Old Clothes and Their Essence

I recently completed Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Professor Robert Wright on Coursera.org. In the supplemental material, one of the video lecturers was one between Wright and Paul Bloom on Bloom’s book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like.

In it, Bloom talked about the essence of things. From a review of the book: “What matters most is not the world as it appears to our senses. Rather, the enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think the thing is.” Bloom argues that at the root of pleasure is our reading (or misreading) of the essence of something rather than the facts presented to our senses. 

Like Wright, Bloom traces the origin of essence to natural selection. “We have evolved essentialism to help us make sense of the world, but now that we have it. It pushes our desires in directions that have nothing to do with survival and reproduction.”

Bloom argues that we endow everything including people and items with an essence that gives them a value. This is why a tape measured owned by JFK has more value than the humbleness of the object would suggest. It’s value is inherent in who owned it. It’s essence.

Essence works both ways. Bloom argues that clothing and other items owned by regular people have less value. They are herein tainted by being used.

I think Bloom’s argument is a intriguing one, and I find a lot to relate to. I’ve noticed that used items have far less market value when buying clothing at thrift stores and on eBay. Clothing of all types goes for a fraction of its retail value. Even unique pieces can usually be found with enough patience, and their value as determined by the market is far under retail. If you’re concerned about essence, then, by all means, buy things that have never been used. If you’re not, just wash them, and they’ll be yours.



Coaching from a Spouse

Despite sharing the same rank for a season, my husband is a better tennis player than I am. He played sports in high school. I did not. We both work hard on our games, but I think he has the edge. He’s a wonderful student of the game. He watches videos. He reads books.

So when I decided to put much more effort into my game, I had to decide to give up on that ego and take his instruction. He’s not one to compliment anyone, and I’m historically someone who needs a little encouragement. I had to put that aside, and I did. I’ve been working on growing as a person, and taking advice and criticism is a big part of that growth. It’s not personal. Keep repeating that. It’s true.

Part of my commitment to getting a better game is just playing more matches. There is always a flutter of nervousness for me in a match. Always. I thought playing more could take that edge off, and it has. I committed to three teams and a night class this winter, and in retrospect, that was probably a lot. I struggled mightily on one team in particular, and Jeff asked to come watch.

My partner and I won, but it was kind of ugly. Afterwards, Jeff had an hour discourse on what I did wrong. One of the last things he said was, “your knees weren’t bent. You weren’t ready to move. In fact, no one on that court was ready to move. If you just do that, you’ll be better than 90% of the people out there.”

A lot of what he said clicked, but the knee bend stuck like a barnacle. Playing with your quads engaged will leave you with burning outer thighs, so I upped my yoga practice to compensate. The knee bend and ready position has the side benefit of giving me something to focus on.  The improved concentration has also helped my game.

Sometimes we overlook the expertise of those close to us. We shouldn’t. It’s wonderful to have a personal coach and hitting partner with the kind of availability only a pro could dream about. As my game gets better, I’ve given back in the form of suggested drills and my own observations. We were 2-2 for the fall season, which isn’t too shabby. I see more great play in our future.

The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants

I left work early today to pick up a job and a few things for an upcoming event. As I was coming out of the first stop with purchase in hand, a guy pulled in and said, “Hey, you passed me on the highway.”

Despite having a 225 hp turbo under the hood, I drive like a much older person driving a much lesser car. Really. So, I knew I wasn’t a jerk to him.

He continued, “What year is that car?” When I told him, he just stared at it. “I was going to buy one of those, but I got into an argument with the dealer over cruise control. I bought a Civic instead.” He was driving a Honda but not a Civic.

“It’s my favorite car I’ve ever owned,” I noted.

“Yeah, I bet if I bought that, I would still own it too. Have a good day.”

Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants. Don’t let a petty argument get in the way of a great ride.

Baby Cow Yoga

I’ve been blessed with amazing health in my life, and until I was about 25, I didn’t even work out. When I met my husband, who is 10 years older, he worked out every night after work. I had few hobbies at 25, so I started working out too. I started by running and moved to tennis a few years later when friends of ours wanted to play.

I started tennis with a trampoline racquet that was a hand me down from my husband. I didn’t have the right shoes. A lifetime of avoiding athletics made me a poor athlete with an angry mindset. I didn’t know how to relax. I threw racquets. I had no money for lessons, but I kept playing. I supplemented my tennis with yoga and weights using DVDs I picked up online.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m a regular in a social match at our favorite club. I play USTA matches and advanced to a national championship with my husband a few years ago. I now take lessons. I no longer throw racquets. I smile on court. I’ve turned myself into a competent tennis player.

