Cold and Sub-Average

Bending down on my hands and knees to painstakingly apply tape to woodwork in an attempt to protect the wood from the unwanted application of paint is not something I find appealing. In fact, I’m increasingly finding it not only unappealing, but intolerable. I need to find someone who’s young, careful, disciplined, and who understands that the job of masking off trim is not a career worthy of hourly compensation in the triple digits. But I doubt I’ll find such a person without looking. And I don’t have time to look. So, instead, I’ll begrudgingly and very slowly do the work myself. And, I’m afraid, do it not as well as someone younger and more agile than I. Some days, I think I’m deeply and irrevocably stupid. Some days, I curse myself for taking frugality to extremes. I used to be smarter than I am now. I think. But maybe not. Maybe I’ve always been approximately stupid; just dressed up to mimic someone just barely above low-level sub-average.

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Today, the weather here in Hot Springs Village is brutally cold and getting colder. I hope my grocery order will be ready, as expected, at 7 this morning so I can get out and back home early enough to avoid being cold later in the day. No, that doesn’t make much sense, but then neither does anything on my mind at this moment. I didn’t sleep as well as I would have liked. That’s why I am the way I am this morning.

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I have grown tired of saying “yes” to doing things I do not want to do. My willingness to refuse requests to which I used to agree evolved from my observation that striving to please others by agreeing to their requests does not pay the dividends I assumed it paid. I learned the same lesson in a work setting in 1997 when, after almost eight years as CEO of an association that employed me, my employment contract was not renewed. Voluntarily giving up my personal time to work evenings and weekends so frequently for almost eight years counted for nothing. My dedication to minimizing expenses for my employer at the expense of giving up my comfort or time meant nothing. It was just a job. And when the board of directors decided to flex its muscle and hire someone its members found more appealing, I was summarily replaced. Neither of these lessons should be misconstrued to mean I have decided to be utterly and completely selfish. But I now weigh the impact of saying “yes” on my time and energy; I am willing to give up a bit of both, provided it is for a good cause (like helping a friend or making life easier for someone who deserves a break). But I am not willing to agree simply because I’m asked. I’m no longer willing to allow people to take me for granted. I write this not in response to any specific request that I have refused, but in response to something I read this morning. That piece just reiterated for me that looking out for oneself is not automatically selfish; it can be critically important to one’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

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This morning, after I got up a few minutes before 5, I glanced at a post in a Facebook group called British Food Lovers. There, an image of a full English breakfast reminded me of the days when I traveled to English on business a few times each year. The photo— bangers, sunny-side-up eggs, English bacon, a fried mushroom, toast, a small bowl of baked beans, and a couple of miniature slabs of hash-browns—was not quite the typical breakfast I remember, but it was close enough to bring back memories. It was during those regular trips to England that I learned that the unsavory reputation enjoyed by British food was undeserved. Like so many cuisines, a full appreciation of British food may require a bit of getting used to, but allowing the flavors to “grow on you” is well worth the adventurous investment. Steak & kidney pie, shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, and a raft of other uniquely British dishes are nothing short of wonderful. Even roast beef smothered in gravy, dramatically different from the roast beef generally served in the U.S., is an outstanding culinary experience. The woman with whom I share my home has the same stereotypical image of British food that so many other Americans do. If not for COVID and the degradation of civil society, I would take her there to show her that it’s not what she has been led to believe it is.

I suppose the “old style” British cooking has changed, though, as have so many other things British. When I see recent television series or films set in London, I can scarcely recognize the place; chrome and glass high-rise buildings now dot the landscape, something I never saw when I visited so often in the early 1980s. Even as late as 1998, the cityscape was very different from the way it appears today on television screens. Today, the 1980s and 1990s seem ancient history. I suppose they are. The world has ripened in the intervening years. I might even say it has rotted.

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The attention I initially paid to the British Food Lovers group caused Facebook to show me similar food groups dedicated to: Mediterranean food; Italian cooking; Lebanese cooking; etc.; etc. Unlike so many other unsolicited recommendations, I’ve found the food groups appealing. Now, if only I could discipline myself to actually cook some of the things I see presented by aficionados of various international cuisines…

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Okay. Enough for now.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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