Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hobbies and the “Collecting Gene”©

Let’s explore briefly the idea of hobbies. Since I was a young boy I have had hobbies. When I was real young we lived across the street from the old high school in Twin Falls, Idaho.  It was practically in the middle of town. They were building a new one and began tearing down the old one. My brother who is seven years older than me used to take me with some of his friends and sneak inside when work was not going on. I still remember picking up some hexagonal black and white tiles on the floor of one of the bathrooms. I have been a collector all my life. Elder Sterling W. Sill says all men have the “collecting gene.” I do, but I’ve never been wealthy enough to collect anything very valuable.  I have settled for things of value, but not expensive to obtain. More on that below.
My first real hobby at that time was collecting old Popsicle sticks I found laying around the school grounds. I didn’t do anything with them, just picked them up. That led to my first brush with death. There was a vacant lot next to the old high school which had a backstop for a small baseball field. One cold fall day some boys were playing ball and I was over there watching and picking up Popsicle sticks.  Your imagination is ahead of me, but you are right. I wandered into the inside of the backstop and somehow got close to the batter. I got hit in the head with the full force of a swinging bat. It knocked me out. Probably the only thing which saved me from a cracked skull was that I was wearing one of those old World War II leather fleece lined helmets pilots wore. That cushioned the blow somewhat. I was probably not six years old yet, it would have been in 1948 or 49. I could easily have been killed. I was hit on the right side of the head. Consequently my left side–eyes, muscles, everything on my left side has been weaker than my right side.
During my elementary and middle school years I began building model airplanes and cars. I wasn’t very good at it. Glue got everywhere and messed up the surfaces of the wings and the fuselage. I had the same problem with the paints. But I liked hanging the finished planes on the ceiling of my bedroom. I can’t even guess how many hours I spent building models, but I have fond memories of how much fun it was.
Interestingly, that led to a desire to have a model railroad. There was a man in Twin Falls who built a large layout in a room and he let us kids in to watch sometimes. I still vividly remember how neat I thought it was that one of the tracks went along the wall and over the door through which we entered the room. There was a switch yard, a town, and mountains. My imagination soared.  I loved it and have had a fascination with model railroads ever since. I tried to interest my oldest son in a project when he was little, but our house was small, our budget was smaller, and we mostly played with the toy Bachman train set at Christmas.  

Building a railroad layout  has been a life-long yearning. Once after I was released from serving in major callings in the Church I stopped in a hobby store in Salt Lake and purchased a couple of model railroading magazines, thinking maybe I would have time to start a little layout.  On the way back to Logan the Spirit spoke to me and said that I “wasted the money on the magazines because I was not going to have the time to build a model railroad.  I might as well throw them away.” When I walked in the back door I threw the two magazines in the wastebasket. My wife asked why and I told her what happened. That was the first of several promptings that something important was coming my way. Within two years I was called to serve as a Mission President in northern California, then after that as a worker in the Logan Temple, and after that as a counselor in the temple presidency, and after that as a sealer. I probably have time now to build a model railroad, but as age advances I feel a greater urgency to spend my time on other more productive things, including hobbies.
Another hobby of my youth was collecting stamps and coins. Coins was a popular hobby in Rupert, Idaho for a while. With friends I went to local banks and bought rolls pennies and nickels, sometimes dimes, but hardly ever quarters. We went through them looking to fill in gaps in our collections, and especially for a 1909vdb penny, one of the rarest and most valuable. I was never that lucky though I did have some 1909 pennies.  Interest in that somehow faded, but collecting stamps persisted and is still of interest to me. When the same boy who worked with me on the model railroad was a little older I took him and his sister to a stamp club in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I was teaching at the University of Illinois institute at the time. I tried to kindle an interest in them in stamp collecting. Members of the club gave them commemorative stamps and encouraged them, but it too faded. We did buy lots of commemorative stamps during 1976 to celebrate the Bicentennial. I still have the collection and every now and then I pick up a new commemorative, a plate block, or a booklet of special stamps I like, but it is very infrequent.
In my late high school years I began a hobby that has lasted and grown.  I liked Reader’s Digest and the quotations that punctuated the pages and special sections. I began collecting quotations. I gathered up some inspiring ones to take with me on my mission and my girlfriend sent some to me while I was in Pennsylvania and Maryland. I copied the best ones into my “IP”–“instant preparation” notebook.  I didn’t use them much then, but I continued to collect and keep new ones I encountered in the mission field.  
When I became a seminary teacher I started a serious file system, but knew almost noting about how to build one. What's to know, right?  Finding guidance on building a personal file in the late 1960s without an internet was difficult, especially in the small community of Cardston, Alberta, Canada where I was teaching. I tried several systems like alphabetical, but where do you put stuff on Adam–under A, or under the book of Genesis, or Old Testament? Many quotations could be filed under more than one subject.  I needed some guidance.  

