Category Archives: Entropy

My Favorite Foods

I am really surprised at myself for not thinking of writing on this topic before now.

Particularly considering that, with my mother who loved to cook and loved to eat even more, that I was exposed to good food growing up. But for whatever reason, this topic finally came to me recently and I felt I needed to explore it.

I suspect everyone has his or her favorite food, ranging from the exotic to the mundane.   For me, my all time favorite may seem rather simple to many but to me, it’s great—a juicy hamburger.

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved hamburgers. This was also my favorite food growing up. And one of my most memorable experiences as a child was the day I got to eat a hamburger not just for lunch and dinner, but for breakfast as well.

The occasion was we were on vacation and had stopped at a breakfast griddle (maybe a Waffle House or similar chain of the 1960s). Our family of six was seated at the counter and as the waitress asked each of us what we wanted to order, I confidently stated “a hamburger.” The waitress paused as an odd expression came on her face and then my mother piped up and said if that was what I wanted for breakfast, I should get it. And I did! Since we were travelling all that day, it was fairly easy for me to get a burger at lunch and dinner at the restaurants where we ate completing a perfect trifecta.

I was probably 8 or 9 at the time but still over 50 years later, I vividly recall that special occasion.

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Considering this is my preferred food choice, I have had a lifetime of trying hamburgers all over the US as well as internationally with variations from just the ordinary to an extra-special gourmet burger. But of all the burgers I have eaten, my favorite continues to be a Huey’s burger, right here in Memphis, TN.

This is also the burger I most frequently have since my wife and I eat there at least once a week to enjoy a good beer and burger.

My second favorite food is steak (notice a pattern here). But not just any steak, a bacon-wrapped filet mignon from Charlie’s Meat Market that I cook my own special way.

I actually started buying these steaks (in various sizes from 6 to 12 oz.) at Charlie’s even before I got married so with me having been married for over 37 years, I have probably been buying these at the same location on Summer Avenue for almost as long as Charlie has been in business (Charlie’s also happens to supply hamburger meat to Huey’s, thus being the provider for my top two favorite foods).

While this is my second favorite food, I rarely order it out as I have found via costly experience that many restaurant steaks are just no where near as good as a Charlie’s filet that I cook on my own grill. With my wife not being the meat lover that I am, this is frequently what I cook for myself whenever she has a business or social dinner to attend.

My third favorite food is salmon but living close to the Mississippi River where catfish is much more prevalent, I don’t get good salmon all that often. The best salmon I get to eat is whenever I am traveling to a region that has access to a much greater selection of fresh seafood. And looking down the menu, a restaurant’s salmon dish is almost always the first entrée to catch my attention.

The seafood chain, Legal Seafood, always has an excellent salmon dish and whenever I get to eat there, it is usually a toss up between salmon and crab cakes, a very rich and delicious alternative that I never can get in Memphis.

But of all the places I have ordered salmon, probably my favorite is a brewpub in New Brunswick, NJ, Harvest Moon (a city where I teach at least once or twice a year).

Here I get to combine my love for great beer with the taste of really great salmon. And their salmon dish is different and unique every time I go (and always excellent).

Finally, my fourth favorite food is pizza, not just purchased at a restaurant, but also cooked in our own oven as one of my wife’s eclectic toppings on homemade dough.

Probably our most often purchased pizza is from Memphis Pizza Café but while in graduate school, I know I consumed a large quantity of Garibaldi’s pizza. Of late, I have had a number of Pyro’s Pizzas, which are thin personal pizzas (this particular one making its appearance at my private Super Bowl party).

Bosco’s is another fine pizza restaurant and since they also brew their own beer, is a favorite meal combination. This year, one of their specialty pizzas allowed me to indulge in two of my favorites, a cheeseburger pizza.

I tried to think of what would be my fifth favorite food to round out a “Top 5” list but nothing jumped out at me to the same degree as these four, the ones I usually think of first whenever hunger comes my way. While my food palate may not be as broad as many of my readers, it does encompass a number of ethnicities—Italian, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Indonesian—just to name a few, and includes chicken, fish, and salads (probably the healthiest choice).

Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) in Amsterdam

So if you happen to be dining with me sometime and ask what I would like, you now know what my top four choices would be. So if you are interested in something else, you can always preface your question by saying beyond my top four, what would I like to eat?

Bon-appétit!

What’s It Really Going to be Like to Retire?

Now that my retirement date is less than two months away, I have really been thinking a lot about what it is going to be like to be retired. I know it is going to be a big change as I have worked full-time for over 35 years, ever since I was in graduate school. But I am looking forward to this next phase in my life.

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This biggest change will simply be to have all the extra time available to do things I want or need to do. I’ve talked to friends who have retired and many of them say they are so busy in retirement, they don’t know how they ever found time to work. I am looking forward to finding out that for myself.

Over my entire career, I have never been on vacation from work for more than two consecutive weeks. And the longest I have even been off from work was three weeks last year when I was off recuperating from surgery. This gave me my first taste for what retirement would be like although I certainly was not able to do whatever I wanted to do.

With all the extra time, I know I will want to spend a lot of it on projects that I have just not had time to do (I enjoy doing things with my hands). Rebuilding this garbage blind is high on my list, as it looks very worn out in comparison to how it looked when first built.

And while I have the table saw set up, I will likely rebuild this old and worn fence that is sorely in need of refreshing.

Our wooden deck overlooking our pool is over 10 years old now and a number of boards need to be replaced. Over the years, I have pressure washed and re-stained it but this time it will need major restoration.

Pulling weeds and mulching flowerbeds is a job that I have had to relegate to weekend days while working full time. Because of this as well as business travel I typically have in the spring, I always seem to behind the 8-ball and never seem to get it all done before the summer is over. My wife works in the yard too but her time has also been limited in the past by her work hours. Next spring, I am looking forward to having five days a week to work in the yard getting the beds ready for spring. And a reward will be that I will have my two weekend days to relax since I will have so much more time to work during the week.

Travel is another activity that my wife and I will have more time to do. Even though towards the end of my career, I have had over 6 weeks of vacation time available to me, I took much of my vacation days teaching the professional courses I have taught for many years. Combined with travel to visit our kids/grandkids, this left little time for as my wife says, “a real vacation.” One where I am not working and we are not visiting relatives.

And now that my wife has a really comfortable car for travel, we will be able to take many more road trips. Some of these could be weeks-long grand tours to places neither of us have been.

Speaking of road trips, I too am looking forward to some of “my road trips,” ones that are simply for the pleasure of enjoying the road (these are not ones my wife will want to take and so I will probably go solo). The last time I took one of these was in 2010 when I took my 2002 Mazda Miata on a 5-day, 2,000-mile trek to drive the Sky Line Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). I’m thinking of doing another drive of the BRP in my new and more comfortable WRX.

Another thing that will be different is likely the end of the day check in my wife and I have had for so many years.

We have what we call “our club” where we typically enjoy a beer and talk about our day. Since we are apart most of the day, there is usually much to talk about. But since we will both be home most days, we may not have as many things to talk about as we may experience our day together. A friend of mine who retired said while he was working, he and his wife usually had a lively conversation over dinner but now they had a hard time thinking of things to say that the other doesn’t already know and so sometimes have a meal mostly in silence. Hopefully that will not be our problem as we still have separate things to share, books we are reading, news we have heard, or interactions we have individually had with our kids. And there is always talk of making plans for what we will do now that we will have more time not working (my wife also retired this year).

So it is with eager anticipation I await my final workday. And after that, not even the sky will be the limit of what we can do!

Doll Houses Revisited

Several years ago, I wrote about my love for all things small—specifically miniature models. In that 3-part series, I delved into all the different types of models I had built over the years both growing up and as an adult. One of the items I included was the two doll houses that I built for my daughter.