However, all last spring, I was coming off court with tight achilles tendons. I knew I needed to add yoga back into my regular workout, and I started working out with Rodney Yee DVDs that I stored on my hard drive. I do one particular practice religiously. Nearly every night and some mornings.

What is great about yoga is the gentle progress you make. Do the same workout every day like I do, and you’ll notice changes quickly.

My one downside is that my favorite dog can’t join me. While she follows me like a shadow, she chews the mat, bites my ears, and pulls my hair anytime my head nears the floor during a practice. I started distracting her with toys and only locking her out of the room as a last resort. Gradually, she played along until just this week I could complete a practice until she collapsed near my head to chew my ear during final relaxation.

Rather than get annoyed, I pulled her onto my chest and just listened to her breathing as I enjoyed corpse pose. It was a modification but a welcome one. It reminded me of my early playing days and the unrealistic expectations I set for myself after picking up a racquet for the first time. I expected her to relax as I set about contorting my body for 30 minutes. It was a high bar.

All good things come with effort and patience. She’ll join me more often and for longer periods until my machinations no longer trouble her. Patience. Kindness. They’re the keys to everything.

Baby Cow
Baby Cow in Child’s Pose


2017 has felt like a year of loss, and some of it has been literal. My grandmother, Doloras Shay, left this world yesterday after 92 years. My brother and I passed her hometown of Hays, Kansas on a cross country trip in the ’90s. It was just west of Russell, Kansas, which sported an enormous billboard announcing it as the home of Bob Dole. Hays had no such distinction.

She had a subtle midwestern cadence when I met her, but by then, she was living in Boise, Idaho. She met my newly divorced grandfather Eric Rostock at The Ranch House in Garden City in the 1970s. He pointed it out every time we went by. It had few windows and an enormous white, stallion sculpture rearing up on the roof.  Doloras had red hair when they met, and he would call her “Red” for the rest of their life together.

When we moved to Boise as kids, we lived in their spotless split level for a few months. She was a magnificent cook and fastidious housekeeper all while working full time in the administration offices of a local Sears department store and walking both ways to and from work. She never learned to drive.

She was the compass for my grandfather keeping all in order from some bookkeeping for his business to her many home improvement projects to the giant below ground pool in the back yard. As children, we’d help her open the pool by diligently hand scrubbing the winter’s dirt from the plastered sides, but in truth, she did the lion’s share of the work in the entire yard. The landscaping was immaculate, and when you commented on it,  her only complaint was that she kept getting ringworm from the cats who pooped in her luscious flower beds.

Doloras had four children of her own from her first marriage. Her son Mike and his wife Diane would become especially great friends to my parents. She never married my grandfather, which was curious to me as a child but less so now. She was a great companion to him, and I fear he’ll be lost without her guidance. Rest in peace.

Me with Doloras in 1982. I’m wearing a dress she made.

How’s the Spanish Going?

Back in July, I wrote a post about learning Spanish. You may be wondering, is that still a thing? Sure is. Since that time, I’m nearly through Duolingo and half way through the beginning course on Babbel.

What did I learn? I learned that I have to be patient with myself. Very patient. 95% of my life is in English. Writing in English is a large part of my income. Given my beginner level, I have yet to secure a teacher to practice production, listening, and speaking. I’ll do so when I have finished with the Babbel course. I fit my lessons in throughout the week, but they still make up a small portion of what I’m reading and learning. Therefore, I forget. Frequently. All the time. I still may not know the word for rain, and I learned it weeks ago.

As the lessons build, I find myself doing each one twice. Some concepts still evade me like numbers and any words involving snow or cold weather. Indirect objects may require me to do a lesson three times to get my head around it.

Am I discouraged? No. I know I’m making progress because everything I learn was literally something I did not know the day before. Language learning is a heavy lift. I knew that before I started. Finally, it’s not a competition. There is no prize for finishing first or being perfect. The prize is in taking my time seriously and making progress, albeit slow, on a long term goal.

Project Runway: Mind Your Own Business Edition

Project Runway is one of the few shows I wait to watch. I know when the next season is being released, and I’ve seen all 16. It inspired me to take a sewing and pattern making class and buy a sewing machine. However, more than fashion, I think it is a show about leadership and conduct. It’s about doing the right thing and acting with courage and sometimes, minding your own store.