At a summer school that year I had a teaching methods and techniques class and we were required to begin a project which would help us in our teaching. One of the options was to create a file system. The department of seminaries and institutes published a little “seminary filing system” which I adopted and have used with modifications all my life. It consisted of twenty-six major categories–mostly related to Mormonism and religion–with hundreds of sub-topics under these main categories. I bought a small two-drawer filing cabinet for 4 x 6 file cards.  I bought some blank tab cards and a bunch of blank white cards. I created a tab for the twenty-six categories and went to work. 

I decided to train myself how to use this file system by purchasing ten years of Reader’s Digest  for a dime a copy at Deseret Industries. I went through each one, cut out the “quotable quotes” and  small anecdotes for which Readers Digest is famous. I put them in a large fish bowl. I pulled a saying out of the bowl and decided where it would go. I had to learn to think in categories and topics. When I decided where it should be filed, I taped it on to a card labeled with that topic and filed it behind the appropriate category. If I couldn’t readily decide where it went I set it aside and went on to the next one.  I did hundreds of these during the summer and on into the next school year. I was so pleased with the collection and what was happening to my mind as I began to organize my knowledge that I now have eight four-drawer letter-size file cabinets and one eight-drawer WW II 4 x 6 card cabinet in my basement study.
When I realized that computers could store this information more readily in less space and it was easily retrievable I began electronic files using the same file system of categories and sub-topics. During my career this file system was a necessity not a hobby. I transferred the information on many of my cards into the computer and now that I am retired I continued to do that and to add new information each day. Now it is a hobby again and I devote a little time to the project each day.
I hope this recital has not bored you too much. But sixty years of experience has taught me the value of having a hobby.This one satisfies my “collecting gene,” is inexpensive (except in the time involved, but all hobbies require that), and it has been valuable to me and to a few others. When I learned what a “commonplace book” is–a notebook students in the past used to write notes and quotations from their reading–I realized that my file system is my “commonplace book,” but unlike most students I determined to continue to collect throughout my life.  It is now one of my treasured possessions. Countless hours of pleasure, relaxation, enlightenment, edification, insight, motivation, pondering, and inspiration have come to me through this great hobby.
I have other hobbies–photography, book collecting, and reading, but they are for another day and another blog.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Most Important Choices We Get To Make

Introduction:  I am reading an enjoyable and easy to read self-help book about Life's Greatest Lessons. Chapter four is about our God-given agency and the right to choose.  It concludes with the following list of the most important choices we get to make in life.  I thought you would enjoy this. I'm also interested in hearing what you think life's most important choices are.


"It wasn’t our choice to be born into the world.  And it’s not our choice that someday we’re going to die.  However, the period in between, the one we call life, presents us with countless choices. ...  We can choose our friends, careers, lifestyles, political affiliations, churches, where to live, what kind of car to drive and what kind of music to listen to. But there are some others choices which, while less obvious, are far more important.  We’re either unaware of them or just don’t give them much thought. Yet, they’re the choices that determine the quality of our lives. Based on what life has taught me, these are what I consider to be our most important choices:

We’re free to choose our character–the type of persons we become.  We can allow ourselves to be molded by others and our environment, or we can commit ourselves to self-development.  We can become less than we’re capable of, or we can become all that we’re capable of.

We’re free to choose our values.  We can let the media tell us what’s important, or we can decided for ourselves.  We can base our standards on what others are doing, or we can base them on what we know is right and good.

We’re free to choose how to treat other people.  We can put them down or we can lift them up.  We can be self-centered and inconsiderate, or we can be respectful, kind and helpful.

We’re free to choose how to handle adversity.  We can all ourselves to be crushed, to give up and to feel sorry for ourselves.  Or we can choose to look for a source of strength within us, to persevere and to make the most out of what life deals us.

We’re free to choose how much we’ll learn.  We can look upon learning as an unpleasant duty or as a great opportunity for bettering ourselves.  We can be close-minded or open-minded, we can be stagnant or we can grow.