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The idea to build a doll house for my daughter was spawned from two thoughts.

First, I had run across some really cool doll houses at the local hobby store and thought that it would be fun to build one some day.

Second, while playing cars and blocks with my son came easy to me—something I had done growing up, it was more difficult for me to play dolls with my daughter since I had no experience.

But then I put the two thoughts together and suggested to my wife that we give our daughter a dollhouse kit for Christmas, one that my daughter and I could build together. Not wanting to repeat the same mistake I had made with my son by trying to build a train layout before he could even walk…

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…I waited until my daughter was at least old enough to participate before suggesting it to my wife.

It was a Christmas present for her one year.

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She picked the paint, wallpaper, and floor covering and we worked together to assemble it. I probably did more of the cutting and gluing since she was too young at the time but it was still a project we could share together.

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We even picked out some miniature furniture to fill the house and make it into a miniature home complete with a nursery.

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Completing this dollhouse only whet my appetite so a few years later again at my urging we gave our daughter an even larger dollhouse for Christmas.

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This dollhouse was a blast to assemble! I only wish I had taken some interim progress photos during the construction process.

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The brick foundation was made by painting the wood grey for the mortar and then spreading on a red sand paste using a brick pattern template.

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The windows were made from multiple pieces of wood and actually open and close.

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Even the floor was assembled almost like the full-scale version, gluing down individual wood planks, sanding them smooth, and then varnishing and sealing them.

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At this point, I sensed my daughter losing interest in the assembly part of the model so I put this one together mostly by myself. While working on it, I also realized that she was probably going to be too old to play with it by the time it was complete.   But surely it would be an heirloom she could pass down to her own daughter one day…

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…as you can see, it was never furnished so it is “move-in ready” for another day.

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After our daughter grew up and moved out, these houses stayed behind. But recently, one of our granddaughters who lives in-town has discovered them and has begun to explore them.

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She has even found an entertaining one at the Children’s Museum, a place that she and I frequent.

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Seeing her play with them has rekindled a desire for me to build again. The two houses I built will pass to my daughter whenever she is ready for them. But with each of our sons having a daughter, I now have two granddaughters to build for. They are both too young to really play with dollhouses like these that tend to be a bit too fragile. But if I get started now, hopefully I can have them finished for when they are just the right age to play.

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I have already begun to explore what is available now. Since it has been over 20 years since we bought the blue doll house for our daughter, there may even be some technological changes, maybe miniature Wi-Fi.

After I retire later this year, I will also have a lot more time available for the construction phase. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. Not only will this be a gift of love to my kids, but hopefully it will be a fun toy for my granddaughters as well. And just maybe they will become an heirloom for them to pass down to their kids as well.

Wednesday with Granddaddy – Double Treat

Last year, I wrote about how much I enjoy every Wednesday since I get to spend the afternoon with my granddaughter at the Children’s Museum of Memphis (CMOM).  She and I have been going there for a full two semesters now, ever since her parents have been back in school. It is a wonderful routine that she and I have gotten in to and, the few times I have traveled and not been available, we have both sorely missed our time together. Well in May of this year, I got a double treat when my daughter and grandson flew in town for a two-week visit.

It was a very special time to be with them since my daughter and her family live so far away. And with my granddaughter’s parents out of school for the summer, there were lots of time to get together over the two weeks so the two cousins could play with each other, here seen sharing cups of ice at Mimi’s café.

Since it had been almost a year since we had all been together, it also afforded us an opportunity to get some professional photos taken of the grandkids.

With nice spring weather, there were also several chances to have cookouts together…

…and learning to share.

It was definitely an exciting time for all.

But for me, the highlight of the visit was getting to go to the Children’s Museum with two of my three grandchildren along with their parents (sans our son-in-law who was on a business trip) and my wife and fellow grandparent affectionately named, Mimi!

For my granddaughter, having been so many times with me to CMOM, she has almost a routine of what she likes to do once we walk in the door. For my grandson, this was a new experience so starting out with Mimi in a police car seemed an appropriate place to begin the adventure.

