thinking. I now believe Joe Biden won the election fair and square—for the most part.

Though there was voter fraud in the 2020 election (as there is in any presidential election, and in particular, the real possibility of fraud stemming from “mail in” ballots), it did not come close to rising to the level of corruption that proponents of the “Big Lie” claimed it had as it specifically applies to the voting machines supplied by Dominion as alleged by Fox News. In other words, there was no evidence of fraud concerning Dominion’s role in the election that would have changed the election results: Trump lost, and any claim to the contrary concerning Dominion’s crucial involvement is not based on evidence and facts.

It’s important I make this point: I was convinced, in the beginning of the claims of election fraud which began immediately circulating after it was announced that Trump had lost the 2020 election, that the “Big Lie” was true. I was solidly in the camp of those who would be known as “election deniers,” that Joe Biden was not our legitimate president.

Such is the awesome and frightening power of brainwashing and lies.

How did I change my mind? What was the thinking process I went through that pierced through my brainwashed state and caused me to make a complete 180° about face? The answer is simple: Dominion’s response to these lies and the extraordinarily great lengths they went to in defending themselves.

Also, I opened myself up to “looking at the other side” of this story even though I was convinced what I had heard from Sidney Powell was true. This action alone—of at least being willing to hear the “other side of the story”—is one of my most encouraging steps towards mature and rational thinking on my journey to become a critical thinker.

But there is something else that allowed me to even contemplate that perhaps I was wrong in my initial thinking the election was stolen, an operating system in my brain that was silently at work in the background: a snippet of ancient wisdom I had memorized during my lifelong involvement in a religion I have now walked away from. That snippet of wisdom is found in Proverbs 18:17:

“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (NASB)

The NIV version of this verse is even better:

“In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”

This is such a crucial point that it bears emphasizing and is a key, a central point, as to why I was able to eventually change my mind from firmly believing in the “Big Lie” to now repudiating it almost entirely: a perspective instilled in me through memorizing portions of the Bible (and specifically Proverbs 18:17) which taught me there is “two sides to every story.” And wisdom is not only understanding this obvious truth, but putting that knowledge into practice in daily life with everyday situations and circumstances.

My journey to first believing, and then rejecting, the lies of Trump who has incessantly claimed the election was stolen from him is, to me, a remarkable one. Why? Because I have learned that once myself or anyone else first forms a strong opinion or belief on some one or some thing, it is often times impossible, or nearly so, for myself or that person to change their mind, even when presented with contrary evidence.

Looking at what I just wrote from another perspective only emphasizes this point: the first opinions or beliefs we form on any subject or towards any person is so strong it becomes extraordinarily difficult—if not virtually impossible—to change one’s mind to view that belief in any other way. First impressions make lasting impressions.

In real life situations, wisdom is demonstrated by the capacity to reconsider strongly held beliefs and remain receptive to new evidence. The ability to change one’s perspective is a valuable skill, and it requires a willingness to modify our thinking patterns and embrace new ideas. As we gain experience and knowledge, it becomes increasingly important to remain open-minded and receptive to new information. Ultimately, the wisest individuals are those who recognize the value of being able to change their minds when presented with compelling evidence.

“First impressions make lasting impressions.”

I don’t believe most people are able to do this; I’m ashamed to admit I’m one of those people who have difficulty in changing my mind once I’m committed to a certain version of a truth.

Long ago I made a disconcerting realization about myself – namely, that I have a longstanding issue with stubbornness that has impacted me throughout my life. This oftentimes rigid and inflexible thinking style can make it difficult to consider alternative viewpoints or see situations from a different perspective. By refusing to slow down and approach problems with an open mind, I risk closing myself off to other valuable perspectives and possibilities. This problematic character trait is commonly referred to as “dogmatism.”

Dogmatism is defined as “the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.” I’m guilty of this and have been my entire life. This dogmatic way of thinking was no more clearly seen than in my lifelong adherence to evangelical Christianity, which I have now walked away from since about a year or so ago. But that is a long story and now is not the time to do a deep dive into the particulars.

But it is sufficient to make the acknowledgment of my dogmatic and rigid tendencies in my thinking and reasoning processes, like my initial acceptance of the “Big Lie” concerning the 2020 presidential election. I believe it is a critical first step for any one interested in learning to think critically that they come to the realization their own thinking and reasoning processes are lacking in certain important and fundamental capacities.