We’re free to choose what we’ll accomplish in life.  We can allow our circumstances or other people to determine what we make of ourselves, or we can choose our own direction and goals.  We can be undisciplined and lazy, or we can be self-disciplined and hard-working.

We’re free to choose our own belief system.  We can ignore our spiritual nature, or we can accept it as an important dimension of life.  We can worship pleasure and the world’s material things, or we can look for something that’s ultimately more important.

We’re free to choose our own purpose.  We can wander aimlessly, or we can search for a meaning in life, and then live according to it.  We can live to please only ourselves, or we can find a cause that’s greater, one that helps us understand and appreciate life more fully.

We’re free to choose our attitude, regardless of circumstances.  This is the most important choice we’ll ever make because it affects everything we do in life."(1)

Let's think together again, soon.  (BTW, don't forget to share with me what you think life's greatest choices are.)


1.  Hal Urban, Life’s Greatest Lessons: 20 Things I Want My Kids to Know, 3rd edition. (Redwood City, CA: Great Lessons Press, 2000), 35-36.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

How Much Fun Are You for Others to Be With?

I have been far too serious nearly my whole life.  I awoke at 4:00 a.m. this morning and when I could not go back to sleep I began reading a book I ordered a couple of weeks ago and which arrived yesterday. It is Hal Urban’s Life’s Greatest Lessons. I learned, or rather was caused to think about something this morning that has turned out to be another of life’s regrets for me..  

Urban’s third chapter is about the importance of humor and having fun in life. He told a story about one of his friends who was a successful and wealthy man, but who had a lot of fun in life.  One thing he did is give the “Superman yell”–“Look, it’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! No, it’s Superman! Up, up and away!”-- backwards.  As Urban says, “Try doing that without laughing.”  He went on to tell about a talk this man gave one time in which he “asked them how much fun they were having in their lives. He also asked them how much fun they were for other people to be with.” Almost instantly I realized that for most of my life I have not been a very fun person to be with. I have been far too serious in many ways.
Yes, I tried to provide enjoyable experiences for my family through travel, family activities, games, sports, vacations and the like, but I personally was not a particularly fun guy to be around. That wasn’t always the case, but fun times were more the exception than the rule. When the children were young they loved to play “Spookey Dookey.” I would get under a blanket in the living room and the kids would poke and jab and tickle me and I would try to grab them and pull them under the blanket with me and tickle and kiss them, and blow on their bare tummy. As it vibrated they would giggle. But there were far too few of those times and that one didn’t carry on beyond their childhood.
I have a friend, Ralph Degn, who died recently. We were counselors to a  bishop when we first moved to Logan about 1980. Ralph was a fun guy to be with and around. He always had fun. It was in his nature, after all he left off studying medicine to build a fireworks factory. I realized when I read this story this morning that I wasn’t very much like Ralph. I tried to introduce a little fun in our mission as mission president. We tried to do some play at zone and leadership conferences and at other times. I learned this lesson from Ralph, but not deeply enough. He was a mission president before I was and I remember him telling me that they used to have “ugly tie” contests at Zone Conferences in Brazil. I determined I would do that one zone conference, and we had so much fun. At noon hour the elders were judged. The winner was a young man who had just received a wedding picture of the girlfriend who helped convert him to the Church, but who had sent him a “Dear John.” He had that wedding picture pinned on the front of his tie! Another made a tie out of a piece of that old shag carpet that was popular in the 1970s.  

I also learned the same lesson when we were on a semester abroad with students in Israel in the late 1980s. Again, I didn’t learn it deep enough. The administrators there plugged in some fun on every field trip and the lesson didn’t escape me, but it didn’t burn in deeply enough. Moreover, engaging in fun activities is quite different from me personally being a fun guy to be around.  I have taken myself and life far too seriously far too much of the time and taken much of the joy and fun out of life for too many around me. Seriously, this is an important aspect of one's personality.  It is one that I neglected to develop and it has been to my detriment and to the detriment of others.
One redeeming thing is that Pat and I can and do often share humor together and we laugh together at home quite often. But even that is only the beginnings of being fun to be with. I wish I would have had a clearer view of this aspect of life at a much younger age. I would have been a better teacher, a better bishop, mission president and counselor in the temple presidency. Most importantly I would have been a better father and husband.  

I’m going to give some serious thought about how to to be more fun to be around for the rest of my life. I recommend it to you too.

Let’s think together again, soon.