In fact since it was a new exploration for my grandson, I spent a part of my time going back and forth between where my grandson was at the time and where my granddaughter was.

With her parents there, my granddaughter also got to do some special things with Mommy and Daddy that my granddaughter and I had not been able to do before.

And throughout our time there, I tried to make sure I spent an equal amount of time with each grandchild wherever they were in the museum so that they did not perceive me as showing favoritism to one or the other.   On the occasion when they were in the same place…

…I never could seem to get them both in the same photo at the same time.

Being interested in cars like me and so also mechanically inclined, my grandson spent some time taking the wheels off the car in for repair…

…before running over to the FEDEX plane and loading up packages for delivery. I think he manually cranked at least 20 packages up the conveyor belt all the while my granddaughter was sliding down the circular slide from the back of the plane, each doing what they thought was the most fun.

We fortunately had about two hours at the museum so the two cousins got to shop together at the little grocery store, cook together in the little kiddie kitchen, and do lots of other fun activities.

I don’t know if anyone noticed the gleam of joy in my eyes getting to watch them both play. It was a real thrill for me, one I would love to have more often. And my keen observation noted that they both made the same tongue motion as they played, a small telling behavior revealing they were related.

At 5:00 when the museum closed and for our grandkids, went “night-night” as we always say, we made our way out to the parking lot. But the fun was not over yet. We drove over to my favorite burger place for a well-earned dinner.

As we talked and waited for our food to arrive, I reflected on the wonderful time I had had at the museum watching my grandkids play. I knew they had had fun too and I hoped my fellow adults had also. But deep down, I knew this was particularly a special treat for me—a double Wednesday treat with two grandkids—one that might not be so easily detected by the casual observer. But a treat it was indeed, one that I hope to get to repeat one day, hopefully with all three of my grandchildren making it a Triple-Treat!

Photos on My Office Wall

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Some of the items that I will need to take home when I retire are these 11 framed photos hanging on my office wall. I cannot even begin to fathom how long they have hung on my wall, but I know they have moved from one office to another each time my office changed. Considering that I have worked at the same site and in the same building for over 30 years, they are probably quite old.

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A close up inspection reveals that these are really cheap, 8” X 10” metal frames with a “faux-wood” finish.   I think I probably bought them at Target years ago. At least once when I moved into a larger office, which had a larger wall, I had to search for additional frames of the same design to expand my gallery.

Over the years, I would occasionally change out a photo for a newer one but with one exception, the photos were always either of my family (wife and kids), travel, or my cars. And the reason I know this is because each time I added a new photo, I simply put it on top of the photo previously displayed.

I recently took down each frame and took off the back just to see what treasures were hiding inside the frames.

In some, I found just a few photos but in others, the frame contained four or five photos. As I looked through the photos “archived” in each frame, I saw some of these images for the first time in many, many years.

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Harahan Bridge over Mississippi River

The earliest of these photos were black and whites. Prior to getting married, I had bought all the equipment necessary to develop and print my own black and white photos from black and white film. But some of the ones in the frames I realized I had printed from color 35 mm negatives as I recognized the image as a familiar color snapshot from my first year of marriage (back in my “artsy” pre-digital camera age when the only way I could make a black and white photo was to either print it this way or to use black and white film).

Based on finding just four black and white photos, my earliest wall gallery must have only included four frames.

Once I started traveling internationally, I began to add pictures from my travels, replacing all of my black and white photos with color photos.

Aquaduct of Caesarea (Israel)

Aquaduct of Caesarea (Israel)

And as my travels increased, I needed to add additional frames to accommodate photos from all my trips.

Lisbon Oceanarium (Aquarium, Lisbon, Portugal)

Lisbon Oceanarium (Aquarium, Lisbon, Portugal)

When family members traveled with me on these international trips, they appeared in my displayed photos as well.