On the October 5, 2017 show, a talented contestant named Margarita becomes fixated with the thought that another contestant, Claire, is cheating by copying designs and measuring her own clothes in order to make patterns. Consulting a pattern book is verboten, but copying is in the eye of the beholder. Regardless, the situation so unnerves Margarita that she ruins some fabric and ends up making a sub-par design. She also shares her suspicions with another contestant, Michael, who is also furious.

In this particular show, Margarita has immunity, so she is not eliminated. However, the object of her fixation wins the prize. In this case, the win comes with $25k. Whether the money prize created an additional level of tension for the cash-starved design crew is probably unknowable, but at one point another contestant reveals that 25k would be almost more than his annual salary.

The entire show was filled with the tension of envy and anger. Of someone building expectations for Claire that she is unaware of and can’t meet.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing entrepreneur Jen Groover speak. One of the take-home messages was the importance of letting go of expectations for others. Most often, you can’t or don’t communicate those expectations and other people can’t meet them regardless. They’re your expectations, not someone else’s. Expectations are what you’ve built up for others that become a source of frustration for you. Let go of them and focus on yourself and what is within your control.

That lesson was evident on this episode. Those who copy and cheat are most likely living on borrowed time. (In this case, when the cheating is revealed, Claire is eliminated and the prize is revoked.) Margarita would be better served to focus on her own work and what she can control than worry about another person.

Let your work speak for itself.

Tim Gunn pets Mood’s resident dog, Swatch.

Weight Loss Technology

I have two dogs, Pom and Baby Cow. Pom’s entire life is moved by food. He’ll do anything for it. It makes him exceedingly easy to train. Baby Cow likes attention. She likes food alright, but it doesn’t move her world. I am much more Baby Cow than Pom.

However, one curious thing about my relationship with food that is probably not unique: for every decade I’m on this earth, I can eat less food.  If I ate the same way I did when I was 20, then I’d be overweight now. My metabolism seems to change every few years now, and I’ve used the Lose It App to banish stray pounds over the years. Try it. It’s easy.

Lose It has a vast encyclopedia of foods. Punch in your current height, age, and weight and what you would like to weigh. Finally, give it a goal. I want to weigh X in 3 months. It gives you a calorie budget, and you punch in everything you eat every day. It gives you encouragement along the way. It’s discrete, positive, and super easy to use. Plus, it’s free. If you need more details, access to data, and meal plans, you can buy a premium plan.

Eat frozen dinners for a work-day lunch like I do? Scan the barcode. Lose it has you covered. You need to do a bit of calculating with fresh foods, but it is very easy to do. Build in a little margin every day, and you’ll reach your goals in no time.

A Different Egg

My mom lost her favorite cousin Gary last month. He was 69 and died of a stroke suffered after the removal of a brain tumor.

Gary was the son of Paul “Rusty” Rostock, my mom’s uncle and oldest child of Elizabeth and Paul Rostock.  Rusty was an entrepreneur and a very formal gentleman who was married his entire life to his college sweetheart. Gary was gregarious, informal, and very laid back.  I have to think Rusty saw his oldest son as hatched from an entirely different egg.

Married three times, Gary could exhaust someone who operated on a strict schedule. His third wife would channel his talents when she put him to work as a sales person in her appliance store.  He had recently retired from the business when he passed away.

When I lived in Boise, ID briefly after graduate school, my mom and I spent a day with Gary that would become my favorite memory. He was selling insurance at the time and had to visit a vacation home in McCall to assess its insurance risk. We drove the hour north to a lovely A-frame home with a spacious deck, which stopped about twenty feet from the edge of a meandering creek. After walking around the house, Gary announced he was tired and was going to take a nap in the loft before we departed. To be clear, this wasn’t a friend’s house. It was a potential client’s house. However, the mood struck him, and he wanted to nap to the sound of the water. And so he did. It was the kind of informal, off the cuff decision that I think of when I think of him.

As a person, I’m more like Rusty, who was one of my very favorite relatives and a great mentor and friend. I’m more structured and tend not to make snap decisions. Despite my best efforts, I am not laid back. I have an admiration for those who take life at a more relaxed pace though. There are different paths, and different speeds, for all.

Rest in peace, Gary.

Gary Rostock
Gary with his then-wife Linda in our living room on Sunset Avenue, Boise, Idaho. The back of the print photo says, “We had a birthday party for Gary, and the children gave him a hat.” January, 1982