For myself in this particular case with the “Big Lie,” I had sufficient self-awareness to know there was more to this story than what I was hearing from Fox News. As time passed after the first initial breaking of the story where Sidney Powell (the head of the snake for what would prove to be a nest of conspiracy theories) was showing up on virtually every conservative news channel, I allowed myself to at least be open to listening to counter arguments.

One of my favorite quotes I have posted before on my blog is one allegedly from Aristotle which states, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to contemplate a thought without accepting it.”

In my desire is to be a critical thinker—one which is open to the possibility of different perspectives on any number of issues—I needed to get over my pride in thinking I’m always right. In fact, it was some time ago I arrived at the humbling point in my life where I realized I’m usually wrong on most issues—a sea change for me.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to contemplate a thought without accepting it.”

It’s important to clarify something I touched on in the beginning of this post, that of the possibility of election fraud outside of the claims made against Dominion (and also the other voting machine company, Smartmatic). An important question for me is, “Was there sufficient election fraud during the 2020 election outside of the false claims made by Fox News against Dominion which could have altered the election results?” I have to say I believe it is possible.

I mentioned the possible problem of fraud with mail-in voting and linked to a video put out by the Heritage Foundation. According to the presenter in the video, Texas Attorney Ken Paxton, it is possible, and he explains how this could have happened. That video is here:

But diving into this possibility is not the subject of this post. I’m not able to weigh in on whether or not there was sufficient mail-in fraud which would, if such fraud had occurred, have been widespread enough to have altered the election; I have not researched this possibility enough to make a verdict one way or the other. Thus, I’m going to refrain from offering an opinion one way or the other until such time as sufficient evidence may be presented to correctly answer the question.

But on the narrow question of Dominion and whether or not they perpetrated such fraud with their voting machines and software, I can definitely answer “No.” I believe there is overwhelming evidence from the court documents and news articles I have read in the last two years since this issue began raging throughout the country to have confidence in this opinion. Plus, with Fox settling and paying a mind-boggling sum of money to settle this case, their actions seal the deal for me.

In summary, the reason for writing this particular post is to hopefully help other people to better their own thinking processes. As I have written elsewhere on this blog site, most people do not have the kind of honed critical thinking skills needed to successfully navigate through the muddy waters of daily life in 21st century America. And with the new advent of AI which has recently rushed upon the world’s shore through programming like “ChatGpt” and other similar AI programs, the need to be able to sift through the “good and the bad” from manipulated information and news is a skill that will only be more urgent moving forward.

Money/Investment Tips: (Part Two) Credit Cards

Updated Feb. 7, 2024

Credit cards are necessary but potentially dangerous.

When I was much younger—in my twenties and thirties—having a credit card was a big deal…at least for me. More than anything, credit cards meant status: you were a real somebody if you had a fistful, and I didn’t have even one.

Back in those days, qualifying for a coveted credit card was much tougher than today. I tried to qualify for one or two several times but was denied, probably because I never had one before and my income was not sufficient to meet the bank’s standards. Also, I hated being forced to tell anybody—especially strangers at banks or credit card companies—how much money I earned or had just to get a card.

Funny how things change. I have all the credit cards I want or need and always throw away any advertisements mailed to me informing me I “qualify” for yet another one. Like so much of life, when you no longer need or desire something is the precise time you can finally have it.

Basically, the only card I use is my Discover card, one I’ve had for years. I have one or two others I rarely, if ever use, and I couldn’t tell you right off the top of my head which ones those might be.

We all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies, and one of mine is I despise paying banks and credit card companies one single penny in fees or interest. I’ve had my Discover card for, I believe, over twenty years, and I can recall maybe paying interest on the charges except for once or twice. And this was because I forgot to make a payment, which occasionally happens.

I never carry a balance on my credit cards longer than the usual grace period of one month. Each and every month I pay off the balance in full because, as noted above, I abhor the thought of giving my hard earned money to a credit card company because of interest. To me, the concept is obscene and I won’t do it.

“We all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies, and one of mine is I despise paying banks and credit card companies one single penny in fees or interest…”

Roy Spears

And I’ve been this way my entire life and don’t plan on changing this philosophy anytime soon.

Why do I think this way? For one reason, I believe the interest rates charged by credit card companies and banks to be usurious and ridiculous. Who would agree to be robbed this way, month after month, year after year? It’s insane.