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Sometime in the early 2000s, I began to display photos of my cars (at first two and then three cars in 2006) and then in 2011, I added photos from my two oldest children’s weddings.

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As my travels continued, I began to replace old travel photos with newer ones.

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In May of 2016 when I bought my latest car, I planned on replacing the picture of my Mini, which we no longer owned, with my new WRX.

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But then just days later, I got word that my work site was closing.

So rather than adding to my collection, I began to think about what I was going to do with my photo gallery when I left. Since the frames are so cheap, I wouldn’t want to display them inside our house unless I invested in much nicer frames.

And then I came upon the idea of hanging them all in our garage over my workbench. After all, once I retire, I will be spending a lot more time at my workbench doing one of the things I love doing, working with my hands.

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I’ve wanted to take down these shelves for quite some time since they just end up becoming a storage space for old paints and chemicals that are not even good anymore. Now I have a good reason to.

So rather than boxing up these old frames and sticking them in the attic or worse yet, throwing them away, they will simply relocate to one of my “new” office walls. Because after all, every time my office moved these gems moved with me. And so they will!

Miniature Car Moving Day

Not long ago, the day came that I needed to transport my 1/18-scale model cars home from my office. This was in preparation for my final office move before our site closure and my retirement. Last year I posted that this would be a necessary step before I retire. While my eventual idea of a miniature garage for them in the back yard was not well received by wife, I needless to say needed to bring the cars home.

The first step was getting down their original boxes from the attic. As you can see, they were quite dusty with some having been in the attic for almost 20 years. Donning a respirator mask to keep the dust out of my lungs, I climbed into the attic and began to search for all of them. Before I brought them into the house, I wiped them off as best I could with a damp rag. Some of the boxes were a bit damaged from the time when squirrels got into our attic (who would have know squirrels like to eat plastic).   Others were covered by blown insulation, which actually protected them quite nicely from the dust and the squirrels.

It was a bit of a treasure hunt to find them all and in the end, I found 27 of the 28 boxes I knew I should have. The one missing may turn up whenever we get other things out of the attic.

With the boxes cleaned fairly well, I loaded them up into the trunk of my car for the drive to work.

The next day, once I got to work, I loaded them onto one of our stability sample carts and wheeled them into my office.

Next began the process of removing the Styrofoam base from each box. Because the clear plastic had come loose in many of the boxes, this proved a tedious task for some. In a few with the loose plastic, some of the blown insulation had gotten into the boxes and so I had to clean this out as well. One of the more damaged boxes might have been a temporary home for a squirrel as when I dumped out the insulation; an acorn and something else I won’t mention fell out (For your benefit, I chose not to photograph that).

Each car is attached to this Styrofoam base with a bracket and two screws (I actually managed to find all but three screws). Some of the boxes still had the small catalog inside the box, this one being almost 25 years old.

A few of the boxes still had the price tags on them. This one I could see that I had purchased at de Bijenkorf, the large department store in Amsterdam that Anne Frank shopped at.

Prior to putting the car inside, I gave each box got another good wipe down to get rid of the residual dust and then I stacked the car filled boxes on the cart.

After I got half way through, I realized I had been putting the cars in backwards. I confirmed this by going to the BBurago website and seeing all of the cars facing left with the front angled forward. I had screwed them all in with the back angled forward. Obviously I had to redo those.

For some of the cars, it was bitter sweet to box them up. This Mini sat on my desk for over 10 years…

…a daily reminder of one of the most fun cars I ever owned.

And this is probably the nicest car I collected, complete with soft rubber seats and even carpet on the floor. I fondly remembered finding it on a trip to Lugano, Switzerland in 1998 with my wife and youngest son.

Throughout the afternoon, it was interesting to see the look on coworker’s faces when they stopped by seeing what I was up to. Even my boss had an odd look on her face when she walked in, no doubt wondering what I was spending work time doing. But none of them understood what an emotional task I was undertaking.