It’s astounding—and foolish— how many people carry huge sums of credit card debt, paying exorbitant interest rates every month—hundreds and hundreds of dollars just in interest payments alone. Who can possibly get financially ahead doing this? Most people can’t, and this is one reason many Americans are broke.

(Update February 7, 2024: Interestingly, Youtube’s algorithm suggested this video by legendary financial guru Warren Buffet where he discusses credit card debt. [Begin at timestamp 7:15]. Buffet has excellent advice:)

Warren Buffet dispenses financial wisdom

Looking back, I’m glad my applications for credit cards were denied in my younger days. I was forced to live within my humble means and only purchased items I could afford. If I had been issued credit cards, would I have been tempted to max them out, live beyond my means, and become hopelessly trapped in the credit card, self inflicted prison system? Possibly. I might be a slave today to the banks and credit card companies, helplessly drowning in debt and never having the hope—or financial power—of crawling free from underneath that system.

For young people starting out in life, adopting my philosophy toward credit card debt is a wise one. I would even recommend not having any credit cards, but this seems to be an impossibility in today’s world where we have to have credit cards to do most anything: purchasing airline tickets, shopping online, etc.

Unwisely using credit cards can ruin your life.

There are, I’m assuming, still debit cards where you have to have an account with money in it which is then tied to your credit card: how much money is in that account then determines how much “credit” you are then able to qualify for. I find this to be a difficult but better arrangement than what a true credit card is all about because you are forced to once again live within your means—or how much money you have in that account.

Then, as you learn budgeting and the proper use of credit card debt (paying the balance off each and every month so you never have to pay interest, fees or overdrafts), you can transition to a credit card once you qualify and your credit is established.

If you read my first post on money and investment tips, you might recall the helpful phrase I used: it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines. This is one wise saying and, like so many other great maxims, has many potential meanings and applications. For credit card debt, it teaches carrying such debt is one of those “leaks” in our finances which can prevent us from becoming financially healthy and threatens to sink our boats.

So be wise. Recognize and understand both the benefits and dangers of having and using credit cards. And especially if you are just starting off in life on your own, make it a rule you will never buy anything with a credit card unless you can pay it off before being charged interest.

The Legend of King Arthur

I enjoyed watching the video series, Anne of Green Gables, with my daughters when they were small. Since this genre wasn’t something I was inclined to watch for my own enjoyment, I’m glad I was exposed to the movies; I wanted to watch something wholesome and family orientated that would resonate with them.

Anne was fascinated with the Arthurian legend. In one of the scenes from the movies, she reenacted the boat incident from the poem “Lady of Shalott.” Though I first watched this particular scene over 20 years ago, it planted a seed of curiosity within me to learn more of the legend.

I can’t recall whether or not I read much of King Arthur when I was in grade or high school; it was a body of literature I don’t believe I was exposed to or encouraged to read. Though I’ve always enjoyed fantasy and science fiction, the mythical story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table never crossed my literary radar.

Curiously, the references to the legend in society is extensive in certain respects. For example, during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, his aristocratic wife, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, spoke about Camelot, the mythical kingdom/castle of King Arthur, comparing it to her husband’s administration.

I remember this “Camelot” reference and, again, it was a term that stuck in my mind but was something I did not fully understand until later in my life when I started doing research on the topic. This helped fuel my interest in the story of King Arthur.

It wasn’t long ago I stumbled on the magnificent poem, Morte d’Arthur, by Alfred Tennyson. It describes the last moments of King Arthur’s life with his last and most trusted knight, Sir Bedivere, whom Arthur instructed to take his sword, Excalibur, and throw it into a lake.

This poem is, in my opinion, a masterpiece of brilliant and creative writing, capable of stirring the emotions on an unusual level not often experienced in most writing. It moved me when I first read it and still moves me when I read, or listen to it, today.

How I stumbled on the poem is interesting: while listening on Youtube to a famous speech by Winston Churchill, “We shall fight on the beaches,” he quoted this line from the poem:

“Every morn brought forth a noble chance
And every chance brought forth a noble knight…”

This line leapt out at me and I googled it, discovering its origins; the poem has since become one of my favorites.

I admire great writing and talented authors: Tennyson is one of those rare artistic geniuses whose canvas is paper and brush his pen.

Recently, I stumbled on a superb reading of this poem and have listened to it several times. The video is amateurish and distracting in places, but the narration is where the magic happens:

A reading of “Le Morte d’Arthur” by Tennyson

There are several reasons why I like this poem: one is the idealized world which the legend reflects. There is chivalry, bravery, honor, dedication to morality and noble causes, redemption from betrayal, etc.

In the romantic and idealized kingdom of Arthur and his knights, we have a wise king who rules over both his kingdom and subjects in a wise, just, and loving manner.

“Every morn brought forth a noble chance

And every chance brought forth a noble knight.”

Adding drama to this idealized story, we then have treachery, greed and betrayal, and groan to learn that even in a kingdom ruled so wisely and justly by a good king like Arthur, such wonders fail to last. Among the final words of the dying Arthur, this sentiment is expressed:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils Himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

Tennyson creates a showpiece of emotions using only the power of words. One particularly riveting scene is the internal conflict which raged within Sir Bedivere when he finds himself torn between obedience to Arthur’s last request for him to fling Excalibur in the lake and his sudden greed when he views the jeweled hilt of the sword twinkling in the moonlight. How Bedivere justifies these two acts of disobedience to his king’s dying commands, and how he finally overcomes his failures to obey, is exquisite.

I believe most people yearn for the values found on the “old paths” which the best of American society was founded upon. Sadly, these values are evaporating like the morning mist: the nuclear family, honesty, hard work, commitment, justice, simplicity, integrity, honor, wisdom, and plain old common sense.

Those golden days are headed for extinction and I see little hope of Americans recovering what we have lost as a nation and society. Now, we are too divided, almost as divided, it seems, as the North and South were by slavery during our Civil War times.

This is one reason I’ve always been attracted to fantasy and science fiction literature: the real world we live in can be so depressing that temporary relief can be found in what J.R.R. Tolkien labeled the “secondary world,” a fictional, idealized location where the “old paths” are prominently followed and woven into society.

Tennyson’s poem does justice to this idea of a “secondary world” by providing readers with a cast of characters and chains of events that epitomize the values most people yearn for in society. I can relate to that.

Money/Investment Tips (Part One): On Eating Out

I did not come from a wise or rich family. Not having a mentor in the form of a financially savvy parent, older sibling, or other close confidant hurt me in a myriad of ways.

Now at age 62 and looking back on my life, I’m surprised I’ve made it as far as I have. Though not wealthy by any stretch of the definition, I’ve had a few financial successes in life and have not had money problems for years.

I sometimes wonder where I would be if I had a wise dad who lovingly dispensed his knowledge into my life. Much further ahead in life, I’m certain, in more ways than I can imagine.

My path to moderate success and achievement is an interesting one, so much that I think it might be helpful to others—especially younger people starting out in life—to learn from my mistakes, successes, and philosophy.

In that spirit, I will start this new series of posts, “Money/Investment Tips” with this Part One and see where the idea goes. Hopefully, it will help someone to better secure their own financial future and that of their families.

These posts will be random thoughts and will not be in any particular order of importance. For example, this Part One will not represent the most important financial tip of my life, but something I have long observed that sets apart someone with money and those who financially struggle.

Early in my business career as a contractor (I started a painting business circa 1982), I was broke—really broke. I was going to the UA and was 100% self-supportive: no one was paying my bills (though I did take out a Pell grant for my first semester or two and eventually paid it all back) and, like most self-funded students, I struggled to make ends meet.

At one time I was so broke I was reduced to selling my plasma—a horrible experience.

How I got into the painting business is an interesting story, but one I will save for later. I want to discuss what I clearly saw was a waste of money: going out to eat when it came time for lunch.

Painting houses for a living is hard work. I’ve always been an early riser and made it a point to arrive at job sites as early as possible: 6:00 a.m. if the customer didn’t mind and if it was in the summer. My hours would change as the seasons did, but I always wanted to start early.

Since I often worked ten or more hours, I naturally needed to take a lunch break. Most of my jobs were in the foothills of Tucson and not near a fast food joint. Since I took 30 minutes for lunch, hopping in my truck and driving ten or more minutes to some restaurant, ordering food, eating the food, and driving back another ten minutes meant stress due to not enough time for a relaxing, pleasant meal.

The second thing I noticed was the cost. Because of my naturally frugal mindset, I compared what it cost to pack my own lunch versus going out to eat. A home packed lunch cost pennies while going out to eat cost dollars. Calculating this “going out to eat vs. packing my own lunch” over years and decades provided me a no-brainer incentive to pack my own lunch every day, a practice I never abandoned.