After I had screwed the last car into its box frame, I was left with this one car for which I could not find its box. So I decided it would just have to be on display somewhere at home until I did further searching in the attic.

Rather than taking them home, I decided to keep my two Miatas on my desk to the very last day. I knew it was going to be traumatic enough to walk in and not see my collection so I would at least retain these two…

…miniature reminders of the two fun Miatas I owned.

With my task complete, I placed all of the filled boxes on my cart and wheeled them down to my car.

As I carefully stowed them in the trunk of my car, I was glad to realize that I finally owned a car that they would all fit in to. Over the years, I brought the cars into work one at a time. Until I bought this WRX, none of the small cars I had would even hold them all.

Knowing that for now, I did not have a space to display all these cars at home, I stored many of them in this large box I found in the closet and the rest I put on top of this shelf in the same closet.

I was determined I was not going to put them back in the attic knowing the damage the boxes had incurred from their years’ storage there.

And I was encouraged by my wife’s comments when I told her I had brought them home. She said maybe we could find a glass enclosed cabinet to display them in, not so much to keep the dust off of the cars, but to keep them safe from small grandchildren hands which would no doubt be fascinated by all these miniature cars.

So hopefully one day, my cars will be on display again so that I can enjoy seeing them and recall to the times when I purchased them. Until then, I’ll just have to be satisfied with the memory of them in my office for so many years.

Unquenchable Thirst for Reading

I can’t get enough of reading. For someone who read very little for pleasure up until about the age of 25, I’ve sadly missed a lot of years that I could have been reading. But a reader I have turned in to! These are some of the bookcases filled with books I’ve read over the years.

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Once I started this blog several years ago, I began to keep a digital list of all the books I read in a calendar year. And for several years, I’ve been keeping an Amazon “wish list” of all the books I wanted to read. I’ve written before about all of the books I have in waiting on that list, but unfortunately that list is growing faster than I can read.

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Not long ago, my sister-in-law introduced me to BookBub, a service you can sign up for in which you pre-select the types of books you would be interested in reading (I signed up for both fiction novels and non-fiction history books.). Once activated, you then get a daily e-mail message that lists digital books that are on sale—just for that one day—priced from “Free” to $3.99. Who can pass up these kinds of prices? So far this year, I’ve purchased eight BookBub books, each for $2.99 or less. Even with the current price of gas, I can’t drive to the public library and check out a book for much less than that.

My problem is, as always, I am a slow reader. I marvel at my wife for how fast she can read.

My Wife's Bookcase

My Wife’s Bookcase

Often when our evening is almost over, we will each get up on our bed and read a digital book on our iPad. It is amazing how quickly she is touching her iPad to move to the next page. Sadly for me, I often end up falling asleep while reading being so worn out by the end of the day.

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One of the best times for me to get to read is when I am traveling by air. I honestly don’t mind sitting in the airport waiting to board when I have a good book to read. And once on the plane, I often put ear buds in to discourage any conversation from fellow travellers so I can have hours of uninterrupted reading pleasure. Thank goodness we can now use our e-readers below 10,000 feet and while waiting to depart.

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My favorite flight is on my return trip from Amsterdam each year when I typically have a seven to eight hour flight during day light hours when, despite the 7-hour time difference, is still when I would normally be awake (The flight to Amsterdam is overnight so I usually try to sleep as much as I can rather than read to better acclimate to the 7-hour time loss).

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Another favorite time of mine is on vacation when I can also spend many hours reading non-stop.

Having turned 60, an age I’ve always thought of as “old” (although less so now that I am actually 60), I’ve had the sad thought of wondering just how many more years of reading I have left.

One of the items on my “to do” list once I retire is to read more. So even though knowing each of us has a limited number of years to live, I plan to accelerate my reading. Not that I will necessarily become a speed-reader to rival my wife. But with more hours available to read, I’ll be able to read even more books. But I suspect that even with that change, I’ll still have trouble keeping up with all the books I want to read. Because there are just so many great books out there, and the universe of books continues to expand ever larger.