And one thing I noticed with other contractors and hourly employees: those who went out to eat every day were the ones who never seemed to have any money. I made the same observation with friends and family members: those who made a regular habit of regularly going out to eat were usually the most broke of all the people I knew.

I’m not alleging this is a rule that is set in stone; there are many people who go out to eat every day and have money to spare. They are high income earners and going out to eat is simply a business expense like anything else, or an affordable luxury, or an integral part of their jobs, like sales people who have to schmooze others.

Constantly eating out is one of the big “money leaks” many people fail to recognize.

No, I’m making this observation based on my own first hand experiences with blue collar workers like myself, people who earn their livings with their hands.

I have a younger half-sister who has struggled financially most of her life. She is one of those people who go out to eat at least once a day and more. For most of her life she had regular jobs, nothing that brought in huge money, and I noticed her constant going out to eat was one of the reasons why she never had money.

I know another contractor who eats out most every day not only for lunch, but for breakfast and dinner. It’s unreal. If it was not for the hefty stock portfolio his deceased parents left him which he regularly draws upon, he might be living under a bridge by now.

There is a bible verse from the Song of Solomon 2:15 reads, in part, “…it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines.” It can be taken several different ways and one of the ways I’ve interpreted it is in money matters: it’s the small things in our daily lives—like constantly going out to eat type things—that rob us of financial security.

In line with going out to eat is paying a daily visit to a Starbucks. What a waste of money this is for vastly overpriced products.

It’s the little foxes that spoil the vines.

I’m not saying we should not enjoy life—not at all. Going out to eat, enjoying a Starbucks, buying ice cream at Dairy Queen—there is nothing wrong with indulging in these luxuries if it is done in moderation. But when a young person is just starting out and they are living on their own with no one but themselves to rely on and have no access to inherited wealth or other such privileges, if they wish to get ahead they need to live and spend wisely.

When eating out becomes a regular habit, something you routinely do as part of your daily life, trust me: unless you possess a lot of money, you will never get ahead financially.

Beware of being scammed

I’ve long been interested in business, though in my retirement years, this interest is not as strong as when I was younger. One of the magazines I often read was “Entreprenuer Magazine” which, interestingly, still appears to exist as of today’s date (Nov. 24, 2022).

Because of this interest, the rise and fall of FTX—the cryptocurrency scam—has fascinated me. I recently watched this informative video and recommend it to anyone interested in educating themselves in this subject:

I’ve learned valuable lessons over the years when it comes to investing and one of them is: be careful what you invest in and make sure you are familiar with whatever company, business, or other field you wish to place your assets into.

For example, I would not invest one dollar into cryptocurrencies. Why? Several reasons: one, I have zero expertise, knowledge or experience in this new industry and two, the concept—though a promising one—sounds like a scam.

Why I believe cryptocurrencies are a scam is because of my understanding of currencies in general. Only governments of nations can issue “legal tender” currencies, and those official currencies are supposed to be backed up by the assets of whatever currency that government is producing.

What government is backing up, approving, guaranteeing, or issuing, say, Bitcoin? And simply because Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are being successfully exchanged does not insure they are legitimate.

Could I be wrong about crypto currencies? Certainly, and I’m probably am, but at this point in the game, I’m glad I did not jump on the crypto bandwagon.

“Who is rich? He who is content with his portion.”

And there is no doubt savvy investors in Bitcoin and other digital currencies are profiting handsomely, many becoming fabulously wealthy in the process. They get in on the ground floor, make their profits, and then get out before the inevitable crash. That takes skill, knowledge, and timing that I’ve never been able to utilize in this kind of investment arena which is why I lost so much money trading stocks.

Something else I’ve also learned about investing: we are attracted, like bugs to lightbulbs, by things new, technology orientated, and unfamiliar to us: crypto is a perfect example. The concept is so novel and exciting that people—many who are unsophisticated investors—are attracted to its obvious potential. And since most of us are prone to greed and “get rich quick” schemes, we become suckers for con-artists and charlatans—like Sam Bankman-Fried and his merry group of twenty-something con artists.

Crooks seem to grow out of thin air—they are everywhere. I no longer answer my phone and have not done so for years because of the incessant robocalls. It is is set to silent and calls coming in go immediately to my voice mail where I can screen them. I’ve become so cautious I no longer click on links from an email even if it appears to be from a legitimate company for fear I am being scammed into clicking on a phony link.

It’s tragic what has become of our society where criminals have such free reign to rob and deceive us out of our hard earned money. One of the best decisions I made was when I went through real estate school and learned the concept of “due diligence.” It is a concept that requires an individual interested in purchasing something to do the necessary required research and investigation before plopping down their hard earned money. “Buyer beware” is a closely related term.

Lastly, I believe a sound bit of investment advice is one that is as old as the hills: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In the video above, at timestamp 10:20, it alleges that Tom Brady, the famous quarterback, invested his $650 million dollar fortune into FTX. To say this another way, if this is true, Brady just lost his entire fortune; a lifetime of hard work went down the drain in one day. One day. Along with a sizable chunk of his now ex-wife’s fortune.

Why would Brady do such a foolish thing? Again, I don’t know if this claim he placed his entire fortune into FTX is true, but let’s assume it is accurate. What possessed him to do this? And why his entire fortune? Wouldn’t prudence suggest investing your entire life’s fortune into one “company” be foolhardy and an unnecessary risk? Why not, instead of placing one’s entire fortune in any one single company, only putting, say, $300 million? Then, if it goes south, you still have $450 million left over, right?

This story about Brady is unbelievable and, quite frankly, stupid if it is indeed true. Why would someone risk 100% of their wealth on one investment, whether it be a certain stock, business venture, real estate deal, or an unproven crypto venture run by an unkempt twenty-something in a t-shirt and shorts? This insanity truly boggles the mind.

Finally, a quote from the “Ethics of the Fathers” which resonates with my soul and is full of wisdom:

“Who is rich? He who is content with his portion.” Some translations put it this way: “Who is rich? He who is satisfied (or happy) with his lot.”

Part of happiness is being grateful for what we have and being aware that discontent with our portion in life appears to be hardwired into our DNA; it is the wise individual who understands the grasping and the “always wanting more” dark sides of human nature—and who can tame this beast—who experience a great degree of happiness and contentment.

Life lessons from the humble plumb bob

I love tools of all kinds, but among my favorites are the simple, old-school types, like the plumb bob: it’s uncomplicated, of ancient origin, requires no batteries or need to send it to a repair shop, has no electronics prone to failure, and it sits on one of my crowded shelves, collecting dust like so many of my other tools, but ready in an instant when I need its valuable services.

The humble plumb bob bought about three decades or so ago now strung properly.

My current “RV improvement project” is the installation of a new mini split system. This project is challenging due to the complexity of the units themselves (indoor head unit and outdoor condenser), and the many tools and specialized knowledge required for installation.

I don’t consider myself a skilled craftsman but fit into the category of the “jack of all some trades, master of none” description. Though I have spent almost 40 years of my life as a contractor, built my own house and have done countless home improvement projects, I’m not what one might consider naturally gifted in the area of working with my hands: mine is an acquired “talent” and not an inherited one.

I’m a slow learner and it takes me a long time to figure things out. One of my favorite quotes that accurately sums up one of my other possible talents—perseverance—comes from the prodigious William Carey:

“If one should think it worth his while to write my life, I will give you a criterion by which you may judge of its correctness. If he gives me credit for being a plodder, he will describe me justly. Anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”

This stubborn “stick with-it-ness” is a virtue I’m grateful to have been blessed with (inherited and not acquired) and has been instrumental in allowing me to taste the small amount of success I have been fortunate to achieve in my mostly unremarkable life.

Plumb bob next to its original packaging (which I still have).

Which brings me to the subject of this post: the humble plumb bob, a tool I purchased new, I believe, perhaps as long as 30 or 35 years ago, maybe longer.

This is not an instructional “how to” article on the proper use of this tool but rather on some interesting insights into my own way of thinking and personal growth because of the decades I’ve routinely misused it.

In short, it was not until today, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, that I finally figured out the proper way to thread the all important string line through the head of the bob. Almost 35 years after purchasing and using it. I learned something new at the ripe old age of 62.

For all this time, I had been wrongly using the tool in an awkward, imprecise manner by not properly threading the string correctly through the top of the bob but through its sides. I’ve always suspected I was doing something wrong but never had the time to correctly figure out the right way to thread the string while I was in the process of using it on a project.

The wrong way I had been stringing this plumb bob for about 30-35 years or so.

This tool is not one I frequently use, maybe once in every ten years or so. If it was something I regularly used, like a tape measure, screwdriver, trowel, or backpack sprayer, I’m sure I would have taken the time to properly figure out how to string it.

But my mini split project is allowing me the opportunity of finally being able to take the needed time to figure this vexing problem out. Since I’m not working on someone else’s house, with all the pressures associated with completing the job in a timely and profitable fashion, and since I’m doing this project in my semi-retirement years, much of the old pressures I constantly faced are gone, leaving me more time to think and figure things out.

And one other important difference is this: the internet, without a doubt one of the greatest inventions in the history of civilization. When I purchased this plumb bob there was no internet. In fact, there were no cell phones that had internet connectivity; I could not pick up my iPhone while sleeping in late on my bed on a lazy Sunday morning (like I was) and google, “how to properly thread string on a plumb bob” (like I did) and get instant answers from various sources.

Before the age of immediate access to information by performing a google search, I would have had to call the company that made this particular tool. This would entail searching for the phone number and hoping they provided a “1-800” number to call so I would not be charged for the long distance charges (outrageous in those days). Or maybe call the store where I bought it from and ask them.

I could have asked a carpenter who regularly used such a tool, but carpentry wasn’t my specialty so I didn’t have a ready pool of friendly carpenters I could ask. And if I was on friendly terms with such a tradesman, would my pride have allowed me to humble myself and admit I didn’t know something so elementary as properly stringing a plumb bob? Probably not.

Could I call my dad? No; as I have noted before in my blog, my real father and I were never close, and asking him for anything was never on my radar (he also died when I was in my twenties). I cannot remember a moment in the years I lived with him where he showed me how to use something as elementary as a hammer. Thus, all my knowledge of tools and construction work were predominantly learned through reading books. And now with Youtube, I watch many different “how to” videos and gain much knowledge from them.

Though the videos I watched did not specifically address my particular plumb bob, they did provide me enough information and insight to view the situation in a new light; then, the lightbulb in my head went off—in a flash of understanding, I discovered the solution.

I got out of bed, grabbed the plumb bob, untied the string pushed through the sides of its head (but not properly through the hole in the top like it should have), and rethreaded it through the top hole (see the picture below) in the head using a piece of baling wire to force the string through the top hole. I then pulled the string through one of the side holes, tied a knot in it, pulled the string taught from the top, and viola! the 35 year old mystery was solved.

I admit I was thrilled by this. Now the plumb bob was functioning as it had been designed to and was no longer off balance like it had been for over three decades whenever I pulled it out to use it. Did it work before? Yes, but it was awkward and required I constantly made sure the knot in the string was in a place that was positioned exactly in the proper place to make it properly function. Now, this problem was a thing of the past.

Why am I taking the time to write this? Most people could care less about a plumb bob and will never use one; the subject does not interest them. But as so often happens in life, it’s the hidden meaning of things, the message below the surface of the visible reality, that teaches us life’s—and perhaps even the universe’s—profound lessons.

What I learned was a confirmation of something I have long known about myself: that I am not a fast learner and oftentimes, it takes years, even decades, before I figure some things out—like how to properly thread a plumb bob.

The hole in the top of the plumb bob where string is threaded through; I never used it until today.

The lessons from the plumb bob are not isolated to knowing and understanding myself but bleed also, I believe, to the experiences of others who struggle like me in certain areas: being hard-headed, dogmatic, and opinionated, believing they have all the right answers and have life all figured out and packaged into tidy little compartments. Their “black and white” viewpoint on certain things are much like mine were for most of my life (but in different ways), causing us to miss out on much which life has to offer.

The message of the plumb bob is like an onion, revealing layer upon layer that offers multiple views of wisdom. This morning, as I was marveling over finally figuring out how to correctly string my plumb bob, other life’s lessons were revealed as well—like how long it might take others close to me to finally wake up and learn how to properly string their own “plumb bobs of life.”

Like mine, so much of their lives are similar to this improperly stringed plumb bob: they still work but spin off balance, are awkward, and fail to operate the way they are intended. They may never come to the point in their lives until decades have passed before they realize, “Something is off balance in my life and I have to figure out where the problem lies.”

I tend to be a pessimist, looking at the glass as half empty instead of half full. Life has been brutal in countless ways, full of losses, broken relationships, and unforeseen setbacks. Yet, through these dark chapters of my troubled existence, there have always been bright spots and oases of sunshine and rest.

“Like mine, so much of their lives are similar to this improperly stringed plumb bob: they still work but spin off balance, are awkward, and fail to operate the way they are intended.”

I have learned my life has been an improperly stringed plumb bob: yes, it has worked and continues to do so, but it has been marked for too long with unbalance and wobble. Yet like this morning, there are moments when I’ve suddenly been blessed to wake up and have the opportunity to understand how to properly string a plumb bob.

Interestingly, the metaphor of the plumb bob is one of the many reasons I have backed off from my prior evangelical and fundamentalist life of faith. In this rigid and dogmatic view of the spiritual, there is no room for learning how to restring the plumb bob. For example, if a person does not accept “Jesus as their Lord and Savior and repent of their sins…,” walking in lock step to what certain church fathers and ancient creeds have deemed to be orthodox, they are dogmatically doomed to an eternity of everlasting torture in the fiery pits of hellfire with never a hope of getting out. In this perverse view of God’s love and justice, there is no room for learning the proper way to string a plumb bob, regardless of how many eternities one might have to rethink the error of their ways.

Contrary to the popular saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” we can learn new ways of looking at life and the many paradoxes it presents. I have learned even lifelong held religious beliefs, passed down from generation to generation, can be questioned and reasoned through to the point where someone might reject what they now believe to be untrue and harmful. Can anything be set in stone in such a vast universe? That question may remain undecided for the moment.

For builders and tradespeople who earn their living using tools—like plumb bobs—, it’s possible to use them in an inefficient manner that fails to utilize their full potential. I have many tools I’ve never used to their full capacity as far as what they can do because I’ve not taken the needed time to read up on all of the tasks they are able to perform.

Again, tools can mirror our own lives because most people fail to take the needed time to learn how to be better than what we are. One area of study I have long been interested in is philosophy. One of my first serious attempts to learn what philosophy was all about was a philosophy course I took at the University of AZ when I was a freshman when I was 18 or 19 years old.

Unfortunately, the things which my professor was teaching came into conflict with my nascent religious faith. At that point in my life I could not reconcile what I thought were two radically different world views; I soon dropped the course and continued my deep dive into Christianity. Interestingly, I have now returned to studying the very subject I once thought was harmful to my development as a man, regretting that I did not pursue my love of philosophy when I had the chance for it to help mold and shape my understanding of life and my place in it.

My total commitment to Christianity to the exclusion of all other modes of thinking and belief has led me to realize I had wrongly strung the “plumb bob” that represented that specific part of my life. Because of this, my life, in many ways, was unbalanced and wobbly, but I never realized just how out of sync with life it had become in certain respects.

How this all came about is an interesting story but not the time to discuss it at length in this post. My desire is to point out that if we spend almost an entire lifetime employing the “tools of life” in an incorrect fashion, the human condition is such that we can “restring the plumb bob” in the right fashion and move forward to better, more enlightened days.

Mary Spears – In Memorian

(Updated Oct. 27, 2022)

My older sister Mary died 49 years ago today; she was only 14 years old, a few weeks shy of her 15 birthday.

I loved Mary. She and I were very close and I have mourned her untimely passing for almost 50 years. What killed her was Lupus, a devastating disease back in those days, and which, because of her unique and severe case, has enabled other victims of Lupus to live healthier and fuller lives.

Mary Spears: October 5, 1958 – September 16, 1973.

Mary was one of the sweetest, kindest, and gentlest of people I have known. I never remember her in our short span of time together becoming angry. Her gentle, unassuming nature was wonderful.

It is not necessarily true that “time heals all wounds.” That wound in my soul from my best friend prematurely dying from a painfully horrific disease remains open; only when I see and hug her again will it forever close.

She is buried here in Tucson, AZ at “East Lawn Palms Mortuary and Cemetery.” I often visit her gravesite to honor her memory. Mary is the first person I hope to meet when I pass from this world and into the dimension she now lives in, a place, no doubt, filled with light, healing, and divine love.

Mary’s gravesite with our mom’s underneath.

For those familiar with the excellent “what3words” app, here is what I hope is the three word address of where her gravestone is located in this cemetery:

https://w3w.co/winners.purest.bake

Here is an earlier post about my beautiful and precious sister.

Rest in peace, Mary.